Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Story 49 - The Space Pirates


In which the TARDIS materialises aboard Beacon Alpha 4, out in the deepest reaches of space. These structures are made from the much sought-after mineral argonite, and are being targeted by a group of pirates led by Caven and his accomplice Dervish. The Interstellar Space Corps has been hunting them for some time, but the criminals are usually long gone by the time they arrive at the scene of a Beacon theft. Caven has the structures blown apart and the pieces floated off to his hidden base.
The pirates attack Beacon Alpha 4. The security guards are killed, and the Doctor and his companions are trapped in one of the sections when it is broken up. The Doctor realises that each section is connected to its neighbour through electro-magnetism. When he tries to bridge the gap with their nearest neighbouring section, he makes a mistake with the polarity and sends them shooting off in the opposite direction. With the air running out, they are saved by the arrival of Milo Clancey - an eccentric, old time argonite miner.


Clancey has a mine on Lobos, and has been suffering repeated thefts of his argonite shipments. His presence in the area causes ISC General Hermack to believe that he is actually responsible for the piracy. Hermack sets up base on the planet Ta - where there is a highly successful mine run by Madeleine Issigri. Her father, Dom, had been a business partner of Clancey. Dom is believed dead - murdered by Clancey. Caven decides to send the sections of Beacon Alpha 4 to Lobos - to cast further suspicion on Clancey. His real base is actually on Ta. Not knowing this, Clancey decides to go there with the Doctor and his companions.


The Doctor decides to warn Madeleine that the pirates are hiding on Ta - only to learn that she is in league with them. They are the secret of her great success. He and his companions are locked up, and discover that Dom is still alive - Caven's prisoner. Clancey and Issigri escape and make off in Clancey's antiquated ship - the Liz 79 - unaware that Caven has sabotaged it. The pirates also set explosives to blow up Madeleine's mining complex. The Doctor uses a radio to tell Clancey how to repair his ship and then defuses the explosives. The pirates try to flee, but are destroyed by the ISC. Madeleine is reunited with her father, now reconciled with his old partner.


This six part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and was broadcast between 8th March and 12th April, 1969. His second story for the series was again a late replacement for a story that collapsed at a late stage (The Dreamspinners, by Paul Wheeler). It wasn't his first storyline submitted for the slot. That was Aliens in the Blood - about mutant telepaths. This fell through, and Holmes replaced it with what is basically a Western in Space. We have claim jumpers and cattle rustlers, old 49'ers, the 7th Cavalry and so forth, all transposed to a futuristic Sci-Fi setting.
Only part two still exists in the archives, but the audio soundtrack is available for the missing episodes. It is a rather workaday effort, full of cliché and dodgy Americanised accents. Probably the best thing about it are the special effects - with some wonderful model shots.
This was Peter Bryant's last story as producer, and Derrick Sherwin returned to Script Editor duties.
Of the guest cast only Jack May as General Hermack, and Gordon Gostelow as Clancey really stand out. May was famous as Adamant's butler Simms in two series of Adam Adamant Lives! (He was also butler to Count Duckula). Gostelow plays Clancey very much in a comedic vein.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Beacon is blown apart, and the Doctor and his companions are thrown to the floor.
  2. Clancey boards the Beacon section. As Jamie moves towards him, thinking he is one of the pirates, he is shot down.
  3. The pirates chase the Doctor and his companions through the tunnels of Ta. They fall into a chasm.
  4. The travellers go to Madeleine's office and discover she is in league with Caven.
  5. Caven launches the Liz 79 by remote control - and the Doctor is caught in the take-off blast.
  6. In order to retrieve the TARDIS from Lobos, the Doctor and his companions will have to travel once more in Clancey's old ship.

Overall, the story fails to hold interest for 6 episodes. The Western trappings are a little too evident - making it feel unoriginal. The regulars are sidelined for the first third of the story.
Things you might like to know:
  • Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury weren't in the studio when episode six was recorded. They were off doing location work on The War Games. They had pre-recorded material for the episode which was then played in.
  • When the travellers fall into the chasm at the end of part three, their cries suggest a very deep drop - but in the opening of the next episode they have only fallen a few feet.
  • The Doctor isn't carrying his sonic screwdriver (he uses an ordinary one).
  • Despite knowing all about candles back in The Mind Robber, Zoe doesn't know what they are in this.
  • Episode one was the final Doctor Who to be recorded at Lime Grove Studios.

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