Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 245: The Space Pirates, Episode One
I've often seen people complain about some of the Sixth Doctor stories, where it takes him a long time to actually get involved with the action. Revelation of the Daleks is the big one - the Doctor and Peri don't actually meet up with any of the guest cast until the second episode, having spent forty-five minutes roaming the snowy countryside and fighting zombies.
At least in that episode the Doctor is actually present, even if it is on the outskirts of the action! The TARDIS doesn't turn up in today's instalment until almost fifteen minutes in. I'm pretty sure that I'm right in saying this is the latest into a story that the Doctor ever arrives.
The time before the arrival of our heroes isn't all wasted, though, and you get the distinct impression that it may have been quite exciting. I know, that's not something that anyone has ever said about The Space Pirates. The thing is, if you're six years old and sitting down on a Saturday evening to watch Doctor Who, your disappointment at the lack of the Doctor is likely to be held off while you've got pirates roaming around in a space ship, blowing up all these beacons.
This is the point where I'd usually say 'and the tele snaps show us exactly how awesome/average/awful (delete as applicable) these sequences were', but by this stage, John Cura had finished providing his services due to failing health. Indeed, Cura died not long after this, between Episodes One and Two of The War Games. It means that The Space Pirates is one of very few stories for which we have absolutely no tele snaps, giving us little indication as to how things would have really looked.
Thankfully, we do have the destruction of one beacon preserved as a brief clip in the archives. It's not… well, it's not the best thing we've ever seen. There's something about the way that the station splits onto several nice, even chunks that puts me in mind of a wheel of cheese being cut, and that's probably not the effect they were aiming for…
Fittingly for our last story with missing episodes, the soundtrack feels like they're really going for it. Frazer Hines is back on narration duty and his opening line ('Far out in space, amongst the stars…') sets us up for a more richly detailed audio than usual. Not long afterwards, we get space described as a 'velvet, star-studded blackness', which sounds as much like a description of Hollywood than anything.
On the whole, though, it's a positive start. I'm not blown away, and the episode is little more than average for the programme at this point, but it's not the complete disaster that people always describe it. I imagine that things will go downhill before too long, but if it sticks like this all the way through, I think I can handle it!