|The Captain and The Doctor have a faceoff.|
I sorta shat all over Season 17, the succeeding season to this one which was watched over by the amazing Douglas Adams and which... wasn't very good. His first story for the show, though, is this week's story, and his trademark style of ascerbic wit and a healthy level of occupational absurdity and satire. The Pirate Planet is everything I would have wanted Adams' season to be, and I'm torn between wondering at the efficiency of the script and wondering what the hell went wrong in the following year.
The Doctor and Romana continue on their quest and, when trying to land on the planet Calufrax, land on the planet Zanak instead, where an "always rich" economy is run by the insane cyborg known only as The Captain. They end up caught in his machinations, helping the rebel Mentiads who have psychic powers - powers derived from the planet's secret. The planet Zanak has a Tardis-esque transmat system which it uses to teleport around and then crush other planets for their mineral wealth and energy, no matter the living population. The Doctor faces The Captain and finds an elaborate system of crushed planets in a gravitational harmony, whose purpose, it turns out, is as a failsafe against the evil Queen who has been orchestrating all of his plans in order to keep herself alive forever. Suffice to say that everything goes to pot and The Doctor saves the people of Zanak (and of Earth and other planets) from their reign, with the crushed remains of Calufrax providing the second segment of the Key To Time.
The script embodies The Captain with an almost paradoxical mixture of enjoyable Ham and situational wit, making him a constant source of laughs both intentional and otherwise (although it's probably all intentional knowing Douglas Adams.) The scene where he shows off his gallery of crushed planets is one of my favourites in Classic Who, as Tom Baker plays up Four's anger at the loss of so many lives so brilliantly that it's sorta chilling. "What's it FOR?". I was a little slow in realising the episode's main use of him as a very fun Doctor Who twist on the Pirate genre, especially with his robotic parrot and the third episode cliffhanger which sees him force The Doctor to walk the plank.
|The Gestalt Mentiads|
Douglas Adams' first take on both Doctor Who and on the pirate genre is a spectacular event of a story, in which the twists and turns unfold as quickly as The Doctor can fire Adams' amazing quips. It's a firm continuation for the season so far, and its focus on comedy while still providing good ideas is just what good Doctor Who feels like. The relationship between The Doctor and Romana is continuing to shine, the whole Key To Time arc thing is working out brilliantly as a plot device and so far, this season is two for two.
NEXT WEEK: We meet silicon-based vampires in 1970s England, in The Stones of Blood.