The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Long Ben's Ghost: The Smugglers

"Long Ben" Avery, whose name does not appear, in fact to have been Ben, or Avery, for that matter *Henry Every is apparently correct), casts a rather longer shadow in literature and pop culture than might seem reasonable. The Pyrates (1983), George MacDonald Fraser's "burlesque fantasy on every swashbuckler I ever read or saw," portrays Avery as an unabashed hero who pretends to go rogue in order to rescue his lady love and her cantankerous father. He's about as nuanced in Fraser's telling as The Great Leslie in Blake Edwards's The Great Race. Under his own name, he appears as the sympathetic antihero in 2011's Doctor Who episode The Curse of the Black Spot, and later sails to the Eleventh Doctor's side in A Good Man Goes to War.

But his treasure is the chief bone of contention in The Smugglers, a four-parter in which the Doctor, Polly, and Ben find themselves in 17th Century Cornwall, landing on a beach near a church tended by the lone churchwarden Joseph Longfoot, a former member of Avery's crew. Longfoot, at first suspicious of the the travelers, comes to trust the Doctor, and, swearing he has reformed, trusts him with a riddle that will unlock the mystery of Avery's lost treasure.

The Doctor, Polly, and Ben go into town to an inn. Meanwhile Longfoot is ambushed by his old cremate, the inaptly named Cherub, who fails to get the secret from Longfoot, and kills him, having learned that travelers had spoken with him recently. Cherub kidnaps the Doctor, the local Squire jails Polly and Ben, who cannot account of their whereabouts and are thus suspects for Longfoot's murder, and the evil pirate Captain Pike (also an alumnus of Avery's ship), lulls the Squire (a smalltime smuggler, along with the innkeeper Kewper) into a "partnership" that will be very one-sided. Oh, and the pirates have managed to capture and tie up Josiah Blake, the "King's revenue man" sent to end the smuggling, a more somber performance from John Ringham who you really must remember from The Aztecs, where he played the barking mad, scenery-chewing Tlotoxl.

I think of all the lost episodes, this is the one I wish would be found. The recon I watched for parts 1-3 was not up to Loose Cannon's standards, but even Part 4, which was LC, was harder than usual to follow. It's a pity, because this one is action packed, with plot and counter-plot, and I strongly suspect it might rank near The Gunfighters for sheer entertainment value. It's less funny--though Hartnell flattering and charming the half-aware-he's-being-gulled Captain Pike (a splendid performance by Michael Godfrey is very funny, as is his scene faking out the pirate guard Jamaica by pretending to tell fortunes so that he and Kewper can escape.

The story darkens as it goes on, and has some pretty grim death sequences--Jamaica's death at Pike's hands is pretty rough, to name but one, but this is the sort of pirate story Fraser was lovingly lampooning in The Pyrates, and it's a pretty good job, insofar as we can see from the recon and the audio. The notion that everyone mistakes Anneke Wills's Polly for a boy (seriously, even the tele snaps give that game away) is treated as a running gag,almost as if anticipating Strax's inability to recognize human gender.

Escape is important here; Polly and Ben get back into the game by rather cruelly convincing the village idiot left to watch them that he is cursed by the Doctor--a warlock--and that only they--his apprentices--can save him. So that gets them free.

The story has a three sides seeking the treasure--Cherub, Pike, and the Squire/Kewper nexus, and Blake, in consultation with the Doctor, trying to prevent Pike from massacring the townspeople. As Blake is delayed gathering a militia, and the pirates begin to load treasure (while drinking heavily on the job), the Doctor plays for time. He makes an agreement with Pike to give him the clue to Avery's treasure in return for Pike's guarantee that the townspeople will not be hurt, he keeps his word. How far we have come from the Doctor who would break faith and even kill to protect himself and (only incidentally) his companions in The Cave of Skulls!

The Doctor keeps his word, but will Pike? We never find out, though we're pretty sure the answer is no, because Avery's riddle and Cherub's treachery delay him long enough that Pike and the few of his pirates who were sober enough to not get killed in Blake's initial support, are caught in a losing battle with Blake. Pike fits to the end, nearly killing the Doctor with his last breath--the wounded Squire, who never meant things to go so far helps stop Pike. As the mop up ends, the TARDIS takes off and lands in an area so cold that the travelers can feel the chill inside.

One can catch his death in the cold.

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