After a few episodes of twinkling genially, Hartnell is back in command mode for what amounts to his last hurrah: solving the churchwarden’s riddle, bargaining with Pike for the lives of the innocent villagers, and delaying things until the cavalry, in the form of Blake and his militia, ride in to defeat the pirates. In so doing, his generosity and morality shame Squire Edwards into repenting his villainy – and saving the Doctor from a vengeful Captain Pike.
While in no way a definitive last word on the first Doctor, The Smugglers gives Hartnell a central role in a way that few stories have since The Daleks’ Master Plan. He’s not written out, incapacitated or otherwise marginalised, and while this isn’t Hartnell’s strongest performance, he sounds a lot more comfortable playing the mercurial magician in this script than the technical boffin of The War Machines. He also looks like he fits into this world – his unruly long hair and high collar making him look like the local parson. The Doctor’s sense of moral responsibility for the fate of the villagers, and for his young companions (sweetly, he tells Ben and Polly to run and hide as ‘Without either of you they can’t hold a hostage for me to force my hand’) – which prevents him from fleeing in the TARDIS – is also a presumably unintended reiteration of the ‘journey’ he’s been on since An Unearthly Child, when he was willing to bash in a caveman’s brains just to escape 100,000 B.C.
Outside of that, the episode largely ties up loose ends, with the most wicked villains, Pike and Cherub, sent ‘back to your hell hole’, and the roguish Squire redeemed. Greed is punished and good deeds rewarded. The real curse of Avery’s gold was the evil it inspired: ‘Superstition is a strange thing – but sometimes it tells the truth.’ This is never going to top a list of greatest stories, but The Smugglers is undeservedly forgotten. Less imaginative than Hayles’ The Celestial Toymaker, it’s nevertheless a more complete piece of work, and a creditable last bow for the Hartnell historical.
Next episode: The Tenth Planet