Nicol is a huge fan of Douglas Adams (when she was growing up, her nickname for me was Slartibartfast), so it was inevitable that she would join us for this one; getting people to pester her on Twitter certainly helped.
Sue: How did Doctor Who get their hands on Douglas Adams?
Me: Well, he wasn’t famous at the time, In fact, some of Doctor Who‘s fans were dismayed when they heard that a comedian had been hired to write for the show.
Nicol: Idiots. He’s a genius.
The story begins on the bridge of a spaceship, where a nervous man named Mr Fibuli is reporting to a very impatient Captain.
Sue: It’s Leo Sayer’s dad.
This particular Captain has a robotic parrot on his shoulder.
Sue: I bet Tom Baker was jealous.
Sue: He wanted a parrot for a companion. Neil told me.
I sit back and let Sue take custody of Doctor Who‘s lore for a bit.
Sue: It was either that or a talking cabbage. Tom Baker is a bit mad, you see.
Nicol: You don’t say.
The Captain is very, very angry.
Sue: Did he just shout “Balls!” at Mr Sayer?
Me: No, he just shouted “Baubles!” at Mr Fibuli, but you’re close.
Sue: I can’t understand what he’s saying. He’s booming too much.
The Captain turns to the camera, revealing to his cybernetic features to us.
Nicol: No wonder you can’t understand him, he’s chewing on slab of metal.
Sue: He’s the Borg! I thought the Cybermen were a bit like Borg, but this is just taking the piss.
The Captain is obsessed with mining.
Sue: Not mining again! Change the bloody record. Every other week, it’s mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.
The Captain makes a planet-wide announcement to the citizens of Zanak. He tells them to prepare for a new age of prosperity.
Nicol: Worst crowd scene ever.
Me: It’s supposed to be a random street corner, not a free concert in Hyde Park.
Nicol: Look, the last time I saw Doctor Who (Underworld Part Four – Ed.) they had loads of extras standing around doing nothing at all, and here, when you need loads of people to do something, they get this shambles instead.
Sue: That woman with the red hair can’t even shout hooray at the right time. She’s way out.
Elsewhere, a group of hooded figures are monitoring one of the faces in this “crowd”.
Sue: They should have got this lot to double up.
Nicol: They probably did. That’s why they’re wearing hoodies – it’s so you don’t notice them standing in the street at the same time.
How did I raise someone so cynical?
Meanwhile, on the TARDIS.
Nicol: Whenever I watch an episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor has another companion. He’s really getting through them.
The Doctor and Romana get into a spat about the best way to fly the TARDIS.
Sue: I bloody love Romana. You show him, love.
Nicol: This is very similar to that bit in the new series. You know, when River Song shows the Doctor how to fly his TARDIS properly.
Sue: Are you saying the Moff plagiarised Douglas Adams?
Me: Everybody plagiarises Douglas Adams.
Nicol: Well, if you are going to steal, steal from the best.
The TARDIS materialises on the planet Zanak, when it should have materialised on Calufrax.
Sue: Is K9 only allowed out on planets with flat surfaces? I bet we never see him out on location. He’s an indoor dog, isn’t he? Maybe they should have given the Doctor a robot cat instead; it would have made more sense.
The Doctor investigates the disappearance of an entire planet, but the locals choose to ignore him.
Sue: Is he invisible? Is this a parallel universe? Is he out of phase with time?
Me: No, it’s just a bit of comedy.
Romana has no trouble making contact with the natives; she even offers a jelly baby to one so she can extract information from him.
Sue: I like the role reversal, here. It’s very funny. Is the Doctor going to be the assistant in this one? I bet Tom Baker wasn’t very happy about that.
The Doctor finds handfuls of diamonds and rubies lying around in the street. But that’s nothing compared to the chunk of voolium he finds discarded nearby. It is one of the most precious stones in the entire galaxy.
The Doctor: People have murdered for that beauty.
Sue: Really? It looks like a lump of snot.
And then we get our first good look at a Mentiad.
Sue: He’s definitely had a late night. What are this lot called again?
Me: The Mentiads.
Sue: Oh. I thought they said “the men in rags”.
Meanwhile, in nearby house, a young man named Pralix is ranting and raving in his sleep as his grandfather and sister look on helplessly.
Sue: It’s like that scene in Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor’s parents make him go cold turkey.
Nicol: He’s staring at a baby crawling across the ceiling as we speak.
When we encounter the security forces of Zanak for the first time, Nicol and Sue have a one-track mind:
Nicol: There’s a very strong S&M vibe here.
Sue: The costume designer on this show was completely obsessed, Nicol. There’s a lot of bondage gear in Doctor Who. You can’t move for it sometimes.
Out on location, the Mentiads and Zanak’s security forces are engaged in a one-sided battle.
Sue: How can they miss their targets from that range? Even UNIT got closer than that and they’re shit.
Nicol: This is rubbish. But you can’t blame Douglas Adams for that. It isn’t his fault. I bet it looked fine on paper.
The Captain continues to browbeat Mr Fibuli.
