Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Smugglers

Part One

"Ben, I'm scared. What's happened to us?"

It's back to normal for the story title- or is it? Is there an actual telesnap or did Loose Cannon slot the titles in themselves? Incidentally, great recon.

So the Doctor finally admits it: "I have no control over where I land!" these early scenes with Ben and Polly are great though- there's a heavily self-referential, here-we-go-again tone to it which is rather fun. The Doctor seems to be secretly enjoying the reactions of the young stowaways in spite of his surface curmudgeonliness. Although he seems to pretend to be annoyed when he says "I really thought I was going to be alone again" I strongly suspect, after The Massacre, he's relieved not to be.

I love Ben and Polly's attitude to time travel. Yes, there's initial disbelief, but it's played for laughs, and at last we have some companions who actually seem to be enjoying themselves! They've only been aboard a few minutes and already they're my favourite companions since Ian and Barbara.

It probably says more about my lack of familiarity with the pirate genre than anything else, but this reminds me of the pirate comics in Watchmen.

Part Two

"My dear sir, I'm sure you could see through any flattery of mine."

Blimey, that was a short reprise!

Polly is fantastic. She's locked up in a seventeenth century cell, presumably facing eventual death by hanging, and yet she says "I don't know. I find it pretty exciting!" Although it's not particularly plausible that all the guest cast seem to think this rather attractive young lady is a "lad"!

This is good stuff. Ben and Polly continue to be great in escaping from the cell, and it seems everyone is in on the smuggling, even Paul Whitsun-Jones!

Part Three

"In these dark days, honesty surely pays!"

The Doctor's escape with the cards is top stuff, I suspect one of the last few great Hartnell moments we have left. Of course, this leads to Pike killing Jamaica for his failure, and his death is suitably grisly to be graced with some actual footage.

Just as the plot strand of the TARDISeers being under suspicion was threatening to outstay its welcome, it comes to a natural end here, our heroes siding with the authorities in the shape of Blake, the Revenue Man. Interestingly, the Doctor chooses to stay behind because "I'm under a moral obligation!" Polly, being great, agrees heartily.

The conversation between Kewper and the Squire makes me aware of how the dialogue is actually quite a good approximation of the period, with real thought being given to the phrasing. I'm very much reminded of Channel Four's recent The Devil's Whore.

Part Four

"Oh, we have an uneasy conscience, have we, Squire? Ye lily livered rogue!"

The plot threads are drawn together rather cleverly in this episode, but it's only afterwards I realised how cleverly plotted it was as I'd been enjoying the ride so much. The riddle itself is clever, as is the unfolding of the "curse". Of course, as with The Gunfighters, I'm sure there are all sorts of nods to genre conventions I'm not getting.

By the point of Cherub's death it's become really quite amusing that the only footage that seems to exist at all involves knives and blood. And I can't help being amused by what, I'm afraid, is my favourite exchange in the entire story: "Polly." "Yes?" "Put the kettle on." Followed by which, of course, there's the incident with Spaniard and Polly goes back to the TARDIS to await the end of the story. Cos she's a girl, you see...!

For the second story in a row, the Doctor slips quietly away at the end. Ben and Polly, bless them, seem to have thoroughly enjoyed their adventure- there's no whingeing at all, which makes a nice change.

Ooh, very cold in the TARDIS? What's all this then?

Overall, this was good fun. A good old-fashioned, tightly-plotted adventure story. Not particularly big or clever, no, but there's nothing wrong with that. 4/5.

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