Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fourth Doctor adventure The Pirate Planet...
So the Doctor & Romana head to Calufrax to pick up the second segment of the 'Key to Time' but after a bumpy landing they appear to have arrived on a totally different world even though it exists in the same place & time as Calufrax. This hunt for the Key to Time isn't going to be easy is it?
The Pirate Planet was written by Douglas Adams, whose work I adore. It bears some of the hallmarks of his other work, even featuring a couple of lines of his that crop up in similar form elsewhere. This isn't a criticism. If a line's good use it as often as possible I say.
It's also filled with scientific bafflegab. Now whether the science stands up to analysis I'm unqualified to say but the Doctor's final episode explanation of what he is about to do to solve a rather large gravitational problem is a masterpiece of speedily delivered, scientific sounding stuff that might be nonsense. It sounds good though, which is half the battle & Tom Baker makes it sound perfectly 'right'.
There's a lot going on in this script: a planet that materialises & dematerialises; telepaths dressed like Hara Krishna wannabees - the Mentiads; time damns; a not quite dead Queen; a half-mechanical, shouty Captain with his robotic parrot (Pollyphase Avitron); streets paved with gemstones; flying cars; a people unwilling to ask questions out of fear & a lot of very stupid guards who can't shoot straight. So it can seem a little overwhelming keeping up with everything.
It just about holds together, even if it frays a little at the edges. The Doctor is at his wittiest & sharpest in this story, racing ahead of everyone - including Romana - to realise what's going on & how to stop it. This is one of those stories when the Doctor really does run intellectual rings around his opponents. It also allows Tom Baker to let the Doctor's righteous indignation out for a little run around for the first time in ages & Tom does appear to be having a lot of fun.
Mary Tamm gets some nice lines to but after Romana has been quite to the forefront of the action in the first episode & a bit she gets less proactive as the story goes on, which is a shame. There's a possibility on the basis of this that Romana might end up suffering from Liz Shaw Syndrome (aka Susan Syndrome). We shall see.
Bruce Purchase does a great job as the shouty Captain. In the hands of a lesser actor the shoutiness would have probably collapsed into something hamtastic but Purchase keeps on the right side of the line. It reminded me of Brian Blessed when he was more than just a beard & a shout. The Captain gets a great line in curses to. I should have written them down for those moments when the use of a proper swearword is inappropriate.
Purchase is ably supported by Andrew Robertson who gives a lovely performance as Mr Fibuli, the Captain's obsequious right-hand man.
The other guest parts are a little bland & there's not much for them to get their teeth into, with the exception of Rosalind Lloyd as The Nurse. Who starts off as a background figure but gradually emerges into the foreground as the story rolls along.
The poor chaps that get to play the Mentiads don't get to do much more than stand around looking serious & pale.
The truth is there's too much going on in the story for every character in it to get something decent to do. It's certainly fun. It's intelligent & witty but just a little too busy.
It's not often I say this but The Pirate Planet is the sort of story that could have benefited from two more episodes to give all the characters & ideas room to breathe, even if the basic plot might be stretched to breaking point.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.