Sue: They are a great double-act. They spark off each other really well.
The Mentiads break into Pralix’s house, and the episode concludes with the Doctor being subdued by their psychic force.
Sue: That was a terrible cliffhanger. They had two goes at it and it still didn’t work.
Me: How are you both managing so far?
Nicol: It’s alright. It’s not his best work, but it has its moments.
Sue: I’m a bit confused. Actually, I haven’t got the faintest idea what’s going on.
Romana is arrested and taken to a waiting air car.
Sue: It’s Bully’s star prize – a speedboat!
Nicol: A mid-life crisis speedboat by the look of it. Look at that red leather interior.
The air car takes off.
Sue: It’s turned into Grease now.
Sue and Nicol start signing “We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong” and I bury my head in my hands.
Sue: This reminds me of Star Wars. The architecture of the city looks like Tunisia, and they definitely had a car like this, it just didn’t go so high.
Romana is brought before the Captain and she introduces herself to him as a Time Lord.
Sue: See, she’s a Time Lord. None of that Time Lady rubbish you came out with the other day.
Romana starts sticking her nose into the Captain’s affairs.
Sue: This isn’t as funny as the last story. There’s far too much going on and I’m very confused.
Nicol: I like the fact that it’s busy. It doesn’t stand still long enough for you to get bored with anything.
The Doctor is accompanied by a young, idealistic rebel named Kimus to the Captain’s lair. At one point, the Doctor uses an inertia corridor to transport him to the bridge.
The Doctor: I’ll never be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again!
Nicol: Hitchhikers rip-off!
Me: I think he’s allowed to plagiarise himself.
The Doctor and Romana eventually end up investigating a nearby mine shaft.
Sue: It’s Horden colliery! They haven’t made any attempt to make this look futuristic or sci-fi – it’s just a mine that was probably out on strike the day they were filming there.
Our heroes descend into the bowels of Zanak.
Me: Have you worked it out yet?
Sue: Is it something to do with parallel universes? Or do they keep travelling back in time so the mines fill up again, which then creates a time paradox? Am I close?
The Doctor reveals the truth: Zanak eats planets.
Sue: Ooh, I didn’t see that coming. That’s mental.
Nicol: That’s Douglas Adams.
The Doctor and Romana make their way back to the mine’s entrance but they are intercepted by Pralix, who is now a fully fledged Mentiad.
Sue: I still haven’t got a clue what this lot have to do with anything.
The credits roll.
Sue: Well, I could watch another one.
Nicol: I couldn’t. I love Douglas Adams as much as the next person but I’ve had enough for one night, thanks.
If there’s one problem I have watching Doctor Who with Sue and Nicol, it’s the amount of singing that’s involved. All it takes is a character to say something innocent like “good vibrations” and there’s simply no stopping them.
Sue: Why do all the planets in this story sound like pharmaceutical products? Zanak sounds like something you’d take for heartburn, while Calufrax sounds like something you might use to treat thrush.
Nicol: I want to know why they’re playing Connect Four at the back of the ship.
Sue isn’t impressed with Pralix’s new look as Mentiad.
Sue: If you took Dave Hill from Slade and you cut his fringe off after he’d taken loads of speed and hadn’t slept for several days, that’s what you’d be left with. It’s not a great look.
The Doctor tells Romana that each time Zanak mines a planet, there’s a fantastic blast of psychic energy.
Sue: Is that bad science, love?
Nicol: It isn’t bad science, it’s made-up science. There’s a difference.
Sue and Nicol can’t agree on who the Captain reminds them of…
Sue: He’s half-man, half-Darth Vader.
Nicol: No, he’s half-man, half-Kanye West.
Nicol: Sorry, Doctor Who fans probably won’t know who Kanye West is, or what kind of glasses he wears. Look it up.
Thankfully, she draws another parallel to something Doctor Who fans will be familiar with:
Nicol: He is the archetypal Adams’ villain. He reminds me of the Vogon captain from Hitchhiker’s. He just needs some poetry and he’d be away.
An unconscious Doctor is chained to a pillar; in his dreams, he’s scolding his former companion for her penchant for janus thorns.
Sue: Hey, the Doctor is dreaming about Leela. I’m not sure if that’s touching or a bit pervy.
Romana and Mula (Pralix’s sister) join forces with the Mentiads.
Nicol: They look like the women in Abba.
Sue: Benny and Bjorn have really left themselves go, then.
The Captain gives the Doctor a tour of his mummified planet collection. The Doctor is appalled.
Sue: I’ve never seen the Doctor act like this before. I really believe that he’s seriously pissed off. Tom Baker must really love this script.
As the Captain departs, the Doctor starts throwing shapes.
Sue: What the hell is he doing now?
I’m pretty certain that Doctor Who fans won’t have to look that up.
The Doctor is attacked by the Captain’s Polyphase Avitron. But –
Nicol: K9 to the rescue!
The robotic pets get into a fight.
Nicol: The parrot is spraying the place with electronic bird poo.
