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The Space Pirates

Production Code: YY

First Transmitted

1 - 08/03/1969 17:15

2 - 15/03/1969 17:15

3 - 22/03/1969 17:15

4 - 29/03/1969 17:15

5 - 05/04/1969 17:15

6 - 12/04/1969 17:15

Plot

The TARDIS materialises in Earth's future on a space beacon just before it is attacked by pirates. The travellers find themselves trapped in a sealed section of the beacon as it is blown apart and flown to where the pirates will plunder it of the precious mineral argonite. They then witness a conflict between the pirates and the Interstella Space Corps, led by General Hermack and Major Warne.

The ISC are convinced that the pirates' mastermind is an innocent yet eccentric space mining pioneer named Milo Clancey, while their true leader is a man named Caven. Caven has a secret base on the planet Ta and is assisted by Madeleine Issigri, daughter of his ex-partner Dom, who - unknown to her - is now his captive.

When Madeleine discovers Caven's full treachery she helps to bring him to justice. The time travellers are given a lift back to the TARDIS by Clancey in his rickety old ship, the LIZ 79.

Episode Endings

Beacon Alpha 4 is exploded into sections and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are thrown to the floor.

Milo Clancey boards the segment of the beacon in which the time travellers are trapped and shoots Jamie with a gun. Zoe screams that he is a murderer.

Chased through tunnels on Ta, the Doctor and his friends fall into a black pit.

Milo leads ISC Lieutenant Sorba and the time travellers to Madeleine's office on Ta. Suddenly Caven and his men burst in. Sorba reaches for a gun and is shot dead. The pirates' weapons are then trained on the Doctor and his friends as Caven comments: 'You must have walked in here with your eyes open, Clancey... How very naive of you...'

The Doctor is searching for Jamie and Zoe beneath the LIZ 79 when Caven decides to launch the ship by remote control. The Doctor is caught in the blast as the ship lifts off into space.

With Madeleine under arrest and the pirates vanquished, the time travellers face the daunting prospect of a trip in the LIZ 79 to find the TARDIS.

Roots

The works of Gerry Anderson.

Star Trek.

Buck Rogers.

2001.

Contemporary NASA missions.

Westerns.

Dialogue Triumphs

Zoe : "Milo, there's one thing I don't understand."

Milo Clancey : "Well you're very lucky, girl. There's about a hundred thousand things I don't understand but I don't stand around asking fool questions about them, I do something useful. Why don't you do something useful? Why don't you... um... make us all a pot of tea or something?"

The Doctor : "Oh... the TARDIS... well that's no problem. It's orbiting Lobos, Milo's home planet, in one of the beacon sections."

Zoe : "Well, no problem, eh? Well how are we going to get to it?"

The Doctor : "Well, Milo's very kindly offered to give us a lift in the LIZ."

Jamie : "Oh no... not the LIZ again. Frankly I'd rather walk."

The Doctor : "You never know... you might have to!"

Jamie : [To Zoe, when she proves unable to open a door] "You'll have tae eat more porridge."

Continuity

Amongst the types of ships featured are the V ships (Hermack's is V 41), Minnow [fighters], the C-class freighter LIZ 79, Floaters and Beta Darts (fast, atomically powered ships used by the pirates that cost over 100 million credits). Mention is made of Martian missiles [an Ice Warrior weapon?].

Argonite, a metal, is the most valuable mineral known to man, and is only found on certain planets of the fourth sector of Earth's galaxy, including Ta in the Pliny system. It is practically indestructible, and a black market exists for it on Ruta Magnum [a Rutan colony?]. Zoe has never heard of it [so this must take place after her time].

The Doctor uses a normal screwdriver (cf Fury from the Deep). He has some marbles (green ones are his favourites), a collection of pins and a tuning fork in his pockets. Madeleine kisses him at the end (he's rather embarrassed).

Location

Ta and various spacecraft and beacons (the TARDIS lands on beacon Alpha 4), [some time in Zoe's future].

Future History

Earth - normally known as 'the Home Planet' - is ruled by a single government. Information regarding flight plans and the like is normally transmitted back to Central Flight Information. Navigation beacons are constructed from argonite, and are frequently destroyed and then plundered by pirates.

The Space Corps (see Nightmare of Eden) enforce law and order in an area where pirates also steal shipments of argonite ore. Argonite mining is almost always done by large companies, including the Issigri Mining Company [which later became the Interplanetary Mining Corporation: see 'Colony in Space'].

Trivia

There are some fine model effects courtesy of designer John Wood. Wood was at this point a freelancer but had previously worked for the BBC, where his assignments had included designing the sets for The Web Planet, The Chase (with Raymond P Cusick), The Myth Makers and The Celestial Toymaker.

The story title, episode number and writer's caption credits for each episode are shown in black against a white background following (except in Episode 1's case) the reprise from the previous episode.

Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury appear only in pre-filmed inserts in Episode Six as they all were away on location for The War Games. This thus became the only sixties episode apart from Mission to the Unknown to have none of the regulars present for a studio recording.

Technobabble

Clancey has a terrible temper. He's likely to explode like glyciltrinitrate.' The unit that remotely operates the LIZ is 'transistorized'.

Goofs

Zoe does not know how candles work. However, in The Mind Robber she recognised them without hesitation.

