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Doctor Who - Pirate Planet (DVD)

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Genre: Television - Doctor Who / Theatrical Release: 1975 / Actors: Tom Baker ... / DVD released 01 October, 2002 at BBC Warner / Features of the DVD: Colour, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    6 Reviews
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      22.04.2010 07:50
      Very helpful
      1 Comment



      Intersting ifdea served up in a dull plot with an overdose of "humour"

      Onwards with the second story from the Key To Time Season. Please note that this review is for the region 2 edition of the story which can only be purchased as part of a boxset along with the other 5 stories in the same season.


      Having successfully located the first segment of The Key To Time in the previous story, The Ribos Operation the tracer indicates that the second segment is located on the planet of Callufrax. After a rather bumpy materialisation in the TARDIS the Doctor and Romana discover that they are not on Calufrax but on the planet of Zanak. It's ruler, The Captain, has just declared a new golden age and precious gems and minerals are strewn around the streets for the inhabitants to pick up.

      But all is not well on Zanak. It's people seem reluctant to speak, The Captain seems intent on sending his guards to locate and kill a telepath and a group called the Mentiads are feared and barely spoken of. The Doctor and Romana soon discover that Zanak is capable of transmatting through space and materialising around smaller planets which are then mined for their wealth. And the next target on The Captain's hit list is Earth........


      The Doctor - Tom Baker
      Romana - Mary Tamm
      Voice of K9 - John Leeson
      Balaton - Ralph Michael
      Captain - Bruce Purchase
      Mr. Fibuli - Andrew Robertson
      Mula - Primi Townsend
      Nurse - Rosalind Lloyd
      Pralix - David Sibley
      Kimus - David Warwick
      Citizen - Clive Bennett
      Guard - Adam Kurakin
      Mentiad - Bernard Finch

      Writer: Douglas Adams
      Producer: Graham Williams
      Director: Pennant Roberts


      + Commentary 1: With Tom Baker (The Doctor), Mary Tamm (Romana) and script editor Anthony Read
      + Commentary 2: With Bruce Purchase (The Captain) and director Pennant Roberts.
      These can be accessed through the Audio Options "button" in the Special Features section. Both commentaries cover all four episodes

      + Parrot Fashion: Cast and crew look back at the writing and production of The Pirate Planet with contributions from Mary Tamm (Romana) John Leeson (K9), Bruce Purchase (The Captain), Rosalind Lloyd (Queen Xanxia), Anthony Read (script editor), Colin Mapson (visual effects), Pennant Roberts (director) and others. Douglas Adams is also featured via an archive interview.

      + Film Inserts, Deleted Scenes & Outtakes: Just under 14 minutes worth of extra material from the shooting of The Pirate Planet

      + Weird Science: David Graham and Mat Irvine look back at some of the science featured in the Key To Time season in this spoof of a 1970s schools programme.

      + Continuities: The BBC1 continuity announcements screened before the original transmission of the story.

      + Production Subtitles: Oodles of information about the making of The Pirate Planet and the cast and crew that worked on it.

      + Photo Gallery: Just over seven minutes worth of photos from the production.

      + Coming Soon: A trailer for the Tom Baker story Planet Of Evil

      + PDF Materials: View the Radio Times listings for the episodes on your PC or Mac.


      Under the script writing and producer partnership of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchliffe the early part of Tom Baker's tenure in the role of The Doctor had seen the series imbued with a large dose of gothic horror. Concerns had been raised about the level of violence in the series, particularly with the 1976 story The Deadly Assassin and, with Graham Williams stepping into the producer's shoes the series moved away from the gothic stories to a more fantasy based style of storytelling. The level of humour in the stories was also increased and The Pirate Planet can be seen as the story in which the "undergraduate humour" so beloved by Douglas Adams first took root.

      We have Tom Baker talking directly to camera and spouting lines like "I'll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again", The Doctor throwing a coin in the air which takes far longer than it should do to come down and an OTT Bruce Purchase almost chewing the scenery as The Captain, so whether you'll enjoy this story of not, depends to a large amount, what your feelings are about this type of "silly" humour. Personally this overtly flippant approach isn't really my cup of tea which might go some way to explaining why I've ranked this episode so far below the rest of my fellow Dooyoo-er's when it comes to dishing out the stars.

      But let's start with the positives.

      The script itself is brimming with new ideas:- a planet capable of transmatting itself across space, flying cars, a bionic parrot, anti inertia travel tubes and a number of other things. Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and Bruce Purchase look like they're having a whale of a time with the script and there are some nice location shots, filmed in Wales which make a nice counterpoint to the scenes that have been shot in the studio. There's also a nice scene in which K9 has a fighting with the Polyphase Avitron, a sort of pet robotic parrot that the Captain has.

      Unfortunately that's as far as it goes. Douglas Adams may well have packed his script full of interesting ideas and concepts but, overall, I find the story somewhat unsatisfying and lacking in cohesion. There's an awful lot of running around between the Bridge (The Captain's "base") and a number of other locations but Adams seems to have forgotten to develop any of the characters sufficiently for us to care about them. We know very little about Mula, for example, beyond the fact that she's Pralix's sister and obviously cares about him and Primi Townsend brings nothing to the part to flesh out the character and get us interested in what happens to the character.

      Then there's the usual problem with the budget. In this case it's not quite sufficient to do justice to the demands of the script. The flying cars look reasonably good but the mining machinery looks like what it is ~ mining machinery on location in Wales. Given that this planet is meant to be able to transport itself through space you'd expect it's mining operation to be a little bit more hi-tech. Likewise the engine rooms of the planet are so obviously part of some industrial complex (a nuclear power station or so the production subtitles tell us) and they fail to look futuristic or hi-tech either.

      The Mentiads in particular come across as completely faceless and bland, partly due to the fact that we barely hear a word from any of them aside from Pralix. We know that they're all natives of Zanak and that they're all telepaths but we know nothing about their families, their hopes, their fears, what life was like for them before their telepathic ability manifested itself. The fact that, aside from Pralix, only one other of the group is listed as "Mentiad" should tell you all that you need to know:- on the whole the actors playing the roles are little more than non-speaking extras and when a writer places that sort of constraint on a group it's hard to have any sort of empathy with them.

      Likewise the Zanak natives, represented by Balaton, Mula and Kimus are about as interesting as watching paint dry. Whether this is down to the script, the people playing the parts in question or a combination of the two is open to debate. To be fair, Balaton is only in the first two episodes and Mula doesn't get very much to do, but Kimus plays a fairly large part in the story yet he makes very little impression whatsoever. Rosalind Lloyd's performance as the Nurse is totally one dimensional and lacking in depth that it's hard to treat her seriously as a character.

      As I mentioned Bruce Purchase puts in an OTT performance as The Captain. Think Brian Blessed as Ycarnos in the Mindwarp segment of Trial Of A Timelord or his role as Vultan in the Flash Gordon film (1980) and you get the idea. His first line is "Mr Fibuli! Mr. Fibuli! By all the x-ray storms on Vega", then we have "By all the fires of night" followed by numerous other "By" lines throughout the remainder of the story. As well as this there's "Moons of madness", "Vulture of Death" and other variations on the same theme throughout the story. It may not have been quite so wearing when the story was originally transmitted and viewers had a week between seeing each of the episodes but, after watching all four episodes on DVD in one sitting the "By the something on/of something" and "Something of something" references get very tiresome indeed by the third of fourth episode. According to the production subtitles there were a lot more of them in the original script which were thankfully removed before filming started.

      Like all Doctor Who DVD releases, both the picture and soundtrack have been worked on by the restoration team so they're greatly improved from what they were when this story was originally released on video. The extras are a bit of a mixture. I quite enjoyed the "Parrot Fashion" which focussed on Douglas Adams and had a number of anecdotes, some of which I'd heard before and some of which I hadn't. The film inserts, deleted scenes and outtakes was also interesting but the "Weird Science" extra left me cold and added nothing to the DVD I felt.

      The Production Subtitles, were, as always excellent, providing a wealth of information about the story and the people that worked on it. Having read lots of books about Dr. Who as a whole there were a few things I knew already but lots of things that I didn't. Overall though this story really didn't work well for me at all.

      Format: PAL
      Region: Region 2
      Number of discs: 7
      Classification: PG
      Studio: 2 entertain
      DVD Release Date: 16 Nov 2009

      Websites you may find useful:


      Key To Time Rankings so far:-

      01) The Ribos Operation (3 Dooyoo stars)
      02) The Pirate Planet (2 Dooyoo stars)


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      • More +
        26.01.2010 11:41
        Very helpful



        One of my favourites from the seasoun

        A very weird story in which the doctor goes off to try to find the second part of the key to time.

