Hasslein Blog: Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 028—The Smugglers


Hasslein Blog

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Doctor Who Retro Review: Serial 028—The Smugglers

By T. Scott Edwards

Season four opens magnificently with The Smugglers, seeing Hartnell in his last historical—in fact, the second-to-last historical of the black and white era—Hartnell's penultimate story, but with some wonderful characterisation, location filming and introducing Ben and Polly as companions-proper to the Doctor.

The serial picks up where the last story ended season 3, with Ben and Polly literally barging their way into the TARDIS console just as the Doctor takes off. Hartnell's great displeasure at their presence there is swift and brutal, as he had clearly contemplated a brief stint alone. That said, he very swiftly changes his tone, as he gloatingly shows off the ship. The exposition here is rather clunky—with Hartnell essentially giving us a guided tour of each and every one of the ship's functions, and reminding us that he is unable to steer the vessel—but as a viewer I get the impression that this info-dump is more for the contemporary viewers than Ben and Polly; opening a new series, it provides a brief recap for viewers of old, as well as introducing newer viewers. The TARDIS swiftly materialises on Earth again, though, and Ben and Polly leave the ship, their disbelief—particularly that of Ben—still ringing in our ears.

What is most interesting about these opening scenes is the ease with which Ben seems to readily accept that the police box has transported them from London city centre to the South coast in the blink of an eye, and that the inside of the box is far larger than the outside allows, and yet he refuses to believe that they have really travelled through time. His stubbornness is rather grating at first, although it is easy to quickly warm to Michael Craze's performance, and Polly's girlish glee is utterly adorable.

Oddly, despite Polly's aforementioned girlish glee, she is instantly mistaken for a boy by the locals, on the basis that she is wearing trousers. Now, whilst this serial is missing in its entirety, I can clearly see from the stills that she is wearing the same costume as at the end of The War Machines. And she's hot. Like, ridiculously hot; Anneke Wills' beauty is undeniable. Quite why no one picks up on the makeup or the high pitched voice is utterly unfathomable. The first local to mistake her for a "lad" is the Churchwarden, Longfoot, a man evidently haunted by his past, having heard the word of God "too late". The warden is played wonderfully by Terence de Marny, albeit briefly—despite the rather frivolous tone in the build-up, the slow-burn pays off with some existent clips, including Longfoot being murdered with a knife to the back. It's all rather brutal, and wonderful for it.

The episode ends with the crew separated—the Doctor is kidnapped, taken aboard a pirate ship, whilst Ben and Polly are imprisoned, accused by the locals in the nearby tavern of being murderers—two male murderers. The cliffhanger involving Hartnell's introduction to Pike sounds wonderful—the menace is dripping from Michael Godfrey's voice, and it sounds genuinely threatening. Episode 2, meanwhile, focuses on Ben and Polly escaping from their prison cell and the Doctor trying to keep one step ahead of the pirates.

Which brings me to my biggest bugbear about this serial—the way in which Ben and Polly manage to escape is preposterously convoluted, and involves the tricking of Tom, the simpleton, by claiming to be able to use a voodoo doll, tricking the young man out of sheer fear. Never before have we seen the time travellers so indulgently mocking history, revelling in the lack of education of others. It is telling that these scenes occur whilst the Doctor is not with them—Ben and Polly are from the future, thrust into history with no guidance, or moral centre, and are coping as best they can.

The scenes between Hartnell and Godfrey are wonderful—the Doctor flatters Pike beyond belief, managing to rid himself of the threat posed by Cherub, played with lascivious glee by George A. Cooper, the vicious cutthroat threatening to make him spill the secret like "blubber from a whale". The dialogue is rich and luxuriant, flowing as it does from such experienced performers. Also flawless in his performance is the unscrupulous Squire, Paul Whitsun-Jones. The scenes between the three of them are fantastic, with every one of them pretending to be a true gentleman, hiding their true intentions. This entire serial, in fact, seems to be a study of the facade of class—each wears a mask, and pretends to be someone or something that they're not.

Once Polly and Ben have escaped from prison, they head to the church to hide, where they are disturbed by someone entering the crypt. Suspicious, Ben is his usual act-first, ask-questions-later type, and knocks the man unconscious. Polly then heads to the Squire's mansion to tell him the truth, and share their suspicions of the unconscious man, only to get further caught in the machinations of these criminals—coming face-to-face with Cherub in the Squire's study, Wills' voice is laced wonderfully with fear as she realises that she is faced with the man responsible for the Doctor's kidnap. As she tries desperately to plead with them, the line "here is cord" is quickly retorted with "here is silence", as the traveller is bound and gagged.

Ben, meanwhile, had been following a smugglers' route down to the beach, and returns to speak with the bound man, Josiah Blake, who claims to be a Revenue man hunting smugglers. In this air of double crosses, Ben refuses to listen to him, and Blake, played with wonderful restraint by the magnificent John Ringham, pleads with him to trust him. Suddenly, the pair are disturbed by the entrance of Pike, the Squire and Cherub, with the bound Polly in tow. Forced to act according to his duties, Josiah takes Ben and Polly prisoner, leading them from the crypt, leaving the real smugglers behind.

