THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Menagerie
BBC
The Space Pirates

Episodes 6 Milo Clancy, Doctor Who's answer to Walter Brennan
Story No# 49
Production Code YY
Season 6
Dates Mar. 8, 1969 -
Apr. 12, 1969

With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Derrick Sherwin.
Directed by Michael Hart. Produced by Peter Bryant.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe becomes trapped floating storage container in space as Federation ships search for traces of mysterious pirates.

Note: Episode 2 is available on The Troughton Years. Audio recordings of this story are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.


Reviews

Well somebody had to write a review... by Nick Waghorn 2/7/98

The Space Pirates is perhaps the most widely hated of all Doctor Who stories. Even The Twin Dilemma and Timelash have advocates, but I have yet to meet someone who relishes this story.

Admittedly, it hasn't too much going for it. The entire crew of the V-ship are one-dimensional, with appalling accents and haircuts. Even worse, the Issigris seem to have walked straight out of a 21st century soap opera.

The pirates themselves aren't much better, with only Caven and Dervish providing anyone in the way of interesting character. Dervish is a nicely nervous pirate, though conforming neatly with the stereotyped technician. Caven on the other hand is a solid, sneering villain who reminds everyone that, although Davros can scream and ruthlessly kill people, the guy who works in the music store down the road can just as easily stand in if he's ill.

Most damaging of all is the pace. Although it is basically a good, sound, adventure yarn, it's slow moving due to the writer's insistence to show real-time space travel, and as with most six-parters there is padding. There is also too little action, even in the battle scenes, which drags it down. The interminable method of killing by oxygen deprivation (one of the lengthiest ways to kill characters) is not used once but twice! This is all a shame, as without these flaws The Space Pirates would have been quite a good story with an original setting.

Despite its faults, the story does have plus points. The regular characters save it from dipping below mediocrity, and some of their amusing banter is classic Bob Holmes. My favourites are the Doctor's partiality towards his green marbles and, a definitive Who moment, him taking two magnets out of his pocket to teach Jamie about magnetism. General Hermack's flirting with Madeline Issigri is also fun (the old dog!).

A word should be inserted here about Milo Clancey. Despite his dodgy accent, his character is wonderfully wacky and quite well acted. Clancey is an epitome of a Doctor Who eccentric, particularly his copper needles stunt and his breakfast scene. Of note is the incident when he blows his nose--praise all round for the melodramatic reactions.

The model work is skilful, almost rivalling some of the Anderson projects, which is unusual for Doctor Who at the time. The variety in designs of craft aid recognition significantly.

Finally, and the best aspect of the production, comes the music. The grandiose operatic vocals from Mary Thomas are a wonderfully refreshing departure from style, pulled off with grace in an appropriate setting (an experiment in which The Gunfighters failed).

However the music cannot atone for the lack of pace or action and The Space Pirates still falls way short of good Doctor Who. It must be said though, that it is better than many claim and shouldn't be immediately written off. 5/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 30/3/99

This story has always been given a rough ride by Doctor Who fans and it isn`t really hard to see why. The Space Pirates certainly isn`t a classic Robert Holmes or Patrick Troughton tale, and it can best be described as lacklustre. A lot of the characterisation is poor, the crew of the V-Ship are uniformly wooden -- as are the pirates, with only Caven leaving any lasting impression. Madeleine Issigri wouldn`t have looked out of place in a soap opera in space, complete with costume to match. Perhaps the only other memorable character is Milo Clancey; but memorable for his terrible accent, rather than his wacky persona.

Another major problem is the scripts: they contain too much padding and the TARDIS crew barely appear at all in the opening episode.In fairness though, The Space Pirates does have some redeeming features: the operatic music by Mary Thomas adds atmosphere to the story, the model work (particularly of the V-ships and Minnows) is top notch. And the story does see Doctor Who branching out into new territory, in both it`s setting and the general feel of the tale, which draws heavily from Westerns as well as current affairs (at the time of it`s original broadcast).

Not essential viewing by any means, just nice to look at in places.


All the Story Needed was a Diet by Daniel Callahan 18/4/00

Poor Ian Levine. Before the rediscovery of the audios or the birth of the ultimate fan triumph (the mighty recons!), Levine's reviews/summaries from Doctor Who: A Celebration had to fill in for the real thing. As an American in the pre-Internet days, I swallowed his opinions HL&S. The Dalek Master Plan was awesome. Gunfighters was crap. Space Pirates was crap (even though Levine admits he didn't watch all of it). But who else had kept up with the series from the pre-purged B&W days (at least as far as those of us in the States knew)? As I say, poor Ian, because:

The Space Pirates really works, once you get past the massive quantities of padding in the first three episodes. It's a kicking story, folks, and once it gets going, it's true Robert Holmes vintage. Just like Holmes to pull this one out of its own ashes. All the story needed was a diet.

