Primarily, The Smugglers is a vehicle for establishing the Doctors newest companions, Ben and Polly. Following on directly from the end of The War Machines, the first episode starts with a lot of energy as the new additions to the TARDIS crew Ben in particular have trouble adjusting to the fact that they have just travelled in a time machine. Initially this is handled quite well by Hayles, but sadly Polly is convinced unbelievably soon and even Ben comes round to the idea far quicker than I feel is in keeping with his character.
The plot of this season-opening four-parter also leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part it revolves around several antagonistic factions of smugglers / pirates. Often this translates onto the screen as pure, unadulterated cheese for example we have Captain Pike who, surprise, surprise, has a hook instead of a hand and a Church warden who, surprise, surprise, used to be first mate on a pirate ship before he found God! Moreover, Doctor Whos production team may have changed considerably since The Crusade but they are still making the same mistakes how on earth they expect us to believe that Polly, a beautiful woman, could be mistaken for a lad I have no idea! Im willing to suspend my disbelief so far that I can believe that an alien from an ancient society travels through time and space in a Police Box, but theres no way Im having that Anneke Wills looks like a lad!
Believe it or not though, having now watched The Smugglers twice (by playing the BBC Radio Collections release of the soundtrack in synch with John Curas telesnaps) Ive actually become quite fond of it. Its a harmless, light-hearted piece of melodrama that allows William Hartnells Doctor to have a little bit of fun! He gets to hunt treasure; Ben and Polly get to pretend to be wizards its all good fun.
The serial hasnt even dated that badly compared to some of its contempories the pirate ship sets are realistic enough and scenes near the Church and on the beach (from the telesnaps) look pretty convincing. Im just not sure how wise it was to call a black pirate Jamaica