The Doctor has two new and unwitting companions in the shape of Ben and Polly. Told by The Doctor that getting back to London in 1966 may not be as simple as they think, the unbelieving duo are soon shocked to find themselves in 17th Century Cornwall. There be adventure, pirates and violence ahoy!
Right, so…truthfully, I’ve been putting this review off for a couple of reasons. First reason is that it’s a completely missing story from the archives so, other than the telesnaps and censor cuts, nothing visual exists from these four opening episodes of Season 4. The second reason is that, while I am studying for a degree in History and like history as a subject, I have always found the William Hartnell historical stories a little boring to watch/listen to. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great ones during his tenure in Doctor Who (just look at how well regarded the missing story “The Massacre” is with older fans and I oddly like “The Gunslingers”) but, for me personally, I’d rather see a more science fiction based story over an historical one. Plus I find it really very difficult to ignore the historical inaccuracies…
But enough complaining – I’ll do plenty of that later on in the review – what is the story about? The Doctor has two unwelcome intruders in the TARDIS in the forms of Ben and Polly, who are taken back to 17th Century Cornwall, much to the disbelief of Ben. After exploring the area they meet with a Churchwarden who The Doctor helps in relocating his dislocated finger and are soon off on their way. Finding an inn, the trio rest while the Churchwarden is murdered, placing the suspicions of guilt on our trio. The Doctor is kidnapped and taken to Captain Pike, who is in search of Avery’s Treasure and knows that The Doctor was the last person the Warden spoke to before his murder. Elsewhere, Ben and Polly are accused of the murder by he Squire, who has been in charge of the local smuggling ring. Ben and Polly escape, only to run into Blake, a revenue man who is investigating smuggling in the area and although he does not trust the two, slowly he comes to believe that there’s more afoot here. The Squire and Pike join forces, with the Squire offering to cut Pike into the smuggling ring. However, as with most pirates, Pike is not trustworthy, which the Squire finds out later with all parties now looking for Avery’s treasure, a treasure that The Doctor (now united with Ben and Polly) thinks he may have found. Pike catches our trio and The Doctor offers him the location of the treasure if he spares the lives of all in the village. No sooner has Pike grabbed hold of the treasure then he is confronted by a militia of Blake, the Squire (now atoning for his wrongs) and others, only to be killed by Blake. While this happens, The Doctor, Ben and Polly slip off back to the TARDIS and set off for another adventure.
Let’s look at our two new companions Ben and Polly, played by the late Michael Craze and Anneke Wills. Both Michael and Anneke bring to the role something new that had not been seen in a companion before this story; two assistants from a contemporary setting closer in age to the younger viewers (just before half of you shout “What about Ian and Barbara?”) and who are not an obvious replacement for The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (before the other half scream “What about Dodo?!”). Michael Craze’s character of Ben is one who, while sullen in “The War Machines”, shows himself here to be someone who won’t take The Doctor’s words at face value and is far more disbelieving of what is going on than Polly. Anneke Will’s plays Polly as not only someone more willing to believe The Doctor and trust him, but also someone being there to keep Ben in check. “The Smugglers” nicely sets up the relationship that Ben and Polly will have during Season 4 – a duo who are thrown into the deep end of time travel with The Doctor but who rely mainly upon each other (as Big Finish would later prove with the two being married in “The Five Companions” audio story). Although they have only started on their journey here, you can see where the producer and story editor of the time (Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis) wished to take these two companions, especially as both would be considering the big change that was planned for the following story, “The Tenth Planet”.
I think it is worth saying something here about William Hartnell. As fans know, by this point Hartnell was not in the best of health and, although this is audio, you can sense that there is much more done here in the hopes of keeping Hartnell from getting ill or too tired. The Doctor spends most of Episode 2 captured and not key to the story. With hindsight, you can tell that something was amiss and that plans were afoot to change the show in a very unique way, but watching this at the time you might have wondered if all was well with William Hartnell. And what of the other cast? The trouble with this being audio only is you cannot see the actors actions and expressions, which with some of them makes it hard to not imagine them as Harry Secombe at times. The main guest actors in this story are Michael Godfrey as Captain Pike, John Ringham as Josiah Blake and Paul Whitsun-Jones as Squire Edwards. Godfrey’s Captain Pike (must not insert Dad’s Army reference here) is very much a typical cut-throat pirate captain but, thankfully, without too much of the Robert Newton overacting (there maybe some “Yaaarrrrrrghs” but not too many). He is played with a voice that sounds much more akin to how pirates would have been – far more intelligent and of a higher social standing than is normally portrayed in film and TV. The Squire played by Paul Whitsun-Jones is very much a typical official that you’d expect of the time and fits the tone of the story perfectly. John Ringham appears for his second of three Doctor Who appearances and clearly understands the tone and flow of the show.
The idea of the new TARDIS trio being accused of murder and getting involved in the activities of smuggling & pirating makes a fresh change from previous historicals. The writer of the story is Brian Hayles, someone who would find success later on in Doctor Who history with the creation of the Ice Warriors, who delivers a rather well rounded, not too padded out script. Taking two 1960’s 20-somethings and placing them in the middle of the 17th century with little help from The Doctor is a nice way to allow the story to flow and for the two to gain some experience of what to expect in a far quicker time frame over previous companions such as Dodo, who everybody hated. As a season opener an historical may not have been the best of choices but, unlike the previous two seasons, the story is strong enough to make an impact, even with it being before “The Tenth Planet”. Instead of rushing our new travellers off into the future, they are taken to the past and get to see just how the TARDIS works from the get go without believing it at first, which is a nice twist over previous companions who have either been from the future themselves or taken to the future very quickly. Yes, I know Ian & Barbara were taken to 100,000 BC, but I don’t count that as a ’true’ historical compared to this because how many cavemen do you know that spoke with a perfect English accent and don‘t give me that “The TARDIS told them how” crap because I will blow a raspberry in your general direction.
The main problem that I have faced with this review is the lack of visuals, which undoubtedly helps with historical adventures. Unlike other missing historicals such as “Marco Polo” and “The Massacre”, which ideally require visuals to help tell the story, “The Smugglers” works quite well as an audio adventure. The lack of video does mean a lack of scope, but the story is good enough to carry the listener to the end. As a season opener it’s the strongest of the Hartnell stories, earning it a very seaworthy 7/10.
Written and edited by Alexander James Wilkinson