Tuesday 20 March 2012

484 The Pirate Planet Part One

EPISODE: The Pirate Planet Part One
TRANSMITTED: 30 September 1978
WRITER: Douglas Adams Yes *THAT* Douglas Adams!!!
DIRECTOR: Pennant Roberts
PRODUCER: Graham Williams
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Key to Time Box Set (Ribos Operation/Pirate Planet/Stones of Blood/Androids of Tara/Power of Kroll/The Armageddon Factor)

On the Bridge of the planet Zanak, Mr Fibuli reports the success of their mining operations to the Captain. He has found a new source of minerals that they need and is ordered to make preparations. The Captain speaks to the citizens and declares the dawning of a new golden age. In a cavern a group of yellow robed people observe an individual in a crowd, Pralix, having found another for their number. In the Tardis Romana is familiarising herself with the Tardis manual. The Tracer has selected Calufrax as their next destination and the location of the second segment of the Key to Time. After an argument on how to operate the Tardis the Doctor tries to land, but the Tardis suffers disruption. At the same time problems are being encountered on the planet Zanak's bridge. The Doctor believes something has jammed their materialisation, but when Romana tries the Tardis materialises smoothly. However when they examine the scanner screen they see a planet very different from the dingy planet Calufrax the Doctor is expecting. The robed group in the caves chant "Life force dying" as Pralix writhes in agony to the distress of his family: Grandfather Baladon, sister Mula and her boyfriend Kimus. The Doctor tries to speak to the local populace, but they all ignore him. Romana has better fortune as one of the citizens describes the omens to her, gives her precious gems in return for Jelly babies, and warns them to watch out for Mentiads. K-9 confirms the gems are genuine and identifies the rare stone Oolian, only found on two places, one of which Bandragonus 5 the Doctor has heard of frequently. The youngsters complain about their lack of freedom but Baladon tells them it was worse under his predecessor Queen Xanxia. The Mentiads travel to harvest Pralix and swear vengeance for the crimes of Zanak. Hearing Pralix cries the Doctor investigates. Romana is captured by guards for being a stranger and using a telescope which is forbidden, but she sends K-9 to fetch the Doctor. The Doctor speaks to his parrot, longing his freedom when what his doing is finished. The Mentiads are detected and the guards sent to find & kill the new telepath. Guards attack the Mentiads but their weapons have no effect enraging the Captain's. Mula tells the Doctor Primus goes into this sort of shock every time the Captain announces a new golden age. The Captain spots K-9 on a monitor and dispatches guards who K-9 stuns. The Mentiads arrive and, proving immune to K-9's blaster, telepathically strike the Doctor down.

Full disclosure of bias: Pirate Planet is the first Doctor Who story I saw right the way through and the first I saw repeated. The thing that caught my eye back then is the Captain: a cyborg space pirate, machinery replacing one side of his body and overacting in a way that only the words "Brian Blessed" will quite cover. Super work from director Pennant Roberts only showing bits of the Captain through the first scene and hiding the full reveal of him as a cyborg till towards the end of that scene. We've got something odd happening when the Tardis materialises, the Captain yearning to complete something and the mysterious Mentiads. And, after a brief mention at the start, the search for the second segment in the background.

But the writer.... Yes Douglas Adams wrote for Doctor Who. In fact he did slightly more than that as we'll discover in about 3 weeks time. Born 11 March 1952, and having studied English at St John's College, Cambridge. He'd spent some years trying to break into comedy, including a stint writing with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame (he appears in Monty Python episodes 42 & 44 and has a writing credit on episode 45, one of only two non Pythons to be credited on the series). After a number of odd jobs while selling a few radio sketches he was commissioned to write a pilot show for Radio 4. While waiting to see if it would be taken up as a serial he sent the script to the Doctor Who office who commissioned him for a serial..... at about the same time as his radio series was commissioned. The Doctor Who scripts, even when they were edited down, were considered to be unrecordable and would have been binned but for a spirited defence by director Pennant Roberts who believed they were possible to film. He was right and the result is superb.

And the Radio Show? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We shall hear much more of this shortly.

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