The Pirate Planet (1978)

The Pirate Planet is the second part of the Key to Time series written by for by Douglas Adams, who was behind the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and also served as script editor for the 1979/80 series. It’s clear that had another script been available then The Pirate Planet would never have been made. This was when Tom Baker’s Doctor was starting to get a bit too comedic for my likening. The story is set on the planet Calufrax where the people of that planet are living in ‘perpetual prosperity’. There is a group of people with weird power called the Mentiads. The planet is run by a captain who is a pirate. The Doctor discovers that they have arrived on a hollowed-out planet called Zanak which dematerialises around planets and consumes them. The captain is actually been controlled by the person who appears to be a nurse but is actually the ancient tyrant Queen Xanxia who uses the resources that they get from the planets to achieve immortality.

The main character in this (apart from the Doctor and Romana) was the Captain, brilliantly played by Bruce Purchase. His is just border-line OTT but is still entertaining whenever he is on the screen. The parrot was also funny but I knew that when I first saw the parrot that there was going to be a dual between it and K9 and I wasn’t disappointed. Andrew Robertson plays Mr Fibuli as the dogsbody who seems to just be there to be shouted at by the Captain but does seem to know what he’s doing. The only other character that really stood out was the Nurse (played by Rosalind Lloyd) who does a tremendous job of seeming insignificant at the beginning of the story but does become quite important towards the end. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm both put in good performances. Tom Baker’s was a bit to comedic at times for my liking but he redeemed himself with the screen between the Doctor and the captain surrounded by all the planets that had been consumed. It was reminisant of his early days as the Doctor before the comedy took over. Mary Tamm’s performance was a little less snobbish in this than in The Ribos Operation. There was a little bit at the beginning but once of Zanak, she toned it down.

The scenes set outside were very good and showed what was lacking in the previous story. A bit of outside filming always livens up a story and the stuff filmed inside the caves in what was meant to represent Calufrax was even better. It summed up perfect the grimness of the truth when it was realised by the Doctor. Not everything in this story was good. The problem with this story is that its not as good as it could have been. The Mentiads are a group of people I could have done with out. The look of them was stupid and the look on their face suggested that they haven’t had a good nights sleep for months. Also they were just irritating for 99% of the time that they were on screen. The effects that were used when the guards were firing guns looked naff. The only time that the story was interesting was when it was on the bridge and dealing with the grim reality of Zanak.

The Pirate Planet is the weakest of the Key to Time series. When I first saw this I really didn’t like it as I thought it was quite dull. In recent times though I have re-evaluated it and found that apart from one or two bits, the story works quite well. Douglas Adams’ story has some flashes of brilliance and shows why his work is held in such high regards.


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