        Expecting to end up on a planet called calufrax instead he ends up somewhere very different, checking the coordinates he's definately in the right place, so what's going on?

        Here unfolds a tale of half-cyborg pirates, killer robotic parrots and a civilisation that's as rich as their wildest dreams. Only one thing seems to be forbidden - knowledge.

        Certainly an interesting tale and one of the funnier ones that didn't just descend into cringeworthy rubbish. The most memorable scene for the was the fight between the robotic parrot and K9 in episode 4 of this story. The ending is quite clever for this story and if you've never seen it before it's pretty hard to guess what's going on.

        There's action, humour and drama for all the family to enjoy in this story, which was one of my highlights from the 6 story season.

        Once again, the DVD is not available to buy separately and is only available as part of the complete Key to time box set, there may be the odd copy somewhere like eBay though that's being sold individually.

        Extra features on this disc include a commentary by Bruce Purchase (Pirate Captain), Pennant Roberts (Director) and one with Tom Baker (the Doctor), Mary Tamm (Romana), Anthony Read (Script Editor). There is also a standard making of documentary, extra unused footage from the serial, continuities and trailers, a photo gallery and my favourite a 20 minute spoof programme called 'weird science' looking at the science in the entire Key to Time.

        Cert. PG, 4 25 minute episodes. As always cleaned up and very well presented.


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        20.02.2009 22:30
        Very helpful



        Good to watch.

        The search for the missing pieces of the Key to Time continues with "The Pirate Planet", which sees a shift away from the medieval inspired cold planet of Ribos to a place where materialism and consumerism is lauded, where prosperity and golden ages are announced fairly frequently and where most people concern themselves with little other than their own possessions. The initial belief that the second piece will be relatively simple piece will be easy to find is compromised by the discovery that the tracker appears to be behaving very erratically, initially saying that the segment is on a different planet to the co-ordinates that the TARDIS materialises on and then coming up with a constant signal. As the Doctor and Romana struggle to make sense of these anomalies, they find themselves caught in a precarious situation in which the seemingly sedate world hides dangerous secrets and in which appearances throughout are extremely deceptive. Before long decisions over who to trust will be imminent and allies must be chosen carefully, for there is more than the second piece of the key at stake.

        One of the core themes running throughout this story and one which gives a particular strength to the plot, is the concept of illusion, either literal or metaphorical. The people of the planet Zanak, for example, are mostly under the illusion that they live in a consumerist driven Utopian society, seeing no reason to question any of the controls imposed upon them. Yet to to others it is clear that the reality is more dystopian, no one is truly liberated, words and actions are tightly controlled and the threat of execution or imprisonment is ever present. A further example of the deception of appearances can be noted in the way that a character who appears to have only a minor role is actually extremely powerful. Passages give the false impression of being impassible, the tracer gives the illusion of malfunctioning and, towards the end of the narrative the Doctor is able to use the presumption of appearance to his own advantage. As the Ribos operation focused upon a fraud committed by two men, we get the impression that this second story is a metaphorical fraud imposed upon both the Doctor and Romana and the viewers.

        The characters within the "Pirate Planet" are fairly diverse and those who live on the planet may be comprised into three main groups. To begin with we have the majority of the population, cowed without realisation, content with their restricted lives and prepared to help others only if there is some perceived benefit to them. This latter point is demonstrated clearly by the way the men actively avoid the Doctor's attempt at interaction, yet speak to Romana whom they find attractive. The counterpoint to this section of the Zanak society are the Mentiads, a secretive society composed of some unusual powers and who shun the mainstream lives of the other humanoids on the planet. As the story continues we find ourselves questioning just what role the Mentiads have to play within the narrative and whether they are friend or foe. The fact that the answer is not immediately obvious is another point in the plot's favour. Finally, there are the guards and those who work and live on the bridge, controlling all, influencing everything and ruled over by the mysterious Captain. It is the presence of the guards amongst the general population which allows us to realise the true nature of control which the people are under, the constant questions asked by the officers and statements that many questions by the people are forbidden providing a strong example of this. It is no surprise, therefore, when we discover that the Captain of the planet rules it as a pirate captain, complete with stereotypical eyepatch and mechanical - and vicious - parrot. With such a blustering, ruthless and egoistical person granted such power, the low levels of dissent amongst the beings of Zanak are easily explained.

