You just can’t ever tell with kids, can you? I was absolutely sure that there wasn’t anything in tonight’s serial that would frighten our favorite seven year-old critic, but I was wrong. The plot did. Give this kid hideous slimy or robotic alien menaces bent on world conquest and he can handle it, but the climax of part two of this story reveals that the villains controlling the planet Zanak are in the big leagues. Their planet is hollow, and they teleport it around the galaxy, crushing slightly smaller planets inside of it and strip-mining them of resources. The planet’s population is kept stupid and ignorant, and left happy with streets full of trinkets like diamonds and rubies. Our son told us this was horrifying. He’s right, of course, but conceptual horror doesn’t usually bother him like a big rubber monster, you know?
This great big concept is the first contribution to Doctor Who from the beloved writer Douglas Adams, who was working on these four scripts at the same time he was writing the first radio series of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This has led many, many people to consider and analyze the similarities in tone and humor between the two. “The Pirate Planet” is an incredibly witty story with our hero running rings around blustery and stupid villains with incredibly rich vocabularies. The Captain is more than a little similar to Hitch-Hiker‘s Vogon guard, the one who was not impressed by the hero humming Beethoven.
Well, the ones that talk, anyway. Bruce Purchase’s Pirate Captain is a hilarious joy, but he’s surrounded by some of the most incompetent nincompoops in the world of henchmen. These must be the most pathetic guards in all of Doctor Who, which is really saying something, and in part two they get involved in what must be the most pathetically-staged gunfight in all of Doctor Who, which is… also really saying something.
In fact, my only complaint about this story is the direction. After doing a pretty good job with “The Sun Makers” the previous season, Pennant Roberts really let everybody down with this one. It even opens with a laughably poor miniature set that is shot on videotape instead of film and so it succeeds in looking precisely like those phony little places from Far Out Space Nuts. This is kind of funny to me, because a month ago, I had intended to talk about how Roberts shot some scenes on film that really would have been much more effective on videotape, and with this season’s adventure, he got them the other way around.
In an interesting continuity note, Romana refers to herself as a Time Lord for the first time in this adventure. In the previous story, she identified as coming from the Doctor’s home planet, but didn’t use that title. She also mentions a father who bought her an air car for her 70th birthday. Time Lords very rarely ever mention relatives, but at this stage in the program, Romana’s a posh girl with a rich daddy. She’s probably been name-dropping for decades.