THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Sky Pirates!
BBC
The Smugglers

Episodes 4 Can the Doctor defeat a pirate mad with Avery's Curse?
Story No# 28
Production Code CC
Season 4
Dates Sept. 10, 1966 -
Oct. 1, 1966

With William Hartnell, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills.
Written by Brian Hayles. Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Julia Smith. Produced by Innes Lloyd.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Ben and Polly travel to 17th century Cornwall and become involved in a conspiracy to unearth the pirate Avery's lost treasure.

Note: Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of this story are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.


Reviews

A Review by Robert Smith? 29/1/98

I've never seen this story, obviously, aside from a couple of clips and some location footage. However, I'd like to nominate this one as "the Hartnell story I most want found". Yes, The Dalek Master Plan might be nice, but I can't help feeling that too many of the so-called "classics" would only disappoint us if they were uncovered (witness, for example, how much of a classic The Web Planet was before people actually got to see it).

The Smugglers, of course, is a historical and I think the nature of its costume drama production plays to all the strengths the BBC has. We wouldn't have too many wobbly walls or even badly staged fight scenes, because the design team were in familiar territory. Furthermore, the location would have added something quite impressive to the production, from what I've seen from photos and clips.

Based on the novelisation, the story itself looks like a lot of fun. I think Hartnell's latter-day characterisation would have worked wonders here, especially as he wouldn't have had to remember great slabs of technical jargon (something that often let him down in the futuristic stories). Also, Hartnell was notorious for being far more 'stable' as a Doctor in the historical stories, so I really think he would have shone here. Ben and Polly, too, would have been able to display more character than we got to see in some of their later stories. I think it's telling that both actors fondly remember this story as one of their favourites.

I'll probably never know for sure, unfortunately, but I think The Smugglers would have been lots and lots of fun, standing out among the later Hartnell stories as a sort of 'jolly romp', just the kind of entertaining and fun piece of drama that Doctor Who does so well. If it's ever found, I'll wager that there will be none of the disappointments sometimes associated with recovered sixties stories (e.g. Tomb of the Cybermen, which was good, but somehow not quite the classic everyone had been claiming). Having very few 'fan expectations' is the surest way to ensure enjoyablility if and when the actual product turns up. Here's hoping.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 13/11/00

An often overlooked tale, The Smugglers is a gem because of its sense of adventure and fun.

William Hartnell is great, giving a top performance. Whether The Doctor is playing trickery with cards or refusing to leave the villagers because of his moral obligations, he is great to listen to. Ben and Polly are also tops here, they have resourcefulness and loyalty rolled into one. They also aren`t bothered by the TARDIS interior, but instead are more interested in adventure.

The supporting cast are also great, Pike stands out because of his OTT dialogue here. Add to this some welcome location filming and you have the recipe for success and a great William Hartnell tale.


Highly forgettable by Tim Roll-Pickering 13/11/01

Based on the Loose Cannon reconstruction.

Season Four opens with the Doctor explaining about the TARDIS to his new companions Polly and Ben. Wisely the opportunity is taken to reintroduce the basic premise of the series for the viewers before the TARDIS arrives in Cornwall for one of the dullest adventures in the series so far.

It's surprising how that of all the Hartnell historicals, only two are set in Britain and The Smugglers is the only one to be a 'pure' historical. British history is certainly not lacking in areas to explore but rather than pick a topic of either popular history or deep interest this story instead takes us to Cornwall somewhere in the seventeenth century. There is very little in the story itself that obviously arises from its historical setting and in the later years of the series a story like this would almost certainly take place on another planet, if at all. The opportunity to show the Doctor and companions in the heart of some of the most pivotal events in the history of Britain (and the seventeenth century is full of them, most notably the Gunpowder Plot, the Personal Rule of Charles I, the Civil Wars, the Common Wealth, the Restoration or the Glorious Revolution) is missed and instead we are presented with a confusing run-around and treasure hunt that becomes hard to follow due to the multiple deceptions and backstabbings in the story.