Take an example: It's a shame only episode 3 of Enemy of the World exists, because it has the most padding of all six episodes. The one-sixth that's the least representative of the whole survives! This identical scenario recurs with The Space Pirates. Of these six episodes, the Doctor & Co. have the least to do in 1-3. Of those three, episode 2, the sole survivor, presents almost nothing for the casual viewer: the Doctor has as much to do with the plot as the production assistant (JNT, as it happens). Without the first episode, the Doctor's contribution to the action seems eerily irrevelant. Had either episode 1 or 3 also seen the light of day after Pamela Nash's Great BBC Bonfire, episode 2 would have been annoying (it will always be the Padding King), but not have necessarily doomed the entire story.

However, if this is padding, I wish Doctor Who had more of it. Robert Holmes doesn't just throw in bad jokes to keep things moving (he holds off until the end!), and he doesn't add gratutious argument scenes. There is a story going on, just disconnected from the characters we know and love best. And yet! And yet Wendy Padbury does some of her best acting in episode 2, underplaying her asphyxiated dialogue and showing genuine rage when Jamie is shot. Hardly a triumph in the average padded yarn/yawn. Would Shada be remembered as something special if it had been completed? Nah...

So, once you get past the ackward first half, nearly everything that Ian Levine criticizes disappers. It becomes a gripping story in its own right, with an extremely effective villain (Cavern), whose genuine capacity for evil foreshadows that of the War Chief and War Lord. The Doctor and crew have something to do, and the scripts acquit the plot beautifully. There is something here after all! In fact, Robert Holmes' skill at creating background and atmosphere practically leaves enough room for a sequel.

So what happened to this story, Robert Holmes' second Doctor Who adventure? The Second Doctor Handbook notes that the story was commissioned quickly, and the lack of action by the lead character suggests to me that it began as an unused script languishing in Holmes' file-cabinet. The Doctor seems grafted onto the action because he was grafted onto the script at a late stage, and only joins in fully toward the end, where the most rewriting was done.

So, Ian, thanks for saving The Daleks, but The Space Pirates doesn't fail any more than the well-crafted but badly-executed Gunfighters, and it impresses me more than that shallow 'epic' The Dalek Master Plan (the true nadir of padding). While the story fails in its first half (at least for the casual viewer), it makes a full recovery in its second half, which only Robert Holmes could write. And if you're a Doctor Who fan who is still not fooled by big-budgeted visual effects (hearing me, Lucas?), The Space Pirates justifiably deserves your attention.


Well Holmes wrote it, it must be good! by Mike Jenkins 6/12/01

Like most of Robert Holmes work, extremely overrated. I know it's critized but not nearly enough. I think that if some abridged version of it had come out (God willing) that people would realize it's true problems lie in a rotten script. It seems more like a sub par Robert Stevenson novel with sci fi props then a Doctor Who story. And one of the Pirates looks like the clone of Joseph Stalin! Hardly the stuff of legends.

What keeps it at a 5/10 average action adventure fare and not sinking any lower is Pattrick Troughton himself. The incidentals could've helped but they're shut away for most of the story. Some writers have the problem of working with too much in their scripts. When Holmes has a problem, which he most often does, it's the fact that he doesn't work with nearly enough. It's an insult to Patrick Troughton that such a story should be in his season. This is something that belonged at the end of the Pertwee era. How many Space Pirates and Robert Holmes does it take to write a good script? None, because they can't!!!


Proof you can tell good stories without monsters by Tim Roll-Pickering 12/2/02

Based on the Loose Cannon reconstruction.

Although Patrick Troughton's era is predominantly remembered for the many monsters he encountered, his non-monster stories should not be dismissed too quickly. The Space Pirates is an interesting epic that breaks new ground by taking the action into space itself whilst at the same time drawing heavily on both the pirate and western genres for influence.

The opening episode holds the record for featuring the greatest amount of action prior to the first appearance of the Doctor (Mission to the Unknown aside for obvious reasons) and indeed the Doctor and his companions don't really enter the main action of the story until Episode 3. However in the meantime we are offered a succession of intriguing mysteries, most notably whether or not Milo Clancey really is the head of the pirates as General Hermack suggests. Clancey is exceptionally well portrayed by Gordon Gostelow, coming across as a true old time wanderer caught up in all the mess and steals many of the scenes he is in. The other characters are equally memorable such as Caven and Dervish or General Hermack and Major Warne, being the earliest of the so-called 'Holmesian double acts' for which the writer has since become notorious for. Madeline Issigri is also well portrayed by Lisa Daniely and it is not immediately apparent that she is the one in league with Caven. The conflict between her and Caven over the latter's actions and methods is well structured and comes across as natural. As a character piece this is a good story even though at times the action seems slow.

However the slow action has many benefits in that we get to see some brilliant modelwork of the spaceships that, combined with the music, gives a strong sense of the story being an 'opera in space'. The model work must rank as some of the best and most effective seen in the series so far since there is far more movement than is normal for the series and this benefits matters no end. Action wise the story contains a number of strong and memorable scenes, from the beacon exploding and separating with the Doctor and his companions onboard to Clancey blasting down Jamie to the LIZ 79 being launched by remote control at the end of Episode 5 with the Doctor caught in the blast.

On the production side Robert Holmes' script is full of delights such as the scene where the Doctor deliberately preserves a green marble because it's his favourite or the one where Zoe is shown to be not as all knowing as previously assumed by not knowing about candles, whilst the direction is strong and the sets are effective with the result that the story gels from the elements working strongly together. Although there are some weaker moments, most notably the final scene, these are few and far between in this otherwise strong story. Of all the episodes only Episode 2 noticeably drags, and this is unfortunate as it is now the only surviving episode and so the story has acquired a terrible reputation overall when it is in fact a wonderful tale that deserves far more attention than it has received from fans so far. It deserves serious reappraisal and this is now possible... 9/10

This story is one of the earliest ones to have been reconstructed by the Loose Cannon team but is still highly effective given the limited visual material available. The surviving Episode 2 has been used to provide many screen grabs, as have other Doctor Who episodes and even other programmes. The audio suffers slightly as it hails from an Australian broadcast (and even retains the continuity announcer informing the viewer that the next episode can be seen the following Sunday over the closing credits) but it is good enough to hear what is going on. All in all this is a fine reconstruction that makes the whole story once more accessible to Doctor Who fans and is highly recommended. 9/10


A Review by Paul Rees 14/7/03

On the face of it, you'd think that The Space Pirates couldn't actually be all that bad; after all, it's written by Robert Holmes and features Patrick Troughton at the height of his powers.

You might think that, but you'd be wrong. The Space Pirates is - let's be honest - pretty awful stuff. It's better than watching paint dry - but only just.

There's barely enough plot here for three episodes, let alone six; and it's all pretty small beer. I'm sure that the pirates are unpleasant fellows and all that, but they are hardly jeopardising the future of the universe, are they? It's very hard to actually be all that interested, to be honest.

A related problem is that the Doctor and his companions simply don't have enough to do. They are almost entirely passive throughout - being captured, being threatened and otherwise reacting to events. If you removed the TARDIS team from the story entirely, it really wouldn't make much difference to the way in which events proceed. Given this, it is perhaps understandable that even the usually excellent Troughton seems to be rather subdued throughout.

The threadbare nature of the plot is matched by the obvious telegraphing of the supposed 'twist in the tale' - namely, the revelation that the apparently respectable Madeleine Issigri is, in fact, in league with the pirates. We guessed this from the opening episodes, so it is hardly a 'da-da-daaa!' moment when revealed in the closing stages. The reappearance of her long-lost father in episode five does pep things up ever-so-slightly, even if the whole idea of his incarceration is faintly ludicrous.

As ever with Doctor Who, there are some things of value here. The incidental music is remarkably atmospheric, as are the sound effects; the model work is pretty good; and the set design is impressive. Indeed, the production values in general are high.

The standard of the acting is also pretty high. In particular, Milo Clancey is an amusingly comic character (even if I can't make out what he is saying half the time) and Jack May gives a commanding performance as General Hermack.

It's just that... well, it's all just so boring, isn't it?


Not his best work by Jason Thompson 17/7/03

If I was asked to list the Troughton stories in order of preference, The Space Pirates would be languishing at the bottom of the list, fractionally below The Underwater Menace (which scores extra points for not going on as long). I've seen the existing episode, and I've heard the soundtrack, and it's one of the ones I will not be reaching for again in a long time.

That's not to say it's all bad. It has some excellent features. Milo Clancey makes an amusing character, the first of many from the pen of Robert Holmes. The Doctor is as whimsical as ever, retrieving a green marble from a trap he's laid because it's his favourite, and of course one can't comment on this story without mentioning the visuals. This is the first really extensive use of spacecraft in Who, and it doesn't disappoint. The designs are simple, and all the more effective because of it.

However, for me at least all that is rather overshadowed by the poorer aspects. Whilst Holmes's dialogue is as good as we would later become accustomed to, his construction and plotting isn't. At least two of the cliffhanger/resolution pairs are decidedly contrived: We hear the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe's screams fading slowly as they fall off a ledge at the end of part 3, and we are assured by Milo that the Doctor will be burnt to a crisp by the exhaust of the LIZ at the end of part 5. However, they have only fallen a few feet at the start of part 4, and the Doctor is merely knocked out and wakes up with a bit of a sore throat at the start of part 6. Also, General Hermack is about the thickest general ever, believing as he does that a group of pilots that uses Beta Darts, state of the art ships that can outrun his own V-ship, are being led by an old ex-argonite miner in a dilapidated old ship that has been out of service for 20 years and has almost no speed compared to his vessel!

Then Holmes has Zoe using some complex calculations to calculate the course of the beacon fragments based on the position their segment ended up in after the Doctor's failed attempt to link up with the neighbouring one (a calculation, incidentally, that would have required more information than Zoe had available to her to solve in the three-dimensional environment of space), but has Hermack not even thinking to try plotting the course of the fragments he's been scanning since the beacon broke up until about part 5. Naturally, by the time he thinks of doing this, they've been diverted, and it only occurs to him to check the original data after he's gone way out of his way! Madelaine Issigri's position with the pirates is also signposted so clearly you have to wonder how anyone missed it. The daughter of an argonite miner who suddenly starts up her business on a planet that had been believed mined out at about the same time as the pirates start working in the same system? No, can't be a link there...

Another character who suffers here (although not just in this story) is Jamie, as his irritation with the Doctor's efforts to open the cell door with a tuning fork just make him seem sulky and ungrateful, as even the Doctor comments on. By this time in their relationship, you might have expected Jamie to be a bit more tolerant and respectful of the Doctor, especially since he's almost always right. The scoffing at the Doctor's insistence that there must be a door in the cavern, even after he's explained the reasoning behind it, also doesn't do Jamie any favours.

And then there's the ending, with a rather cliched countdown and a bomb to defuse which will kill everyone if it goes off. Naturally, the Doctor only defuses it with about a second to spare. This kind of dramatic device is utilised far too often, and doesn't work because we already know that everyone is not going to get blown up at the end of the story. The fact that it is accompanied by Jamie and Zoe looking on and complaining about the Doctor's apparent lack of action is not helping, and just makes them look decidedly annoying.

Many stories appear bad until you try watching or listening one episode at a time. Often, they can be improved still further by putting them in context with the surrounding stories. I have recently reached the end of the Troughton era in a marathon of episode viewing/listening which began last November with An Unearthly Child. This did wonders for my appreciation of such stories as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Web Planet, or The Savages. However, it did nothing to help with The Space Pirates. It's dull, poorly plotted, and too long. This is one story which, I am sad to say, the loss of from the archives is no great loss to the viewer.


A Review by Finn Clark 7/7/06

It has its problems but I quite like The Space Pirates. At its heart is a decent Troughton four-parter, although these days it would fit nicely into a single episode for Eccleston or Tennant. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, it's a creakingly slow six-parter. Goodness knows where those extra televised episodes came from. I reckon they accidentally filmed a few rehearsal sessions and spliced them into the broadcast tapes to pad things out without telling anyone. It's worth noting that Robert Holmes's next story, Spearhead from Space, came only two stories later. That's regarded as a classic, but personally I think The Space Pirates, if edited down to my imaginary four-part version, would have the better script.

Spearhead from Space is a loose collection of set-pieces, but directed with style and guts by Derek Martinus. The Space Pirates is a painfully overextended but fundamentally sound story, lazily slapped together by Michael Hart. There's a reason you've only heard of one of those names. Derek Martinus directed six Doctor Who stories, including Evil of the Daleks, while Michael Hart directed precisely one (and one too many). The problem is that Robert Holmes puts lively comic characters (Milo Clancy and the TARDIS crew) alongside some pretty one-dimensional tough guys who have to be played completely straight. In the script, Caven is bloody scary! He's as menacing as the Graff Vynda K or anyone from The Caves of Androzani. In the hands of a production team who took it seriously, this could have been memorably brutal. It's like the Terry Nation problem. His seventies Dalek scripts are all practically identical in tone, but the Pertwee production team made them cosily forgettable while under Hinchcliffe and Holmes he turned out a masterpiece.

Admittedly it's hard to care about the Space Corps. Even the pirates themselves aren't too interesting. There's no wit or sparkle to them. Nevertheless the production does nothing to raise the temperature, plodding ahead with "there's something on the radar, Captain" acting. Similarly when it was decided to play Milo Clancy as a Wild West prospector, the Western frontier spirit he represents wasn't allowed to affect the stereotyped Space Corps.

