Doctor Who #488: The Pirate Planet Part 3

"You don't want to take over the universe, do you? No. You wouldn't know what to do with it, beyond shout at it."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.14 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Mentiads are nice after all, old Queen Xanxia is found surrounded by time dams, and K9 brings back a dead parrot.

REVIEW: The dreaded Part 3 padding syndrome rears its ugly head, with plenty of shots of people walking in a field and the Doctor finding himself BACK into enemy hands (there's even a repriese of the all-sorts trap), but it tries to throw a lot of stuff at the screen so you don't notice. And though there are some memorable set pieces, a lot of time is spent on straight exposition. Some of it is of the recap variety - Zanak's gobbling up of planets - but most of it sets up what is to come - how the Captain came to the planet, who Queen Xanxia was, where the Mentiads' powers come from, and various explanations of the technologies used onscreen. With Romana pretty much on the ball this serial, it's up to Kimus to be the cabbage head, which makes him ask "What's that?" a lot, twice when poiting to people, and both times, the Doctor says "It's your beloved ___________". Let's just say it's not my favorite script of the lot.

While the Captain's incessant shouting is getting tiresome, it's still fun to see Mr. Fibuli manage his temper, or the nurse lord over him in an understated way (is there ANY doubt she's really Xanxia by this point?). His best moments are when the Doctor appeals to his warrior's code and when he shows off his awesome collection of crushed planets. But though he tries to chew up as much of the scenery as possible, it's still Tom Baker who steals the show. Not with his usual wit and manic energy, but with actual emotion. When he discovers the true monstrosity of the Captain's plans, there's complete disbelief and outrage. Not just anger, but a sense that the Doctor might just break down and cry at the scope of this man's thoughtless acts of genocide. Acts that are so beyond his comprehension, morally, that the next few scenes have him more distracted than he's been since maybe The Time Monster, when he was haunted by his inability to catch the Master. One step behind on ever part of the Captain's plan, realizing too late that the Mentiads - the voice and fist of a host of dead worlds - are heading into an ambush. And he doesn't even know Earth is the next target yet! (On this, let me just say it's over-egging the pudding. It's like the audience can't see this evil for what it is unless our own world is threatened. It's a cheap coincidence and we don't see Earth or anything by the end of this. They might at least have named a needed mineral we actually know.)

The more action-oriented set pieces include the Doctor walking the plank in the cliffhanger (very piratey), and of course, K9's duel with the Captain's Avitron. We knew the latter had to happen. We wanted it to happen. And perhaps because of that, we accept how it stretches the show's effects to their breaking point. It doesn't look very good by today's standards, and maybe even by the day's, but you tell me if K9 bringing the robot bird in doesn't make it all worth it. (Aw, he made the Captain cry.) It's the best use K9's been put to all episode, as the rest strains credulity. He pilots an aircar? His sensors can detect something happening "all over the planet"? Up until now, K9's been used as last-minute laser gun rescue or comic foil, but this is really the first time he's become a fully-fledged companion. Or depending on your appreciation of the metal dog, a rolling deus ex machina that can do anything the plot requires it to.

- Rather talky and the dialog isn't always up to standards, but Baker is very strong and the production continues to create vivid images and high concept SF concepts.



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