The Smugglers is a Doctor Who television serial in four parts that was originally aired on the BBC in 1966. The actual television footage remains missing, but the soundtrack has been recovered. Anneke Wills, who played the Doctor’s companions Polly, provides narration to help fill in the actions that are unseen. This story is also William Hartnell’s penultimate outing as the Doctor. Michael Craze also has just joined the cast as Able Seaman Ben Jackson. The guest cast includes Terence De Marney, George A. Cooper, and John Ringham. Brian Hayles wrote the script which was directed by Julia Smith.
Ben and Polly are two young Londoners from 1966 who have encountered the Doctor in the previous adventure entitiled The War Machines. They wandered aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor was about to leave London. The TARDIS takes the trio to Cornwall in the 17th Century. The TARDIS crew then get immersed in a treasure hunt while fending off pirates and government bureaucrats.
Any Doctor Who fan knowledgeable about this era of the series knows that this is here William Hartnell’s failing health was becoming more apparent. He still seems to put in a fairly competent performance here, but I may be somewhat biased. I have always had a soft spot for Ben and Polly, but they are just finding their chemistry here. I always liked how Ben addresses Polly as “duchess”.
Sadly, there is not much remarkable about the story itself. It seems a little obvious that the Doctor would encounter pirates. Everyone played their stereotyped roles just fine, but not much else stood out other than the introduction of two new companions. The main cast seemed to do just fine, but it is a little sad knowing the next story would mark the end of Hartnell’s time when he was likely reluctant to give up the part. Ben and Polly were the first companions to witness the Doctor’s regeneration in the subsequent story.
Anyway, it was still rather intriguing to hear a very classic Doctor Who adventure on the verge of a momentous shift that would become a unique tradition where the lead role could be recast on a regular basis. Hartnell’s era in particular was plagued with somewhat problematic writing and production, but it is still fun to revisit those days. Anneke Wills also does well in providing the linking narration. There is not much flash or difficulty to that, but she deserves a mention for that contribution.
The Smugglers is really for fans who want to make sure they have at least experienced every piece of the early days. It isn’t terrible to endure, however the history and background of this broadcast is a bit more enthralling than the actual story.