The Pirate Planet: Doctor Who: Season 16
The Pirate Planet SYNOPSIS:
The Key to Time tracer sends the Doctor and Romana to Calufrax. They arrive and find a civilization that lives in perpetual prosperity instead of an ice planet. A band of people known as the Mentiads are feared by society, but the Doctor discovers they are good people with telepathic abilities opposed to the Captain.
The cyborg Captain is the planet's leader and after meeting him the Doctor learns that they are on a hollowed-out planet named Zanak, that materializes around other planets and mines their resources, the death of the these planets increases the Mentiads psychic abilities. The Doctor finds the real menace controlling the Captain is ancient tyrant Queen Xanxia who uses the mined resources attempting to gain immortality.
The Captain plans to take Zanak to Earth once the engines are repaired, damaged when the planet initially materialized in the same space as the TARDIS. The Captain is a calculating person planning to destroy Xanxia with this last jump. Realizing Calufrax is the second segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana plan to disrupt Zanak's materialization, save Earth and free Calufrax hoping the mentiads have enough power to stop the Captain.
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The Pirate Planet CAST & CREW
Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor)
John Leeson (K-9 Mk. II)
Mary Tamm (Romana I)
Bruce Purchase — The Pirate Captain
Andrew Robertson — Mr Fibuli
Rosalind Lloyd — The Nurse
David Warwick — Kimus
David Sibley — Pralix
Ralph Michael — Balaton
Primi Townsend — Mula
Clive Bennett — Citizen
Bernard Finch — Mentiad
Adam Kurakin — Guard
Production Staff for Serial 5B:
Writer - Douglas Adams
Director - Pennant Roberts
Script editor - Anthony Read
Producer - Graham Williams
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The Pirate Planet REVIEWS
Yep the Pirate Planet is big in scale from the ideas to the actors' performances.
Thanks to Douglas Adams we have a huge scale set of episodes, as Grob said all these things haven't been seen in Who before now so the story can be a bit overwhelming, yet somehow it all makes sense. Even from the point that when the Tardis arrives at the start we all assume it has a problem because of the Doctor can't fly it properly but this ties in at the climax when he intentionally uses the Tardis to block the pirate planet itself from materializing in the same spot.
The Captain is a classic bad guy and multi layered as well, coming across as a large, half cybernetic bully but actually a cunning and dangerous individual who's going along with Queen Xanxia's plan just so he can free himself from her grasp, never mind that it destroys whole planets. Mr. Fibuli is great as his off sider and though she's the head honcho - the Queen, when finally revealed, doesn't match up to her henchmen. The Mentiad's are a good concept too, a bunch of people who's psychic powers that get stronger when they absorb the life essence of every destroyed planet.
There are so many well thought out giant concepts in the pirate planet and wrapped up nicely in Adams script that totally catered for the random humour of the 4th Doctor and the attractive arrogance of Romana. Their banter really shows off their chemistry. Tom again gets away with addressing the audience with a one liner too. Plus the location filming of the mines and surrounding hillsides is well done too. Pity about the obvious "village built in a studio" look for part 1.
Two other things I didn't buy though were the mechanical parrot, that was a good idea as K9 finally had a rival but their battle was badly realised badly thanks to the limitation of 1978 BBC effects. Also whoever plays the father of Pralix in the first episode really should have learned how to act and his blonde girlfriend obviously either fluffs a line or covers up for the guy but it was an obvious amateur theatre moment actually left in the final edit of part 1, but these are minor niggles.
The end of part 3 sees an effective cliffhanger as the Doctor is seen to literally plummet to his death with no way out and two and half years too soon. So much stuff going in the Pirate Planet you have to watch it a few times just to pick everything up and appreciate the good lines! Hmmm yeah give it a 9/10
There are some great characters in the Pirate Planet as well. The blustering pirate captain and his number two Mr Fibuli are another of Who's fabulous double acts and Bruce Purchase (Captain) and Andrew Robertson (Fibuli) wring every little piece of comedy, drama and pathos out of them as possible. Queen Xanxia is good as well, but I don't think she comes close to her co-horts.
