“When the fever is in the lads’ bones, nothing but blood will slake it.” – Captain Pike
A solid and straightforward historical adventure. It gets the formula right for this kind of tale. As usual our principal characters end up involved in some intrigue that was already started before they got there, but they are more active and less sidelined observers than before. This largely is because the plot centers on an historical setting and the types of people from that period rather than showing an actual historical event or person as in some previous stories (which thus limited the roles they could play in the storyline).
The pirates of this story are definitely stereotypical, but are not overly cartoonish. It’s actually very interesting that they are shown just as much in competition with smugglers and corrupt politicians as with each other. The setting and accents used throughout this story are particularly great, and there are many nice references to customs or beliefs of the era. There is lots of great swarthy high seas dialogue (“Why, he’s been buried these long years past. Ah, but his spirit rides. Aye, in the dark souls of those who follow in his wake.”)—-and plenty of great insults as well! (“This pestiferous Doctor”). Perhaps unsurprising in this kind of story, there is double-crossing left and right and of course talk of secret treasures and curses. (“Superstition is a strange thing, my dear, but sometimes it tells the truth.”) While the plot points may not seem that original, it’s still a good story overall and moves at a good pace. The Doctor gets to turn the tables at the end by flabbergasting the pirate captain in his willingness to give up the treasure to save the town.
The TARDIS crew do pretty well in the story. Ben and Polly have a rather blasé reaction to having been transported back in time once they acknowledge the fact of it. This is a bit off putting at first but thankfully, they settle into their roles soon thereafter—teasing and relying on each other and they have some good moments of reasoning through their situation and how to respond appropriately in the given time period. They really start to click as a good duo and good companions to the Doctor. It’s nice to have some very casual companions (Ben lays on his cockney: “Well, he’s a right one. What gear’s he got on?”) . The Doctor meanwhile has some nice moments of restating his “moral obligation” for this new set of companions when has to turn down a chance to escape to see things through to the end since he feels he may have influenced events to begin with. They also began to realize just how much they can rely on his cunning when he shows up having extricated himself from the kidnapping
Overall, I enjoy this story quite a lot (I read the novelization many times as a kid) and wish I could watch it rather than just listen.
Best unsettling moments:
There is a bit of a hard edge on some of the literal backstabbing that happens among the pirates. Jamaica’s death feels particularly underhanded.
Apparently, we miss out on some spectacular scenery of the rugged Cornish coastline by this episode being missing. While I find Ben and Polly’s casual acceptance of time traveling hard to believe at first, it’s even harder to believe that the pirates and townspeople never realize Polly is a girl. She may have been reasonably mistaken for a ‘lad’ while in her pageboy hat and trousers, but surely any red-blooded pirate would quickly notice that she wasn’t once her long blonde hair was flowing free and he had his arms wrapped around her as a hostage!?