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…

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

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 …

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

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

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …