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5 September 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 248: The Space Pirates, Episode Four

Dear diary,

As anyone who's been reading these entries for a while will know, I'm really not the biggest fan of missing episode recons. For one reason or another, they usually fail to hold my attention, and the ticker-tape descriptions of the action move far too quickly for me to get me head around. With the odd exception for an animated instalment, or occasionally dipping my toe into the world of the recon (I couldn't actually get through Marco Polo without watching one - how times change!), I've experienced pretty much all the missing episodes in the form of the narrated soundtracks.

It's been a perfectly good way of going through the stories, and I really don't feel that I've missed out on my thing by going the purely audio route a lot of the time. They're all incredibly well produced, with fantastic linking narration (even if the script for The Space Pirates' narration really is going out in a blaze of glory. At one point today, Hines takes great delight in opening a scene with the words 'the Doctor is busily twanging his tuning fork…' Is he indeed!?), and they've been great to listen to on my way home from work each day, lasting just long enough to end as I step through the door, or thereabouts.

But last night, having not enjoyed Episode Three of The Space Pirates as much as I had Episode One, and realising that this really is the end of an important stage in the marathon, I felt all nostalgic. I decided that before I move on to the era in which everything exists in the archives, I needed to give reckons one last chance to prove themselves. I'll admit, there were one or two selfish reasons for it, too. The Space Pirates is one of the Doctor Who stories with the least surviving visual material, no tele snaps, and there's even a few characters we don't have any photos of. I wanted to see how a recon would cope with such a situation.

The answer, it seems, is 'pretty well'. I did have a moment, about three minutes in where I decided that it just wasn't going to work, so muted the recon and keyed up the right place in the soundtrack so that I could actually follow what on Earth was happening. I think I probably looked like a bit of an idiot sat in front of the computer screen with my headphones plugged into my phone, but there we go.

The reconstruction overcomes the lack of available images by creating plenty of its own, and pretty cleverly, too. There's several shots of the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe taken from the surviving second episode of the story, and some which I'm pretty sure are taken from elsewhere. One particular image of Milo Clancy came up so frequently that I worried the image may be burned onto the screen for good, but it did the job. For the actual space pirates themselves, the recon used CGI people. I have to confess that it's not a style of CGI that I've ever really liked, but it works pretty well in this instance.

Sadly, watching it in this form hasn't really helped me enjoy the story any better. I'm genuinely quite disappointed, because having enjoyed the first third after years of being told how rubbish the tale was, I was hoping to be all contradictory, stand proud and say how much I liked it. And there is an awful lot to like! Troughton is - of course - on fine form, and there's a wonderful moment after their fall in the cliffhanger resolution in which he moans in pain and produces a handful of drawing pins that he's landed on. When Zoe asks him what he's carrying the pins for, the Doctor replies simply; 'I like drawing pins!' If anything, it put me in mind of the Second Doctor we had back in Season Four, who is a little bit weird, a little bit 'kooky', but completely loveable, and totally 'the Doctor'.

It's a shame to see him using his tuning fork as a means to break out of their cell, as I was hoping the Sonic Screwdriver was here to stay after it had turned up for a second appearance in The Dominators. Maybe he still hasn't managed to work out all the kinks in the design, and it just won't work on locks yet? It's either that, or the door is made from wood (which, for all we know, it might have been).

Things seem to have gone off the rails a little, it's true, but The Space Pirates is still not as bad as everyone would have you believe. I'm hoping we can make it through the next two episodes relatively unscathed, and it might be able to redeem itself just a bit…

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