Doctor Who (Classic): S06E06 “The Space Pirates”

Season 6
Directed by Michael Hart
Written by Robert Holmes

After ninety-seven arduous episodes, we have finally come to the end.  Not of the season or of the Second Doctor’s era (I’d hardly call them arduous, but we have one more serial to go for both), but our trek through all the missing episodes.  The fans really should be commended for their work in preserving the series as well as they have, and I appreciate that the BBC keeps trying to produce animated reconstructions even though they seem to be of limited popularity, but I’m so happy to be done with them.  There have been some standout titles including one of my favorite serials of the show to date, but these glorified slideshows can also be a drain to watch and are usually a downgrade from just about any extant title.  This season has thankfully been relatively mild in terms of lost episodes.  Only “The Invasion” had missing episodes before this (two) and they were both reconstructed making this the season with the second least missing episodes (after Season 2).

A space beacon is destroyed by a roving band of criminals preying on them for argonite, an all-purpose mineral.  Doctor Who really loves its fake elements and minerals that inevitably can be used in basically everything.  In response, the Earth Space Corps starts patrolling for them and setting up the main conflict of the episode.  The Doctor and his companions remain minor parts for a while and even over the course of the serial, their presence is relatively light.  It’s a void that the serial really feels as I’ve noted repeatedly that the Second Doctor’s run hasn’t been winning the hearts and minds with the writing, it’s been the work of Patrick Troughton (as well as Frazer Hines and now Wendy Padbury) that has kept it afloat.  The trio lands on a beacon only to be locked in a room, separated from the TARDIS right before the beacon explodes.

Thankfully it is one of those controlled explosions that don’t actually do any damage to the spacecraft.  Enough to break apart all the magnets holding them together, but not the ships themselves (which if they are made of argonite must really vouch for the substance’s reliability).  There should be suspense building in the sequences where the three are trapped away from the TARDIS with the air running out, floating seemingly aimlessly through space, The Doctor having to bust out his non-sonic screwdriver to solve a problem, but there’s just too much fluff around them and not enough focus on it.  Perhaps the most interesting part is that the Doctor’s initial fix backfires and almost dooms them all to death.  This season has done a flawed Doctor fairly well and I like seeing a character with limits to his abilities.

The wild card in the story is Clancey, a stereotypical space prospector who is somehow less interesting than he sounds.  He speaks in an almost Jimmy Stewart like drawl in his pathetic attempt at an accent and is prone to rambling.  He should be a fun addition to the story, but instead he’s an obnoxious drag who draws a disproportionate amount of the focus.  There’s intrigue involving the mysterious death of the former head of a mining company with his former partner (the prospector) being forced out and his daughter taking over a highly successful company, but it never really adds up to anything interesting.  Even with Madeleine Issigri, the daughter who can’t help but hide her smiles or the suspicious way she says that she doesn’t believe that the prospector is behind the pirates (a pet belief of the Earth Space Corps) and how clearly she is hiding something, the show winds up backpedaling and having her play standard concerned daughter by the end.

The six-episode length again proves its detriment as it takes almost four whole episodes to reveal her involvement, something we all figured out in an instant.  Perhaps the bigger twist is that the father is still alive and driven mad by his being locked away for years. By the time she’s revealed as being in league with the pirates, the show is already having her back away from it with her balking at the thought of killing any of the captured prisoners (with The Doctor, the companions, and her father’s old partner all having been taken by the pirates).

For all the talk of interesting countdowns in The Invasion” and “The Seeds of Death” , it is nice to have a counterpoint to show that it isn’t as simple as putting one in for instant drama.  The final episode manages to make The Doctor defusing a bomb dull with uninspired cinematography (yes, I know most of it is gone but what little survives doesn’t impress), unclear indication of the time, a glacial pace, and a lack of spark.  It’s indicative of the whole affair which is tedious and full of forgettable characters.  While saying there’s enough story here for half the episodes is hardly novel for the show, I can’t say that I even want to see an unpadded version of this tale.  The pirate villains never impressed upon a sense of identity, the Earth Space Corps feel largely extraneous to the story, Madeleine exists as someone with a whole lot of set up for except the chance to admire the stupid hat she has to wear, and of course Clancey is a chore to endure.  This is most likely going to wind up being the nadir of The Second Doctor’s run, but on the plus side it’s been a far more consistent run than The First Doctor’s (if lacking as many of the highs).

Grade: D+

Stray Observations

– It was nice to get a reverse from the typical scenario with The Doctor and his companions not being quick to trust the good guy (the prospector) after he rescued, assuming too that he was after the argonite.
– There’s a large emphasis on models and shots of spacecraft taking off in space which looks fine if clearly the source of the entire budget.
– It was a struggle to expand on and talk about this episode at all.  It just felt so thin and lacking.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor and his companions are set to get a lift back to the TARDIS in the prospector’s ship.  Perhaps the worst part of the whole serial is that it ends on an Everybody Laughs Ending.

Next Up:  We have a major milestone coming up as we finally come to the end of The Second Doctor’s run with “The War Games”.  It’s taken a long time for my classic coverage to get here and we still have a long way to go, but it’s a nice feeling of accomplishment all the same.  The next review will hopefully drop on 3/11 since I want to get rid of these damn discs that have been sitting at home forever.