Virtually none of the characters in this story shine in any way, and Michael Godfrey (Captain Pike) only stands out as the best of the guest cast by virtue of poor competition. The story is clich?, particularly in the portrayal of the pirates and there are numerous predictable scenes such as the one where Polly and Ben escape from their cell by taking advantage of the native superstitions. The regulars give risible performances but all three feature far better in other stories. One positive point of the story is the major use of location work which helps to give the story scope, but this is one of the very few positive features in its favour. All in all this is a highly forgettable tale. 3/10

Loose Cannon have worked their usual magic on this story, using the telesnaps, censor clips and even a few shots from a cine film made during the location shooting of the story. Although the cine film stands out because it's in colour this is easy to rectify and it helps bring some motion to the story. This goes a long way to making it possible to view the story. 8/10


A Review by Brett Walther 5/5/04

After the giddy heights of The Enemy of the World, I was positively ravenous for more Doctor Who on audio. But the choice of which story to follow up on David Whitaker's mighty Season Five entry was not an easy one, seeing as how I'm a novice when it comes to the CD-based realm of Who paraphernalia.

My eyes were drawn to the gorgeous cover art of The Smugglers. A pirate ship silhouette before a full moon, Hartnell facing Cherub with an ageless expression of defiance, and Polly cradling an injured Ben... In a flash, I knew I had to have it. Distant memories of a charming Target novelisation by Terrance Dicks and a fascinating telesnap Photonovel from the BBC website that kept me from my paperwork at my summer job last year had created a soft spot in my heart for this penultimate Hartnell tale.

And although it's okay, it's not as good as The Enemy of the World, now, is it?

Of course, they're two entirely different stories, with two entirely different actors in the lead role.

It's just that the audio-only format of The Smugglers has the unfortunate effect of drawing attention to Hartnell's line fluffs, of which there are actually quite a few. Some are, as we've grown to find them, quite hilarious, while others shatter the illusion entirely. And in all fairness, it's not just Hartnell -- the fellow playing Longfoot makes a major, plot-endangering gaffe in the first episode when he screws up the three secret words that are the key to Avery's treasure. The three most important words in the entire script -- plot-wise, at any rate -- and they're flubbed... It's heartbreaking.

Michael Craze and Anneke Wills are a breath of fresh air, though. As with Mel later on, Ben and Polly are so much more vibrant than their immediate predecessor(s), it's impossible not to love them immediately. Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and Hartnell's exasperated comments in their wake in episode one are priceless. The new companions also serve a nice function in introducing new viewers to the series, this being the premiere of Season Four, that is.

The location work also looks fantastic from the evidence presented in the telesnaps. The church sitting on its own in the middle of a field is creepy as hell, and is matched by an appropriately atmospheric studio interior. The beach looks lovely as well, and it's a shame the BBC didn't keep this as an example of a relatively far-flung location shoot from the Hartnell era.

And although the story is undoubtedly charming, it's a bit frustrating that the Doctor, Ben and Polly don't really do anything over the course of four episodes. The plot is advanced only by the actions of Captain Pike, Cherub and the Squire, while the Doctor is a prisoner aboard the Black Albatross and Polly and Ben are in the local gaol.

It's a good thing the dastardly trio of Pike, Cherub and the Squire are performed to perfection, though, otherwise The Smugglers would have sunk like a cannonball. Michael Godfrey's Pike is in turn a screaming loony and soft spoken gentleman. I particularly love his quiet farewell to Jamaica after running him through with his pike...

The conclusion is a bit of a let-down, though, with the Doctor and company merely biding their time until the militia can arrive to save the day. I was really looking forward to John Ringham's performance as revenue man Blake, but he's rather wasted, isn't he? Sure, he serves a purpose in leading the militia to the dastardly pirates -- who are doing more drinking than smuggling in the churchyard, which is a riot! -- but there's not much there in terms of characterization. Perhaps I was distracted by visions of Tlotoxl whenever he spoke...

It's also always struck me as a bit of stretch in credulity that everyone assumes Polly is a boy because she's not in a skirt. You'd think the three pounds of eye makeup would be a clue that something's not quite right, wouldn't you?

6/10


A Review by Brian May 13/3/05

Oh, what a pity.

It's sad that The Smugglers is absent from the BBC archives, save for a few censored clips. From the script, audio and telesnaps it seems like a highly enjoyable yarn. Not stunning or ground breaking; not gobsmackingly quintessential Doctor Who, but a nice means of whiling away ninety minutes, preferably on a cold, rainy day to make the atmosphere complete.

The location footage looks wonderful from the limited pictorial information available - namely, the 16mm film of the shoot. The extensive use of various Cornish landscapes and buildings adds a real depth and credibility to the story; from the telesnaps the beach scenes look great, as do those aboard the pirate ship. Even the studio interiors of the church and the crypt look exquisite. The authenticity this achieves is essential, especially as The Smugglers is Doctor Who's own version of a Daphne du Maurier novel.

Brian Hayles's second script for the series is fairly simple, but it oozes charm in bucketloads. Yes, there's a fearsome pirate captain with a spike in place of a hand, with underlings who make plenty of West Country accented aaarhs. There are secret tunnels, a dead pirate's curse and a buried treasure, complete with a cryptic riddle as to its whereabouts. With factors such as these, Hayles knows he can't avoid the cliches of the genre, so he doesn't pretend this is anything else, and accordingly provides us with a good old-fashioned escapist adventure. Previous historical adventures were primarily educational; the intent was to inform the target audience of children of a particular culture (The Aztecs) or a particular event (The Crusade, The Massacre). Some stories took a light-hearted approach, applying comedic licence (The Romans, The Myth Makers, The Gunfighters) but were all fundamentally a history lesson wrapped in a story. But in The Smugglers, we've just got a plain old adventure, with the historical setting largely incidental.

Hayles has filled the story with good dialogue - Pike's interrogation of the Doctor, and the latter's attempts to gain the upper hand (and avoid being tortured) is one such example; the conversation between the Squire, Pike and Cherub as they connive away is another. There are no terrifically memorable quotes, but all the dialogue has a rich feel to it, and there's a wonderfully sparkling exchange between the Doctor and Kewper as they play their "card game" while being held prisoner on the Black Albatross.

The lack of any live action footage beyond a few death scenes makes it difficult to judge the performances, but the audio conveys enough to make some reasonable judgments. Michael Godfrey is fantastic, relishing his lines as Pike, realising the limitations of such a character but maintaining a ruthlessness, bloodthirstiness and determination. Paul Whitsun-Jones is also excellent as the Squire, a corruptible man, but one who won't resort to murder and redeems himself at the end. George A. Cooper as Cherub makes a memorable thug, and John Ringham, although a bit overly theatrical as Blake (but then again, remember his Richard III impression in The Aztecs) makes a good ally. Some of the roles are bit overacted however; the pirates Jamaica and Gaptooth in particular.

After reading some background material, I couldn't believe William Hartnell didn't get on with Anneke Wills and Michael Craze. For in this story they seem to get on like a house on fire, making a cosy albeit short-lived TARDIS crew. I suppose that goes down to the professionalism of the actors. Craze and Wills are great, making Ben and Polly an excellent team. It's also hard to believe Hartnell was as ill as reported. He seems as lively as in his first two seasons; he also adds a sense of ambiguity to the character - at the beginning, when he realises he's stuck with his new companions, he muses to himself:

"And I really thought I was going to be alone again."

His tone - and his outburst at the beginning - suggests he's annoyed at having these new people in the TARDIS with him. But there's an underlying hint that he's glad of the company, and was dreading being alone. (cf. The Massacre) Whatever the truth is, it has a nice, open-ended thoughtfulness to it.

The only criticism I would have with The Smugglers is that nothing much happens during the climax. The resolution is the arrival of Blake and the militia in a "cavalry save the day" fashion, but we already knew they were coming. The final shoot-out doesn't seem too flash or exciting (though, because it's not there to see, I could be totally wrong). And I can't really swallow the idea that nobody realised Polly wasn't a male!

But this nitpicking aside, The Smugglers is (would have been) delightful fun. It's a rip-roaring, atmospheric tale that, due to its historical nature, would have benefited from the costumes and location filming. From what we can see, it looks wonderfully sumptuous, with an endearing story. 7.5/10


"Oodles of trouble!" by Neil Clarke 23/10/11

I love listening to an episode of sixties Doctor Who before I go to bed - it seems right, curling up in the dark with a blanket and the 'throbbing menace' of the original theme coming through the headphones. Hartnell's era particularly has the right atmosphere to be a bedtime thing.

