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Doctor Who - The Pirate Planet

episode 99

UK 1978
produced by
Graham Williams for BBC
directed by Pennant Roberts
starring Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, John Leeson (voice), Bruce Purchase, Rosalind Lloyd, Andrew Robertson, Vi Delmar, David Sibley, Ralph Michael, Primi Townsend, David Warwick, Adam Kurakin
written by Douglas Adams, music by Dudley Simpson, script editor: Anthony Read

Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Tom Baker), Doctor Who (classic series), K9, Key to Time storyarc

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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.

Soon 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.

The Captains 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 accounts.

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.

All 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.


When 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 here).

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 the time.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD