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Stand back, or you will affect the cards!

Television

Doctor Who
The Smugglers: Episode Three

 

Hartnell’s on towering form in this episode. There’s no sign of an actor being forced to leave a role because he’s no longer up to the challenge. Of course, there are fluffs, just as there have been throughout his era, but mostly there’s a sense of an actor having a blast with a script that allows him to have a lot of fun.

The focal scene for this is his fortune-telling with Kewper, observed by a gullible Jamaica. It has to be said that surviving footage of Elroy Josephs suggests an actor essaying a wide-eyed stereotype. About Time snidely remarks that the first speaking part for a black actor in the series was a sure sign that Hartnell was on the way out. Yeah, that must be right, because Billy vetoed any non-Caucasian casting.

The Doctor takes command amusingly (“Stand back, or you will affect the cards!”) and his reading of the five cards picks out the main antagonists (well, pretty much…) in the story. He has the measure of Kewper (the Jack of Clubs, which elicits an “I am no knave, sir”) and identifies Cherub (the Jack of Spades) and death itself, Captain Pike (the Ace of Spaces). I wasn’t sure who the King of Spades (“The king, the blackest villain of all” was supposed to be, unless by implication it is the Squire as a representative?) but I like the idea that Jack of Diamonds, whom the Doctor professes not to be able to identify, is the Doctor (“he will triumph in the end”). And his brushing off of the suggestion that the fortune telling was a trick “This is no time for idle speculation”) is a delight. It’s just a shame that something as uninventive as a bash on the head puts Jamaica out of action.

The plot machinations are edging up a gear, with Ben and Polly allying themselves with Blake (not very sensible of the Squire to release them into the custody of the man who suspects him). They have already decided that the Doctor is one in a million; Polly comments that he was jolly crafty at getting himself out of trouble with the war machines.

And the hilarious payoff is Billy revealing himself at the door with a “Yes, and why not here my dear?” He was probably listening to them bigging him up for a couple of minutes. This sort of use of the Doctor is admittedly made even broader when Troughton comes on the scene, but there’s a definite bridging between actors in the playful use of the character at this point in the series. He takes genuine delight in his chance to interact with and outwit those he encounters.

But we also see him declare his “moral obligation” to save the village from Pike, rather than flee to the TARDIS. Again, it’s Polly who readily sides with the Doctor and Ben who is more reluctant.

BenA right couple of nutcases you two are. All right, I’ll try anything once.
DoctorWell said, my boy.

Pike’s punishment of dopey Jamaica for letting the prisoners escape is on the harsh side, stabbing him and then wiping off his hook (another surviving snippet). He also calls him a “black-souled scum” which is rather unfortunate.  He can’t find Cherub, and asks “Where in Satan’s name is he?” which is quite strong language (I’m not sure anyone said, “Oh my God!” at any point in the original series).

The realisation that the words uttered to the Doctor in the first episode are names on tombs in the crypt may not be the most startling of plot developments, but it makes for an enjoyable scene, with Billy in fluff mode and Ben cracking up at the inscription on a tomb.

Ben: Henry Hawkswood, he did die, of drinking too much small beer, when he was dry.

The game of double-crosses is being laid out, with the Squire and Kewper (who has told the former about Pike) planning to be ready for him when they rendezvous, makes Episode Three probably the strongest of the four plot-wise.

The Squire is also revealed to have no appetite for mindless violence, marking him out as less villainous than either Pike’s entourage or his own minion Kewper. Who gets a knife in the back from Cherub at the cliffhanger; there’s no direct threat to the main trio there, although it does give Polly the opportunity to have a scream.

A splendid episode for Hartnell, and eventfully plotted.

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