The production team don't seem to have realised, but The Space Pirates has an interesting vision of the future. It's dangerous and unpredictable, with real-time space travel and no one really in control. It's Wild West stuff. Prospectors go about their business for years in open contempt of the authorities, while pirates blow up Earth's navigation beacons. It's even unconventional in little ways as well, as with Clancy's rickety spaceship. It's domestic. He boils an egg. Unfortunately all that gets steamrollered with a production that at times looks more Trekky than anything before or since in Doctor Who. Check out Dom Issigri's headquarters, and while you're there have a laugh at Madeleine's sci-fi headdress that looks like a penis.

The story isn't bad either. It's not just cut-and-pasted plot coupons, unlike say The Faceless Ones. Events progress. Obviously it's far too slow, with so little happening in the first two episodes that the TARDIS crew take a break until halfway through each one, but even in the broadcast version I like episode five. There's a nice twist which I hadn't expected. Interestingly that's not the first time I've been impressed by part five of a horribly overstretched Troughton-era six-parter. They hadn't yet invented the "four and two" formula of changing the villain halfway through, so part five tended to be where the story reached its peak before falling apart for the concluding anticlimax.

I also like Milo, who's a good idea for a character. His crap ship is fun too. It's not his fault that the story's glacial pace means that his scenes (like everyone else's) are liable to get dragged out too long. Similarly entertaining are the TARDIS crew, who get some nice scenes and witty banter. I get the impression that Robert Holmes enjoyed writing for Troughton.

The production feels reminiscent of the self-consciously international Troughton-era vision of the 21st century, complete with silly accents. The only difference is that this time we're talking British versus American. Come back The Gunfighters, all is forgiven! Saddle up, cowboy. I like Milo Clancy, but he's played as a comedy cliche straight from Blazing Saddles. Regarding Whoniverse history, if these people are human then this can't be too far in the future. "They were a wild breed, they learned to live without the law." Milo Clancy was among the first men to go into deep space and his ship is forty years old, so this surely can't be any later than the 22nd century. I suppose it depends on your definition of "deep space." Oh, and the Space Corps use Martian missiles, in the very next story after The Seeds of Death.

Overall, this is a lame and painfully slow production, especially in the first half, but it's certainly less stupid and formulaic than certain other Troughton-era stories. If I remember correctly, Robert Holmes's wife thought it was his best story! I almost wish the whole story existed just so that we could edit a cracking two-parter out of all the good stuff. Troughton gets a moment that's almost scary in the surviving episode, there's lots of painstaking spaceship model work and there's a decent story buried amid the padding. It even has no monsters! On the principle of "which stories had the most unrealised potential?", if I had to remake a Doctor Who story, I might choose this one.


A Review by Thomas Tillier 5/11/06

It's not all that bad you know.

Let's try a little game. Imagine a 6 episode Doctor Who story and imagine that only one episode exists. The tragedy is that this episode is the weakest of the story. Unfortunately this is the circumstance that The Space Pirates finds itself in. Most people detest this story and some refuse to acknowledge that the late, great Robert Holmes wrote this story (The Robert Holmes piece on the Two Doctors comes to mind).

The Space Pirates is a failed experimen. I see it as a bold attempt by the production team to try something new (this is a similar reason to why I like The Gunfighters). Some of the impressive model work is very good and still stands up today. OK, the acting isn't that great and the Doctor and friends are left in a really poor subplot. However, it was an attempt to do something different, and for that I really feel that this story should be saluted. Of course it's never going to be the best story ever but at least it was different (you couldn't say that for quite a few stories, especially later on in the series!)


One Small Step For Robert Holmes, A Giant Leap For Doctor Who by Daniel Saunders 22/5/07

First, I'll note that the sound quality on the BBC CD of The Space Pirates seemed to be poor. I know that with the missing stories, the audios are often very bad quality and Marc Ayres does wonders just to get them in a state where they can be sold, but usually the standard is far higher than the bare minimum (just compare them with the tapes released in the early 1990s). The quality of the audio on this story seemed unusually bad, and I often had to rewind dialogue to listen to bits I missed a second time. It wasn't a fault on the CD, as Frazer Hines' linking narration was fine.

The other notable thing about the CD is in the final scene, where Madeleine kisses the Doctor. They didn't mention that on the narration! It's the first time the Doctor gets kissed on screen and they tried to cover it up! Are there any Doctor/Madeleine shippers?

