The Space Pirates

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The Space Pirates
This is a big one: the last recons and the final missing piece in my own personal Doctor Who jigsaw. What could go wrong?
 

Me: We should probably tell our readers about your encounter with Michael Bublé.

Sue: There isn’t anything to tell. I was working with the backstage crew and you don’t mix with the talent. I was within a few feet of him but I didn’t speak to him.

Me: So you just haven’t met him yet? Boom-boom-tish!. Ay thang yew.

Sue: Never meet your heroes.

Me: I know. That’s why I made you speak to Tom Baker on QVC. Maybe I should have talked to Michael for you? Then we’d be even.

Sue: What would you talk to Mr Bublé about? I don’t think he even likes Doctor Who.

 

Episode One

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: OK, 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.

The Space PiratesMe: 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.

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Episode Two

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?

The Space PiratesISC’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.

The Space PiratesWhen 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.

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Episode Three

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.

The Space PiratesSue: 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.

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Episode Four

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: OK, 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.

Me: Excellent. We now have a reference point for every demographic.

Sue: I still think he looks like ***** *****.

Me: Yes, I know. But we are the only three people in the world who will get that joke.

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.

The Space PiratesSue 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.

Sue: Really?

Me: No.

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!

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Episode Five

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.

The Space PiratesAnd 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.

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Episode Six

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.

Sue: What?

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.

The Space PiratesThis 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. If they still used individual episode titles they would have called this one Watching Paint Dry or Waiting for a Kettle to Boil. To be frank, the last five minutes feel like twenty five.

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.

Sue: Hallelujah!

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.

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The Final Score: 1/10

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.

Me: OK, look, we’ll do them at some point. We’ll watch them just before Paul McGann or something.

Sue: It could be our Christmas Special.

Sue: Oh yes, I’m sure our readers would love that.

The experiment continues…
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Doctor Who – Lost in Time [DVD] [1963]

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Discussion

  1. Huw  April 11, 2012

    “Can you imagine what it would have been like to have had a companion that the audience hated and despised? Ha! Imagine that!” Is Sue clairvoyant? She’s clearly foreseeing the rise of the Appaling Amy!

    • Dan  April 11, 2012

      I’m sure he has someone else in mind. Amy’s great!

    • PolarityReversed  April 11, 2012

      Hmmm. Begging to differ, I really don’t see why the reboot era insists on irritating, loudmouthed, self-obsessed termagants as companions. Often with an emasculated drip as a love interest, whose only chance at winning the affection of the aforementioned trout is by becoming as annoying as she is.

      Strikes me that in an effort, quite rightly, to do away with the “screaming damsel menaced by tentacles” companion, nu-Who has veered off to an equally silly extreme.

      Sorry Dan, only my opinion. Can’t wait til they dredge the Pond.

  2. Dan  April 11, 2012

    I don’t find her irritating or loud-mouthed, obviously…

    Anyone I know Neil doesn’t mean her…

    • Huw  April 12, 2012

      I have to say that I completely agree with PR. And I find it weird that it’s only on the Web that I find anyone who likes Amy. There are lots of people I know who are Who-vians, and we’ll argue about all sorts of things, but we all agree that Amy is dire. Personally I’m hoping that she will die horribly on screen to rule any possibility of her ever coming back. The only companion who was in her league for being annoying was Adric, and look what happened to him. (It’s a shame Rory is going though. He has real potential, when he’s not being weighed down by his wife.)

  3. Dan  April 12, 2012

    Oh right I’m in an an anti-Amy thread under The Space Pirates prompted by a comment about a different companion. That’s it from me.

    • Dan  April 12, 2012

      (Except to say I’ve never met anyone who dislikes her.)

      • PolarityReversed  April 12, 2012

        Absolutely no offense intended Dan. Really.
        Just feel that classic-era companions could be well-drawn, intelligent, independent and brave women without brassily “oi”ing their way round the universe. And we weren’t constantly being asked to take an interest in their tedious relatives, squeezes and friends. The whole soap opera element to NuWho is a big misfire for me.
        Like I said, just my opinion and you’re absolutely entitled to yours.

        Friends? I hope.

        Meanwhile, back at the topic – does anyone have anything to say about Space Pirates? Afraid I don’t.

  4. Dan  April 13, 2012

    Of course we are.

    I think there were more comments on the old location of the blog, but they’ve not been migrated across yet.