        Whilst the majority of "The Pirate Planet" is strong and enjoyable, negative criticism must be given to some weak acting on the part of some of the extras or minor characters, particularly during the initial crowd scenes. However, these do not detract from the main arc of the film and thus the episodes are not marred strongly by them. In summary, therefore, this is a good continuation of the Key to Time series, offering a pleasing contrast to the initial story and presenting the Doctor and Romana with a new and complicated challenge.


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        07.06.2008 15:11
        Very helpful



        Good DVD with a decent selection of specail features

        What I am reviewing is the Doctor Who DVD "The Pirate Planet"

        Ratio 4.3
        Dolby Digital sound
        Running time 272 minutes

        First Broadcast 30 September - 21 October 1978

        As the Key to time series moved on The Pirate Planet was the second story of the series.
        This followed on after The Ribos Operation which had had very good viewing figures in the UK when it was broadcast.

        Before the filming began on this one Tom Baker was messing about with a friends dog and seeing it do tricks he held a biscuit in his mouth for the dog to jump up and take, but alas for Tom the dog bit him leaving blood pouring from his mouth.
        Tom was taken to accident and emergency to be fixed up.
        Nothing was permenant and would heal up but there was still a bite mark and filiming was due to begin that day !
        Gareth Williams the producer and Pennant Roberts the director had to come up with a way that Tom could still film and explain the mark.
        The way they got around it was with the Doctor and Romana squabbling around the easiest way to materialize the TARDIS and with the Doctor hitting himself on the panel and leaving a mark. Problem sorted for the time being.

        Now this story was to be set on a huge space station so there was no location filming. This was all done at BBC studios who built all the sets for this story.
        It had to have a flight deck for the Captain, corridors and underground passages leading to the depths of the ship.
        Whilst the sets were made the costume for the Captain was to be different than expected. Actor Bruce Purchase was in the role as the captain and his costume was to have a robot arm, and half of his face covered with robotic machinery so he could see from his left eye. He wore a brightly coloured red suit that stood him out from the rest on deck.
        He also had a robot parrott who he commanded to kill people when they got the worse in him.

        Mary Tamm had a change of costume as she would for every story and would cleverly blend in with the story at the time. She wore a light pink top in this one so not to show up too much while on the deck as this was the captins territory.
        Tom was still fighting fit and ready to go with his performance after his situation with the dog.
        K-9 was to play a part in this story and it was to be the first fight between to robot animals in the series, K-9 versus the Captains parrot !

        Plot :

        The Doctor and Romana are getting signals to where the second key is located in time and space. The control of the TARDIS shows up with the planet of Zanak after the locater has traced it and they go on their way to find it.
        After a few squabbles about the easiest way to materialize the TARDIS they land to find that the streets are covered with priceless gems that have precious minerals to other planets of the galaxy and known only to be located on them.
        The Doctor is puzzled by this and as they ask around about the planet they get little response. Romana has some luck and they find out that somebody called the Captain is running the place and promises a prosperous time for all.

        However all is not as it seems, what has actually happened to the planet, why are there precious gems everywhere and why do people never say no to the Captain ?
        There are some other humanoids who make their presence felt to the Doctor, but who are they and what is unraveling in front of our time travelers ?

        Special Features :

        Commentary 1 :
        Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and Anthony Read (script editor) give their comments and memories on the Pirate Planet with some great insights.

        Commentary 2 :
        Bruce Purchase and Pennant Roberts take you through the story giving their input.

        Parrot fashion :
        This is a thirty minute documentary about the story and has input from Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, John Leeson, Bruce Purchase, Anthony Read, and Rosalind Lloyd.
        This also has an interview with writer Douglas Adams.

        Film inserts, deleted scenes and outtakes :
        This gives you a chance to see deleted scenes from the story, inserts and some funny outtakes.

        Weird science :
        This is a spoof school sci fi programme that was broadcast in the 70's and covers the key to time series.

        Continuities :
        This gives you the chance to see before and after each episode with a voice over and TV listings before and after each episode from 1978.

        Radio Times billings :
        This shows you all of the Radio Times listings for The Pirate Planet with articles, pictures, and time listings.

        Coming soon trailer :
        This shows you a clip of the upcoming DVD release Planet of Evil

        Photo gallery :
        This shows you photos of the making of, actors shots, model shots, and set designs.

        Production subtitles :
        With this option you can see the pop up details of what was happening at that certain time of the episode and gives you facts about the story.

        What thought :

        As I did have vague memories of this one from 1978 it was good to watch it again to see how much I actually did remember of the story.
        From the moment I put it on and selected episode 1 I did remember watching this which was great.
        I found the relationship with the Doctor and Romana now getting much better as a lot of the groundwork had been done to introduce them in the previous story "The Ribos Operation".
        Also it was good to see the continuation in search of the key to time as this was bringing all of the stories together quite well so far in the series whilst giving each story a good storyline to follow.
        The inclusion of a space station in was a lot better than some of the others I found as it had a certain character on the bridge of the Captain who was a good villain for that story and found that his character was well set out and the costume was done very differently. Also the inclusion of another robot animal, this time being a parrot was good viewing and I found myself waiting for the showdown between the parrott and K-9.

        The settings were good and had lots of detail especially on the bridge to make it believable. There was lots going on and it was set out very colourful to make it stand out more.
        I found that some old oil refineries were used in a certain part of the story and I remembered them from a couple of episodes of Blake's 7. That way I found there was a lot more room for the actors and it took you down into the depths of the station.

        The acting was good all round and while Tom and Mary play their parts great so did some of the others and Bruce Purchase (The Captain) really stood out for me in the story giving a great performance. I found he was a lot like Brian Blessed with the loud voice and shouting, which worked well for this story.

        The picture was crystal clear much more than I actually remembered it from the last time I saw it and it looked as though it had only been made yesterday.
        I thought this was very well cleaned up before digital transfer as I did with the sound as well. This was very clear and made a lot of difference being Dolby Digital rather than mono sound.

        With the special features the commentaries were as good as ever with Tom and Mary I their element discussing this story and remembering well even though it was quite a few years ago when it was made now.
        Bruce Purchase and Pennant Roberts made a good go of the second commentary making it a good listen to find out what they thought of the story.
        Parrot fashion was a good documentary to watch giving a lot of details and making of about the story.
        The outtakes were funny with all of the cast forgetting their lines at one time or another, and funny to watch Tom and Mary doing this.
        The added scenes and deleted scenes are a good extra feature with some of the deleted scenes being rescued from old VHS tape.

        I found this a good second story to The Key to Time theme and well intergrated with the first story.
        This one is certainly worth a watch and has decent extra features.

        © IanM73 2008


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        • More +
          08.01.2008 22:32
          Very helpful
          1 Comment



          Tom Baker's 25th Doctor Who adventure

          THE PIRATE PLANET is the 25th 'Doctor Who' story starring Tom Baker, and was first broadcast in September 1978. The story also stars Mary Tamm as his companion Romana, and John Leeson as the voice of K9, The Doctor's robot dog. The story is told over 4 episodes.

          This story was the 2nd story in the 16th season of Doctor Who, a season which was almost unique in Doctor Who history as it had an overarching plot which spread over all 26 episodes of the season, in which The Doctor was responsible for searching out all six segments of the 'Key To Time', which was essential in order to keep order in the universe. I say that this season was 'almost' unique as a similar idea was tried in the 1980s, during Colin Baker's tenure in the TARDIS, when The Doctor was put on trial, and this trial lasted throughout the season (the overall title for that season was 'The Trial Of A Time Lord').

          Anyway, back to 'The Pirate Planet'. The plot here has The Doctor and his companions landing on the planet Calufrax in search of the second segment of the 'Key'. However he finds that all is not as it seems, and that Calufrax is in fact another planet, Zarak, which has been hollowed out in order to travel through space and pillage other planets. The storyline is quite complicated, and indeed is a bizarre one. This is only to be expected as it was written by Douglas Adams, more famous for his equally bizarre creation 'The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy', and indeed there are plenty of injokes in this story which HitchHikers fans may well recognise.

          In contrast to earlier stories starring Tom Baker, here The Doctor is a lot more humorous, a lot more flippant. Much of his seriousness has dissipated and this would continue as his final years on the show progressed, partly due to the fact that Douglas Adam would soon actually become script editor for the show, and so have a lot more input into what happened in the stories. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just quite jarring to watch a story in this style straight after seeing a more atmospheric, serious story, such as HORROR OF FANG ROCK or THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG.

          The 'Key To Time' storyline would continue in the next adventure, THE STONES OF BLOOD.

          The story is not available on Region 2 DVD although a Region 2 release can be imported by Amazon, currently at a cost of £6.86. The only feature of note is an interesting commentary by director Pennant Roberts and guest actor Bruce Purchase.

          I highly recommend this DVD to fans of the 'Doctor Who' series, and it is definitely worth the cost to import it into the UK.

          --------------------------------------------- ---
          Starring Tom Baker as The Doctor, Mary Tamm as Romana, John Leeson as the voice of K9
          Written by Douglas Adams
          Produced by Graham Williams
          Directed by Pennant Roberts
          ------------------------------------------ ------

          This review will shortly be posted on ciao under the username phurren2006


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            26.11.2007 04:26
            Very helpful



            Starring Tom Baker and Mary Tamm as the Fourth Doctor and Romana (1978).

            As one of the relatively few stories written by the late, great Douglas Adams outside of his own Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, this otherwise rather obscure instalment of Tom Baker's fifth year as the Doctor retrospectively acquires new importance and value, while also running the risk of being dangerously over-rated for Adams' presence alone. Adams would write for the show on two more occasions, jointly with Graham Williams for the celebrated 'City of Death' and going solo one finale time with the distinctly odd 'Shada,' which bears the unfortunate distinction of being the only episode halted half-way through filming due to a BBC strike, and was thus never completed. As the only completed episode written entirely by the young Douglas Adams, does 'The Pirate Planet' represent a true bridge between the established universe of Doctor Who and the burgeoning Whole Sort of General Mish Mash of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide?'

            The answer is: no, not really. While it's noticeably more humorous, satirical and ludicrously bizarre than the average Doctor Who episode of the time, this still slots comfortably into one of the series' long-established sub-genres, that of a crazed megalomaniac hopping around the universe, destroying worlds in pursuit of personal gain. In this instance, the villain is an anonymous Captain (played by Bruce Purchase) whose vessel oddly seems grafted to a mountain above a vast mine complex on planet Zanak. As the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion Romana (Mary Tamm) arrive on this oddly populated world that they believed would be the uninhabited Calufrax, in search of a lost artefact forming part of the legendary Key to Time, their investigation into the apparent disappearance of Calufrax leads to the astonishing revelation that Zanak (the whole darn planet) is in fact a gigantic hollow spaceship that materialises around the outside of mineral-rich worlds and drains them of their wealth, regardless of the destruction to native life. Needless to say, the Doctor isn't too happy about this dastardly plot of planet plundering, and applies his usual skills of diplomacy, care-free carelessness and an unwavering belief in his own invincibility to stroll up the mountainside and have a gnatter with the shouty Captain.

            As I'm a fan of Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide series (as is probably pretty obvious from my nerdy and alienating in-jokes), I did enjoy this serial more than a fan of Doctor Who's more sombre and serious side might do, but distinct authorial touches are very few. The aspect of this script that struck me the most (you'll notice I'm referring to the scripted dialogue itself, rather than its ultimate realisation on-screen, which is another matter entirely) is its inability to take itself seriously, something that will likely impede enjoyment for less open-minded viewers. Adams seems determined to deconstruct all of the clichés of science fiction and Doctor Who in particular, from incompetent guards to gloating arch-villains and stupid technology, to the ultimate cheesy revelation that the tyrant's next target is a heavily-populated, blue-green planet in the Sol system...

            That's not to say that this is expressly written as a comedy episode, but the self-parodying undercurrent restricts it from ever being too convincingly dramatic, apart from select key scenes. The most vocal villain of the piece, the roaring captain in command of the titular 'Pirate Planet,' couldn't look more like a space-age pirate if he tried; his ridiculous get-up including a shiny plastic eye patch, a metallic 'hook' arm and even a robot weapon effectively functioning as a parrot, sitting on his shoulder. But for all this silliness, Adams' script rewards patient science fiction fans with a whole host of original and ingenious concepts that came close to blowing my mind, ideas layered around each other with such skill that it doesn't even seem to matter that the twists revealed in the fourth episode don't really line up to what we've been watching for the previous three weeks. This is partly due to Bruce Purchase's distinctly one-dimensional performance of the apparently subtle Captain, whose bawling, pig-headed performance is deduced by Romana to be a mere act to fool the real enemy of the piece, but hearing Purchase's unwavering, irritating yell persist for four episodes regardless of his mood, I couldn't help feeling that the performers weren't exactly up to speed with the plot or its intended effects. Unfortunately, the general disappointing quality of acting all-round (apart from the inimitable Baker of course, who even gets a great angry scene in episode two), highlights more of a problem than a mere instance of actors ruining a tongue-in-cheek story by playing it too straight.

            With the over-arching search for the Key to Time providing a loose foundation for these 1978-79 episodes, the plot avoids the usual problem of the TARDIS arriving at these alien worlds seemingly at random, though for all Adams' valiant attempts towards the end, the larger quest doesn't really play any part in the development of the story, something that is obviously to its benefit when viewed independently like this (though the entire Key to Time season of the show has been released as a larger box-set for completists). The other distinguishing feature of this season is the presence of Mary Tamm's Romana, unfortunately doomed to be forever viewed as the more annoying and less attractive Romana after Lalla Ward took over the role for the next couple of years, but her nature as a fellow Time Lord as opposed to yet another wide-eyed, stupid human companion makes for some nice and very different banter with the Doctor as she pits her by-the-book academic training against his seasoned experience, and unexpectedly scores a small victory. Romana may be irritating, but it feels like a necessary irritation at this point, especially as this is only her second outing, though it has to be said that Mary Tamm doesn't exactly put in a stellar effort to add depth to her character beyond her overly made-up, smug exterior.

            The Mentiad dissidents are one of the weakest links of the story, a home-grown resistance movement that is set up rather nicely, but ends up seeming like nothing more than a troupe of zombie goths in orange robes, whose final, pivotal scenes again border on self-parody at an inappropriately dramatic moment. The Captain's overly loyal, Smithers-like assistant Mr. Fibuli is also a very nice character, and Andrew Robertson's performance is fine if not particularly enlightening, but in the end he is a little under-used. The less said about the bland performances of the Zanak natives the better, though Adams does write a fairly substantial role along with some nice, family-friendly witticisms for the easily overlooked K-9 - it's just a shame he had to include the ridiculous face-off between the Doctor's robot dog and the Captain's robot parrot, which makes for the low point of the episode in many respects.

            In visual terms, this is a pretty nice-looking episode that never comes off looking too cheap, with refreshing outdoor footage in some hills that nevertheless fails to gel with the studio 'outdoor' scenes and that also features some dodgy-looking alien technology sticking clumsily out of a hillside. Still, the Captain's ship interiors all look pretty good, and a touch of realism is added through location filming at what looks like a real mine, and what's probably a water pumping station of the kind used in every episode of 'Red Dwarf' ever. However much you may dislike the idea of the space pirate Captain, he does look undeniably cool if a tad goofy, sort of a Saxon cyborg with hints of Lego Technic, and the flying Aircars end up looking as acceptable and convincing as they were ever going to be in seventies BBC serial. The only really lousy effect is the over-zealous camera shaking as Zanak dematerialises, which may even last long enough to induce sea sickness or epilepsy.

            'The Pirate Planet' is a flawed and strange episode that's a far cry from a classic, but is certainly recommended viewing for anyone who enjoys the more light-hearted side of the show. The subtle comedy and elaborate science fiction concepts balance out evenly, despite failing to really reconcile in the end, and the lack of consistency may be partially due to the re-writes and significant editing applied to Adams' original, incomprehensible script by script editor Anthony Read, a job Adams himself would take over the following year, just in time to insert more gratuitous Hitchhiker's references into random scenes. Tom Baker sports a slightly distracting cut lip throughout this episode, which the producers in their wisdom attempt to explain with a brief stumbling scene early on that's silly but fun, and Baker really lets rip with an impressive emotional range when confronted with the insanity and genius of the Captain's trophy room of compressed planets, declaring, "the concept is simply staggering. Pointless, but staggering." A little like this oddball story, which I couldn't help but enjoy immensely.


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