On to the story itself. For a long time, The Space Pirates had a reputation for being one of the very worst Doctor Who stories. Over the last few years, a small revisionist movement seems to have sprung up which I find myself in broad agreement with. It's true that the story should be cut at least in half; the accents are awful; some of the dialogue terrible; it's very dull and uninspired in parts; and there is one moment of pure stupidity (the bit with the Beta Dart manoeuvring into the nose-cone disguise; can't they just flick a switch to change colours in the future?). However, the core of story basically works; the second half has some memorable bits for the second Doctor; Caven is an enjoyably evil villain (his "Does anyone else want to die like a hero?" while shooting Sorba has stuck in my mind); and the model work and space-walk in the surviving footage are surprisingly good.

But the real success (if that isn't too strong a word for something as mediocre as The Space Pirates) of the story lies in the dialogue and characterisation. In the Doctor Who Magazine special The Complete Second Doctor, Philip MacDonald argued that Milo Clancey was a seminal character, the first "fully implicated in the storyline, whose eccentricity contradicts the rhetorical demands of his prescribed plot function", which I think boils down to saying that Clancey is the first character not written explicitly as comic relief who nevertheless has lots of funny lines (or lines that were supposed to be funny). That's a bit of an exaggeration, as that description could certainly apply to the Monk (especially his guest appearance in The Daleks' Master Plan), Nero and many characters in Donald Cotton's scripts, but it's true there hadn't been anyone like Clancey for a while. Perhaps more significantly, those previous characters had almost entirely been in historical settings. In sixties Doctor Who, characters in "the past", whether pure historicals or not, tended to be more rounded and realistic than those in the outer space/futuristic stories. The latter tended to be populated by character-types (the scientist; the square-jawed hero; the wise, old leader) rather than real characters.

I'd argue that equally important than this, if not more so, is the appearance of the first of Robert Holmes' double acts. There are actually two, Hermack and Warne, and Caven and Dervish. Fans use the term "double acts" to refer to Holmes' comic pairings, like Jago and Litefoot, but in fact he wrote comparatively few of those. Most of his double acts were actually dramatic or expository (e.g. Shockeye and Chessene, Engin and Spandrell), and that is the case here.

Before The Space Pirates, the primary, if not sole, mode of plot exposition in Doctor Who was to have all the characters speaking with the authorial voice, a technique that has continued until the present day. They may not all have access to the same information, but they express it in basically the same way, or at best switch around what is considered "good" and "bad". For example, in Gridlock, everyone says basically the same thing about the problem. This gives us a single perspective on the world.

In The Space Pirates, we suddenly get multiple perspectives, something that happened in historicals, but tended not to happen in science fiction stories, except that sometimes the villain would say that something evil was good (e.g. The Savages). Here, Caven is the stereotypical evil, ruthless, plundering pirate, but Dervish is nervous, tormented by his conscience and threatened into cooperating. Likewise, Hermack and Warne frequently disagree over tactics.

The effect of this is to help raise the characters above the level of cliche, making them characters rather than plot functions. It also provides multiple perspectives on the world the characters are in. While previously in science fiction worlds, if A happened, characters would do B; here, characters debate whether to do B or C. It adds some depth to the worlds being created and makes them seem more real. There is more to them than what we see, because there are possible actions and off-stage places that we don't see. It's an exaggeration to say this never happened before, but it tended to be limited to the main issue in stories built around a debate, like The Ice Warriors, The Savages. Here, it's about more minor plot points, which makes it look like an incidental, worldbuilding detail.

At this stage, it's still not a brilliant effect. The debate between Hermack and Warne is probably the prototype of Chellak effectively being ordered about by his subordinate in The Caves of Androzani, but it doesn't have either the dramatic or the satirical punch. We are probably supposed to think that Hermack has been written as a conceited military fool who jumps to false conclusions, shoots first and thinks later, but instead he looks like a conventional hero who has ended up looking stupid through bad writing. Likewise, Holmes' gift for detail, which would embellish his scripts with details of unseen alien cultures, wars and planets purely to add detail, is barely noticeable here. Still, it is there, and it is an important step forward, especially as this marks the point when Holmes begins to become a key writer on the series. The Space Pirates might not be a great story, but it is one of the most important in the history of Doctor Who, perhaps in its own way as epoch-making as the story after it, The War Games.


A Review by Brian May 28/6/10

The Space Pirates is Robert Holmes's second script for Doctor Who, but then nobody's perfect. A lot was riding against him, that's to be sure. It was a last minute replacement for a cancelled story, then it was stretched from four episodes to six, well beyond its natural storytelling life.

