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On their quest for the second segment of the Key to Time (which might
be disguised as pretty much everything), Doctor Who (Tom Baker), his
companion Romana (Mary Tamm) & their robot dog K9 (voice by John
Leeson) land the Doctor's timemachine the TARDIS (Time And Relative
Dimensions In Space) on the planet Calufrax, which, against all
expectations is not an icey & uninhabited piece of rock but a luch,
inhabited planet, & it seems the population here has no worries
because every time the economy goes bad, their leader, the ominous Captain
(Bruce Purchase) just announces a new golden age & rather miraculously
the mines fill up again with every raw material needed.
But why then do
armed guards patrol the planet at all times & erase everyone who dares
to think freely, & why by a means is their a rebel group, the
Mentiades, who try to fight thwe Captain with telepathic powers.
the Doctor is to find out, of course: Calufrax lies under the wraps of a
hollow planet called Zanak, which has the capacity to dematerialize &
materialize around planets to suck them dry of their raw materials - even
if they are inhabited, & the Captain even keeps the remainders of the
planets, lifeless pieces of rock, in his trophy room.
authority of course was never challenged, & the Mentiades, an
unorganized group, were never any danger as long as the captain could
persuade his people to hate them ... but now the Mentiades have a leader
in the Doctor, & the Doctor might know too much for comfort about the
workings of Zanak ...
But there are a few things even the Doctor
hasn't yet figured out: why is the Captain hiding his apparent scientific
genius behind the image of a thuggish pirate captain, & why is the
former queen of Zanak, Xanxia (vi Delmar) kept in suspended animation,
going through what seem to be the last seconds of her life in all
eternity. Could it be that the Captain's nurse (Rosalind Lloyd) is really
a projection of queen Xanxia who is keeping the Captain in check by some
advanced machinery & who needs enoromous energies (thus the
planet-sucking)to keep the projection stable, & could it be that the
Captain is hidingbehind his naive thug-persona to one day when she least
expects it strike against Xanxia ... ? Of course it's yes on both
But in the meantime, the Captain & his chief technician
Fibuli (Andrew Robertson) have deviced a machine to disable the Mentiades'
telepathic powers, and they have set the coordinates for their next
planet-jump ... to Earth !!!
The Doctor has only minutes to react, he
redirects some of the energy needed for the telepathy-damper into his
robot dog to give the Mentiades a bit of power, teleports his TARDIS to
the earth first to shield the planet against Zanak, & has the
Mentiades throw a spanner into the works (in the literal sense of the
word) of Zana's highly shielded materialisation-unit. So the planet jump
can't be made, the bridge is wrecked, Fibuli dies in the wreck & the
Captain & his nurse/queen Xanxia pretty much finish each other off.
which is now left to do for the Doctor & company is to blow up Zanac's
bridge to avoid it from planet hopping for good & tell its people they
are free. Then the Doc, Romana & K9 leave ...
& the segment of
the Key to time ?
It was Calufrax, the planet as a whole of course.
Pirate Planet, the first episode written for Doctor Who
by Douglas Adams, was shown, his radio-show Hitch Hikers Guide to the
Universe had already become a smashing sucess (it did first air in
spring 1978, Pirate Planet was shown in fall 1978 - in 1981 by the
way, the BBC would turn Hitch
Hikers Guide to the Galaxy into a miniseries, click
It is a good guess though that Adams has written it before Hitch
Hiker was broadcast ... (be that as it may of course, in 1979, Douglas
Adams, by then a success for Hitch hiker, did become Doctor Who's
script editor for one entire season.)
Taken on its own merits, Pirate
Planet is a fairly decent if not terribly exceptional science fiction
story, definitely written tongue in cheek (best example is maybe the
Captain's robot parrot [no pirate should go out without one], who in the
end fights the Doctor's robot dog) ... a direction that the show was in
the process of taking anyhow, not at least thanks to Tom Baker's
delightfully ham performances & stupid oneliners he frequently made up
on the spot. However, within the series, Pirate Planet is not among
the best or most memorable stories (which is not to say it's bad, 'cause
it isn't) ...
To say this episode was influenced by Hitch Hiker or
would be a precursor for Adams' later work (most notably the Dirk
Gently-books) would be stating a bit much perhaps, it is rather that
Adams fitted in quite well with the series' preferably off-beat stories of