Nicol is a huge Douglas Adams fan (her nickname for me when she was growing up was Slartibartfast), so it was inevitable that she would join us for this one (although getting people to pester her on Twitter definitely helped).
Sue: So how did Doctor Who get their hands on Douglas Adams?
Me: He wasn’t famous at the time. In fact, Doctor Who 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 Mr Fibuli is reporting to his very impatient captain.
Sue: Oh look, it’s Leo Sayer’s dad.
The Captain has a robotic parrot on his shoulder.
Sue: I bet Tom Baker was jealous of that.
Sue: He wanted a parrot for a companion. Neil told me.
I sit back as Sue takes 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, on the other hand, is very, very angry.
Sue: Did he just shout, “Balls!”?
Me: No, he shouted, “Baubles!”
Sue: I can’t understand a word he’s saying.
The Captain is covered in cybernetic enhancements.
Nicol: No wonder you can’t understand him, he’s chewing on a slab of metal!
Sue: He looks like the Borg. I thought the Cybermen were a bit like the Borg, but this is taking the piss.
This captain seems to be obsessed with mining.
Sue: Oh, change the bloody record. Every other week, it’s the same story: mine, mine, mine, mine, mine…
The Captain makes an important public service announcement to the citizens of Zanak.
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) there were loads of extras standing around doing nothing, and yet here, when you need people to actually do something, they get this shambles instead.
Sue: That woman with the red hair can’t even shout hooray on cue. She’s way out.
A group of hooded figures are monitoring 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 to be so cynical?
Nicol: Whenever I watch an episode of Doctor Who, the Doctor seems to have a new companion. He’s really getting through them.
The Doctor and Romana disagree on the best way to fly the TARDIS.
Sue: I love Romana. You show him, love.
Nicol: This is very similar to that bit in the new series. You know, when River Song demonstrates to the Doctor how to fly his TARDIS properly.
Sue: Are you saying the Moff has 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, even though it should have materialised on the planet Calufrax.
Sue: Is K9 only allowed on planets with flat surfaces? I bet we never see him on location. He’s an indoor dog, isn’t he? Maybe they should have given the Doctor a robotic cat instead. That would have made more sense.
The Doctor tries to investigate the disappearance of an entire planet, but the locals decide to ignore him.
Sue: Is he invisible? Is this a parallel universe? Is he out of phase with time?
Me: No, this is supposed to be funny.
Romana, on the other hand, has no trouble making contact with the natives. She even offers them jelly babies in exchange for information.
Sue: I like the role reversal. 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.
Zanak’s streets are littered with diamonds and rubies, but that’s nothing compared to the chunk of discarded voolium the Doctor finds later – it’s one of the most precious stones in the entire galaxy.
Sue: Really? It looks like a lump of snot to me.
And then we get our first good look at a Mentiad.
Sue: He’s definitely been up all night. What are this lot called again?
Me: The Mentiads.
Sue: Oh. I thought they said, “the men in rags”.
Meanwhile, 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 when 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 Zanak’s security forces for the first time, Nicol and Sue demonstrate they have a one-track mind.
Nicol: There’s a very strong S&M vibe here.
Sue: The costume designer on this show was obsessed, Nicol. There’s a lot of bondage gear in Doctor Who. You can’t move for it.
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 were shit!
Nicol: This is rubbish. But you can’t blame Douglas Adams. This isn’t his fault. I bet it looked fine on paper.
The Captain continues to berate Mr Fibuli.
Sue: They’re a great double-act, these two. They spark off each other really well.
The Mentiads break into Pralix’s house, and the episode concludes with the Doctor being assaulted by their combined psychic force.
Sue: That was a terrible cliffhanger. They had two goes at it and it still didn’t work.
Me: How are you managing so far, Nicol?
Nicol: It’s all right. It isn’t Douglas’ best work, that’s for sure, 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: And now it’s turned into Grease.
When Sue and Nicol start signing, “We go together like rama-lama-lama-ka-dinga-da-dinga-dong”, 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 that high.
When Romana is introduced to the Captain, she refers to herself 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 immediately sticks her nose in the Captain’s affairs.
Sue: This isn’t as funny as the last story. And there’s too much going on.
Nicol: I like the fact that it’s busy. It doesn’t stand still long enough for you to be bored by anything.
When the Doctor uses an inertia corridor to transport him to the Captain’s bridge, he promises never to be cruel to an electron in a particle accelerator again.
Nicol: Hitchhikers rip-off!
Me: I think he’s allowed to plagiarise himself, Nic.
The Doctor and Romana investigate a nearby mine shaft.
Sue: It’s Horden colliery! They haven’t made any effort to make this look futuristic or sci-fi – it’s just a mine that was probably on strike the day they filmed this.
Our heroes enter the bowels of Zanak.
Me: Have you worked it out yet, Sue?
