Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 246: The Space Pirates, Episode Two
I believe that I'm going a little bit against the grain when I say that I really enjoyed today's episode! It turns out that the visuals to The Space Pirates really do help it. I'm eve so pleased, because when I put the Lost in Time disc into the drive today I had to really fight myself to not select The Web of Fear Episode One from the menu instead.
The first thing to note is that, despite my complaints about the effects shots of the beacons exploding yesterday (which are housed on the same DVD, as a special feature), the spaceship models on show here are actually rather good. I'm somewhat surprised by the clarity of the shots, too - I thought all the stuff on the Lost in Time sets was unrestored, but they look really sharp. The designs of the spaceships are nothing particularly unusual, they're your standard sci-fi fare, but they look fab and they're filmed very nicely indeed. My only real complaint is that the background to all these bits is just solid black. Would it have killed them to poke a few pins through the backdrop and create some stars? I think it would really add to the effect.
Elsewhere, we've got the introduction of Milo Clancy to proceedings. He comes in for a bit of stick amongst Doctor Who fans (as do many members of the cast from this story) because of the accent, but you know what? I love him, too! Haha! He comes across as totally normal amongst all the high tech spaceship stuff on display. It's highlighted in one very simple moment when he gets a call to his ship, and rather than moving his breakfast, standing up and walking over to receive it, he simply shuffles his chair closer to where he needs to be. It seems like such a ridiculous, insignificant thing (and it is, really), but it adds something very real to the character.
His dialogue is all tailored in such a way that you can't help but enjoy his presence in a scene, too. It must be the kind of thing people talk about when they discuss Robert Holmes' writing being so good. My personal favourite has to be when Clancy - mid conversation with his captors - asks if he can blow his nose, or if that's an offence, too. It's the kind of sarcasm that you'd expect to get in this type of situation, but which most science fiction takes itself too seriously to include.
I also love that they've dressed him simply as an old west prospector. In The Seeds of Death, they set out to show us that we're in the future by making everyone where the same style of 'futuristic' uniform, and then mark out the Professor as being a bit of a rebel by giving him a kind of futuristic cardigan to wear over the top. There's a shot in today's episode when Clancy is surrounded by the crew of the Space Corps, and he looks so out of place by being dressed so casually.
If anything, it puts you on his side at this stage; all the other characters look ridiculous, playing at space cowboys with their ridiculous collars and uniforms. Clancy looks like he's just milling along, trying to get by and enjoying himself. It's only in the cliffhanger that we really turn against him, even though by they stage we've had it more-or-less confirmed to us that he's working with the pirates. Thankfully it gives an already great cliffhanger even more impact, when he simply walks in to the beacon and shoots Jamie.
Yesterday, I made a reference to Revelation of the Daleks and mused that people often complained about how long it took the Doctor and Peri to actually get involved in the action of that story, meeting up with the rest of the cast and such like. I only brought it up because it took the TARDIS so long to arrive in this story, and it seemed an apt comparison. Truth be told, I almost didn't mention it, because I knew someone would pipe up and complain that in that story it took them until the second episode to actually interact with our main guest characters.
Well this one's an even slower burner! Although the Doctor and his friends find themselves shot at by members of the Space Corps in Episode One, and then encounter Clancy making his way inside the beacon at the conclusion of today's episode, they still haven't gotten caught up with the main characters here. It's going to be Episode Three now before our regulars are really caught up with events, making this surely one of the longest lead ins for the Doctor ever.
In short: this is brilliant stuff. There was even a point when I thought the episode might be heading for an 8/10, but I'm afraid that anything that includes a woman wearing a wig made of metal isn't going to reach quite that high. It had to be said, though, it's tricky looking at that costume without picturing the ivory headpiece from Community.