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20 May 2014

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

Day 505: The Pirate Planet, Episode One

Dear diary,

I really need to start today’s entry with something of a confession. As much as I’m bound to be scoffed at for this: I’ve never actually experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What I mean by that is that I’ve never read any of the books, or heard the radio play, or seen the TV series. I have seen the movie that they did a few years ago, but I can remember so little of it that I genuinely can’t remember a thing - I may as well not have seen it. To this end, I don’t really know of Douglas Adams outside of the fact that he worked on Doctor Who in the 1970s. I’ve seen City of Death, his other (finished) contribution to the programme, and I know that he was Script Editor for a time, but aside from that, I’ve got nothing. Sorry.

It’s perhaps because of that fact that The Pirate Planet has entirely failed to grab me with this opening episode. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from it. This is a story which I know the basic premise of, I know who a few of the characters are, I know what the segment of the Key to Time is disguised as… but they’ve always been simply facts, stored away in the back of my head somewhere. I must have seen the story before, on that watch through when the series first came out on DVD, but six years on, those memories are about as useless as the ones for the Hitchhiker’s film.

Now, I can’t really claim that it didn’t grab me at all. There were a few lines which managed to raise a laugh from me (K9’s suggestion that Romana has better luck with the locals because she’s more attractive than the Doctor, for example, really got a hoot - I’m glad that in his new ‘incarnation’, the tin dog has lost none of his sarcastic edge). Then there’s the Doctor’s question ‘excuse me, are you sure that this planet is supposed to be here?’, and everything about Romana trying to learn about piloting the TARDIS properly (complete with the Doctor ripping pages from the manual). There’s lots of little bits which did work for me, but they were sadly few and far between.

I think I was turned off almost from the start. There’s some model shots which are far from being the programme’s best, and much of the episode is filled with the kind of bland sci-fi nonsense that I just don’t care about. Coming from The Ribos Operation, in which we were presented with a world full of history, and culture, with a religion and a social hierarchy that I could really believe in, this feels like something of a slap in the face. People talk of the good times coming back, there’s strange mystical nonsense going on, and the costumes are leaving little to be desired.

And then, seemingly from nowhere, we cut to a group of the characters walking across a field! I have absolutely no context for the field. We’ve seen parts of the city. There’s a large square (which, if a little bare, is actually an impressive set due to the sheer size of it), and some spacious living accommodation. There’s the high-tech lair of the half-robot Captain and his metal parrot… and then there’s suddenly a field from absolutely nowhere. It feels out of place, and having spent so long praising the world of Ribos, I’m really struggling to get behind this one. Still, it’s early days yet, and I’m hoping things will pick up once our heroes are really caught up in the story.

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