The scenes back on the boat are rather strange—with Hartnell imprisoned—sort of—he decides to play a game of tarot with Jamaica and Kewper, the innkeeper. What is oddest about the Doctor's fortune telling is that he somehow manages to accurately predict the future; his predictions all come true. Whether this is pure chance, or a hint at another ability of the Time Lord hitherto unseen is questionable—Hartnell's "perhaps—perhaps" is strange and ambiguous to say the least—but it is rather odd all the same. As with Ben and Polly, Hartnell's Doctor is here using the fear and superstition of the inhabitants of this time period to his own advantage. True, it is all just a distraction to allow Kewper to knock out Jamaica to ready their escape, but all the same it sits rather starkly against what we know of the Doctor's character. Kewper's passing comment that "In these dark days, honesty surely pays" is unnerving, after all we have seen, as we are aware that the Doctor is potentially waling into a trap. Indeed, it also foreshadows Cherub's betrayal in the scene later, eavesdropping on the conversation between Pike and the Squire.

Of course, the Revenues man Josiah Blake is a good guy after all, and despite his imprisonment of Ben and Polly, it turns out he was yet another character acting duplicitously; whilst others like Pike and the Squire wear their masks to hide villainy, Blake does so to do good, and to protect others. He is well aware that Ben and Polly are not the smugglers, but was rather tricking Pike, Cherub and the Squire into believing that he believed them so as to keep the travellers safe. Such double crosses happen with such readiness and frequency that the plot to this serial is quickly complicated—even more so by the lack of moving visual. Sadly, this is one of the few examples of a serial which suffers from absence—whilst the soundtrack is indeed filled with rich dialogue and stunning vocal performances, it is a heavily exposition-led story, and it becomes complex to follow. Fortunately, the novelisation, by Terrance Dicks, helps to clear this confusion up; little of the plot is changed, instead choosing to embellish upon some of the sequences.

Jamaica's death is one of those few remaining moments which still exist, thanks to the Australian censors deeming their audience to be more squeamish than the British—and it is truly unnerving, as Pike looms over him, menacingly brandishing the barbed pike upon his wrist, and uttering the threatening "It'll be a merry night, but not for ye" before thrusting down, made even more disturbing by the gentlemanly way in which he wipes the man's blood off with a lace handkerchief.

What is lovely about this episode, though, is that only a few weeks before he leaves, Hartnell's Doctor is still growing as a character—When we first met him, he would have scarpered to save his own skin as soon as possible (indeed, many of the serials involved exactly this plan, with complications preventing it), yet here he point-blank refuses to follow Ben's advice and run away. His explanation that he is under "moral obligation" is testimony to how far he has come in three seasons.

The episode ends with another fine cliffhanger, and yet another murder—Cherub, armed with a gun and a dagger, appears in the Crypt, and swiftly dispatches Kewper with a knife in the back. A shot rings out, and Polly's scream merges seamlessly with the end titles. Of course, it isn't Polly that has been shot. Instead, the Squire is wounded, and Cherub forces the Doctor to tell the secret of Avery's gold—apparently a list of names of deceased sailors. Of course, whilst Pike's pirates continue emptying the crypts of the booty, Pike has crept into the vaults holding the Doctor and his companions, and overhears Cherub's mutinous plans. Cherub quickly shows his less-than-angelic true face, and the pair battle it out in a sequence which sounds fabulous. The dialogue between parries is wonderful—"ya rat-faced smiler" is a personal favourite—as the pair continue to fight, ignoring the travellers.

Cherub's death is mercilessly vicious, having fallen and as such dispatched with great ease by Pike, and when he rounds on the Doctor, Hartnell is courageous in the face of danger, as always. Still refusing to leave until he is certain that everyone will be safe, he has ushered Ben and Polly to safety to make a fresh agreement with Pike, stalling for time until Blake and the Revenues men return. Ben's parting to Polly before he gallantly returns to help the Doctor is wonderfully funny—"Put the kettle on!"—but again shows his magnificent character trait, courage.

The final scenes are an absolute bloodbath, as almost every character is killed—as Blake and his men press in on the drunken soldiers, far less useful due to the plundered rum, they are massacred one-by-one, and Blake heads for the crypt where Pike has just discovered Avery's treasure. The Squire finally absolves himself by holding Pike back as he attacks the Doctor long enough for Blake to shoot him, before Ben and the Doctor sneak back to the TARDIS by the secret tunnel. Foreshadowing briefly shows its head as the Doctor warns Polly that he feels "a little exhausted", and the TARDIS arrives in "the coldest place on Earth", ready for the travellers' next adventure—and Hartnell's last...

Scott Edwards is a teacher of English and Theatre Studies at Barnard Castle School in the North East of England, with a BAHons in English Literature and Film Studies. He is also a self-professed ‘ming-mong,' and in addition to timelordapprentice.blogspot.co.uk he also runs facebook.com/Classic.Doctor.Who. You can also follow him on Twitter: @TimelordTSE.

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