Geekbat Tunes

Monday, October 24, 2011

Doctor Who: The Smugglers

Serial Title: The Smugglers
Series: 4
Episodes: 4
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills)

An irritated Doctor deals with Ben and Polly’s sudden appearance in the TARDIS, and then further with their skepticism that they have been shanghaied through time and space. Returning to England, on the shore, the two are forced to believe him as they enter a small church and find out from its caretaker, Longfoot, that they are in the 1660s. Polly (mistaken for a boy with her short haircut and modern clothes), Ben, and the Doctor depart for the local Inn, but before they leave, the Doctor is entrusted with a riddle from Longfoot- “This is Deadman’s secret key, Ringwood, Smallbeer, Gurney.”

The travelers arrive at an Inn run by Jacob Kewper, who is initially suspicious of strangers, but welcomes them when he finds that they are friends of Longfoot. Speaking of the caretaker, he is interrogated and murdered by pirate thug Cherub over the location of a hidden treasure. When the body is found, the TARDIS crew, the self-admittedly last people to have seen Kewper alive, are prime suspects. As the Squire is sent for to arrest them, pirates, led by Cherub, break into the Inn and kidnap the Doctor, suspecting that Longfoot may have told him something. Ben and Polly are arrested moments later.

Cherub takes the Doctor to the Black Albatross, and his master, the notorious Captain Pike. The wheelchair-bound man is only capable of responding with a beeping, morse-code light from his motorized wheelchair, in what feels like a strange failing of 23rd century technology, which is somehow incapable of the same amenities- such as speech simulation- that we could grant modern individuals like Stephen Hawking in the 20th century… 

Sorry, my mistake. Wrong Captain Pike. (Note from Sarah: A wheelchair pirate could be pretty cool though...)

This Captain Pike is a bloodthirsty buccaneer and smuggler, a ruthless man with a deadly sharpened Pike for one hand. No, not a fish that has been honed to a razor’s edge, but a blade that has spilled the blood of many a man- foe and crew member alike. (Face it, there are too many different definitions of the word ‘Pike!’) There, the Doctor negotiates with and flatters Pike- but before he can make any significant progress, a rowboat approaches bearing Joseph Kewper, and the Doctor is hauled below decks, out of sight, while Pike talks with him. Kewper reveals that he, Longfoot, and the Squire are smugglers- well, Longfoot isn’t so much of one anymore, but still- and they wish to hire Pike. Pike threatens and rebuffs Kewper, setting off to find the Squire and deal with him directly.

Meanwhile, Ben and Polly escape by playing on the superstitions of Tom, the cowardly stable boy. They return to the old church, trying to find a clue about Longfoot’s true murderer… and find a man skulking about, whom Ben attacks and renders unconscious, binding him and sending Polly to fetch the Squire. The man regains consciousness, and is revealed to be Josiah Blake, a revenue officer of the King. Ben reveals a recently discovered secret passage in the church crypt- further evidence to Blake that the smugglers were operating out of it… but Ben refuses to untie him, doubting his identity, and upon the Squire’s return, he and Polly are arrested once more. 

They recognize Cherub (who, along with Pike, is still accompanying the Squire) as the Doctor's kidnapper, and realize that the Squire must be a smuggler as well, but Pike claims he is merely an honest businessman, for which there is no evidence to the contrary to support Ben or Polly’s claims.

The Doctor and Kewper, jailed together in the hold of the ship, likewise play off superstitions of their captor, the swarthy Jamaica, using a fake Tarot card reading (with a standard deck of playing cards, positing absurd interpretations of the ‘meanings’ of the various face cards drawn in interpreting the future) and manage to escape. Jamaica is killed by Pike upon his return.

Blake, taking Ben and Polly as his prisoners, frees them and reveals that he believes their story- he has suspected the Squire for some time, but has no evidence on which to arrest them. The Doctor arrives to rendezvous with them- but Kewper, seeing the revenue officer, believes he is betrayed and escapes at gunpoint, heading back to the Squire.

Pike prepares to attack the village, striking with two groups- one to steal the smuggler’s stash for themselves, and the other to find Avery’s Gold, the treasure Longfoot had stolen. The Doctor, feeling morally obligated and knowing that Pike will ravage the innocent village, takes Ben and Polly to search for the treasure, hoping that is can be used as leverage to force Pike to spare the town his usual pillaging. They decipher the riddle and locate the treasure… just as Kewper and the Squire arrive… shortly thereafter, so does the murderous Cherub, sent ahead, who kills Kewper. The Squire is wounded.

Meanwhile, Blake rides to the militia outpost for help.

The Doctor reveals the riddle, but not its solution, to Cherub, buying them time as Cherub works through the clues as they did. Pike arrives, his men looting the smuggling cache, and enters the crypt. There, he discovers Cherub, in the process of trying to take the treasure for his own, and the two duel. In the chaos, the Doctor dispatches Ben and Polly down the secret passageway, which leads to the beach, and the TARDIS.

Pike kills Cherub, but before he can kill the Doctor, Blake and his men arrive in force, attacking the pirates. Polly is attacked in the tunnel and rescued by Ben. Blake kills Pike, and the TARDIS crew escapes as the pirates are routed and the injured Squire has a change of heart due to the Doctor’s kindness towards him.

Arrrr, matey! Pirates of the Caribbean, this ain't. Fairly low-key for both a season-opener and a companion introduction...

Ben and Polly have a fairly nicely contrasted episode- starry-eyed belief (albeit without much of a sense of wonder) meeting a thick-headed skepticism that seemed slightly less believable than Steven's in the Meddling Monk. Still, both characters do fairly well- trying to be proactive (for once, among companions!) in a time where the rules are different and they are true fish out of water... their inspired witchcraft con was a nice bit, though the revenue man capture was fairly botched. Overall, both come off very favorably in their first TARDIS-outing.

The Doctor himself plays the manipulator to both sides, and has a clever Voodoo-gambit of his own (only the Doctor would try to give a pretend tarot-card reading with a regular deck of cards!) and comes off coolly unflappable, and very principled, staying in this time when he could escape, because he feels a sense of moral responsibility to help.

The story itself is a little slow, especially in the first two parts- but it's filled with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. This serial, overall, is what I'd call 'adequate but unmemorable'- not terrible, but... not much to say about it, either.

It may not help that all four episodes were reconstructions- though nearly every death was in video, thanks to Australian censored clips that survived the Who-burning. The reconstruction was decent enough, a relatively standard fare, and pretty average. Nothing to impress with (like CGI-able Daleks, doors, or computers) but nothing disappointing, either. Like the serial, it is decent but doesn't distinguish itself.

Great moments:
The Doctor reads tarot cards with a deck of playing cards- making up a mysterious significance to the Queen of Hearts, the Jack of Clubs, etc.

A hearty 2.5 out of 5 Deadman's Keys for both the serial and the reconstruction, mateys- a solid, middle-of-the-road average, just as they were.

No comments:

Post a Comment