Me: I hate to break this to you, but this is our last slab of recons. And not only that, no one paid John Cura to take any telesnaps of this story. This could be rough.
Sue: I’ve noticed that you’ve done your level best to avoid starting this story. That’s a bad sign, I take it?
Me: It’s not a story that I’ve pined to see – it has a terrible reputation – but when I finish it, it will be a big moment for me. Because once we get through The Space Pirates, I will have seen (as far as it is possible to see) every episode of Doctor Who.
Sue: Don’t look so depressed, then. You should be excited!
Me: But it’s The Space Pirates! It’s not exactly the best story to end on.
Sue: Don’t be so pessimistic. And don’t just accept what the “fans” say about this story. It might be really, really good.
And then the episode begins.
Sue: Okay, maybe not.
As a group of astronauts plant some explosives on a space beacon, Sue tries to ignore the wires that are holding them up. Instead, she is reminded of another SF series.
Sue: So this is basically Firefly, then?
Me: I think The Space Pirates lasts longer than Firefly. Or maybe it just feels like that.
Sue: The music is very Hungarian.
Me: What does that even mean?
And then, after what feels like an eternity, the story’s title card finally appears.
Sue: Robert Holmes. Is there anything I should know about him?
Me: Well, he wrote The Krotons.
Sue: Oh joy.
Me: Robert Holmes is talked about a great deal in Doctor Who circles. Just you wait and see.
Sue: The Doctor is taking his time getting involved in this story.
Me: Can you blame him?
When the Interstellar Space Corps turn up, I manage to persuade Sue to play The Space Pirates Drinking Game – you take a shot of whiskey when General Hermack mentions the word ‘argonite’.
Six minutes into episode one and we are as pissed as farts.
Sue: There are a lot of porno moustaches in this one. I’m pretty sure that’s Jason King standing over there.
Another beacon is destroyed and its fragments are stolen by the pirates.
Sue: I’m a bit bored of this now. There are far too many characters and far too much yakking. And when people aren’t yakking we have to watch the same footage of spaceships docking over and over and over.
Me: It’s not exactly 2001, is it?
Sue: It’s barely 1951. The pirates’ spaceship looks like a shoe horn.
The pirates, Caven and Dervish enter a beacon, a few minutes after the TARDIS has plonked itself there.
Sue: Oh my word. It’s Cannon and Ball. In space.
Me: Rock on.
Sue: Is his head really that misshapen or is that just his helmet?
Caven polishes off the ISC security team and then he attaches some explosives to the beacon’s exterior. There’s a humdinger of a line delivered by the Doctor when they hear people clomping around on the hull – “Maybe they are cleaning the windows?” – and we both agree that the cliffhanger, where the Doctor and his companions are blown to smithereens, isn’t bad at all.
Sue: I’ve seen worse.
Me: This is the last orphaned episode.
Sue: Am I supposed to feel sorry for it?
As the episode begins, Sue is drawn to the music of Dudley Simpson like a moth to a flame. If moths really hated flames, that is.
Sue: The music is very weird again this week. That wailing voice would be fine if this was a ghost story, but I’m guessing that it isn’t. It isn’t, is it?
ISC’s fashion sense gets a rough ride as well.
Sue: I bet Hermack is constantly cutting his ear lobes on his collar. What a terrible design. And those key rings that hang in front of their genitals – whose idea was that?
And then Technician Penn’s face rings a very large bell.
Sue: Oh, it’s whatshisface from EastEnders! We saw him in it earlier tonight!
Me: Yes, it’s George Layton. He’s been in loads of stuff. You probably know him best as Solly from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and the Doctor sitcoms, of course (Doctor at Large, Doctor in Charge etc).
Sue: He did Doctor Who so he could complete the set.
And then – and nothing can really prepare you for this – Milo Clancy turns up.
Sue: It’s Stalin!
Me: Yes, it’s Joseph Stalin meets Han Solo. It’s an interesting amalgamation. For the first three minutes.
Sue: Surely it’s Stalin meets Elmer Fudd? What on earth is he doing dressed like that?
Me: I didn’t hear you complaining when Nathan Fillion did this.
Sue: What is that ****ing accent?
Me: His accent is “Space”.
Sue: I refuse to accept that somebody actually wrote this dialogue. They are just making it up now.
When Milo leaves the screen, Sue breathes a huge sigh of relief.
Sue: I don’t mind a bit of light relief now and then, but that went on forever.
Me: Don’t worry, it’s not as if they are stupid enough to make him a lead character in this story.
In the remains of the exploded beacon, the Doctor and his companions are completely fine.
Sue: The beacon is very well designed. You can blow it up and all the sections still have air, gravity and electricity. That really is excellent craftsmanship.
When a face suddenly fills a monitor screen, Sue gasps in horror.
