Sunday, 30 September 2018

484 The Pirate Planet: Part One

EPISODE: The Pirate Planet: Part One
OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 484
STORY NUMBER: 099
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 30 September 1978
WRITER: Douglas Adams
DIRECTOR: Pennant Roberts
SCRIPT EDITOR: Anthony Read
PRODUCER: Graham Williams
RATINGS: 9.1 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Key to Time Box Set (Ribos Operation/Pirate Planet/Stones of Blood/Androids of Tara/Power of Kroll/The Armageddon Factor)

"Citizens, prepare yourselves. Watch for the omens. I declare a new golden age of prosperity for all!"

On the Bridge of the planet Zanak, Mr Fibuli reports the success of their mining operations to the Captain. He has found a new source of minerals that they need and is ordered to make preparations. The Captain speaks to the citizens and declares the dawning of a new golden age. In a cavern a group of yellow robed people observe an individual in a crowd, Pralix, having found another for their number. In the Tardis Romana is familiarising herself with the Tardis manual. The Tracer has selected Calufrax as their next destination and the location of the second segment of the Key to Time. After an argument on how to operate the Tardis the Doctor tries to land, but the Tardis suffers disruption. At the same time problems are being encountered on the planet Zanak's bridge. The Doctor believes something has jammed their materialisation, but when Romana tries the Tardis materialises smoothly. However when they examine the scanner screen they see a planet very different from the dingy planet Calufrax the Doctor is expecting. The robed group in the caves chant "Life force dying" as Pralix writhes in agony to the distress of his family: Grandfather Balaton, sister Mula and her boyfriend Kimus. The Doctor tries to speak to the local populace, but they all ignore him. Romana has better fortune as one of the citizens describes the omens to her, gives her precious gems in return for Jelly babies, and warns them to watch out for Mentiads. K-9 confirms the gems are genuine and identifies the rare stone Oolian, only found on two places, one of which Bandragonus 5 the Doctor has heard of frequently. The youngsters complain about their lack of freedom but Balaton tells them it was worse under his predecessor Queen Xanxia. The Mentiads travel to harvest Pralix and swear vengeance for the crimes of Zanak. Hearing Pralix cries the Doctor investigates. Romana is captured by guards for being a stranger and using a telescope which is forbidden, but she sends K-9 to fetch the Doctor. The Doctor speaks to his parrot, longing his freedom when what his doing is finished. The Mentiads are detected and the guards sent to find & kill the new telepath. Guards attack the Mentiads but their weapons have no effect enraging the Captain's. Mula tells the Doctor Pralix goes into this sort of shock every time the Captain announces a new golden age. The Captain spots K-9 on a monitor and dispatches guards who K-9 stuns. The Mentiads arrive and, proving immune to K-9's blaster, telepathically strike the Doctor down.

Full disclosure of bias: Pirate Planet is the first Doctor Who story I saw right the way through and the first I saw repeated. We've got something odd happening when the Tardis materialises, the Captain yearning to complete something and the mysterious Mentiads.

MENTIAD: Brothers, are we agreed?
BROTHERS: Oh yes.
MENTIAD: We have found another. Brothers, the days grow dark. The time of evil is once more come. We must prepare.
BROTHERS: We must prepare.
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They're after a young man who seems to be experiencing a fever of some description.

BALATON: Calm yourself, Pralix. You must calm yourself.
MULA: He's much worse than last time, Grandfather. Pralix, can't you hear us? Tell us what's wrong.
However his family are keen to keep him from the Mentiads!
BALATON: Kimus, you are a dangerous fool. Don't listen to him, Mula. If you love your brother, you must shelter him, hide him, protect him from the Mentiads. Remember what happened to your father.
MULA: My father didn't fall into the hands of the Mentiads.
BALATON: No.
MULA: He was shot by the Captain's guards.
BALATON: To save him from the Mentiads. At least he died a clean death. It was an act of mercy by the Captain.
KIMUS: Oh well, thank you, O merciful Captain, for so kindly having Mula's father shot down in the street like a dog.
BALATON: Listen, Kimus, let me tell you this. I would cheerfully strangle Pralix with my own hands to save him from those, those ....
It's lucky for them that The Doctor decides to make a house call!

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And, after a brief mention at the start, the search for the second segment in the background.

A lovely throw away line from Balaton while talking with Mula will have significance later:

BALATON: I remember when I was a lad. Now things were very different then. You think you have no freedom now? You ought to have been here under old Queen Xanxia.
After four weeks & episodes studio bound during The Ribos Operation we're back On Location again this episode. The shots of the Mentiads walking through the landscape were filmed at Coity Mountain while their battle with the guards took place at Bwlych y Garn. More next episode!

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The thing that really caught my eye when I first saw this story was the Captain: a cyborg space pirate, machinery replacing one side of his body and overacting in a way that only the words "In the style of Brian Blessed" will quite cover!

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The Bridge, both interior set and exterior model, very much lodged in my memory too.

The first scene which introduces The Captain is great. He's kept partially hidden for most of it, only showing bits of him and hiding the full reveal of him as a cyborg till towards the end of that scene.

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Super work from director Pennant Roberts who is frequently maligned for his Doctor Who work but I think does a good job here.

Here's what I think is a first: None of the guest cast have been in any other episode of original Doctor Who (although one spoils it slightly by later appearing in the new series!) There is a lots of Blake's 7 on people's CVs.

Bruce Purchase who plays The Captain was in the Blake's 7 episode The Keeper as Gola. The earliest thingon his CV that I've seen is the Polanski film version of Macbeth where he plays Caithness closely followed by one of the few surviving third season episodes of Doomwatch, Waiting for a Knighthood, in which he appears as Norman Sylvester and you can see that on the The Doomwatch DVD. He's in I, Claudius as Sabinus in Hail Who? and later has another brush with BBC sci fi when playing Ali Pashar in the last two episodes of the second series of The Tripods.

2a Captain 2b Mr Fibuli

Andrew Robertson, here playing Mr Fibuli was in Blake's 7: Hostage as the Space Commander. I wasn't aware I'd seen him in anything else but IMDB tells me he was in the Mel Smith sitcom Colin's Sandwich as Travers which I have here on DVD and remember watching when it was first broadcast.

Primi Townsend, Mula, was in Blake's 7: Powerplay as Zee.

2c Mula 2d Praxis

Finally the actor playing Praxis, David Sibley, appears in Blake's 7:Death Watch as the Commentator. He's got an episode of Survivors to his name playing Kim in The Chosen,... Kim

Ralph Michael wasn't in Blake's 7, although his Wikipedia page did mistakenly claim he was at one point. You can see him in The Professionals as the Estate Car Driver in Heroes. He had a recurring role in Dempsey and Makepeace as Lord Winfield, Makepeace's Father. He's in First Born as the Old Priest. Later in his career he has an association with Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie appearing in a couple of episodes of A Bit of Fry & Laurie and then playing Tom Travers in three episodes of Jeeves and Wooster.

2e Baladon 2f Kimus

David Warwick makes an appearance on my television screen every Christmas when I watch Yes Minister: Party Games where he plays one of the Policemen who tries to arrest Jim Hacker for drunk driving. Wikipedia believes he is the former partner of the previous Doctor Who companion Louise Jameson. He is our sole credited cast member with another Doctor Who appearance, turning up in Army of Ghosts where he's gone up in the world since Yes Minister as he's playing the Police Commissioner!

The speaking guard is played by Adam Kurakin who was a man in the Doomwatch episode Invasion. I can't find anything else that the actor playing the passer-by, Clive Bennett, has been in but look at his hand! For a change Doctor Who is actually using Jelly Babies as the sweets, every other time, and later this story, it's liquorice allsorts!

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But the writer.... Yes Douglas Adams wrote for Doctor Who. In fact he did slightly more than that as we'll discover in a few months time. Born 11 March 1952, and having studied English at St John's College, Cambridge. He'd spent some years trying to break into comedy, including a stint writing with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame (he appears in Monty Python episodes 42 & 44 and has a writing credit on episode 45, one of only two non Pythons to be credited on the series). After a number of odd jobs while selling a few radio sketches he was commissioned to write a pilot show for Radio 4. While waiting to see if it would be taken up as a serial he sent the script to the Doctor Who office who commissioned him for a serial..... at about the same time as his radio series was commissioned. The Doctor Who scripts, even when they were edited down, were considered to be unrecordable and would have been binned but for a spirited defence by director Pennant Roberts who believed they were possible to film. He was right and the result is superb.

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And the Radio Show? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. We shall hear much more of this shortly.

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