March 7: The Smugglers Episodes 3 & 4

Having spent the first two episodes acquainting us with the various players of his piece, writer Brian Hayles now begins to really set things moving.  The Doctor and Kewper trick their captor Jamaica by reading fortunes from playing cards, while the revenue officer, Blake, takes Ben and Polly into his custody -- but not to arrest them.  No, he believes their story, and needs their help against the Squire and his smuggling ring.

Episode 3 is more bloodthirsty than the last two, it must be said.  Captain Pike kills Jamaica for allowing the Doctor and Kewper to escape, and the moment where he wipes Jamaica's blood off his pike hand with a handkerchief before dropping the bloodied cloth onto Jamaica's sightless, staring corpse is quite horrific (so horrific, in fact, that it survives as one of the Australian censor clips).  And Jacob Kewper is killed by Cherub at the cliffhanger, a knife thrown in his back.  But these moments punctuate the main decision: now that the Doctor has been reunited with Ben and Polly, he decides to find Avery's treasure, thus giving him a bargaining chip with Pike that will hopefully delay him, giving Blake time to bring the militia back.  The Doctor partly works out the clue given to him by Joseph Longfoot in the first episode26, but realizes there should be a fourth name in the rhyme.  (And does the meter of the rhyme bother anyone else?  It goes, "This is Deadman's secret key: Smallbeer, Ringwood, and Gurney", but everyone says "GURney", with stress on the first syllable.  I really want it to be "GurNEY" though, to match the meter of the first line's "SECret KEY".  But anyway.)  But Cherub's overheard enough, and he's come to claim Avery's treasure for himself.

Pike kills Cherub for his treachery. (The Smugglers
Episode 4) ©BBC
Episode 4 has two main plot threads: Cherub's betrayal of Pike, followed by Pike's discovery of Avery's treasure; and Blake's return with the militia.  Both of these events are obviously intertwined, with Pike bringing his men to the church to unload the smuggled goods from their hiding place, making them easy picking for the militia later on.  But the most dramatic part occurs when Pike kills his "faithful" mate, intent on retrieving the treasure for himself.  The Doctor tries to stall for as long as he can, but is forced to reveal the clue: the intersection of the four names (the fourth being Deadman, as Cherub helpfully noted before his demise) is the location of the treasure.  And it seems that there is in fact a hidden treasure: Pike reaches into a hole under the relevant flagstone and pulls up a string of pearls.  But it's too late: Blake's men have arrived, and what sounds like a rollicking battle goes on between the pirates and the militia.  It's a shame we can't see it, as it does sound quite exciting, but alas, we have to make do with the telesnaps.  But the good guys come out on top and the village is safe from Pike and his pirates.  It's less clear what the Squire's fate is; he's learned the error of his ways by the end, and even saves the Doctor from death at Pike's, er, pike, but he was the leader of the smuggling ring in the village, so who knows what Blake does with him at the end.

It's sort of hard to come to a firm conclusion about The Smugglers: on the one hand it's quite entertaining while it lasts, but there's not much of a lasting impact -- little of what happened remains in the memory afterwards.  It's a relatively simple, uncomplicated tale.  Not that that's a problem, but it does make this one of the more forgettable stories we've had so far.  Still, it's not trying to be anything deep; as I said last time, it wants to be a literary pastiche, and at this it succeeds well enough (even if the lack of a young boy pressed into service by pirates means it's not quite as close a match as might be hoped for).  Not every story has to be Marco Polo.

And then, in the cliffhanger into the next episode, the Doctor notes that the TARDIS has arrived "at the coldest place in the world", and you suddenly realize that Hartnell's time is almost up...

26 Yes, the names have changed slightly, going from "Smallwood" to "Smallbeer" -- this is because Terence De Marney, playing Longfoot, got the line slightly wrong in Episode 1.