With a plot that consists of various characters being captured, escaping and being captured again, this logically should not be a very good story, but strangely enough it is quite enjoyable. The secret lies in the characters themselves, who are all well written and not always what they at first seem, with a couple of memorable villains. Cherub in particular is incredibly creepy, talking about the violence he plans to commit in a disturbing, sing-song voice. The dialogue is witty and clever, and this is all so talky that it must have looked rather static on screen, but it is ideal for audio. Having said that, it would be lovely to get this one back and see that gorgeous location filming in Cornwall, particularly around the church.
We have had various approaches to stories set in history, including:
- a companion tries to change history and can’t
- the Doctor and his companions are kept on the fringes of a big historical event
- the historical setting is used for comedy
- history is used to crash Doctor Who into a Shakespeare play
- the companion tries to be the Doctor and fails
…and now we have settled down into a pattern where historicals are just a vehicle for Doctor Who crashing into different genres. The Gunfighters was a western. This is a pirate adventure, complete with buried treasure and a cave with an underground passage leading to the church. It’s like a Famous Five adventure, with added stabbings. It might not be the most obvious candidate at first glance for Doctor Who’s five-decade love affair with children’s fiction, but structurally this is pure Enid Blyton, although surprisingly brutal. Our perception is slightly skewed by all the remaining clips being the bits that were cut out by the Australian censors, but even so it’s amazing this didn’t create more of a fuss at the time, with a cliffhanger consisting of a knife murder and an ear-piercing scream from Polly. Speaking of whom…
‘Polly,’ … ‘Yeah?’ … ‘Put the kettle on!’
Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time. The Doctor is up to his old tricks again, kidnapping companions. All that “how dare you follow me into the TARDIS” stuff is just for show. In the last story he dropped a key to the TARDIS (bear in mind this is somebody who doesn’t do much by accident) and Ben picked it up, so the likelihood is that this was all planned, and he is soon chuckling in his usual manner, revealing his happiness at finding new companions. The Doctor doesn’t like to be alone.
Oh dear, all this distraction, and I really thought I was going to be alone again.
But when was the Doctor alone before? Surely this can’t refer just to those few seconds near the end of The Massacre? Apart from that, we have never seen him without a companion, so did he travel alone without Susan, pre- An Unearthly Child, or does this refer back even further, perhaps before Susan was born? Was he lonely on Gallifrey, some kind of a social outcast, and did that contribute to his desire to go off and explore? Did he set off in the TARDIS looking for friends? Had he found himself unable to form true friendships after his childhood friend turned out to be a psychopath? Was his response to this to just kidnap people? This might explain the bond between the Doctor and Vicki, which appeared to be closer than with anyone else, because she was the one who made a conscious and informed decision to go off travelling with the Doctor. She wanted to be his friend, whereas everyone else was an accidental traveller to one extent or another, the majority being kidnapping victims with Stockholm syndrome.
So far, Ben is not looking too promising. In his first story he was the Sexist One. Here he is the Idiot One. Readily accepting the fact that they have moved in space, while refusing to believe in time travel makes little sense, and this is a problem that will be repeated in a couple of stories’ time when he refuses to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Meanwhile, Polly gets to do the Shakespearean thing and get mistaken for a boy, by men who also don’t believe the evidence of their eyes. Wearing a hat and a pair of trousers hardly makes her manly. But apart from the teething troubles, Ben and Polly are entertaining companions right from the outset, and work surprisingly well with Hartnell’s Doctor, despite (or perhaps because of) the obvious culture clash. And Hartnell adapts brilliantly to the rotating door of companions in his final year (this was filmed as part of the previous series’ production block). His health might have been deteriorating at this point, but he never let that affect the end product of his work. For the last few stories he has been blisteringly good as always, dealing with some of the most varied material he was ever given. The First Doctor is nearing the end of his journey, and he’s going out in style. RP
The view from across the pond:
Captain Pike, I presume? Yes, but not Christopher! This one is Samuel and he’s nowhere near as noble as Captain Christopher Pike.
In Doctor Who, crossing paths with other genres is pretty commonplace, but in 1966, a pirate story was certainly new and untried. The Smugglers pits the Doctor against some truly nefarious, swashbuckling pirates. Although we will get another attempt at a pirate adventure during Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor, with The Pirate Planet, the only other actual pirate story wouldn’t be until Matt Smith’s era, with The Curse of the Black Spot. Curse ends up being something of a sequel to The Smugglers. It shares some other commonalities too.
Also, Steven Moffat, known for his timey-wimey delights, probably had a hand in this through some freak timestorm because Polly mentions Sherlock Holmes to Ben in the Smugglers. Not quite the odd segue one might think at first glance: the story centers around a riddle to find a treasure not unlike the classic Sherlock Holmes story The Musgrave Ritual. But the twists in time go farther afield than that. Moffat is the lead writer for Sherlock, whose The Final Problem is a tribute to the Musgrave Ritual, wherein the riddle comes down to knowing the names on gravestones. This was the very plot point of the mystery behind The Smugglers. Yes, Moffat might have gotten the idea from this lost episode, but let’s not take the fun out of the story! And one final point: Sherlock’s childhood dog is named Redbeard. A pirate’s name, through and through, matey!
There are other things that would appear more genuine to the pirate lifestyle that seems to be totally lacking with the good natured rogues of Curse of the Black Spot. Both sets of pirates are just superstitious but it gets exploited more in The Smugglers. Ben and Polly use a straw voodoo doll to escape captivity and the Doctor plays cards as if they are of the Tarot variety. (You’d think after The Celestial Toymaker, he’d be all “gamed out”!) Unlike the Captain in Curse, this captain does not negotiate with the Doctor for the lives of others. In fact, he says that he has to keep the crew happy which means allowing them to kill an entire village. A far cry from that of the Black Spot’s crew. In this story, murder and death are everywhere. By contrast, Curse actually surrounds a galactic nurse who prevents anyone from dying. (It’s like Moffat wanted to make up for the mistakes of the previous pirate crew!) Back in the similarity department, Amy and Rory are an established couple while Ben and Polly are not but they act like they are. (And most would agree that Ben and Polly belonged together!) A biggest difference between this and Curse is that Amy would never allow herself to be bound and gagged; alas Polly is more of a damsel in distress. As Roger said, this is a product of the 60s and unfortunately, a degree of sexism was not uncommon. Imagine who we would fear more: pirates, or a bound Amy Pond?
Again, another lost story. Another chance to see the magnificence of William Hartnell in action… and we may never see it. We can hope that it gets animated one of these days. The fact that so much of the Harnell era is missing borders on criminal negligence on the part of the BBC. But it only gets worse by Troughton’s era. And we’ll be getting there soon. Until then, full speed ahead… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Tenth Planet