Doctor Who and The Smugglers
Written by Brian Hayles
Transmitted 10 September – 1 October 1966
“This is Deadman’s secret key, Ringwood, Smallbeer, Gurney.”
The Doctor has just bid farewell to his companion Dodo, a traveler who arrived and left with almost equal parts lack of impact. After defeating the War Machines and shutting down the monstrous computer with designs on world domination, WOTAN, the Doctor was eager for some solitude. Unfortunately, both Ben and Polly, a pair of youngster who had proven instrumental in his previous travails, have stumbled into the TARDIS and become unsuspecting crew-mates in the ship of time and space.
Despite his most heartfelt attempts, the Doctor cannot convince Ben or Polly that they have entered the time/space vortex and will soon land in an unpredictable place and time. Ben insists, in his cockney way, that the Doc is having a laff and walks outside to see that they have moved from the city of London to the seaside. Nevertheless, Ben is determined to find a bus or cab and get back to his ship before he is declared AWOL. Polly is less sure of her surroundings, but finds Ben’s explanation the more reasonable.
The Doctor clicks his tongue in annoyance and tries his best to be patient with these youngsters. They have in fact landed on the coast of Cornwall sometime in the 17th Century. They are about to get wrapped up in some devious developments that will threaten their lives and place them at the mercies of some of the most unscrupulous villains of the high seas.
Sailor Ben Jackson and office clerk Polly join the Doctor on his travels
New companions Ben and Polly are actually quite good in this one and handle equal parts of the ‘heavy lifting’ of the story, possibly in part to Hartnell’s poor health or in an effort to more firmly establish them as cast members in anticipation of the lead actor’s leave in the following story. In any case, they are grand. Ben is the perfect ‘lad’ of the 1960′s, brash and brave if a bit hard-headed. Polly, on the other hand, is achingly attractive and feisty if a bit of a screamer. Actress Aneke Wills had decided to play Polly against type and be more of as scaredy cat than a brave heroine. It’s an odd decision but does result in some humorous situations, especially with Ben teasing her.
It’s a shame that so little material has survived of Ben and Polly as companions on Doctor Who as it makes any opinion on their effectiveness almost entirely random. I do enjoy actor Michael Craze’s energy and his devilish attitude that often leads him headfirst into trouble and Wills is the ideal lady in distress, playing up her vulnerability to perfection.
In a turn of tradition, the entire program was actually filmed in Cornwall, far from the studio. This gave the program a different air and (working from amateur behind the scenes footage) also provided the cast a much-needed sense of a holiday. The few surviving sequences of the seaside establish a mood and setting that would have been lost had the crew filmed anywhere else.
The Doctor meets 'Holy' Joseph Longfoot and receives a cryptic clue
Finding themselves at a lighthouse, the TARDIS crew meet the very suspicious Joseph Longfoot who begrudgingly accepts them into his limited accommodations. When the Doctor helps Longfoot with an old wound, the grizzeled old man sees in the time traveler a worthy kind soul and leaves him with advise on lodgings on the mainland and a strange piece of verse that puzzles the Doctor immensely.
After the strangers depart, Longfoot is visited by Cherub, a blood-thirsty menace who interrogates and threatens Longfoot to explain who the strangers were and what he told them. Cherub is determined to find the location of Captain Avery’s treasure, some ill-gotten gold that is hidden somewhere on the mainland. As Longfoot is the only surviving member of Avery’s crew, Cherub deduces that he must know. Longfoot refuses and is soon the victim of Cherub’s blade. I must say that Cherub, played George A. Cooper, is an exquisite villain.
His dialog is superb but more importantly drips from the actor’s lips with such venom that it is caustic; ‘Just say the word, Cap’n and I’ll gut him. It’ll be like stripping the fat from a whale!’ After killing Logfoot, Cherub notices that the strangers have entered a nearby tavern and follows keenly.
Arriving in town, the Doctor and his two young companions (because Polly is dressed in slacks and a shirt she is mistaken as a boy… yep… a boy) are treated with similar contempt and suspicion but they are in a tight spot. With the tide in, the TARDIS is out of reach as it had landed on the beach. Thus, they must do their best to lay low, try not to draw attention, and stay safe. The townsfolk seem unusually unsavory and dangerous, but they must do their best. When Longfoot is discovered dead, the three strangers are the most likely suspects.
Cherub and some of his fellow shipmates arrive and rough up the Doctor and Ben, leaving Ben badly wounded and taking the Doctor to meet their Captain, the dreaded Pike. Left to her own, Polly is interrogated by the local magistrate, an officious Squire (played by Paul Whitsun-Jones who would later return in the Pertwee adventure The Mutants) and all looks grim. Ben and Polly are locked up and the Doctor comes to at the presence of Captain Pike, who earned his name on account of a long blade where his hand used to be.
Cherub threatens the Doctor with a rather cruel-looking blade
The Smugglers is loosely based on the works of Russell Thorndyke Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh (developed for the small screen by Disney back in the day starring a very young Patrick McGoohan, criminally out of print on DVD). As such it is a wonderful tale of piracy, double dealings, cryptic codes and distrustful civil servants.
Hartnell may have been in the end of his career, but we should all have such talent as he. The actor positively glows in this adventure, charming Pike as a ‘gentlemen’ with flowery language and curtsies so much so that he stalls the pirate almost indefinitely from killing him! It’s the usual case where the Doctor knows nothing but the villain simply assumes that the Doctor knows some important piece of information, so our hero simply bluffs his way as far as he can, knowing that this misunderstanding is the only life-line he has!
Jamaica has no idea of the grisly fate awaiting him at the end of Captain Pike's clawed hand
Cherub may be little more than a rabid dob on two legs, but Pike is a cultivated and cultured man of violence, cutting down even members of his own crew to get at Avery’s lost treasure. Pike is a bloody piece of work, at once intelligent and reasonable yet blinded by his quest for Avery’s treasure. He also comes into contact with the Squire who, as it turns out, is running a very lucrative, very illegal smuggling operation. Both see an opportunity in their meeting and conspire a partnership.
The Doctor successfully keeps himself just out of danger while his companions play on the superstitions of the time to escape their cell, convincing their young jailer that they are in fact witches. It’s a clever and well constructed scene (if a bit cruel on their part). They encounter Josiah Blake a revenue man who is tracking the smuggling ring. Yes, their best bet is to team up with internal revenue… dark times.
Fittingly in a graveyard, the entire affair comes to a violent end
The clues that Longfoot initially gave the Doctor soon becomes useful when all parties find themselves in a graveyard full of hastily laid headstones left in memory of Avery’s crew. Thinking that part of everything is not enough, Cherub turns on Pike and it’s a shoot-out between them and the Squire. There’s so much violence in this story that many sequences were cut by the New Zealand censors. Lucky thing, too, as the cuts were retained and consist of most of the surviving material of the Smugglers.
A rollicking seafaring adventure, this would mark the second to last true historical adventure of Doctor Who (with the Highlanders closing the book on this genre in the program). As one of the many ‘lost’ stories, a fan is left with few options to enjoy this story. An excellent novelization by Terrance Dicks is available as is an audio CD. Strangely, the BBC Wales story ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ is presented as something of a prequel to the Smugglers as it involves Captain Avery… but that really doesn’t wash with me as it’s mainly bollocks.
As this is old Billy’s birthday, I wanted to add an image that asserts there was more to the old man than his often criticized ‘crotchety’ persona. Below is a rare behind the scenes snapshot from the Daleks’ Master Plan.
(Note: The Hartnell thumbnail comes from this etsy store)