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The Smugglers

by Terrance Dicks

Book Review by Paul Scoones

It is not hard to imagine why it took this story so long to be novelized; it must rank as one of the worst Hartnell stories, along with The Space Museum, The Gunfighters and The Savages. The advantage in getting Dicks to novelize it is that we can find out exactly why it was so bad because Dicks can be relied on to produce a faithful reproduction. Although this is a disadvantage for those like myself who are prepared to forsake a little accuracy in return for a good novel.

Instead we have the typical Dicks treatment, where he has simply converted the transmission script into the standard narrative form common to all the Doctor Who books (The Daleks and The Romans being two obvious exceptions). A glance at the BBC Archives list confirms my suspicions that Dicks has not been able to peruse the serial itself as part of the writing process. The novel is as straight forward a retelling of a Doctor Who story you're ever likely to get in one of these novels.

Clichéd pirates, Captain Pike and Cherub, come across as a rather comical pair - although I don't think this is the intention, it is just that their dialogue and personalities have popped up in such a multitude of pirate movies and novels, that they become stock characters. Pike is a vicious, black-hearted and ruthless, complete with hook, whilst Cherub is his bungling cutthroat right-hand man (no pun intended). The landlubbers are no better. Kewper, the inn-keeper, changes allegiance almost with every chapter; the Squire and Blake, the Revenue Man, are little more than one dimensional, and Josiah Longfoot, the church warden who gets the Doctor involved in the first place, is given more character development after he dies very early on.

I was interested to note the size of the Doctor's role in the story, something I wasn't able to do before reading the novel. The Smugglers was made as the last story of the third season recording block but, as was customary in the Sixties, was held over to open Season Four. The next story, The Tenth Planet, had a very small part for the Doctor, as William Hartnell's health was bad, but he seems to have a lot more to do in The Smugglers.

Ben and Polly, the new companions, spend the first part of the adventure slowly getting used to the idea that they are no longer in 1966 London (why do new companions accept time travel more readily these days, I wonder?). Polly is, at times, resourceful - quicker to adapt to their new lifestyle, and she provides the idea for her and Ben's escape from imprisonment, although does predictably fall prey to the Doctor Who female companion's curse of screaming and spraining her ankle at the first opportunity. This sort of thing is insulting to the 1980s and I imagine it was back in the Sixties as well. Ben Jackson is the tough, resourceful merchant seaman, determined to return to his ship, hardly treating Polly as anything more than a fellow companion, contrary to the seeds of romantic involvement sewn in The War Machines.

The story was penned by the late Brian Hayles, technically his first story for the series as The Celestial Toymaker as broadcast bore little resemblance to his original script, having been hastily rewritten by Gerry Davis. Hayles later went on to pen all the Ice Warrior stories, every one ten times better than The Smugglers. This was also the penultimate historical drama, at least until 1982, and the demise of the historicals with The Highlanders is, undoubtedly due, in no small part to the low standard of The Smugglers.

If you buy the novels for a straight retelling of each story (or if you just collect them anyway) then this is for you, but perhaps not the ideal fare for more discriminating collectors. Terrance Dicks has done a good deal better, but little worse.

This item appeared in TSV 12 (March 1989).

Index nodes: The Smugglers