The SmugglersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

The Smugglers' is the final Hartnell historical Doctor Who story, and is noticeably different in style to any of its predecessors. It is not in the same vein as the more serious, dramatic historicals such as 'The Aztecs', 'The Crusade', or 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve', but nor is a fully-fledged comedy like 'The Romans', 'The Myth Makers' or 'The Gunfighters. Instead, it feels more like a Treasure Island, and has a decidedly whimsical streak, in spite of vicious pirates and several brutal deaths. This approach works surprisingly well, and 'The Smugglers' is an enjoyable opening to Season Four. 

William Hartnell is on fine form as the Doctor, dealing with the pirates with ease. His manipulation of Pike's ego is obvious, but amusing, as he neatly avoids being tortured by Cherub by appealing to the Captain's vanity: Pike, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, likes to think of himself as a gentleman. Later in the story, the Doctor shrugs off Cherub's threats and manages to keep him talking whilst he waits for help to arrive, showing none of the worried bluster that the First Doctor occasionally demonstrates when threatened. His escape from The Black Albatross with Kewper involves a fairly predictable ploy to overcome Jamaica, but is nevertheless carried out with aplomb, both by the Doctor and Hartnell himself. Whatever the situation in which he finds himself, the Doctor maintains an air of dignity, even when being threatened by sword or Pike's spike. Ben and Polly continue to live up to the promise that they showed in 'The War Machines'. After fairly rapidly accepting that they have traveled through time (they have little choice but to accept that they have traveled through space), they demonstrate their ability to cope remarkably well, and after being hypnotized for much of 'The War Machines' whilst Ben took centre stage, Polly here gets to show her resourcefulness by engineering their escape from prison, thanks to her tricking of the superstitious (and admittedly rather gullible) Tom. Ben however is not left out, and gets a significant role in the story by befriending (after initial mutual distrust) Revenue man Blake. Both Craze and Willis put in excellent performances throughout, reminding me why they, like Purves, are sorely underrated as companions. Oh and Polly being mistaken for a boy is an amusing nod to 'The Crusade'; it's a shame that we are denied the visuals when Kewper refers to the Doctor's “lads”, since I'd love to see the expression on Polly's face. 

The plot of 'The Smugglers' is simple, though effective, allowing full attention to be given to the supporting characters, and this is the great strength of the story. The guest cast are great, all of them tackling their lines with relish. John Ringham (previously Tlotoxl in 'The Aztecs') as Blake provides noble support, saving the day during the final episode, and Terence de Marney is also impressive as the ill-fated Joseph Longfoot, the former pirate who quickly befriends the Doctor, but it is Paul Whitsun-Jones as the Squire, George A. Cooper as Cherub, and Michael Godfrey as Pike, who really steal the show. The Squire is delightfully cast as a scoundrel, eager to make ill-gotten gain from smuggling, but later realizing the error of his way and actually saving the Doctor's life when he realises how truly villainous his pirate allies are. Pike and Cherub are the real villains of the peace; the former is cast firmly in the Long John Silver mold (although without the redeeming features), and makes a flamboyant if dangerous foil for the Doctor, seemingly unaware when his opponent is flattering him into submission (the Doctor's convincing him to spare the village in episode four by suggesting that he wouldn't be able to stop his men from ransacking it is and thus employing the most transparent reverse psychology is a case in point!). The cliffhanger to episode one, as he slams his spike into his desktop, is wonderfully melodramatic. Cherub lacks even Pike's veneer of civilized behaviour, as he slaughters Longfoot with obvious relish and makes clear his intention to do the same to the Doctor. Every line Cooper utters drips with glee, making Cherub seem utterly psychotic. His happy reminiscences about his dead shipmates on board Avery's ship, whose names now point the way to the treasure, are bizarre; he clearly remembers them fondly, but accepts their deaths as part of his way of life, painting him as every inch a true pirate and scoundrel. 

I can't really find fault with 'The Smugglers'. The story progresses at a merry pace, carried along by the cast to a dramatic final sword fight. The Doctor even gets to depart through a hidden passageway in true romantic swashbuckler style. I could criticize Hartnell's fluffing of Longfoot's rhyme, which changes slightly between episodes, but it would be unnecessarily churlish. Overall, 'The Smugglers' is a modest but highly entertaining season opener, and one that serves to establish the new TARDIS crew before the massive change that is to follow…