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Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (The Key to Time Part Two)

"Excuse me, are you sure this planet's meant to be here?"

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let's give a great big Doctor Who welcome to the one and only Mr Douglas Adams.

Before Neil Gaiman sneaked his way into the production office, Adams was the most famous writer to have ever worked on Doctor Who. He began writing for the series after sending the script for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the Doctor Who production office and on the strength of that was commissioned to write ‘The Pirate Planet’. He’d previously submitted a potential movie script called Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (which later became the third Hitchhiker’s novel Life, the Universe and Everything), but it was rejected.

'The Pirate Planet' is quintessential Douglas Adams, meaning it is totally and utterly unapologetically bonkers, brilliantly clever, and very, very funny. And his dialogue is ever so witty. True, he was not always so good when it came to plots, using them mostly as something to hang his clever ideas on. Plot-wise, ‘The Pirate Planet’ is nothing we haven't seen before. Basically, it's a your run of the mill 'overthrow the tyrant' story. But it's a run of the mill 'overthrow the tyrant' story from the writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which automatically makes it better than all the other run of the mill 'overthrow the tyrant' stories.

Adams’ irrelevant sense of humour is perfectly suited for Tom Baker’s Doctor at this stage in his life. Baker devours everything Adams gives him with obvious relish. Sometimes he is really over the top, shamelessly playing up for the camera and continuing to break the fourth wall and address the audience. But Tommy is a model of subtlety and restraint next to Bruce Purchase. What this season may lack in memorable monsters it more than makes up for in great villains. As the Pirate Captain, Purchase doesn’t so much devour the scenery as utterly demolish it. I've seen a lot of guest actors go over the top on this show, from Joseph Furst in 'The Underwater Menace' to John Simm in 'The End of Time', but few ever reach the same dizzying heights as Purchase does in this story.

Many elements of the story don’t work as successfully as others. There’s Pennatt Robert’s typically flat direction. That guy can't direct an action sequence to save his life. The “battle” between K-9 and the Captain’s robotic parrot is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. I know I shouldn’t complain about the FX on this show, but when they try to do something that is obviously well beyond their resources they kind of deserve our mockery. And there are a few too many annoyingly bland supporting characters such as Kimus.

Kimus is a common Doctor Who stock character, the local rebel with more passion than personality who teams up with the Doctor and his companion to help them defeat the bad guy, usually some tyrant oppressing his people. Kimus is essentially a mouthpiece for exposition. The way the Doctor travels he often arrives on a planet with absolutely zero knowledge of where he is or what is going on. This is where characters like Kimus come in handy. His job is to explain to the Doctor, and therefore the audience, the exact situation on the planet and who all the key players are. As such, characters like him tend to be seriously underwritten and suffer from a serious personality deficiency.

Name-Drop Alert

The Doctor tells Romana that he once met Isaac Newton and helped him discover gravity.

Notes and Quotes

--At one point the Doctor mumbles "No more Janis thorns". I miss Leela too, mate.

--During the last day of production on ‘The Ribos Operation’ Tom Baker was bitten on the lip by a dog. The Doctor's accident with the console was staged to explain the very visible scar.

--Unlike the Doctor, Romana actually reads the manual and manages to land the TARDIS perfectly.

--Scenes in the ship’s engine room were filmed at the nuclear power station at Berkeley. The cast and crew were understandably nervous.

--Because Target Books were unable to come to an agreement with Douglas Adams (he wanted too much money saying: "I don't want to be embarrassing but I do have a tendency to be a best-selling author"), this is one of five Doctor Who serials that was never novelised (the others being ‘City of Death’, ‘Shada’, ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, and ‘Revelation of the Daleks’). ‘Shada’ was eventually novelised in 2012 by Garth Roberts.

The Doctor: “Where did you get those jelly babies?”
Romana: “Same place you get them.”
The Doctor: “Where?”
Romana: “Your pocket.”
The Doctor: “Good looks are no substitute for a sound character.”

Guard: “This is a forbidden object.”
Romana: “Why?”
Guard: “That is a forbidden question. You are a stranger?”
Romana: “Well, yes.”
Guard: “Strangers are forbidden.”
Romana: “I did come with the Doctor.”
Guard: “Who is-“
Romana: “Ah, now, don't tell me, Doctors are forbidden as well.”

Kimus: "Do you drive these things for a living?"
The Doctor: "No. I save planets, mostly."

The Captain: "Take care, Doctor! Your manner only appeals to the homicidal side of my nature!"

Mr. Fibuli: "The Psychic Interference Transmitter, sir. There seems to be something counter-jamming it."
Mr. Fibuli: "Captain, do you suppose any of the guards know what a Counter-Jamming Frequency Projector looks like?"
The Captain: "...[into the loudspeaker] DESTROY EVERYTHING!"

Romana: "Newton? Who's Newton?"
The Doctor: "Old Isaac. Friend of mine on Earth. Discovered gravity. Well, I say he discovered gravity, I had to give him a bit of a prod."
Romana: "What did you do?"
The Doctor: "Climbed up a tree."
Romana: "And?"
The Doctor: "Dropped an apple on his head."
Romana: "Ah, and so he discovered gravity?"
The Doctor:" No, no. He told me to clear off out of his tree. I explained it to him afterwards at dinner."

Three out of four planets called Calufrax.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


  1. This episode has one of my all time favorite scenes in it. The moving walkway, the two guards, and the conversation about the importance of inertia. It cracks me up every single time I see it. Some of Mr. Adams' finest work indeed.

  2. This is a great one and my 2nd favorite Key to Time story. Romana is again wonderful here, and I love how she carries herself throughout her unfortunately brief tenure on the show, but she has some especially great stuff in this story.

    I have noticed that Adams re-uses things a lot. I have a copy of the Krikitmen, both Dirk Gently books, and of course the entire Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books and see this here, in Shada, and elsewhere. This doesn't reduce how fun they are, but it does make you recognize him doing this quite often.

    Fun times here as to be expected from Adams, and Tom is always so good, but he shines here very well. That scene between the robot parrot and K-9 is indeed, terribly shot, but the idea was fun at least.


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