John wrote:In 1978, as the show was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, and with producer Graham Williams -- who had taken over from Philip Hinchcliffe the previous season --- now firmly established in the Doctor Who production office, it was decided that the show should take a different direction. Under Hinchcliffe, the show had consistently enjoyed the highest audience viewing figure since its conception, but had come under immense media scrutiny due to the heightened levels of violence.
The BBC’s Head of Drama Graeme McDonald, had decreed that the show should take a more humour based approach, so when Douglas Adams, who had previously -- albeit unsuccessfully -- submitted ideas to Robert Holmes, forwarded his script for the pilot episode of radio drama The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy to Anthony Read, it was agreed that Adams should prepare a storyline for inclusion that following season.
What Adams came up with was possibly one of the most original, witty and entertaining scripts in the shows history, which is why it’s such a tragedy that The Pirate Planet, in spite of it’s respectable eight million viewers, is generally held in such low regard amongst fans.
With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Adams dreamt up some of the most bizarre concepts ever seen in Doctor Who; the most off the wall being the hollow, space jumping, world swallowing planet Zanak. But it wasn’t just his versatile imagination that was larger than life, the real triumph of The Pirate Planet is in Adams characters, the most notable, of course being the vociferous Pirate Captain.
If there was anyone who could give Tom a run for his money in the theatrical department, it was the irrepressible Bruce Purchase, whose voluminous performance is joyous to behold. His unceasing and vocal persecution of the craven Mr Fibuli gives rise to a rather curious double act, and some of Adams best dialogue can be found during their exchanges. But, despite the Captains active maltreatment of his subordinate, there exists between them a bond which doesn’t really become apparent until a rather touching scene in the final episode, where the Captain kneels over Mr Fibuli’s body, and vows vengeance for his dead friend. Top marks for both Purchase and Andrew Robertson.
Another typically out of the ordinary scene in the story is the duel between K9 and the Captain’s Polyphase Avatron, whose ultimate destruction at the hands of the Doctor’s robot companion exposed another facet of the Captain’s almost child like vulnerability.
It’s well known that Tom was largely dissatisfied with the violent nature of many of his past adventures, so Adams involvement in the show met with great personal approval, indeed The Pirate Planet would prove to be the perfect vehicle for Tom’s animated, quirky performance. Although it goes without saying that much of the story is overtly humorous, it wasn’t all jokes. The stories grave subject matter demanded a certain amount of seriousness, and indeed there is a very good exchange on the bridge where the Doctor challenges the Captain to explain and justify the mass slaughter of countless millions.
I think that The Pirate Planet is a fantastic story, and a worthy addition to the Key to Time season. It’s all of Douglas Adams creative genius brought to life by some terrific performances from Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, who, in a relatively short space of time, developed a terrific on screen rapport, in fact it is their scenes together that are some of the stories funniest, but for me it’s the late Bruce Purchase’s captivating performance that steals the show.
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