Doctor Who #129: The Smugglers Part 1

"A priest? The word of God touched me too late, boy. I'm the Churchwarden here."TECHNICAL SPECS: Only a few clips exist from The Smugglers, clips notoriously cut by Australian censors. Though I have listened to the audio CD narrated by the great Anneke Wills (best of all the narrators), I've used a reconstruction here (Part 1, Part 2). First aired Sep.10 1966.

IN THIS ONE... Polly and Ben's first trip through time lands them in Cornwall at the time of pirates.

REVIEW: Poor Ben and Polly! Killer robots is one thing, but time travel? That's another. Though Polly brings some of her sarcastic humor to the table, and Ben does his bit defending her honor, there is sometimes the sense that the script was written with Steven and Dodo in mind. Consequently, Ben acts the Doubting Thomas and Polly goes "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee". Also, she wears a cap and everyone thinks she's a boy. A very pretty boy. Shockingly, the Doctor's initial attitude towards these two kids he liked and trusted in the previous story is one of outrage at their presence. It's the old Doctor from An Unearthly Child showing his teeth again. And why not? Picking up orphans and last survivors has been the norm lately, and he's just picked up two people who have lives to get back to when he damn well knows the TARDIS won't want to go back to 1966. Worse, it's his fault for misplacing a key. So we can accept and forgive his reaction. Plus, it helps sell the premise all over again, and this feels like a proper season premiere, as the Doctor reexplains the situation, the scanner, etc. to new companions and to a potential new audience.

Though there are a lot of telesnaps taken from this story, it's still difficult to get a sense of what the locations looked like on film. It's the first time Doctor Who goes to the beach, but how did the stuff on boats look? The script does create a sense of place, with much of the dialog sounding archaic. The churchwarden is an intriguing character, with an obvious past which comes to collect an old debt in the form of the nasty pirate Cherub. He'll die violently for his refusal to talk, stabbed in the back in the only surviving clip from this episode, long enough to make me think the Australians likely didn't know what the HECK was going on there. The pirates are looking for clues to Captain Avery's Gold, coded words he's given to the Doctor as repayment for fixing his dislocated fingers (so he's had other visitors). Captain Avery, new Who fans might remember is the name of the pirate captain in The Curse of the Black Spot. It only took 45 years to find out what ever happened to him that his gold was up for grabs (or hundreds of years if we go by the historical Avery instead).

With pirates about, the townsfolk are all as wary as the churchwarden, if not downright paranoid. In addition to the innkeeper Kewper and his boy Young Tom, there's also the local Squire, an obvious blowhard who accuses Ben and Polly of murder without any kind of evidence. He's the lazy arm of the law. Meanwhile, the Doctor is kidnapped by pirates (I know they smuggle things, but why not just call the serial The Pirates?), brought to the Black Albatross (cool name!) and questioned by one Captain Pike. And that's where our story ends for now, mateys...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though Ben and Polly aren't quite spot-on, it's a good start to one of the last pure historicals, though the presence of pirates may make it more of a genre piece.

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