On the face of it, the title ‘The Space Pirates’ conjures some exciting images in one’s mind. Pirates in space? Brilliant! Oh and treasure, there must treasure right? Pirates without treasure is like Mork without Mindy, Troughton without Hines, or Morecombe without Wise, right? There’s going to be sword fights – maybe laser sword fights, in space, it’s going to be a swashbuckling non-stop adventure.
|Swash-buckling pirates? Maybe not....|
Well, I’m sorry but after such a title it’s hard not to be disappointed with Robert Holmes’ second story. I’d be very surprised if he writes another script after the two duds he’s served up thus far. What exactly is wrong with ‘The Space Pirates’? Well, it’s more a matter of asking what is right about it, and the answer is simply – not much.
|Alpha One, where the Doc and co spend the first two episodes.|
The first two episodes in particular are very slow, and it never really speeds up all that much. With no pace it’s immediately a hard story to get into considering the subject matter. It should have been a good story. But the realisation is just so poor. It seems more akin to Somali pirates stealing oil than swashbuckling pirates in the mould of Blackbeard and John Sparrow. Which, in all fairness, is the way it should have gone.
One annoying thing is that the Doctor and his companion are hardly relevant for the story. Especially Jamie and Zoe who don’t appear to do anything for six whole episodes. The Doctor defuses a bomb in episode six, and apart from that they just get captured, escape, recaptured, blown up but not actually contribute to the narrative. Instead the story is driven by a somewhat pantomime character in Milo Clancy, with a cowboy costume, a handlebar moustache and a somewhat dubious and over the top southern accent. Milo Clancy is played by Gordon Gostelow, as whacky a character they have had in Doctor Who to this point, so a strange choice to be the main character for the six-parts.
The accents are a feature in this one, and they seem to have gone mostly for American accents. Donald Gee plays Warne, he’s American like many characters. The pirates are led by Caven, played by Dudley Foster, who is really a gritty character I guess, happy to kill and be brutal at will. It just doesn’t gel with all the other characters with bizarre accents and strange costumes.
General Hermack, played by Jack May, is the perfect example. He and Warne spend the six episodes mostly in their space ship looking for the Argonite pirates, but don’t ever meet the Doctor and his companions and only have a brief encounter with Milo Clancy. They feature heavily in Episode Two, the only episode to still exist, an episode where the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe spend the whole 25 minutes stuck in part of a beacon away from the TARDIS. Hermack doesn’t have an accent I can place, but he does have a ridiculous voice. I doubt whether it was the actor’s natural voice but I suppose anything is possible.
The sets are pretty poor too. Doctor Who, at least at this stage of its evolution, does not do space craft well, especially not the interiors. The use of cathode-ray TV sets everywhere is laughable, and all the switches and buttons look so dated and lacking in imagination that they are completely unbelievable and the audience knows for sure that they are watching something made in a studio.
The Doctor’s journey begins halfway through episode one when he, Jamie and Zoe arrive on the beacon. They are chased very briefly, pirates attack and leave them there and blow up the beacon. Episode Two they are in the beacon, alone, for the whole episode. Episode three they meet Milo Clancy and travel with him, episode four they are locked away by the pirates, episode five they escape, get captured again and are thrown into a room (rather than a cell). Episode Six they talk a bit and the Doctor defuses a bomb. That’s the journey for our three characters who sadly get little to do in the second Doctor’s penultimate story. They basically just want to be reunited with the TARDIS, stuck on a different piece of the beacon that was blown up in episode one. However, being reunited with the TARDIS happens after the story is finished!
It has a strange feel, very different to any other story I can recall. The first Doctor met pirates in his penultimate story too – ‘The Smugglers’. Real proper treasure-hunting pirates in a cracking adventure. 3 years later, pirates in space failed to have nearly as much impact.