Sue: Is it something to do with parallel universes? Or do they keep travelling backwards in time so the empty mines fill up again, which then creates a time paradox? Am I close?
The Doctor reveals the awful truth: Zanak eats planets.
Sue: Ooh, I didn’t see that coming. That’s mental.
Nicol: That’s Douglas Adams.
The Doctor and Romana head 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.
Sue: Well, I could definitely watch another one.
Nicol: I couldn’t. I love Douglas Adams but I’ve had enough for one night, thanks.
If there’s one problem I face 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’d use to treat thrush.
Sue isn’t impressed with Pralix’s new Mentiad look.
Sue: If you took Dave Hill from Slade, and 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 isn’t a great look, to be honest.
The Doctor tells Romana that each time Zanak mines a planet, there’s a fantastic blast of psychic energy. Nicol laughs.
Sue: Is that bad science, love?
Nicol: It isn’t bad science, it’s made-up science. There is a difference, you know.
Sue and Nicol can’t agree on who the Captain reminds them of the most.
Sue: He’s half-man, half-Darth Vader.
Nicol: No, he’s half-man, half-Kanye West.
Nicol: Sorry, Doctor Who fans 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’s the archetypal Douglas Adams’ villain. He reminds me of the Vogon captain from Hitchhiker’s. He just needs to write some poetry.
An unconscious Doctor dreams of scolding former companions.
Sue: Hey, the Doctor is dreaming about Leela. I’m not sure if that’s sad or 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 guided tour of his mummified planet collection. The Doctor is appalled.
Sue: I’ve never seen the Doctor behave like this before. I can really believe that he’s genuinely pissed off. Tom Baker must really love this script.
The Doctor is attacked by the Captain’s Polyphase Avatron. But…
Nicol: K9 to the rescue!
The robotic pets fight it out.
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. I don’t know. Maybe the kids liked it.
While K9 keeps the Captain’s pet at bay, the Doctor learns 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’s a stunner when she has her teeth in.
Sue and Nicol: Yay!
K9 returns with the Avatron stuck to his mouth.
Sue: Good boy, K9!
Nicol: Why can’t our dog do that? Our lawn is littered with stupid birds and Buffy barely notices them.
The Doctor returns the inert pet to the Captain.
Sue: But if it’s electronic, surely he could just fix it?
Me: It’s an ex-parrot. That parrot is no more. It has ceased to be.
Nicol: It’s joined the choir invisible!
Sue: I walked straight into that, didn’t I?
The episode concludes with the Doctor forced to walk the plank.
Sue: This is getting a bit silly, now.
Nicol: Yep, 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’s he going to get out of that?
Nicol: Don’t worry, Romana will catch him in her air car.
The Doctor – who used a holographic projector to fake his own death (obviously) – reveals that the Captain’s nurse isn’t who she appears to be.
Sue: I knew there was something funny about her.
Me: Of course you did, dear.
The Mentiads get into a fight with some guards, and the Mentiads’ leader throw rocks at them with his mental powers.
Nicol: He’s well pleased with that. Hey, look at me, I can throw rocks with the power of my mind! How cool am I?
Romana grabs a gun and shoots a guard in the face.
Sue: Doctor Who shouldn’t do gun-fights. They never work, and they don’t suit the programme.
It becomes clear that the Captain is nothing more than a puppet dictator who’s controlled by his nurse, who is actually a projection of Queen Xanxia. Please keep up at the back.
Me: You must admit that is a clever twist.
Nicol: Yeah, make the woman evil, why don’t you?
Sue: I didn’t see it coming. But then again, I couldn’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 tale about dropping apples on Isaac Newton’s head.
Nicol: I love how the apple in that story was totally insignificant when it came to the discovery of gravity. Thank God for that.
The Doctor spouts some serious technobabble, which Sue can’t follow and Nicol can’t take seriously, that results in the screen pulsating rapidly as the TARDIS and Zanak attempt to materialise around Earth at the same time.
Nicol: This is hurting my eyes. Tell me when it’s over.
Don’t worry, I made sure she didn’t miss the psychic spanner.
Nicol: Oh dear. That is really bad.
Sue: It’s shit!
Me: You think so? You should have seen the original!
Sue: Is this a new special effect? Was the original effect even 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 by this development.
Sue: This happened in the last story. Do all the villains in 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’m completely lost. Nicol, what does this mean?
Nicol: Don’t look at me!
Sue: It sounds plausible.
Nicol: It sounds like Douglas is 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 the ship with explosives.
Sue: That felt like a very gratuitous explosion to me. So is the queen dead, then?
The Doctor punches the air and the theme music kicks in.
Sue: Hey! I wanted to see them turn that planet into the Key to Time!
Nicol: What the hell is the Key to Time?
Sue: I’m very disappointed. It was too confusing. The ending felt like a massive cop-out – like they’d run out of time and had to make it 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, but a mess nevertheless. The acting was all over the place, too, although 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.