Beginning The Space Pirates!

Just two more stories in the Troughton Era, and each of them is significant in a major way.  First will be The Space Pirates, significant as it is the final incomplete story.  Following this Robert Holmes-penned adventure, every story is complete (Shada aside, I’m ignoring it for now).  After The Space Pirates, we will have the Second Doctor’s ten-part finale The War Games.  As mentioned before, I often wish I didn’t have foreknowledge for Doctor Who.  I would love the end to be a surprise.  But enough lamenting on this for now; what do I have to share today?

I have wanted this blog to be a journey.  However, I feel that since I dropped the episodic format, the blog has become more review-based.  This isn’t a bad thing, just not what I had originally hoped for.  As such, I may be changing things up a slight bit and commenting on stories as I view them rather than after.  And it is The Space Pirates which has inspired this new direction.  I have listened to episode 1 one-and-a-half times thus far—the half was due to falling asleep mid-way through—and still find it a bit dull.  This story is written by Robert Holmes; it should be better than this!  But, like The Krotons, this story lacks his trademark humor and many of the other traits that mark his style.  Maybe if part one still existed and I could see some movement things would be different.  Thankfully, episode two exists.  I look forward to getting some visuals locked firmly in my mind before getting too far in the story.

Has anyone seen (well, listened to) The Space Pirates?  What do you think of it?

4 thoughts on “Beginning The Space Pirates!

  1. I’ve seen the one surviving episode on film, and listened to the entire six part serial on audio cassette, many times.

    The serial has two highspots, namely the presence of guest stars Jack May as General Hermack and Gordon Gostelow as mineral prospector Milo Clancey. Jack May is most famous for his creation of the long running character, Nelson Gabriel, in the BBC radio series ‘The Archers’, and was a really terrific actor. Gordon Gostelow was a very funny comedy actor, and ‘Space Pirates’ is one of his best roles. Also on sparkling form is Donald Gee, who would return during the Pertwee years.

    Robert Holmes went on to write wittier scripts than this one, and much more convincing science fiction, in the Pertwee era: particularly the beautifully written ‘Carnival of Monsters’ and the ultimate SF invasion serial, ‘Spearhead From Space’. But we all have to start somewhere, and ‘Space Pirates’ is already a much stronger serial than his first story, ‘The Krotons’. Clancey injects much humour into the plot; ‘The Krotons’ had suffered from being too straight-faced, and consequently had been a little dull.

    To be fair, Holmes is restricted by the producer here, who was demanding that Troughton be given, in effect, the week off in episode 1, so that the vast majority of the plot is carried by the guest actors, and we see hardly anything of the Doctor and his companions, who don’t appear until the first episode is nearly over. So there’s a lot of chat, and very little action. But once episode 2 gets going, things really start to move.

    Holmes manages to keep the identity of the villain behind the pirates a secret for a long time, and there are a number of very effective plot twists involving the Isigri mining corporation.

    Perhaps rather a rarity for a Troughton serial, there is no monster in this one. This is almost unheard of in the Troughton era, which was redolent with monsters: Ice Warriors, Yeti, Cybermen, Daleks, et al, appeared nearly every week; so this was a change of pace, and is perhaps the real reason why quite dull shows such as ‘Fury from the Deep’ are preferred by fans over the more plot-driven serials such as this one.

    To my mind, this is a very enjoyable helping of space opera, and a significant improvement on ‘The Krotons’, much assisted by a stronger script and a stronger cast, and no klunky and unconvincing Krotons! The only highlight of the earlier serial was Philip Madoc, who would return to the show often – starting next week, in ‘The War Games’…

    1. Thanks for the background info. I wasn’t able to do much research on it myself. And while Holmes hasn’t quite hit his stride on yet, you can see traces of what would later mark his stories: witty dialogue; colorful, well-realized characters, double-acts. In the end, “The Space Pirates” is pretty good.

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