The Pirate Planet (1978) – Thoughts

This was a rather good story I thought, the second episode in particular was terrific (a favourite). More than most Doctor Who adventures, The Pirate Planet was totally in thrall to the imagination of its writer and that gave it strengths and weaknesses. 

The main strength is indeed Douglas Adams’ imagination – the ideas and concepts in this story: the weird city with its mineral wealth and numb populace, the telephonic zombie crew from the hills and finally, the truth behind it all were dizzying levels above what we often got from Doctor Who. Pennant Roberts directed with his usual skill: the exterior footage in this one looks fantastically lush (compared to the normal grainy 16mm)

The imagination of the script is something that Tom Baker seemed to appreciate: in the forementioned episode two, his brilliance is more pronounced even than it normally was. Adams uses Romana quite well in the sidekick role, chipping in with discussion and backing her boss up, although towards the climax she drifts away from the action.

The captain is a splendidly berserk character, teamed up with his functionary Fibuli (who must have been some kind of genius, but unfortunately is only ever seen cowering in front of his insane boss). It’s an interesting pairing (and both are played pretty well), although they are presented one-dimensionally thus up until Fibuli’s demise. The Queen alas isn’t much of an effective character, really only existing because Adams perhaps wanted an explanation for the situation and decided that he needed to embody this.

The Zanax natives similarly, aren’t there to provide much beyond a door into the situation and then trail around after the Doctor and K9. They’re personable enough and adequately played.

Besides the subsidiary characters, the other weakness of The Pirate Planet is a consequence of its strength. Adams throws so many balls up into the air with this one, that bringing everything down again in episode four is too difficult: structurally it’s OK, with the first half dealing with the captain and the second half tries to wrap up the physics and the second segment of the Key to Time (which we’ve forgotten about by now), but the only way he can do this is through explanations and resolutions that are way above our heads.

Still, at least for the first half of the story The Pirate Planet should be thought of as a classic adventure

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