The Doctor and Romana are great in the Pirate Planet as well. Tom Baker has a fabulous scene where he confronts the Captain about his (the Captain's) role in the destruction of planets for the gain of wealth for Zanak. Romana is equal to him and has some nice comedy moments in the first episode as she succeeds in getting some local history out of the, ummm...locals when the Doctor has failed. She also looks pretty hot in her white boots too.
Some great location work never goes astray and we have the (Google, please) Dan-yr-Ogof caves in Wales and the fabulous mining machinery doubling as the planets engine room. Plus there's some lovely countryside to go wandering about in too.
Of course, being Douglas Adams, high concepts go hand-in-hand with outrageous comedy so we have the suspended inertia tunnel where the occupants stand still and the scenery goes whizzing past them which the Doctor later tampers with and causes two of the Captain's guards to go slamming into the wall at the other end! I really pissed myself laughing at that scene. And what is comedy without a bit of tragedy? The Captain mourning over the death of Mr Fibuli is really well played out as well.
So in all, the Pirate Planet is a very good addition to the season. It seems the Key To Time series has given the writers (at least so far) a bit more scope to work with.
I plan to watch this again shortly, but based on my vague memory and some reading, I quite like it. The premise is quite clever - Zanak is a lot like a Death Star really isn't it? I like (and remember) how disappointed the Doctor is about going to Calufrax... it's kind of cool that not all places in the universe are awesome!
So yes, the idea works really well - the thing is, it wasn't really the original idea Douglas Adams had... apparently the hollowed out planet was going to be inhabited by a Time Lord who absorbed the anger of every planet it landed around, thus turning him into an uber baddie. While that sounds pretty hard to achieve, it does sound very cool... I wouldn't have minded that!
What we're left with still works well too - not as big as the original, but according to Williams and Read it was far more achievable. The only other thing I remember is that the Doctor and Romana seem to click very well in this. And yes, the part 3 cliffhanger was good... but a bit of cheeky resolution in part 4 though. More to come - I'm giving it a 7.8 but may round it up after an Easter viewing!
OK, so after finding this on Good Friday, then having the VCR breakdown, before resurrecting itself on Sunday (kind of spooky... although it still didn't work properly, so we bought a cheap replacement... but still, kind of Eastery huh!), I finally began the Key to Time catch up with the Pirate Planet.
And for the first 2 3/4 parts I was thinking "how good is this"... then it just got too clever for its on good.
I guess it started getting a bit too clever at the end of part 2 where the core of the planet turns out to be the innards of a factory... but that still works though. What the planet is doing is quite a slow reveal - in fact I don't think it's till mid way through Part 3 when we're in the trophy room that we learn that they are materialising around other planets and sucking them dry.
Other than the dodgy acting Father and the conveniently scattered jewels in the city (ok, and the dodgy flight shots - but we can forgive them for those!) the trophy room is really the first bad thing in this episode. For a couple of reasons - one, it's a crappy looking corridor, and two, we know that we can understand other languages thanks to a special TARDIS gift... but isn't a bit of a coincidence that the good people of Zanak write in English.
OK, that's a minor gripe really, as up until then everything holds together really well. We have a great relationship building between Romana and the Doctor (the Romana "one ups" are great), and we have some great adventure and mystery... what are these Mentiads? I love that they are able to absorb the planet's intelligence to enhance their telepathic powers - which is one of the few remaining things from Adams' original script. What is the planet? What is this crazy Captain guy? It's very cool - but I think it all gets undone with a lot of over explaining which starts off in the Trophy corridor... followed by the awful fight scene between the parrot and K9.
And how did the non corporeal Doctor carry in the dead parrot?
It picks up again with the Nurse and the back-story of the Queen. But unfortunately that's held together with some crazy explanation of a time bank.
Before you think that I'm going against my Grob Gripe Number 1 (it's not meant to be a science text book), the problem here is that the script tries to become a science text book and it all becomes too complicated with over explanation. Dr Who works best when we just trust what they're saying is right, and we don't have to go through half a dozen physics lectures to work out what's happening and then work out how to fix it.
And after all that, it gets fixed with a spanner.
As much as I enjoyed the bulk of the Pirate Planet, I'm downgrading it to a 7.5. Great ideas abounded by over explanation... and I'm still not sure what the Captain's motivation was supposed to be!