It doesn't feel like Doctor Who at all - not a bad thing in itself, as atypical Who is often excellent Who - but this is more suited to some gung-ho American drivel like Buck Rogers, for it needs a derring-do action hero who'll tackle the pirates with testosterone fuelled machismo. A character like the Doctor is superfluous and it shows. So while he, Jamie and Zoe are relegated to a thankless sub-plot, our "heroes" are General Hermack and Major Warne, two brave, strapping, all-round good guys from a sci-fi Boys' Own adventure, with just as little depth. Jack May as Hermack has no personality whatsoever, his plummy tone becoming more annoying every time you hear it. It morphs briefly into a bizarre Germanic parody at the end of episode one - VOT IZ OUR ARRIVEL TIME? - a moment to equal Professor Zaroff's infamously immortal utterance. It's reprised in episode two, so we can all watch and enjoy it today! Donald Gee doesn't fare any better, the poor actor uncomfortably and self-consciously delivering an atrocious American accent.

It doesn't help that these two are total incompetents, the General in particular. The truth - that Madeleine Issigri, not Milo Clancey, is working with the pirates - is staring him in the face. In episode three, Madeleine tells him her company has bought two new Beta Darts; the pirates are using Beta Darts; in episode four, when they're hot on the trail of the pieces of the dispersed beacon, the only ship in the vicinity is a Beta Dart with the Issigri signage! If he can't put two-and-two together then he's a prize idiot (by the way, he can't and he is!) No, these two are far from the wonderful double-acts the writer would soon grace us with.

On the other hand, Milo Clancey is almost a Holmesian character. Almost. He's very underwritten, almost a prototype, but what distances him further from any of the writer's intended quirkiness is the truly dreadful performance from Gordon Gostelow. As if one bad American accent wasn't enough, this actor's is ten times worse. He mumbles every word and plays up every scene, trying to milk humour that isn't there. A case in point is his very first appearance in episode two, when he pathetically attempts to carry an extended sight-gag with his continually interrupted breakfast. According to Who's Next, Gostelow rewrote a lot of his own dialogue; I hope this is indeed the case, because lines like "we turned that whole planet into a piece of Gruyere cheese", "If that don't beat jumping grasshoppers" and "You can't leave us here like flies on fly-paper" I cannot imagine Holmes writing, not even on a bad day!

From the guest cast, only Lisa Daniely (Madeleine) and Dudley Foster (Caven) could be called any good. The regulars put in very perfunctory performances, competent and professional, but you can tell their hearts aren't in it. You can't blame them either, given how little they have to do. The existing second instalment sees them at their worst, the lack of enthusiasm evident on the actors' faces as their characters are stuck in the companionway the entire time. That's not to say they do that much elsewhere, but I'd rather have one of the middle or later episodes to watch, just to see them slightly more proactive, i.e. actually getting to interact with other cast members. But, that said, there's no single episode that stands out.

It's difficult to judge the direction solely from episode two, but from the available visual evidence Michael Hart's work is very static. He doesn't seem to be much of an actor's director either. Lisa Daniely and Donald Gee look straight at the camera quite a lot - I'm discounting Madeleine's "guilty" smile to the audience and Warne's conversations on the monitor - but the rest are quite odd and inappropriate, and for all we know this could have happened in other episodes. But the point is that actors would never do this unless instructed by the director; why he told them to do this is beyond me, for it's not a particularly good move.

However, time to turn complimentary, if only briefly. From watching episode two and the surviving trims from episode one, the space models are all extremely good. The music is fantastically psychedelic, very much the product of its time what with the Indian influence, and the female vocals are wonderfully haunting, as they were in The Ice Warriors.

While far from Robert Holmes's best, it's interesting to look at The Space Pirates in hindsight. There are various elements that would resurface in the writer's future Doctor Who works. The Caves of Androzani is very similar; in both stories, the Doctor and companion(s) play very peripheral roles but end up determining the course and outcome. It's more obvious in Androzani, but it certainly applies here: in the first episode, Sorba and his guards are distracted by the sound of the TARDIS materialising, their investigation means the pirates can dock with the beacon and board easily. If the TARDIS hadn't landed, Caven would have been caught and there'd be no story.

