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21 May 2014

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

Day 506: The Pirate Planet, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I was cautious going into today’s episode. Having not enjoyed the first instalment of The Pirate Planet, I spoke to a couple of friends to gauge their reaction to the story. One confirmed that they were ‘bored stiff’ throughout, while the other told me that the direction did a dull story no favours. It worries me when things like hat happen, because I fear that I’m heading for another one of those stories which I just can’t get into - the Dominators and Cure of Peladon type tales, which are destined to languish somewhere towards the bottom of my ratings no matter what.

Thankfully, though, I’ve actually liked this episode a lot more than yesterday’s one! One of the things that I’m quite enjoying (sorry, Nick!) is the direction of things! I don’t know if that’s because my mind is trying to consciously enjoy it more knowing that I’m not supposed to, but little moments - like the way the Captain wanders down a line of his workers and then leans around them - really appeal to me. I’m even quite impressed with the effects work on display, too! The first time we see the Polyphase Avatron rise from his owner’s shoulder and fly off to attack someone is well realised, but it then left me with another worry…

I suddenly remembered being less than impressed with the flying car sequences in the story. Sure enough, it’s only a few minutes before Romana is led to a flying car by a set of guards. But you know what? I thought those scenes came off rather well, too! Perhaps more noticeable during the later sequence of the Doctor in one of the vehicles, it’s things like the wind blowing through the character’s hair which really sells the effect to me, and there’s a lot less fringing on them than in stories such as Horror of Fang Rock. Is it just that I’m tired today, and therefore not noticing the bad bits, or am I completely wrong and it’s not even CSO? Either way, I’m impressed.

I’m even somewhat amazed at how well things are being dropped in to help you piece things together. I did know that this planet materialised around others and robbed them of minerals, but I love the way it’s threaded through the tale. Romana gives a basic description of how the TARDIS works (dematerialising in one location, travelling through the vortex, and dematerialising in a new location - the Ninth Doctor manages to give an even more succinct version of that in a later story), and that same description, or a variation if it, comes back into play later when discussing the planet. Then you’ve got Romana realising what the broken component of the machine is, and the discovery that it’s similar to a bit of TARDIS tech.

And yet, there’s still things that don’t quite work for me. I can’t make myself like the power plant section of the high-tech base - it just doesn’t feel in-keeping with the rest of the design in the story. There’s also the mine workings, which look just too much like 19th - 20th century Earth mines. Oh, sure, they add in a few lines about the fact that it used to be done like that and no one in living memory has used the equipment, but then it still feels out of place.

There’s everything to play for with The Pirate Planet, I fear. I doubt it’s ever going to come out with a stellar score, but it could either claw its way up to ‘average’, or sink right down to the bottom. I genuinely have no idea which way it’s going to go…

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