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Smugglers! Doctor Who! Sawbones! Sometimes it takes a Village…

March 5, 2016



William Hartnell’s penultimate adventure is a classic example of the need to vary the stakes.  You can’t have the Doctor saving the very nature of Time and Space every week (as happened perhaps too often during Matt Smith’s tenure) without a sort of law of diminishing returns, without Time and Space themselves starting to suffer in our esteem a little.  Sometimes you just want The Doctor to save – I don’t know – Guildford.  Or in this case, a small village in Cornwall.

You can’t see The Smugglers.  You’ve just got a soundtrack and still photos to work with.  But Cornwall is pretty enough at any time of year, and the sets and costumes are quite striking.  Ben and Polly are enjoying their first jaunt with the Doctor, and you can have worse first jaunts than arriving on a beach in the West Country.  Unfortunately, it’s the very end of the seventeenth-century – an unrelaxing sort of time.  (The era is formally declared just to be “seventeenth-century” but costumes and other bits of context establish it as the very end of the century.)  Villagers, smugglers and pirates alike are a pretty unsophisticated bunch – so isolated and credulous that not only do they fall for talk of witches and curses with rapid alacrity, but they genuinely can’t see that one of the boys who accompanies the Doctor is quite obviously a girl wearing knee breeches.

Oh – and at one point Ben makes the inevitable “Polly – put the kettle on” joke.

It had to come somewhere.

Oh, and The Doctor is repeatedly referred to as “Sawbones” or “a sawbones” which is, oddly enough, Colin Baker’s twitter handle.

The Doctor has a chance to escape this squash-buckling Cornish villainy on several occasions, but decides to stay because he has a chance to save the village from the sadistic mayhem likely to be inflicted upon it by Cap’n Pike and his men.

The smuggling of contraband is not, in itself, an exciting enough crime for the adventure to function, so piracy is added.  Cap’n Avery’s pirate gold is somewhere in the village, and the Doctor, for his part, doesn’t care who gets this ill-gotten booty, provided Avery’s crew don’t decide to celebrate their good fortune by setting fire to the entire village.  Which they will.  Because they’re like that.  Pirates are bad people.

Last autumn, the Doctor decided to intervene to save a village, in the context of The Girl Who Died.  But he can’t stop the devastation of Pompeii, or the massacre of Huguenots in sixteenth-century Paris.  The First Doctor does not appear to have done a great deal of joined up thinking as to the precise point where a rescue mission becomes a transgressive intervention into History.  Indeed, in Reign of Terror it is suggested that such big interventions are physically impossible – that bullets aimed at Napoleon in the early 1790s would somehow just bounce off.

But the First Doctor’s own time is running out.  Next stop – the South Pole and fatal encounter with metal men from Mondas.


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