Sue: The parrot is the only thing I don’t like about this story. It’s taking the pirate theme a bit too far. Maybe the kids liked it, I don’t know.
Me: Once again, I have very sketchy memories of this one. I can remember the basic imagery but that’s about it.
While K9 keeps the Captain’s pet at bay, the Doctor and Kimus discover that the evil Queen Xanxia has been suspended in time.
Me: They paid this actress extra cash to take her false teeth out.
Me: Compensation for her not looking her best, I suppose.
Sue: Yeah, cos she was a stunner when she had her teeth in, wasn’t she?
Sue and Nicol: Yay!
K9 returns with the Avitron stuck to his mouth.
Sue: Good boy, K9!
Nicol: He’s a retriever. Why can’t you do that, Buffy? Our front lawn is covered with stupid birds and you barely even notice them.
The Doctor returns the inert weapon to the Captain.
Sue: But it’s electronic. Surely he could just fix it?
Me: It is an ex-parrot. This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be!
Nicol: He’s joined the choir invisible!
Sue: I walked straight into that.
Talking of walking, the episode concludes with the Doctor being forced to walk the plank.
Sue: This is getting a bit silly, now.
Nicol: That’s Douglas Adams, too.
The Doctor plunges a thousand feet to his death.
Sue: On second thoughts, that was a pretty good cliffhanger. How he is going to get out of that?
Nicol: Romana will catch him in her air car. It’s just like Star Wars, this.
The Doctor – who was using a holographic projector to fake his own death – reveals that the Captain’s nurse isn’t what she appears to be.
Sue: I knew there was something funny about her.
Me: Of course you did, dear.
Outside, the Mentiads get into a fight with some guards. The Mentiad’s leader uses his powers to throw rocks at them.
Nicol: He is well pleased with that. Hey, look at me, I can throw rocks with the power of my mind! How cool am I?
Unfortunately, one of these guards has the audacity to not only to avoid the rocks, but to shoot straight, as well. The Mentiads take their eye off the ball and one of their number pays the ultimate price.
Sue: Bloody hell, someone actually hit something. There’s a first.
Romana grabs a gun and shoots the guard in the face.
Sue: Doctor Who shouldn’t really do gun fights. They never work and it doesn’t really suit the programme.
It becomes clear that the Captain is nothing more than a puppet dictator, controlled by his nurse, who is actually a projection of Queen Xanxia.
Me: You must admit that it’s a very clever twist.
Nicol: Yeah, make the woman evil, why don’t you.
Sue: I didn’t see it coming. But then again, I can’t see anything coming in this story.
The rest of the episode is punctuated with laughter – the scene where some guards are thrown out of an inertia corridor goes down particularly well, as does the Doctor’s tall tale which includes him dropping apples on Isaac Newtons’ head.
Nicol: I love how the apple in that story was insignificant when it came to the discovery of gravity. Thank God.
The Doctor spouts some technobabble, which Sue can’t follow and Nicol can’t take seriously, and this eventually results in the screen pulsing rapidly as the TARDIS and Zanak attempt to materialise around planet Earth at the same time.
Nicol: This is starting to hurt my eyes. Tell me when it’s over.
She doesn’t miss the psychic spanner, though.
Nicol: Oh dear. That is really bad.
Sue: It’s shit!
Me: You think? You should have seen the original.
Sue: Is this a new special effect? Was the original effect worse? How could it have been worse? Show me the original.
Me: I can’t. They didn’t include it on the DVD.
Sue: WHAT? I bet the fans went mental.
The bridge explodes and Mr Fibuli is killed. The Captain is completely devastated.
Sue: This happened in the last story. Do all the villains this season have love affairs with their right-hand men?
Nicol: I thought homoeroticism only came into Doctor Who when Russell T Davies took over?
The Captain is killed by his nurse before he can turn on her.
Sue: I can’t believe I actually feel sorry for the big oaf.
The Doctor comes up with a cunning plan which involves hyperspatial force fields and inverted gravity fields.
Sue: Okay, I am completely lost. Nicol, what does this all mean?
Nicol: Don’t look at me!
Sue: It sounds plausible.
Nicol: It sounds like he’s up against a deadline and he’s making it up.
Whatever the Doctor’s plan entails, it works perfectly, and the episode concludes with the Doctor rigging up the Captain’s ship with high explosives.
Sue: That felt like a very gratuitous explosion. Is the Queen dead, then?
The Doctor punches the air and the theme music kicks in.
Sue: Hey! I want to see them turn the planet into the Key to Time!
Nicol: What the hell is the Key to Time?
Sue: I’m disappointed. It started well but in the end it was too confusing. The ending felt like a massive cop-out, like they’d run out of time and they had to make sometime up, and while some of the ideas were great, there were far too many of them. It was a bit of a mess, really. An imaginative mess. The acting was all over the place, too, but I did like the Captain and his mate. It was above average, I suppose. But only just.
Nicol: Six sounds about right. It was more entertaining than the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film, I’ll give it that. Did Douglas Adams have anything else to do with Doctor Who?
Me: Meet us back here in a fortnight.