Doctor Who: The Space Pirates (s06e06 pts. 1 – 6)

2 out of 5

Directed by: Michael Hart

This is a mostly reconstructed serial – 5 parts out of 6 – and the versions I watched, while well text-narrated, have horrible sound, making it difficult to follow along with the dialogue.  That certainly could have affected my take on the serial, but it’s not the first reconstruction I’ve watched with subpar audio, and this one seemed to grate on me more than usual; reading the wiki summary of the episodes, I wasn’t too far off from what I gathered of the plot, so I lend at least some merit to my merry complaints.

We open on some space pirates (like in the title!) blowing up space beacons and salvaging their parts to earn some mad pirate bucks.  I like Whos that dare to leave us away from the Docs’ company for a while, so the extended focus on the pirates (and the ‘Earth Space Corps’ chasing them) is nice, and shot with a kind of reserved patience that doesn’t make you expect Troughton and team to jump out from behind a corner soon; that is, we could very well be watching some other sci-fi series.  The pirates have a novel method of attaching rockets to the various blown up bits of the beacons and jetting them elsewhere; when the DW crew (with Jamie’s character in full, dunder-headed lout mode by this point) do materialize onboard another space beacon, it’s prior to blow-up.  They survive the blast, of course, but find that the TARDIS is now onboard another piece of the beacon.  Attempts to rewire the propulsion system to fly them back to their homebase (like why do they ever leave the TARDIS, since they always end up forcefully separated from it…) only make things worse.

This is all a pretty good setup.  The main pirate bad guy, Caven (Dudley Foster), is sort of a unique Who villain in that he’s just a bad dude, and is in it for the money – no world-domination plans; no secret alien life forms.  Just Caven, killing folk and wantin’ that almighty space dollar.

However, the story is already exhausted by this point.  We’re nary an episode in and we’ve pretty much learned all we will: the rest of the serial is just the Space Corps trying to track down the pirates, and the Doctor and companions tagging along for the ride.  Their role doesn’t seem integral here, purely incidental, making screentime with them seem rather baldly like running the clock (moreso than usual…), especially when one of Doc’s biggest contributions is to rig a Home Alone style trap when they’re kept prisoner by the pirates.  Smart thinkin’ with the marbles and greased floor, Doc, and yes, that’s the actual extent of his “invention.”  There is a valid twist down the road that helps justify how the pirates are able to stay a step ahead of the Corps, but this is backed up by a ridiculous twist that I’m not even clear why it was narrationally necessary – it just temporarily adds another annoying character to the cast – and a character doing the whole side-switching hop-step a bit too easily and dramatically.  (Though I like that the script remained logical with their ultimate fate at serial’s end.)

I mentioned “another” annoying character up there because I haven’t spoken to the primarily annoying one: Milo Clancey (Gordon Gostelow), a hoe-down consarnit old-fashioned space pilot who’s also wrapped up in this business, affecting what I’m guessing is supposed to be a stereotypical Old West-style American accent.  He’s acceptably amusing for a few minutes, but they milk his obnoxious ding-dang-a-roonie dialogue for all it’s worth, and he quickly becomes quite a chore to listen to.

And as a personal nit, I take issue with sci-fi / fantasy when it includes unnecessary world-building details to just make things seem “other” when they have no clear function.  This is hard to qualify, because it’s not that I expect some aside where I’m told why people all wear togas or something, but when there’s some mode of speaking or style of dress that just seems weird for weird’s sake, it stands out.  To wit: one character, the only female besides Zoe, wears this kind of metal hairdo on top of her regular hair.  It’s not a helmet; it looks like hair.  The men don’t wear it.  I spent the entire serial wondering what the fuck the purpose of that thing could be.  “It’s a fashion accessory” feels wrong, because she’s in a position of authority, and I can’t really fathom how / why that would be a part of her officious ensemble.  But I digress.

Enough interesting ideas get The Space Pirates off to a good start, and it’s kept moderately afloat thanks to its villain, but the majority of the serial feels like it treads water to get enough material for two episodes, not to mention six.