In the cliffhanger to episode three the screams of the Doctor and the others can be heard for ages: in the next episode they've only fallen a few feet.

There are noisy explosions in space, but no stars.

Fashion Victim

Technician Penn has a horrible droopy moustache

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Patrick Troughton

Jamie - Frazer Hines

Zoe - Wendy Padbury

Caven - Dudley Foster

Dervish - Brian Peck

Dom Issigri - Esmond Knight

General Hermack - Jack May

Lt. Sorba - Nik Zaran

Madeleine Issigri - Lisa Daniely

Major Ian Warne - Donald Gee

Milo Clancey - Gordon Gostelow

Pirate Guard - Steve Peters

Space Guard - Anthony Donovan

Technician Penn - George Layton

Crew

Director - Michael Hart

Assistant Floor Manager - Liam Foster

Costumes - Nicholas Bullen

Designer - Ian Watson

Film Cameraman - Peter Hall

Film Editor - Martyn Day

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Sylvia James

Make-Up - Sallie Evans

Producer - Peter Bryant

Production Assistant - Snowy Lidiard-White

Script Editor - Derrick Sherwin

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Studio Lighting - Peter Winn

Studio Sound - David Hughes

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

Visual Effects - John Wood

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

The model work and music almost stand comparison with Gerry Anderson's series, but The Space Pirates is padded with laboured comedy and some horrible American accents. It ends like an episode of Scooby Doo with a bad joke and lots of forced laughter. Despite this, it is possible to see the first real emergence of Robert Holmes' gift for characterisation and engaging plot.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Space Pirates sees Doctor Who striking out into new territory. Constrained by the lack of any budgetary provision for new monsters, writer Robert Holmes turned instead to the idea of space exploration and came up with the first 'space opera' that the series had ever attempted. In this he was no doubt inspired to a certain degree by Stanley Kubrick's film of Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been released in 1968, and perhaps more particularly by NASA's then current Apollo programme of missions to the Moon. This gave the story a fresh, up-to-date feel, aided considerably by some excellent model spaceship effects - arguably the best yet seen in the series - shot in a style very similar to that of the numerous Apollo simulations being presented in news and current affairs programmes of the time.

Leaving aside the hi-tech trappings, however, it can be seen that what Holmes has actually done is cleverly to take some of the traditional and well-worn motifs of the Western genre and give them a fresh spin by transferring them to an outer-space setting - a variation on the 'Wagon Train to the stars' idea that formed the basis of the contemporary American series Star Trek. With pirates, old-time prospectors, government lawmen, miners and a beautiful woman involved, and some good old fashioned conspiracy afoot, the stage is set for a potentially exciting adventure.

'Was [it] really a Doctor Who story though?' mused Chris Dunk in Oracle Volume 3 Number 7 in 1980. 'Quite honestly, in parts the Doctor and his companions might not have bothered to turn up. Their first appearance was not until well past the half-way stage of the first episode, and even then they merely succeeded [in becoming] trapped - helpless aboard one of the argonite sections jettisoned into space by Caven and Dervish.'

The reworking of Western conventions in a science-fiction vein is perhaps most successfully achieved in Milo Clancey - a classic old-time prospector type - who is the story's best and most engaging guest character, stealing every scene in which he appears. His clapped-out old ship, the LIZ 79, seems to get by on a wing and a prayer, but it has a wonderful and extremely memorable design and far more character than the large and impersonal V-ship and the smaller Minnows that the ISC forces use. 'Clancey was a superb creation,' affirmed Dunk, 'and his disrespect for the authorities (evident particularly in the earlier episodes) was a joy to watch. Everything about him smacked of individualism... Totally unreliable, mind you!'

Another highlight of the story is the characterisation of the Doctor, which is exceptionally good. The idea of him keeping a collection of pins and a bag of marbles in his pockets is very apt. Highly amusing, too, is his embarrassment - and Jamie's gleeful reaction - when Madeleine kisses him toward the end of the story.

It has indeed been suggested by some commentators that The Space Pirates largely lived up to its considerable promise. Dunk, for instance, argued that the viewer 'could become involved on any level of the story' and that it was 'one of the unsung successes of the era'. This is very much a minority view, however, and it has to be admitted that story as a whole is extremely disappointing. The least successful element of all is probably General Hermack and his crew - tedious, one-dimensional characters portrayed in a uniformly wooden manner with terrible mid-Atlantic accents.

More fundamentally, the basic structure of the story is a mess. This is chiefly due to poor pacing arising from the fact that the various space journeys involved are generally shown to take a considerable length of time - which may well be accurate in scientific terms but, at least in this case, makes for rather poor drama. General Hermack and his crew seem to spend virtually the entire story arriving at places just too late to catch the pirates.

In short, The Space Pirates drags interminably. Gavin French, writing in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988, was not impressed. 'I'm afraid that The Space Pirates was another fairly disappointing story [from Robert Holmes]. In typical Holmesian style there [were] some interesting characters and some interesting dialogue, but overall it was a rather slow and uninspiring piece of fiction for which, try as I might, I can gather no real enthusiasm.'

With the pirates captured, Madeleine's treachery uncovered and the Doctor and co heading back to the TARDIS, things are on course for the season finale. But if the general view was that six episodes was quite long enough for The Space Pirates, what would be made of the ten episode epic that was to follow?

< The Seeds of DeathSecond DoctorThe War Games >

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.



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