  5. Huw  April 13, 2012

    Dan, really hope I haven’t offended you. My experience is different from yours (and for Karen Gillian’s sake I rather hope you’re right), and I enjoy exploring ideas with people who are interested in the same things that I am. There aren’t enough of them around! As for people who are interested AND agree with me, well that’s a much smaller group. MUCH.

    To prove my point, I don’t completely agree with PR (may I call you that?) either. In the Ecceleston season – which I’m sure well agree should NOT be called Season One! – I liked the fact that Rose had family and friends who worried about her when she was gone. That was good, because we hadn’t seen it before. But, like many elements from then, it has now been repeated until I’m sick to death of soap opera domesticity, and comanions who fall in love with the Doctor. That’s why I’d like Rory, or some other blokes, to stay around, Can we have companions who are good mates, who care for each other, support each other, but who don’t fancy each other?

  6. Dan  April 13, 2012

    Not at all and I think I might have over-reacted a bit, sorry.

    I don’t mind the new elements in the new series but then I’m very relaxed about it. When it started I hadn’t seen the Classic in a long time and assumed that the new was better in every way. But actually the old series often had great writing, design (not the most important thing anyway), and acting. At the same time I don’t like everything about the new series by a long shot, to the extent that I’m glad that I’m now so very relaxed about it! Every era old and new is patchy (with some general trends up and down), and it seems like Doctor Who will always be like that, not for just one reason, like the BBC not taking it seriously for example, but for a number of reasons, which are probably to do with budget, turnover, and keeping it fresh while true to the spirit of it.

    I like the initial mystery and intensity of Amy’s life – the things Rory and Amy go through are farcically extreme (which is intentional I think) – and I do find her quite humourous. It doesn’t look like Sue was referring to anyone, unless I’m missing something and Amy is really unpopular, but she always seems to feature near the top of polls and people I know seem to like her, not that I’ve asked everyone. But it didn’t make me think of Adric either, though now I can how that would fit…

  7. Chris Too-old-to-watch  April 13, 2012

    One of the great strengths of the classic series was the variation in the companions – not necessarily excellently realized – but always at least an attempt at a different background and character. Compare Barbara, Polly, Zoe, Sarah-Jane, Leela and Romana (not to mention Ben and Harry for exanmple): yes they screamed at various monsters, but at least an attempt was made to differentiate between them.
    With NewWho (apart from Bernard Cribbins) all the companions have had a “crush” on the Doctor, all have had weird family backgrounds, and all have been at on time or another “the most important person in the universe/galaxy/existence.” A successful formula does not need to be repeated ad nauseam to show how clever was that original idea.
    As for Amy, I admit I loved the character at the start, but I think should have been disposed of once her story arc had been completed (destruction of reality/Riversong parentage). I don’t really think we need her for the next series (however long or short that may be).

    • Huw  April 13, 2012

      Completely agree with the need for variety. There are lots of elements I loved in the Eccleston season, which have now been done to death. Could we have some new ideas please, before the show becomes a parody of itself?

      Two other thoughts 1) What do I have to do to get a personal avatar? 2) We’ve moved a long way away from “The Space Pirates”. Is that OK, or is there somewhere else we should be having this converation?

      • PolarityReversed  April 13, 2012

        People here seem to use Gravatar – if you click on one the avatars it’ll lead you to a site where you can put up your own pic.

        Just by way of a PR exercise, I’ve enjoyed the exchange here, but I do agree that we’ve rather been playing in the sandpit while the parkie’s on holiday. I suspect Neil is still watching, but has sworn off involvement for a bit. And I reckon the fact that people are continuing to comment on WiS indicates the affection and appreciation people feel for this blog.

        For my part, I’ll say no more and look forward to seeing you guys when our hosts’ forces are again summoned into corporeal existence in this house…

        • Huw  April 14, 2012

          PR – thank you for the info about Gravatar. As you can see I’ve used it to pay homage to my favourite Doctor.

  8. Dan  April 14, 2012

    I wonder if the new series (I can’t call it NewWho or NuWho…sorry!) is boxed in to some degree now? Would a big change in the formula be looked on favourable by senior management given the huge market and the rise of the show in America? If a show runner did decide to drop the soap opera element you would need you something else to replace it? I also think it’s good that the companion has a developed back story but agree that they don’t need to fancy the Dr.. has it taken some of the mystery and distance from Matt Smith’s Dr, fawning over River Song?

    It seems appropriate we have this discussion under The Space Pirates. Who is going to mind that we take it over? Troughton is my joint favorite Dr too. I had forgotten about my avatar here until the first comment I made magically made it appear…