BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

The Pirate Planet

Production Code: 5B

First Transmitted

1 - 30/09/1978 18:20

2 - 07/10/1978 18:20

3 - 14/10/1978 18:20

4 - 21/10/1978 18:20


The tracer detects the second segment on the planet Calufrax. The TARDIS makes a bumpy landing, and the Doctor and Romana soon discover that they are not on Calufrax at all. They are in fact on Zanak, a planet that has been hollowed out and fitted with engines so that it can transmat through space and materialise around others - such as Calufrax - to plunder their mineral wealth, leaving them as shrunken husks held by gravitational forces in a 'trophy room'.

Ostensibly in charge is the Captain, whose body has been partially replaced with robotic parts following a near-fatal crash, but he is merely a puppet controlled by his nurse - a projection of Zanak's original ruler, the aged Queen Xanxia.

Xanxia is using time dams, powered by the forces generated in the trophy room, to keep her body alive until this new, younger form has stabilised. The Captain prepares Zanak to 'jump' again - this time with Earth as its target.

The Doctor attempts to thwart his plans, calling on the assistance of the Mentiads - a gestalt of telepaths amongst Zanak's indigenous population - to sabotage the engines.

The Captain rebels against the nurse, but she kills him. The nurse herself is then destroyed by one of the Zanak natives whom the Doctor, Romana and K9 have befriended.

The Doctor realises that the second segment comprises the whole of the planet Calufrax. He contrives to drop the compressed husks from the trophy room into a space-time vortex created by the TARDIS in the centre of Zanak, and is then able to pick up and convert the segment at his leisure.

Episode Endings

A group of Mentiads blast the Doctor with a bolt of mental energy. K9 blasts them back, but to no avail. The Mentiads turn again to the Doctor, who slumps to the floor under their attack.

The Doctor, Romana and the young native Kimus explore the mine workings under Zanak. The Doctor realises that the planet is hollow and that it has materialised around Calufrax. The three friends flee further into the mine as the Captain's guards arrive and give chase. Suddenly they are confronted a group of Mentiads who state that they have come for the Doctor.

K9 destroys the Captain's robotic parrot, the polyphase avitron, and by way of retribution the Captain forces the Doctor to walk a plank suspended over a sheer drop. The Doctor reaches the end and pauses. The Captain fires a gun at his feet until, with a cry, he falls from the plank and disappears from view. The Captain laughs.

The Doctor helps to set up some explosives for the Mentiads, who then operate the detonator telepathically. Zanak's control centre, the Bridge, is totally destroyed in a spectacular explosion. The Doctor and Romana leave to return to the TARDIS.


The Tomorrow People (telepaths 'breaking out').

Mutiny on the Bounty.

Peter Pan ('Mr Fibuli!').

The pirate genre.


Through the Looking Glass (the inertia free walkway).

The Beach Boys ('You mean they pinned him to the wall with Good Vibrations?').

Monty Python's Flying Circus (allusions to 'The Spanish Inquisition' and a dead parrot).

The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Dialogue Triumphs

Guard : [Taking a telescope from Romana] "This is a forbidden object."

Romana : "Why?"

Guard : "That is a forbidden question. You are a stranger?"

Romana : "Well, yes."

Guard : "Strangers are forbidden."

Romana : "I did come with the Doctor."

Guard : "Who is the..."

Romana : "Ah, now don't tell me. Doctors are forbidden as well."

The Doctor : [To the Captain] "What is it you're really up to, eh? What do you want? You don't want to take over the universe do you? No. You wouldn't know what to do with it beyond shout at it."

Captain : "I'm gratified that you appreciate it."

The Doctor : "Appreciate it... appreciate it! You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's almost inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it! Just because you happen to have made a brilliantly-conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets."

Captain : "Devilstorms, Doctor... It is not a toy!"

The Doctor : "Then what's it for? Huh? What are you doing? What could possibly be worth all this?"

The Doctor : [The Doctor is asked what he does for a living] "I save planets, mostly."

The Doctor : "I just put 1.795379 and 2.20468 together."

Romana : "What does that mean?"

The Doctor : "Four!" [(4.000059, actually.)]

Double Entendre

Mentiad : "We must act... Act at once..."

The Doctor : "It's a bit crude, but immensely satisfying."


Romana was given an air car for her 70th birthday, and can shoot with surprising accuracy. She states that the study of 'veteran and vintage vehicles' (i.e. Type 40 TARDISes) was optional on the syllabus at the Academy and that she preferred to study 'the life cycle of the Gallifreyan Flutterwing'.

We see the TARDIS handbook. The TARDIS does not seem to be indestructible. Romana states that the Doctor has been operating the TARDIS for 523 years [As the Doctor was at the Academy with Drax 450 years ago, this cannot refer to the length of his exile from Gallifrey. Instead, this figure refers to the length of time that the Doctor has operated TARDISes, a necessary part of his employment or training on Gallifrey.]

Oolion is a rare precious stone found only on Qualactin and Bandraginus V (the latter 'disappeared about a hundred years ago'). Balaton says that Queen Xanxia ruled when he was 'a lad', which indicates that he must be over a century old. Calufrax was an 'oblate spheroid 14,000 kilometres across'. Rich in voolium and madranite one-five, it was also the second segment in the Key to Time. Zanak's next victim is be to the Earth, co ordinates 58044684884, which is rich in the mineral PJX18 (quartz).

The Doctor lies to the Captain, telling him that the TARDIS has a lock that requires both his and Romana's presence when being opened.






The Doctor told Sir Isaac Newton the idea for gravity at dinner after sitting in his tree dropping apples on his head.


The Doctor has a visible cut on his top lip during this story as Tom Baker had been bitten by a dog whilst offering it a sausage. This is explained in plot terms by the Doctor banging his lip on the TARDIS console when it makes its bumpy landing on Zanak.

