William Hartnell’s Doctor had many great historical adventures, like “The Aztecs,” “The Romans,” and “The Massacre.” These are engaging stories where the Doctor becomes involved in past events and meets interesting people. Unfortunately, William Hartnell’s second to last adventure, “The Smugglers,” is not one of them. It is a historical, but it is not a great story. In fact, it’s not even a good story. “The Smugglers” finds the Doctor and his new companions, Polly and Ben, in late seventeenth century Cornwall.
At the conclusion of “The War Machines,” Polly and Ben enter the TARDIS to return Dodo’s TARDIS key and end up being accidentally taken along with the Doctor. After initially refusing to believe that the TARDIS can travel thorough space and time, they find themselves in Cornwall caught between the Squire’s smuggling ring and Captain Pike and his pirate crew looking for Avery’s treasure. The Doctor and his two “boys” (yes, people think Polly is a boy) end up joining forces with Josiah Blake, the King’s revenue officer to save the town from danger.
I found very little to enjoy in this story. None of the episodes of this story survive, so I had to rely on the reconstructions to follow the story. However, I often found the motivations and plans of the characters to be a bit confusing. Keeping track of who was conspiring with who took a lot of effort. I managed to follow the story, but it wasn’t always easy. I’m sure this would have been less so if I could have viewed the episodes, but the plot seemed to be a bit of a mess.
My confusion was compounded by the fact that I did not find this story particularly engaging. There are so many people plotting and scheming, and there is no one to root for. The Squire is less bad than the pirates, since he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he plays a villainous role for much of the story, until he helps Josiah kill the evil Captain Pike (who has something resembling a pike for a hand). Josiah is a good guy, but he is barely in the story. Basically, the story consists of a bunch of indistinguishable bad guys, since no one’s personality is developed at all.
Furthermore, I didn’t really understand why the Doctor needed to interfere. He insisted on staying to protect the town, which was noble of him, but he seemed to feel that he had an obligation to stay. Why? He had no problem letting the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve occur, or helping the Trojans sack Troy, so why was this particular event something he could change? Maybe this was lost along with the visuals, but I wasn’t sure why this was one historical event he could change. Was it because it was not a famous event?
The story is also not helped by the addition of Ben and Polly. They have a clever moment, in which Polly comes up with a way to get themselves released from the village gaol (by scaring the boy guarding them into thinking that they are warlocks). Unfortunately, the rest of the time they seem pretty useless. I’m not sure what they contribute to this story. Polly spends most of the story screaming and being held captive (I know she’s wearing pants, but who would believe that she was a boy, unless they were both blind and deaf?) and Ben seems to run around and get involved in the action, but yet does very little. They don’t really have very clearly defined personalities yet, except that Ben is very active and wants to protect Polly (he’s also overly concerned about getting back to the Navy barracks, given that he has just traveled in time- Wouldn’t you think he’d be at least a little awed by the experience?) and Polly is simply the damsel in distress.
Finally, there was one point that really bothered me in this story. The Doctor says at both the beginning and the end of this story that he has no control over where the TARDIS goes. While this is true, it seemed very out of character for Hartnell’s Doctor to admit this so readily. He was always insisting to Barbara and Ian that he could control the TARDIS if he wanted to control it (for instance in “The Reign of Terror”). He was always a very proud man, and I don’t think he would ever be so matter of fact about his lack of control over the TARDIS.
This story was written by Brian Hayles, and I must confess that I find his writing to be very uneven. I enjoyed “The Celestial Toymaker,” but it’s difficult to say how much of the was his and how much belonged to one of the other writers on the story. I enjoyed his Ice Warrior stories and “The Curse of Peladon,” but “The Monster of Peladon” is probably my least favorite third Doctor story. His stories seem to be either great or rather boring.
Overall, this was my least favorite Hartnell story. Perhaps if more of the story could be viewed, my opinions would change, but somehow, I doubt it. On a random note, it’s interesting that the only clips from this story to survive are the censored bits, so the only footage that survives is of people being stabbed or shot. It’s also interesting to note that this story is connected to the modern Who episode, “The Curse of the Black Spot” which features Captain Avery, although I’m not sure how that could be the same Captain Avery whose treasure is being sought here. That was another episode of which I am not a big fan, so maybe the problem is that I just don’t like pirates.