The Pirate Planet

DVD NTSC
Special Edition!
1-story disc
Region 1


for North America
DVD PAL

6-story set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A
NTSC B
PAL
(Doctor Who Story No. 99,
2nd adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest)
  • written by Douglas Adams
  • directed by Pennant Roberts
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: Aiming for the planet Calufrax, Romana lands the TARDIS on Zanak instead, although the tracer insists that the second segment of the Key to Time is somewhere nearby. The citizens of Zanak enjoy a carefree life, as long as they never question the cyborg Captain living in the mountain citadel who makes them rich: New batches of precious gemstones regularly litter their streets. The Doctor soon suspects he may have stumbled upon one of the most heinous and mind-boggling crimes in the galaxy....
The Key to Time
Special Edition!
6-story set
(7 discs)
NTSC Region 1


Special Edition and Region 2 DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Mary Tamm (Romana), and script editor Anthony Read.
  • Audio commentary by Bruce Purchase (The Pirate Captain) and director Pennant Roberts.
  • Making of "The Pirate Planet" featurette (30 min.), with Tamm, Read, Purchase, Roberts, Rosalind Lloyd (The Nurse),
    John Leeson (Voice of K9), Primi Townsend (Mula), cameraman Elmer Cossey, and visual effects designer Colin Mapson,
    with vintage interviews of the late writer Douglas Adams, and recollections from his half-brother James Thrift, and his biographer Nick Webb.
  • Raw film footage featuring deleted and extended scenes (14 min.)
  • Spoof featurette: "Weird Science" (17 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery (7 min.)
  • but....what? Still no optional new CGI lasers? ARRGGHHH!
For more details, visit the Key to Time DVD Comparison Chart.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


Douglas Adams is most famous for the humour he brings to his science fiction offerings, but I think he deserves even more credit for putting big, fascinating scientific concepts back into Doctor Who story telling, the very kind of concept that had been slowly fading away during the era of producer Philip Hinchcliffe (seasons 12-14). For one thing, Adams is very keen on physics, and knows how to have fun with its concepts and the major figures in its history. In his first script here, Adams seems to be able to bring together both the sci-fi ambition of Bob Baker & Dave Martin's writing style with the enjoyment Robert Holmes shows for interesting characters.


First Impressions

I believe that I began to understand the true nature of the TARDIS in this story, with the Doctor and Romana still in the control room and able to view the planet from the surface even after the blue box had materialized, not to mention all the highly enjoyable dialogue and banter about landing the craft.

On the whole, the story itself dealt with subject matter, settings and characters that were far more sci-fi and interesting to me personally, and it developed in grand and surprising ways. I wholeheartedly found it to be better than "The Ribos Operation" (story no. 98). Although "Ribos" had advanced much slower along the Key to Time Quest than I had hoped, I think "The Pirate Planet" allowed me to anticipate and relish each separate adventure along the quest to a far higher degree.


Technicalities

In retrospect, "The Pirate Planet" was an ambitious project for the Doctor Who production team of the time, but Doctor Who is usually at its most interesting when it stretches its boundaries like this. The production is mostly excellent, but has a few noticeable flaws.

Dave Chapman is in charge of electronic effects for this one, and pulls off some exceptional soft-edged picture-in-picture mixes, not to mention great beam effects for the Mentiads, the Polyphase Avitron, and the defining style for K9's blaster. But the most numerous firings of beam weapons come from the guards' standard issue rifles, and these receive a most sub-standard red blob or diamond on the target only. This is a very poor choice for type of effect considering that about 80% of such shots fired are misses, meaning that the red blobs would belong out of frame most of the time, and leave nothing you can add in the frame itself.

The DVD version of this story is unique in presenting many surviving clips of raw film footage from this story, some of which didn't make it into the finished program. Nearly all of the extra clips involve laser battles fought with the guards' rifles, this time without the red blobs. Interestingly, the plain footage seems to get the idea across better, proving that director Pennant Roberts knew what he was doing with the camera angles, and it is easy to imagine how much better the story could be with better laser effects. "Earthshock" (story no. 122) and "Revelation of the Daleks" (story no. 143) definitely do not need laser effect upgrades anywhere near as badly as "The Pirate Planet" does. This story really needs to show the beams coming out of the muzzles, and either traveling completely outside of frame for many of the misses, or being reflected off of or absorbed harmlessly by the mentiads and/or their force wall. Simply having red blobs pop up in absurdly inappropriate places detracts from the story points that the script wants to make during these battles, and needlessly adds confusion.

I must add though, that I really like the sound effect for the guards' rifles, a very nice, echoing, "out-there" sound.


The acting is rather typical for the later Graham Williams' era, in that the major characters are done quite well, while the extras and minor characters appear too uninspired to be believable.

Clive Bennett is exceptional among the average citizens of Zanak featured in episode one, and it's a pity he is obscured in many of the crowd shots. Many of the other citizens, guards, and technicians are quite lacklustre, as are Mula, Balaton, Kimus, and Pralix during their time in the wonderfully colourful sets of their home apartment. The dialogue for them here is simply too whiney and unable to come to grips with the story points for my tastes; Pralix, Kimus and Mula fare much better once they move on to more adventurous settings.

Bruce Purchase's Pirate Captain, on the other hand, is a good old barrel of fun. Having him play off of Andrew Robinson's excellent Mr. Fibuli is key to the character's success, and the hidden layers that gradually reveal the Captain's more three-dimensional aspects are much welcome stake-raising surprises. Also of note is Rosalind Lloyd's Nurse, who slowly gains much strength after an exquisitely subtle entrance.


"I save planets, mostly, but this time I think I've arrived far, far too late."

Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are also in top form throughout, starting the story off with more of the great intellectual rivalry that graced the beginning of their characters' relationship in the last story. The Doctor gets to go everywhere, meet everybody, and keep very busy solving problems and remaining in jovial good spirits throughout, except quite rightly when some atrocity is revealed, so top marks on getting his character right today.

This story is rather neatly split in two, with the first half going to exploration and investigation, and the second devoted to an ever escalating struggle between the Captain's forces and the Doctor's party. The escalation is extremely enjoyable, logical, and well-written, coming to a climax in episode four with all the right energy for a Doctor Who conclusion. But as this gives way to the required relief of tensions, many story points, not to mention the villains themselves, still need dealing with. Adams takes care of everything before the end, but the sense of it lies mostly in dialogue, and the final dispatch of the villains and their lair cannot match the level of excitement that the earlier struggle commanded. This is in fact the only story in the Key to Time season that doesn't show its allotted Key segment transforming back to its natural state. It seems to be a bit of an anti-climax, but the anti-climax portions are actually quite short compared with what came earlier, so the structure isn't too far off, and one can't complain too much.


In the end, "The Pirate Planet" is one of the most enjoyable stories of the Key to Time season, and a great gem of the Graham Williams' era. An easy contender for best story of the season.



This story is the 2nd adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest. It has become available on DVD and VHS video.

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
2009 Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.:
See boxed set below.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
PAL for the U.K.
DVD NTSC Region 1
2002 release with limited extras
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

6-story full season boxed sets:
The Key to Time
2009 Special Edition
7 disc boxed set
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
The Key to Time
7 disc boxed set
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K., limited edition
for the U.K., 2009 re-issue
The Key to Time 6 DVD boxed set
2002 release with limited extras
NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada


Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


LYRATEK.COM


Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story
of the Key to Time season: "The Stones of Blood"



Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Tom Baker Era Episode Guide Catalogue