The Smugglers

Written by:
Brian Hayles
Directed by: Julia Smith
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1966
Audio Availability: Try Amazon

After the throwback historical style of a late Lucarotti story in season three (The Massacre), this was the final form of the genre in Who. Lucarotti was phased out, comedy was pressed forward by Donald Cotton, and it sees its final end with two stories (see also The Highlanders) that give up on any pretence at historical realism or accuracy.

The Smugglers is a fun and overlooked story - the least discussed Hartnell? - that encourages much "shiver me timbers!" playing from all involved. It's a nondescript season opener with just 47 seconds of footage in the archives. 23 of those seconds come from here, thanks to Australian censors, as Longfoot is stabbed in the back. A surprisingly violent story for the time, with the caretaker from Grange Hill menacing all and sundry, it's also the possessor of questionable racial subtexts if you really want to look for them. With the evil pirates sailing the ship The Black Albatross and a teeth flashing, eye-rolling black underling called Jamaica (Ainsley Harriot nicked his act) then it does make eyebrows raise four decades later. However, let us not forget that this is also trying to capture the essence of an historical period, so the seven variations on the word "black" as a derogatory term ("The blackest villain of them all", etc.) are more accurate than pre-PC.
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"Oh, shaaaaaartup screaming!" Ben's such a refreshingly blunt companion, isn't he? This is new Who, bloodier, pacier and snappier. The story opens out with underground secret passageways and… okay. I admit it. I enjoy this one, but I just haven't got anything to say about it.
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Billy only blows (arguably) two lines in this one, but they're both crackers. This one has the wonderful "Good Heavens, what an impersay… imp … well! You are inspired!" while episode one has the debatable "You see that scanner? That is what I call a scanner up there." Who knows, maybe if the episodes were found he'd be reacting to blank expressions from Ben and Polly… maybe.

Talking of Billy, how did he find working with Elroy Josephs? It's said that he made his decision to leave during this serial, though there's strong suggestions he was dropped from the role. Maybe they just employed multi-racial casts (see also The Tenth Planet) to push the old bugger over the edge? Maybe we'll never know why Bill really stopped being the Doctor, though the latter day myth that it was due to his failing ill health should surely be disproved by a string of stronger performances in seasons three and four. He has to have a week off in his final tale, true, but in The Smugglers - as his one fluff hit rate attests - he's in fine commanding form.
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So what kind of writer was Brian Hayles then? After a well-meaning false start with The Celestial Toymaker he drafted this and then spent the rest of his Who career writing Ice Warrior stories. For that he gets praise as creator of one of the "big four" monsters, but for every Ice Warriors there was a Terrance Dicks-salvaged Seeds of Death, or for every Curse there was a Monster. The Smugglers is probably his third-best script, and one that's uncharacteristic in retrospect.

For a wilfully graphic story, then it's largely inoffensive and … well, pleasant. However, it remains perfectly pleasant listening, so if you had a choice which of the dozen missing Hartnell stories could be found then this would probably be in the bottom three. It's likeable but just inessential, and its appeal isn't really all that daunted by not having the images. Still, it's a good one, and this is the episode to contain a "Polly put the kettle on" gag.
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A fine, likeable, jaunty little story. Nothing outstanding, but it succeeds in entertaining - not something every Doctor Who story can lay claim to.
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