Thursday, 19 October 2017
Inspirations - The Smugglers
The Smugglers is the penultimate historical story of the 1960's phase of the programme - and the penultimate story for William Hartnell as the Doctor. It is the opening adventure of the fourth season, though filmed at the end of the previous production block. The writer is Brian Hayles.
A word now about the early seasons. It needs to be remembered that Doctor Who ran for almost the whole year, with only a short summer break. These days we have story arcs, and expect crowd pleasers for opening stories to grab new viewers (often introducing a new companion), and for the finale there has to be a big, spectacular conclusion that pays off elements from throughout the season.
The season openers so far have been An Unearthly Child, then Planet of Giants, then Galaxy 4. The last stories of each season have been The Reign of Terror, The Time Meddler, and The War Machines. So, companions have been introduced at the end of a season, rather than at the start, and the Daleks are nowhere to be seen. Setting aside the first story, for obvious reasons, only The Time Meddler has been in any way a game-changer, introducing another time-traveller with a TARDIS.
The Smugglers sees us back in historical times, but this is genre-history. There are no famous personages, or historical events. The year isn't even specified, but we can work it out from the dialogue - there is a king on the throne - and from the references to the pirate Avery. Henry Avery - also known as Every, and also sometimes called John - died some time between 1696 and 1699.
Script editor Gerry Davis is looking to historical fiction for his sources when commissioning stories. Brian Hayles really wanted to write something called "Doctor Who and the Nazis", but it was felt that the Second World War was still too fresh in people's minds to be sent-up in any way. Note the resistance Croft and Perry faced when trying to get Dad's Army off the ground.
Hayles and Davis have gone instead to the works of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Daniel Defoe. In their works, historical figures sometimes make the odd cameo, but generally they simply use a historical era as a backdrop for a good adventure yarn.
Often, the hero of these is a boy, often taken under the wing of a brave older male figure. Here Ben and Polly are the innocents, forced to cope with being taken out of time, with the Doctor as the wiser, more mature character.
As far as the titular smugglers themselves are concerned, there are two clear sources. One is Moonfleet, the 1898 novel by J. Meade Falkner, and the other is the series of Dr. Syn books by Russell Thorndike. The former deals with a pirate's treasure hidden in the crypt of the local church, as Avery's gold is here. Moonfleet also features Excisemen prominently.
Thorndike wrote seven Dr Syn novels. There have been three cinema interpretations. The best known is the 1962 Hammer film with Peter Cushing as Captain Clegg - its UK title. In the US it was The Night Creatures, though it has been shown as the latter recently on British TV, on the Talking Pictures channel. Disney produced a version the following year, with Patrick McGoohan as Syn.
In these books / films, Clegg is a feared pirate who has faked his own death and settled down in a Kent village posing as the local vicar - Dr Syn. Not content with the quiet life of a country parson, he heads a notorious smuggling ring. He is known as "the Scarecrow", and disguises himself as a scarecrow to keep watch over the area. The smugglers employ tricks to keep the locals from observing their activities - such as disguising themselves and their horses as skeletons when they ride across the marshes at night.
The smugglers we get in the Doctor Who story are nowhere near as inventive. They're a rather wet bunch actually, their leader being the local squire, who even comes to repent his wicked ways by the conclusion. If anything, this story should really be called "The Pirates", as they are the real villains, and the more interesting characters.
Captain Pike has a spike where his left hand used to be. The obvious reference here is to Captain Hook from Peter Pan. Hook first appeared in 1904. As with Captain Pike, Hook was once first mate to a famous pirate - in this case Blackbeard - before getting a command of his own. J M Barrie admitted that Hook's obsession with finding the crocodile that took his hand was based on Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Barrie also threw in a reference to that other great fictional pirate, Long John Silver, in his play.
Whilst Pike is all surface charm, seeking to be recognised as a gentleman, his henchman Cherub is pure murderous brute. There's nothing cherubic about him at all. The pirates are in the area for a reason - seeking Avery's gold as we've mentioned. Why here in particular is because one of their ex-shipmates is now living the life of a church warden in the village where the Doctor and his companions have pitched up. Joe Longfoot has found god, but he is also part of the smuggling ring. Somehow knowing that he is not long for this world, he gives the Doctor a cryptic message - really the names on epitaphs in the crypt which point to the treasure's hiding place. Famously, Terence de Marney fluffs the message, whilst Hartnell gets it right.
Instead of abducting Longfoot, and reducing this to a two-parter, Cherub murders him and so has to go after the Doctor instead. One of the companions goes topless, and the other cross-dresses, whilst the Doctor tricks one of the pirates with some Tarot cards. He's from the Caribbean, so has to be called "Jamaica". Pike spikes him.
Ben meets a man named Josiah Blake, and he turns out to be the leader of the Excisemen. The pirates double-cross the smugglers - prompting Squire Edwards' conversion to the side of light. Blake and his men turn up like the 7th Cavalry, and the pirates are defeated.
As we've said, boys' own adventure stuff.
The final historical story, later this season, will touch on some of the same source materials - including as it does another piratical captain who has taken control of his boss' ship.
Next time: Hartnell guest stars in his own series. The Doctor's old body starts to wear a bit thin, and a bunch of aliens turn up who want to give him a new one. He declines, but gets a new one anyway...