The Smugglers is immediately unpretentious and direct, in a way that means it doesn't seem dated, and translates well to audio (recalling the comparable Highlanders). There are no baffling decisions here; it does what it needs to straightforwardly and effectively: Ben and Polly are introduced as time-travelling companions proper (with a healthy amount of scepticism); the Doctor is re-established as an authoritative but charmingly heroic character; and the TARDIS is dealt with with a minimum of fuss (the newbies' reaction to it is obviously less effectively than Ian and Barbara's, but in a way more appropriate to the direct adventure we get here, rather than the almost punishingly dramatic An Unearthly Child).

It's noticeable that Hartnell's performance is particularly strong here; very confident and assured, which makes it particularly horrible that endless harping on his Billy-fluffs does a huge disservice to a consummate actor. The directness of this story - bam, Ben and Polly in the TARDIS; bam, seventeenth century Cornwall; bam, pirates - also does favours for the Doctor, showing how great Hartnell was in the role: fiery, authoritative, amused, gracious, pompous, perceptive. His chuckles and constant amusement also make him very likeable (although he never becomes twee).

This story also made me appreciate the truth that this far back the Doctor just isn't the action hero we've become used to; I like the idea that, over his lives, he's developed into a more explicitly heroic figure (although I suppose also more conventional, so whether that's a good thing depends on your outlook).

I love Ben and Polly's respective reactions to their predicament: her thinking it's all a great adventure, balanced by his grumpy pragmatism. Their adaptation to the Doctor's lifestyle may be less realistic than Ian and Babs' (their sixties Londoner precursors), but then this is a different sort of period and story. The "pretty young vagabonds"' investigations are great, with their looking for clues, but I particularly love Ben (ie, the sorcery scene, posing as the Doctor's apprentices and "What are you screaming for?" "Oh, nothing, mate, we're just happy"). Ben and Polly actually feel like there's a clear concept behind them, perhaps unusually for early companions (a cooler, more dynamic, modern duo), in a way Steven, Vicki, or Dodo, don't.

As Patrick Mulkern pointed out in the (now defunct?) online Radio Times episode guide, there is nary a note of incidental music here, but I didn't even notice; simple atmospherics like the creaking timber and seagulls' calls during scenes on the Black Albatross, crows in the graveyard, and the echo in the crypt, work brilliantly instead. It feels like a conscious decision (as in, say, The Birds), rather than a budgetary constraint.

The story may be lousy with cliches (which put me off the telesnaps, though that's hardly the fullest way to experience a story), but, in practise, the story comes alive nonetheless, because of, rather than in spite of, the familiar setting and devices it employs.

Cherub in particular (great name for a pirate!) is appropriately vile and larger-than-life for the lurid genre exercises the historicals had become by this period, with his "touch like an angel's wing ... with that knife": "I'll have the words spilling out of him, like blubber from a whale!"

It may in part be to do with its effectiveness on audio (the first episode warrants barely any additional narration, and introduces only Joseph Longfoot and Cherub in addition to the regulars), but The Smugglers is so much better than stories like The Tenth Planet that, though not necessarily 'acclaimed', still have inestimably greater status. Though understandable (The Tenth Planet is sci-fi, not a 'boring' historical, and features the Cybermen's debut and the first regeneration), it's such a shame that a direct, effective story like this (though equally understandably) barely has any reputation at all.

There aren't any big, crowd-pleasing concepts (flying buses or historical celebrities), but this story could be made today with only the most superficial of changes, down to the script itself; it's just a shame it wouldn't be, exactly because of its lack of 'big concepts'.

Even though a relatively undemanding story (with a lot of its colour already filled in, due to the archetypes it's dealing in), it's strikes me as going some way to explaining my love for the period of Doctor Who it comes from. I really love the sixties and so, whilst listening to this story, I couldn't help but try and work out why.

There is a brilliance peculiar to the best of the sixties. This is the closest I can come to defining it:

I recently came across an unfortunately typical comment, apparently calculated as being as annoying as possible, saying: 'I never have and never will be interesting in the first two Doctors and the dull and inferior B&W era of the show'. I really shouldn't rise to that, but it does rile me.

If that is actually your considered opinion then fine, but someone who doesn't have the critical faculties to back up such a ridiculously generalising and closed-minded comment like that is clearly a moron. I suppose I get the last laugh though, as the sixties has all the things I want from Doctor Who: visual strength, directness, intelligence, conviction, imagination, and variety.

Ha, ha.