Doctor Who Story Number 049 – The Space Pirates

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Michael Hart

“Jamie, I think you don’t appreciate all I do for you.”

From The Reference GuideFar into the future and far out into the black depth of the galaxy, the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe discover the space pioneers of the future, the adventurers and guardians of planets. But lurking also in the emptiness of space is the evil—the evil of The Space Pirates!”

There are many ways to portray space adventures.  Often we get stories of wonder as our protagonists visit one alien location after another. In this type of story, we are exposed to landscapes and creatures we can never see on Earth. Another type of space story is to show how frightening and dangerous the cosmos can be. In these stories, space is cold, distant, and lonely; the only life which exists is that which cares nothing for you and would kill you with little thought or reason. Then there is space as frontier, not for scientific exploration, but for gathering resources or founding new settlements. In this type of story we find outlaws, miners, sheriffs, and claim-jumpers—even pirates!

Yes, The Space Pirates is a space-frontier story, having more in common, thematically, with Firefly than Star Trek. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe materialize on a space beacon that has been targeted by pirates who wish to blow it apart to salvage the scrap for argonite—one of the most precious materials in the galaxy and whatnot. Along the way, they encounter a space miner by the name of Milo Clancey. Clancey is eccentric, due to spending many years alone as he travelled through space, and a bit over-the-top due to Robert Holmes still developing his style for Doctor Who characters. But Clancey proves to be a valuable ally as The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe attempt to find the mastermind who is funding the pirate operation. While I found this particular revelation to be predictable, I did appreciate the nuanced motivations of the individual who funded the pirates.

Essentially, this story was a romp. A slow romp, admittedly, but a romp nonetheless.

Unfortunately, I cannot comment much on the look of the story. Episode two still exists, but I don’t have access to it. However, this will no longer be a problem as I have finally completed all the missing stories. From this point on, every episode exists! Likewise, from this point on the endeavor becomes more expensive as I will now have to buy DVDs rather than audiobook downloads. And there is a new Doctor just around the corner. . . .

Final Verdict: The Space Pirates is a decent entry by Robert Holmes. It is a bit slow in places, but is an enjoyable story if you don’t mind audio adventures and one over-the-top performance. Besides, it is interesting to see Robert Holmes before he hits his stride.

Coming Up Next on Doctor Who: The ten part Patrick Troughton finale The War Games! This one may take a bit of time to watch. After that, a Second Doctor wrap-up, then a much-needed update to the site’s look.  Thanks for reading.

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One thought on “Doctor Who Story Number 049 – The Space Pirates

  1. In every essential respect, given that this serial was made in black and white, on a very low budget which necessitated a lot of recycling of sets, the outer space scenes in ‘The Space Pirates’ (on Beacon Alpha Four and in Clancey’s Liz 79 spaceship) are very similar to the sets used for the space station in the earlier serial ‘The Wheel in Space’ and for the Moon rocket in ‘The Seeds of Death’; and there is very little budget to spend on model shots of the spacecraft themselves, so the visual impact of this serial is slightly claustrophobic, with a lot of very small sets filled with electronic equipment, and not much in the way of science fiction in the ‘Star Wars’ sense – put all thoughts of elaborate spacecraft exteriors and impressive space battle sequences out of your mind! Like all period ‘Dr Who’, this is a serial with few special effects, that concentrates on storyline and characterisation.

    Milo Clancey is a case in point. Gordon Gostelow plays the part extravagently, as though he was an old-time prospector in a Western – for this is a serial about mining, albeit space mining, and about claim-jumping. In all its essentials, this is a tale of the Yukon gold rush as much as a science fiction serial. Think ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, with Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston, with Gostelow playing the Walter Huston role as the grizzled old timer with a chip on his shoulder, who is trying to learn who murdered his former partner, and best friend, Dom Isigri.

    General Hermack (Jack May) is firmly convinced that Clancey is the man behind the space pirates, and he’s all for hanging the old timer from the nearest equivalent of a tree they can find in Outer Space. Clancey is busy following clues that he believes will lead him to the real pirates, while simultaneously trying to stay one step ahead of the law – represented by General Hermack.

    The Doctor is trying to find nothing less than the TARDIS, which was on board the latest beacon to be stolen by the space pirates, and is now god-knows-where on one of the hijacked beacon sections.

    The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe thus have more to lose than usual, as they get drawn in to helping Clancey in order to help themselves: wherever the pirates are, so must the TARDIS be. But fundamentally, this is a tale of a gold-rush in the old West, that is only one step removed from the Hartnell serial ‘The Gunfighters’, and its characters behave accordingly.

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