Doctor Who #487: The Pirate Planet Part 2

"I'll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.7 1978.

IN THIS ONE... Romana is arrested. The Doctor rescues her. They go down to the mines and discover Zanak's terrible secret.

REVIEW: I could look it up, check through some program guides, etc., but I wanted to see if I could detect the influence of Star Wars on the program for myself. Ever since Graham Williams took over as producer, there's been a greater emphasis on space opera, certainly, but that could just as well have been a reaction to the more down-to-Earth Hinchcliffe era. The show's always had rayguns and spaceships, so that's not enough to say, "Ah! The program makers have seen Star Wars and are rethinking everything!". This episode is the first time I can point at the screen and actually say just that. The aircar is a dead giveaway, looking a heck of a lot like Luke's land speeder, but the Mentiads are starting to look more and more like the Jedi. Powerful mental powers, the robes... and K9 saying their abilities leave "a disturbance in the ether". Clealry, he's got anti-copyright violation software. And one could conceivably tie Zanak to the Death Star, at least in function. I'm not ready to say Douglas Adams was doing more than winking at the SF sensation of his day, but the design team certainly went there.

Regardless, Adams does manage a good equilibrium between comedy and drama. We've got Romana talking about her first aircar like a spoiled little girl, and handling the Captain with an innocence born of a sense of superiority. How can she really be in danger from this posturing bully when she's an awesome Time Lord? It's quite amusing. Some of the humor is more obvious and thus weaker, like those stupid, stupid guards. The Doctor can knock on their helmets and not get a reaction, the fool who follows a trail of all-sorts and gets his car stolen meekly waves away at the thieves, and their marksmanship makes Stormtroopers look like elite snipers (is it me, or are those guns rather rude too?). Tom Baker goes slightly over the top at times, once again - grrrr - looking right into camera to deliver an ad lib, but he has some strong moments too. His Doctor is always great when working under duress, consistently acting like working for the enemy was his idea all along, outpacing his escorts, and in this case, offering double-salutes to the Captain. I love how he arrives on the Bridge just as orders are given that he might be found, fast-talking his way through the scene. The drama comes from the premise itself. Zanak is a "pirate planet" because it materializes around small world and strips them of their minerals, killing all life in the process. No wonder the Mentiads are always screaming about murder (it's Obi-Wan and the souls of Alderan). And who's this new character, the Captain's fetching but creepy nurse who seems more in control than he is? Is the release he seeks from her clutches? There's a certain pathos in the way the Captain seems to fall into a fit, his eyes rolling in his head in every direction, after(?) she administers his treatment. He's not the big boss here. Kimus vowing to avenge Bandraginus V achieves a kind of absurd earnestness that represents well the serial's dual tone.

So nice science fiction ideas throughout - lest Adams be known only for silliness - including the teleporting planet and the inertialess corridor. The location work is surprisingly complementary to the studio stuff, the power plant used as Zanak's engines filled with solid colors that match the Bridge's palette, and a large structure (doors) built into a cliff face. The mine has the proper look as well. Yes, you suddenly realize you're in the real world all of a sudden, but nothing really clashes with the production's design ethic (like it did in The Invasion of Time).

- While some of the comedy bits did annoy me slightly, the episode is filled with fantastic ideas, cool character humor and impressive sense of design.



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