The interaction between the Doctor and the chief villain, Caven, is similar to that in The Ribos Operation. The fourth Doctor and the Graff Vynda-K only directly encounter each other during a capture scene; the second Doctor and Caven likewise. Caven/Vynda-K rarely gives the Doctor and co. a second thought, merely believing them to be accomplices of Clancey/Garron. So, there are hints and traces of the Holmes magic in The Space Pirates, but not enough. It remains an incredibly slow, boring and desperately padded story. 2/10


A Review by Jason A. Miller 8/10/10

It occurred to me only very recently that The Space Pirates is the Doctor Who story with which I'm least familiar. Sure, I watched the surviving Episode Two on VHS a couple of times, but that's not a compelling advertisement for its departed brothers, being best known for featuring the TARDIS crew in only short inserts and having Gordon Gostelow blows his nose really loud. I also read the Terrance Dicks novelization, exactly once, not aware that it was Dicks' final Target novelization (unless you count The Eight Doctors, twenty novelization excerpts stapled together with nine added pages of original plotting). Other than that, the story has had no impact on my life and it's probably one of the few Doctor Who episodes from which I've never quoted a single line (and it's a sad day when you knowingly quote The Claws of Axos). In fact, only this week did I learn that I've been mispronouncing the name of the story's lead villain all these years.

Thanks to the brilliant folks at Loose Cannon, The Space Pirates is now actually nearly watchable. Through heavy use of original model effects, new CGI compositions, and a significant number of Photoshopped pictures replacing the lost action squences, Space Pirates now actually moves and can be watched as if it were any other Doctor Who episode. Any other slow, under-paced Doctor Who episode, true, but at least now it's no longer the most obscure episode in my memory.

In some respects, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Space Pirates fits in with the rest of the Troughton oeuvre. True, there are no monsters, reportedly because the production team (having a devil of a time finding workable stories to fill out Season 6) ran out of money to afford more rubber monster masks. But the finished product is quite funny in places (Troughton has plenty of opportunities to practice his loud comic groans); there are distinctive experimental opening titles (a practice that sadly ended after Inferno the following year) and the model work is ambitious, if excessive. How the production team thought they could complete with real-life NASA footage and the 70-millimeter glory of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is beyond me, but they did manage to talk the BBC into upgrading from 16 to 35mm film for the model effects, so clearly someone upstairs wanted to teach that upstart American a thing or two about how to do miniature spaceships. Of course, this is coming from the same show that reportedly produced Underworld as their response to Star Wars.

Setting aside the model work, this is a Robert Holmes story and that fact is still probably not well recognized even today. While Holmes' debut story, The Krotons, doesn't show off too many of his best-known trickery, it's here in Space Pirates that we start to see the elements that would make him a legend a couple of years later. There are two double-acts in this story and they mirror each other: Space Corps General Hermack and his luckless underling Major Warne; and chief pirate Caven (that's with a short A, not the long A that I'd been saying in my head the past 25 years) against his accountant-turned-unlikely-deputy Dervish. Of course, neither double-act is especially interesting. Hermack is forced to carry the hero mantle for the first half of the story as there is minimal Doctor involvement, and it's not very interesting watching him berate his two crewmembers. Caven as a villain barely registers at all; the story's reputation isn't helped much by his complete absence from the one surviving episode, but his evildoings are rather minor even when the story is seen in its entirety.

Holmes puts more of his scripting energies into the character of Milo Clancey, the maverick space cowboy, he of the beaten-up space junker (a prehistoric Millennium Falcon), the flannel shirt, the Wild West accent (sounding funny when spoken by an actor born in New Zealand... I can't recall if Peter Jackson used the word "varmint" in his Lord of the Rings movies), and the conspiciously runny nose. Clancey is a decoy villain in Episode Two, even getting to shoot Jamie at the cliffhanger, but over the final four episodes he turns into the real hero of the piece. He's like the Doctor usually is: the comic element serving as a plot-changing wild card even while everyone else is taking things seriously, way too seriously.

Where I now think this story fails, then, is not in the overuse of model shots, or the silly space accents, or the weak guest cast acting, or the fact that Lisa Daniely is wearing a haIr helmet in lieu of a wig, or the fact that the main plot point is an inert mineral called argonite (which when James Cameron remade the story for the big screen decades later he called "unobtainium"). It's the fact that this is a Doctor-less Who story. Doctor-less Who can work well when the rest of the story serves on a meditation on his absence, but The Space Pirates is The Massacre without the Abbot of Amboise, Turn Left without the actual turn left, or Love & Monsters without the love, or, well, monsters. Here, the TARDIS crew doesn't show up until 15 minutes into Episode One, doesn't exchange dialogue with any other cast members until Episode Three, and didn't even show up in studio for the taping of Episode Six. The Doctor only has one brief sequence with Caven in the whole story and never meets Hermack or Warne at all.

When he's around, at least, the Doctor is characteristically wonderful: tormenting Jamie with a tuning fork, getting out-scienced by Zoe left and right, and moaning and groaning comedically as only Pat Troughton could do. I wasn't counting on much humor in this story but the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe combination really elevates proceedings. We don't see many two-companion adventure these days but when written well they are truly worth their weight in argonite.