There are some excellent location scenes filmed at the Dan-yr-Ogof caves in Powys, Wales.


The Doctor doesn't use the synchronic feedback circuit or the multi-loop stabiliser when landing the TARDIS (both of which are, according to Romana, essential for a smooth materialisation). Also featured are a linear induction corridor, a macro-mac field integrator, an amblicyclic photon bridge, a magnifactoid eccentricolometer, a counter jamming frequency projector, a warp oscilloscope, etc. (After all, this is a Douglas Adams script.)

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Mary Tamm

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Balaton - Ralph Michael

Captain - Bruce Purchase

Citizen - Clive Bennett

Guard - Adam Kurakin

Kimus - David Warwick

Mentiad - Bernard Finch

Mr. Fibuli - Andrew Robertson

Mula - Primi Townsend

Nurse - Rosalind Lloyd

Pralix - David Sibley


Director - Pennant Roberts

Assistant Floor Manager - Ruth Mayorcas

Costumes - L Rowland Warne

Designer - John Pusey

Film Cameraman - Elmer Cossey

Film Editor - John Dunstan

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Janis Gould

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Michael Owen Morris

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Anthony Read

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Mike Jones

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Colin Mapson

Writer - Douglas Adams

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'You don't want to take over the universe, do you? You wouldn't know what to do with it. Except shout at it.' An inventive story, The Pirate Planet has matured into a satisfying mixture of the clever and the absurd. There are Hitch-Hikers in jokes aplenty ('I'll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again', 'Standing around all day looking tough must be very wearing on the nerves. Long hours, violence, no intellectual stimul-') and a sense of a cast having great fun with a script.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Douglas Adams' first story for Doctor Who was written at exactly the same time as his first radio serial of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the concept that would eventually bring him fame and fortune. It is perhaps not surprising therefore to find that the two have much in common.

The spectacular scientific gobbledegook that comes pouring from the mouths of the Doctor and Romana is a case in point, as is the incredible abundance of mind-blowing concepts vying for attention in the scripts. Here we are presented with engines capable of moving a planet across space via some sort of interstitial vortex; time dams; cybernetic control systems; living projections of matter; powerful telepaths; flying cars; and anti-inertia travel tubes.

'Whilst it would be inaccurate to say that The Pirate Planet is anything other than an engaging and diverting adventure serial,' suggested Philip Packer in Star Begotten Volume 4 Number 4, dated winter 1990/91, 'it is packed with some absolutely fascinating and (dare I say it) plausible concepts, although to be fair to Douglas Adams, most of his ideas seem workable, at least in the imagination. There is the idea of the hollow planet itself; the way in which the release of the crushed planets' energy - some of which is psychic - forces open the natural passages of any latent telepath on Zanak, thus causing another Mentiad to break out...; the suspended intertia tunnel in which the occupants stand still whilst the tunnel whizzes past very effectively and which - after a minor adjustment by the Doctor - slams two of the Captain's guards straight into the wall of the anteroom at the end!; the concept of the time dams being able to hold back the flow of time; and so on.'

That there is room in all this for a plot is a wonder, and that the whole thing actually turns out to be quite enjoyable is an absolute marvel. 'I must admit that I had a lot of reservations about this story by new writer Douglas Adams,' wrote Geraint Jones in TARDIS Volume 3 Number 6, dated December 1978. 'The idea of a hollow planet sucking worlds dry of their wealth, bionic parrots etc just did not seem right somehow for Doctor Who. As it turned out, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable adventures ever in the series.'

'Adams even makes a valiant attempt to provide an explanation for the Captain's plan to defeat Xanxia,' added Packer, 'which although steeped in neutron flowisms at least makes a vague sort of sense within the parameters of Doctor Who doublespeak. And then there are the overtly comic ideas such as the notion of the Doctor being able to walk the plank from the top of the mountain, which ties in with the pirate motif, as does... the robotic parrot... Actually, the pirate theme is quite stylishly woven into the visual side of the story. Instead of the eye-patched and one-legged Long John Silver bombast, we have the hi-tech equivalent, whose torso and head are... half mechanical.'

The story's success is due partly to Tom Baker and Mary Tamm who breeze through the madness as though they are in another show entirely, but partly also to marvellous performances from Bruce Purchase as the blustering Captain and Andrew Robertson as the Smee-like Mr Fibuli. The Captain is the sort of larger than life character that one could easily imagine an actor like Brian Blessed playing, and Purchase gives it his all. What makes it all work is the ending, where the Captain is revealed as being as much a pawn as those at whom he ranted; and his sorrow at the death of Mr Fibuli is nicely played.

It is in fact just as well that the Captain and Mr Fibuli are so good, as the other incidental characters are simply awful. Rosalind Lloyd's nurse is one-dimensional and shallow, and the Zanak natives (just how they survive being thrust through a space vortex over and over again is never explained) are some of the most bland characters ever to be seen in Doctor Who. They look vaguely similar to the Dulcians from season six's The Dominators, and have the same annoying vacuuousness about them. The other main group, the Mentiads, seem to spend the entire story marching across fields to get to places, and one is reminded of numerous Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches in which characters do a similar thing to humorous effect.

Continuing a trend of increasing silliness in Tom Baker's portrayal of the Doctor, here we see him amongst other things talking directly to camera; tossing up a coin that then takes an inordinate length of time to fall; and ripping a sweet from a paper bag with his teeth, as though pulling the pin from a hand grenade. This more flippant approach to the character would flourish over the next couple of years, especially after Douglas Adams succeeded Anthony Read as script editor for season seventeen, but The Pirate Planet is arguably the story in which it really took root.

< The Ribos OperationFourth DoctorThe Stones of Blood >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy