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Doctor Who - Pirate Planet (DVD)
Member Name: keeperofthematri
Doctor Who - Pirate Planet (DVD)
Date: 22/04/10, updated on 22/04/10 (74 review reads)
Advantages: Some nice loaction shots, Interesting ideas
Disadvantages: Too much "humour", Dull plot, Weak and uninteresting characters
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.
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 7
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)
Summary: Intersting ifdea served up in a dull plot with an overdose of "humour"
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