Sue: Oh no! It’s the Ice Warriors! Oh, sorry – it’s just his helmet.
And then, a few seconds later.
Sue: Oh no! It’s the Cybermen!
Me: That’s Madeleine Issigri’s hat.
Sue: Oh. Is it made of argonite?
Something else that Sue finds it hard to get her head around (let alone in) is Major Ian.
Sue: This story doesn’t deserve to have a character called Ian. There is only one Ian.
Despite the Doctor’s best efforts, their fragment of the beacon is sent spinning through space. Just as the oxygen is almost depleted, Clancy turns up to save the day. He begins by shooting Jamie.
Me: That’s Jamie dead, then.
Sue: Good. (beat) And I don’t believe you.
Sue: Whinge, whinge, whinge; dig, dig, dig. Jamie really is doing my head in now. Just kill him! Please!
Yes, Milo didn’t kill Jamie, he just riled him a bit.
Sue: Milo’s accent is impossible now. I can’t understand a word he’s saying. He’s talking way too fast. It’s relentless.
Me: Bluergh, blah, blurg, blah, baaaaaaa. That’s what it sounds like to me.
Zoe does some calculus to plot the trajectory of the beacon’s segments (one of which contains the TARDIS).
Sue: Nicol would have loved this episode.
Me: I think that’s stretching things a bit.
To be fair, we don’t say very much about the third episode of The Space Pirates but towards the end, Sue turned to me and shook her head.
The episode ends with our heroes running around in a cave. As they rush down a passage, the floor drops away beneath them.
Sue: I wish the ground would open up and swallow us.
Me: Remind me to buy some pipettes and rope tomorrow.
Sue: I don’t need tying up just yet. It’s not that bad.
Me: No, you’ll need to use them on me.
We have found ourselves in a bit of a pickle – and it’s all my fault. I had completely forgotten that Sue was heading for London again for a few days this week and now, the night before she leaves, I realise that we will have to watch three recons of The Space Pirates in a row if I am to update this blog before the month is out. She takes the news remarkably well.
Sue: For ****’s sake!
After she has finished packing, we both settle down to watch the evening’s entertainment/sadistic torture/masochistic torment (delete as appropriate), and, because we are very bad parents, we make Nicol watch it with us.
Me: Can you tell Nicol what’s she’s missed so far, Sue?
Nicol: Don’t worry about me. I don’t care. I’ll be the one browsing Facebook on my phone.
Sue carries on regardless.
Sue: Okay, so the first thing you need to know is that the Doctor is hardly in this story. Secondly, there are these pirates, right, and they are blowing up these space stations made from argonite, which just happens to be the most precious metal in the universe.
Me: I’m impressed.
Sue: And the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe end up on one of these space stations just as it’s blown up into separate sections that miraculously survive. And then they land on this planet but they can’t find their TARDIS.
Me: This is better than Wikipedia.
Sue: And there’s a cowboy in it who looks like Stalin. And that’s about it. I’m warming to it, actually.
Me: Now I’m worried about you.
Nicol: It sounds amazing. So when can we watch University Challenge?
For the first few minutes, Sue helpfully points out who everyone is to Nicol.
Sue: That’s a pirate. That’s Jamie. That’s Robert Holmes’ name. He’s not very good. And that’s Stalin.
Nicol: No it’s not, It’s Wario.
At one point, the Doctor talks about combination safes being made obsolete with the introduction of personal computers.
Sue: You see, Nicol – Doctor Who was way ahead of its time. The Doctor is talking about criminals using iPads, now.
Nicol: Yes, mother.
Sue then spends an inordinate amount of time convincing Nicol that Penn is played by George Layton (“he’s Pat’s boyfriend!”) but Nicol can’t get beyond the moustache. She finally admits that “he sounds a bit like him”, but I’m pretty sure she only says this to shut her mother up.
Me: Minnow is a funny name for a spaceship, don’t you think? Not very scary, is it? Naming your ship after a tiny fish isn’t going to inspire much dread in your opponent. It’s not exactly an Eagle or a Viper, is it?
Our heroes are pursued by some guards and Clancy shoots one down as they make their escape.
Me: Milo definitely fired first. Loose Canon tried to edit that bit so he didn’t shoot first but there was an outcry and they had to change it back again.
Nicol: (Exasperated) Oh, mother! Even I get that reference!
By the time we’ve explained my lame gag to Sue, we are totally lost. I decide to find an online synopsis to fill in the gaps.
Me: I don’t believe it! Even the TARDIS Index File gave up on this story after three episodes!
Sue: Can you understand a single word Stalin is saying, Nicol?
Nicol: He sounds like Jimmy Stewart.
Me: If Jimmy Stewart was having a stroke.
Sue: What would have happened if Milo had been a replacement companion for Jamie? Can you imagine what it would have been like to have had a companion that the audience hated and despised? Ha! Imagine that!
Nicol makes a swift exit as Sue and I plough on.
Sue: I wonder if Sorba is supposed to be Greek.
After a fairly entertaining prison break (entertaining in the sense that we didn’t want to chew our own arms off), the Doctor and his companions find themselves in an old-fashioned study.
Sue: It’s the old “let’s use some old set dressing and pretend we’re in the future” scam. It was clever the first time they did it but now it just looks cheap and desperate.
Me: Oh look, it’s the Loose Canon candle! I’ll miss that bloody candle.
Sue: Some of the dialogue is quite amusing but I’m finding it really difficult to engage with this story. Is there even a story? I’m completely lost.
And then they find, huddled in the darkness, Dom Issigri himself.
Me: It’s Karl Marx!
Sue: Santa Claus, surely?
The old man has gone completely doolally after years of incarceration (“at least he had plenty to read”) and it’s up to Milo to jog the poor man’s memory. There then follows a scene so incomprehensible, with so many accents (sometimes in the same sentence), that we simply give up and fall about laughing.
Just have a listen to this.
Sue: What’s the deal with the snake charmer music all of a sudden? Did Dudley Simpson ever see the episodes he was writing music for? It makes no sense.
I decide to pass the time by impersonating Madeleine Issigri (she manages to say the word “people” with three syllables), and her “Ha! Ha! Ha!” has me in stitches.
The episode ends with the Doctor caught in the blast generated by Milo’s ship taking off.
Me: It’s all gone a bit Moonraker.
Me: Well this is it – our very last recon. How do you feel about that?
Sue: Is that a trick question? How do you think I feel?
Me: Just think – 24 minutes from now we will have seen every single recon! Not many “fans” have done what we have done.
Sue: I still can’t believe we’ve nearly seen them all.
Me: (under my breath) Sort of.
Me: You probably don’t remember this, but back when we watched Marco Polo, we saw a condensed recon of a seven part story.
Sue: So we haven’t actually watched all of them? Hmmmm. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Me: No one will hold it against us and they would be insane to try. And I’ll ban their ****ing IP address if they post anything that mentions the M-word in the comments section. And if anyone so much as alludes to The Reign of Terror or The Ice Warriors, I’ll come to their house in the night and I’ll kill them.
Sue: Hang on a minute, how many recons have we skipped?
Me: Seven or eight. It’s complicated.
Sue: Maybe we should go back and watch them. If a job’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing right.
Me: Look, Terror of the Zygons will be released on DVD before we watch the Marco Polo reconstructions.
Sue: I don’t even know what that means. So are we going to go back or not?
Me: Let’s get through this one first.
The Doctor takes ages to recover from nearly being burnt to a crisp.
Sue: What would have happened if Troughton had regenerated at the end of The Space Pirates? Would this story suddenly be a classic?
Me: It would be embarrassing to end an era with a complete turkey.
Sue: Yeah, doing it to William Hartnell was bad enough.
This is getting tough now. It doesn’t help that the stills of Caven are, on the whole, entirely inappropriate. He’s barking out orders when he looks like he’s just cracked a particularly affable joke.
Sue: This is bad. I had hoped we’d really like it so we could confound everyone’s expectations. But I can’t. It’s total shit.
Me: I’m just surprised that Dom and Milo didn’t get their own spin-off series.
Sue: I’ve watched episodes of Bill and Ben: The Flowerpot Men that make more sense than this.
At one point Madeleine shouts (in that over-enunciated way of hers), “You’ve got about six minutes left!”.
Sue: Six minutes! We’re so close!
Me: Hang on in there, love. We can do it!
Nicol: Are you actually watching this or are you just counting down the seconds until it ends?
Me: Go away, Nicol.
She’s right, though. It doesn’t help that the episode is full of clocks.
Me: It. Just. Won’t. End.
Sue: What I don’t understand is this – when the actor turned up on the set to play Milo Clancy, why didn’t anyone pull him aside so they could gently point out no one would understand a word he said if he played it like that? That’s bad directing, producing, and acting. Take your pick.
Me: They should have realised that long before Gordon Gostelow reached the set. They rehearsed this for a whole week beforehand.
Sue: This was never rehearsed! Now you are just taking the piss.
And then, several hours later, The Space Pirates ends.
I reach behind my cushion for a strategically placed party popper. Well I would have done if I’d thought about it and planned ahead. Truth be told, we’re too exhausted to celebrate.
Sue: Well that was shit.
Me: And there you have it. I have now “experienced” every Doctor Who story made for television.
Sue: Except for Marco Polo.
Me: Yes, except for Marco Polo.
Sue: And the other two.
Me: Yes, I know!
Sue: It’s already starting to niggle the hell out of me.