The Space Pirates is the penultimate story in season six of Doctor Who. It is also the penultimate story for the second Doctor, who happens to be my favourite Doctor. It is the only one of his stories I have never watched. Until now.
When Doctor Who returned to BBC1 in 2005 I consumed as much of it as I could. One such way was through the photonovels on the BBC’s Doctor Who website. They are a sort of online book, made primarily from telesnaps and text depicting what is going on and what is being said. They were created for stories that have episodes missing. They either do not exist or only partly exist. I passed over the first Doctor’s stories and instead worked my way through all the second Doctor ones. I came to adore this Doctor and Jamie before I had even seen a single episode of theirs. But The Space Pirates is the only one of the second Doctor’s missing/partly missing stories that has no telesnaps and therefore has no photonovel.
Some years ago I began a ‘Whoathon’, watching all of Doctor Who‘s episodes from the start. This eventually took me through any second Doctor stories I had missed. I reached The Space Pirates… and skipped it to watch The War Games instead! I was dreading it and the knowledge that it was 5/6 telesnaps completely put me off. That knowledge is the only concrete information I actually have of the story. What I’ve heard is that it’s terrible, not worth anyone’s time and should be brushed under the carpet to be forgotten about.
It’s time though. If I am to ever go on to reach the fun times of U.N.I.T., Bessie and Section Leader Shaw (not forgetting – colour!), I need to get my final telesnap story over with. One last time, let’s run.
It isn’t terrible. I can say that at least. It is not a terrible episode. However the majority of it is rather dull. It takes fifteen minutes – FIFTEEN MINUTES – for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to show up. These fifteen minutes stretch. The Space Pirates is a great title for a story. It sounds thrilling and exciting. You imagine the 26th century version of Captain Hook perhaps, mowing down Space Corps personnel with a blaster gun or swiping at them with a laser sword, his neon eye patch secretly scanning for valuable cargo. This is not what we are given. Instead it’s a couple of blokes in dodgy headgear blowing up satellites in order to steal the ‘argonite’ they are built from. The reconstruction I watched has a lot of scenes with spaceships moving slowly in space and men in spacesuits floating as they mess with the satellites. There is also a lot of time at a Space Corps’ ship’s bridge where the crew watch blobs on screens and the captain makes the odd announcement over his PA system.
The arrival of the TARDIS crew is a welcome respite from all of this. They arrive on an unmanned satellite that has recently been manned and shortly afterwards gets attacked by pirates. The crew themselves get shot at but in the end find themselves trapped somewhere, ensuring they never have to exchange a single word of dialogue with any of this week’s guest actors. I can’t believe our three lead actors have been given so little to do in an episode as boring as this one. I’m very much hoping none of them need to go on holiday in this story as it’s going to need all the help it can get to keep it going. Six episodes already feels far too long.
There have been few sets so far as it has primarily been ‘space’ and ‘the bridge’. The scenes on the satellite, Alpha 4, feel very claustrophobic though. The two pirates make reference to others with them but it’s no surprise they aren’t seen on screen as you couldn’t have fit them in the room. As Alpha 4 looks to have been blown up at the end of the episode I’m hoping the action (although this definitely seems the wrong choice of word) moves to bigger or at least better sets.