The Pirate Planet
TSV Books
Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet

Author David Bishop Cover image
Published 1990
Cover Alistair Hughes

Back cover blurb: The Doctor and Romana head for Calufrax in search of the second segment of the all-powerful Key to Time. But something blocks their attempts to materialise on the barren, ice-covered planet. When the TARDIS does materialise it is not on Calufrax but on the affluent world of Zanak, controlled by the Captain's harsh regime. What is the secret behind Zanak's bountiful mines and its unseen leader? Who is really pulling the strings among the planet's rulers? What happened to Calufrax, and where is the second segment? The Doctor, Romana and K9 must battle the ghost of a tyrant ruler from the past and stop Earth becoming the next victim of Zanak - the Pirate Planet!


By the Left Frontal Lobe of the Sky Demon! by Andrew Feryok 6/9/08

"Excuse me. Are you sure this planet's meant to be here?"
- The Doctor to some startled people of Zanak, Chapter 3
At last, at last, at last! I've finally been able to get a copy of TSV's "missing" Target books. I could kiss these guys over and over again until thier faces go raw. First of all, I think it is wonderful that they took the time and effort to fill in the gaps in the Doctor Who novelisations, second that they have made them available to fans for free, and third that they have recently put them online as ebooks for free! Sadly, only three of the five books have been put online, but I have eagerly been devouring each one, starting with this: Douglas Adams' first adventure.

The Pirate Planet has always been a favorite of mine within the Key to Time season. It's so amazingly silly, grandiose, and original that it leaves even the most hardcore Doctor Who fan staring in bafflement on what they have just seen. It has more technobabble than an entire season of Star Trek and some unbelievably cliched characters. But it all doesn't matter because we get some of Tom Baker's best humor, the wonderfully over-the-top Captain, and a surprisingly funny Romana as well! How on Earth could you ever capture all this in a book without the direct hand of Douglas Adams to make sense of it all? Luckily, David Bishop does a masterful job!

Bishop clearly knows the Target/Terrance Dicks house style with prose and story structure and he's managed to recreate it wonderfully. Gratefully, Bishop does not emulate Dicks' direct script-to-book format and instead manages to inject enough new material, perspectives, and background to flesh out the story but still keeping it recognizable as the story we love. The book is filled with many additions. Here are some of the more obvious ones:

  1. There is a neat prologue in which Xanxia is hunting a young Balatan for sport and they witness the crashing of the Captain's ship.
  2. The Captain has many bizarre flashbacks in which he sees his own death at the hands of an "angel of death." In the author notes, Bishop notes that many fans will find these sequences bizarre, but put them in anyway to give the Captain some more character. I think it is rather neat!
  3. We learn a bit of history about the fridge the Doctor stores the segments inside the TARDIS. Apparently he picked it up in the Foreman Junkyard in his first incarnation and turned it into an advanced safe with the help of Liz in his third incarnation.
  4. The Doctor and Romana's rows are made even worse as they argue over the lighting cycles in the TARDIS and how Romana hates having her named abbreviated.
  5. We learn a bit about the origins of the Polyphase Avatron.
  6. Xanxia's identity as the Nurse is given away a bit too early in the story now.
  7. Romana makes up a story about the "whizzbang" when examining the damaged component of the Captain's ship.
  8. The Doctor initially pretends that he and Romana are from an intergalactic rescue agency come to help out with the Captain's broken down ship.
  9. Balatan dies at the hands of the guards, which leads the Council of Zanak to demand an investigation. The guards massacre the council and it causes an insurrection amidst the people against the guards that is referred to often during the end of the book.
  10. The Doctor describes Zanak as "the pirate planet."
  11. Mr. Fibuli's background is explained.
  12. The history of the sky demon and the pirates is explained in more detail. The sky demon is a sort of Davy Jones in space.
  13. Romana reasons out who Xanxia is and what her plan is without ever meeting her or visiting the bridge.
  14. There is now an epilogue which is actually the opening moments of The Stones of Blood in which the Doctor and Romana try to put the segments together and the Doctor announces that he has a surprise in store for Romana at thier next destination...
Most of the additions are not necessary, but serve to embellish on the story and make it even more enjoyable. I was hoping that Bishop could clear up exactly what the Doctor does to nab the second segment at the end of the story, but even in print, the technobabble is so thick I still don't quite understand exactly what he did.

I do want to mention the character of Queen Xanxia. What a villainess! If ever there were a candidate for a wife for Sutekh, she would be at the front of the line! Xanxia has to be the most despicable, selfish, cruel, and sadistic villain the Doctor has ever faced. Even Davros, who killed off his entire race to see the birth of Daleks, at least cared for the small handful of his closest supporters. But Xanxia cares for no one. She hunts her own people like wild animals just for the hell of it! She's hollowed out her planet and destroyed countless other worlds and billions of people and civilizations, all in her futile and pathetic attempt to hold back the inevitability of her own death! She's amazingly pathetic, but possesses enormous powers over virtually everyone so her crazed will cannot be opposed, making her even more scary. The fact that the Doctor has to nearly destroy his own TARDIS in order to stop her is rather telling. If it wasn't for her presence, this story wouldn't be nearly as good because it justifies why the Captain uses all that bluster in order to outmaneuver her in a very Doctorly fashion.

On the whole, this is a very well-made book. It is actually a shame that it will never be published as an official book since I clearly think the quality is on par with any official book published today and certainly worthy enough to sit alongside the other books in the collection. Bishop has done a fantastic job and I can't wait to read the others in the TSV series. If I could make some closing suggestions, it would be to release the other two TSV books as ebooks and to perhaps make some Target-style illustrations for The Pirate Planet. Fantastic! 10/10