Skip to main content

Stand back, or you will affect the cards!


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 pay off 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.

Ben: A right couple of nutcases you two are. All right, I’ll try anything once.
Doctor: Well 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. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Must the duck be here?

The Favourite (2018)
(SPOILERS) In my review of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I suggested The Favourite might be a Yorgos Lanthimos movie for those who don’t like Yorgos Lanthimos movies. At least, that’s what I’d heard. And certainly, it’s more accessible than either of his previous pictures, the first two thirds resembling a kind of Carry On Up the Greenaway, but despite these broader, more slapstick elements and abundant caustic humour, there’s a prevailing detachment on the part of the director, a distancing oversight that rather suggests he doesn’t feel very much for his subjects, no matter how much they emote, suffer or connive. Or pratfall.

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

I don’t know if what is happening is fair, but it’s the only thing I can think of that’s close to justice.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
(SPOILERS) I think I knew I wasn’t going to like The Killing of a Sacred Deer in the first five minutes. And that was without the unedifying sight of open-heart surgery that takes up the first four. Yorgos Lanthimos is something of a Marmite director, and my responses to this and his previous The Lobster (which I merely thought was “okay” after exhausting its thin premise) haven’t induced me to check out his earlier work. Of course, he has now come out with a film that, reputedly, even his naysayers will like, awards-darling The Favourite

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …