Doctor Who #489: The Pirate Planet Part 4

"Bafflegab, my dear. I've never heard such bafflegab in all my lives."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.21 1978.

IN THIS ONE... All the bad guys are killed one way or another.

There's a big difference between mad science used for comic effect and the same used as plot, and the meta-textual stab at bafflegab doesn't actually take the sting out of it. One instance might not be a problem, but almost everything that happens in this episode does so because the plot requires it, and uses technobabble to cover its tracks. We get a holographic projector that can transmit personality and knowledge as well as a person's visual, and that makes the hologram become truly corporeal over time. We get K9's ability to broadcast a counter frequency to the inhibitor already countering the Mentiads' psychic gestalt. We get the time dams keeping Xanxia's body alive ultimately needed more energy than the universe has. We get the TARDIS and the planet shaking apart when they try to materialize in the same space. And we get a finale that's fairly neat, but is all told and not really seen. The Doctor unshrinks one planet in the Captain's collection and fills the pirate planet up, and flings all remaining planets into the vortex, and I guess that's safe because everything's dematerialized(?). Ending everything on a "crude but satisfying" explosion (more meta-text) could have worked, but the Doctor laying wire to blow the citadel up is a bit ridiculous. Only "Newton's Revenge", turning off the inertia neutralizer to slam guards into the wall, felt at all earned among the scientific marvels on display.

Slow film scenes tend to drag the episode's energy down, but the death, destruction and threat to reality itself get it back up. Mr. Fibuli dies, sadly, and the Captain does too at Xanxia's hands. She'd been controlling his cyberwear all along. At least he dies a hero. His bluster shown for the act it is, he was primed to destroy Xanxia and release himself from her hold (though it apparently wouldn't have worked because TECHNOBABBLE REDACTED). His last acts of resistance come to naught, but the Doctor betters his plan and wins the day. It's happily ever after for Zanak, now positioned somewhere nice in the galaxy. I guess Kimus and his girl (a character with very little to do after all) get married or something. The Mentiads aren't to get new members, probably, but who knows. One thing that bugged me about them is Pralix taking charge when he should be the rookie. Must be the gestalt mind putting words in his mouth, but then, why speak at all? Getting the most out of the actors you're paying for, eh? In any case, they're good at pushing plungers with their minds (lazy asses) and manipulating spanners that can magically blow up an entire console (neat effect, but barely justified). That's probably got applications in every day life. Good luck, Zanak!

The balancing act between comedy and drama is once again well handled. In the comedy section, you'll find the not infrequent double-entendre dialog for when characters are sprawled together on the floor ("We've done it, Doctor." "Yes, the question is, will we ever be able to do anything else again?") and the Captain realizing his guards are so unbelievably stupid, he should just order them to destroy everything to make sure they do what he wants. In the drama section, you'll find a small touching moment when Fibuli is found dead, and the Doctor not brooking any argument from Romana as he commits to his final play ("Please go. Please go. Go."). No Key to Time epilogue, I needn't have worried (though I do wonder how they collected a super-condensed planet from the vortex). The idea that the segment WAS a whole planet is a fantastic one, of course, proving right here in the second story that segments really CAN be anything. So obviously, it's going to be some trinket in the next serial.

VERSIONS: Because Douglas Adams kept the novelization rights, this is one of the few stories not adapted for the Target Books range.

- Plenty of action and excitement, with an occasional laugh, but entirely too dependent on technobabble and fantasy science to do its thing.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Despite ending on a weaker note than it began, the second chapter in the Key to Time saga has some grand ideas and humorous wit thanks to Douglas Adams. It's his first Doctor Who script, so he doesn't quite have a handle on the show yet, but you can see how he'd eventually become one of Who's most loved script editors.



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