Coming in at 195 in the 2009 Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200, The Space Pirates has the unfortunate reputation as the least popular Patrick Troughton era Doctor Who serial. It is also the last story that is missing from the BBC Archives. For anyone undertaking a complete marathon this alone is a cause for much celebration. But is The Space Pirates really as bad as its renown would suggest? In the absence of five of the six episodes, the answer is largely a moot point. A particularly visual story, The Space Pirates suffers inordinately from the absence of moving pictures. Moreover, the complete absence of any telesnaps for the serial has made its reconstruction astonishingly difficult. John Cura had taken 35mm photographs from his television screen of the vast majority of Doctor Who episodes. Generally providing between 70 and 80 photos per programme, these images have become an important record of otherwise lost Doctor Who visuals. Cura had ceased photographing and selling his telesnaps to the BBC not long prior to his death in April 1969. For further information on John Cura and his telesnaps please see About the Doctor Who Mind Robber.
As if any further hindrances were required, the soundtrack for The Space Pirates is the most muddy of the entire fan recorded missing episode audios. The renegade old time prospector, Milo Clancey, is frequently credited as the stand-out character in the serial. I have to admit, however, to finding it almost impossible to comprehend what he was saying. Portrayed by the New Zealand born Australian actor, Gordon Gostelow, Clancey has one of the worst faux American accents in Doctor Who’s illustrious history. It’s not the American accent, however, that I find difficult to understand. Although my hearing is generally fairly reasonable, I very occasionally have difficulty understanding male voices on TV. When last I had a hearing test the audiologist provided me with a detailed explanation of the reasons why. I won’t bore you with the details, but hasten to add that the muddy soundtrack of The Space Pirates made it nigh on impossible for me understand most of the largely male cast.
Writing a review of a story bereft of visual images and with a soundtrack which I could barely understand makes for a particularly difficult task. It’s for that reason that my observations on The Space Pirates will be reasonably short and sweet. I highly recommend that you view the second part of Loose Cannon’s introduction to The Space Pirates, the link for which appears below. The audio for this introduction, I might add, is crystal clear and provides an excellent summary of several “firsts” for the story, including Doctor Who’s first space opera; first pirate take on a traditional American Western theme; first episode recorded on 35 mm film; first recording in Television Centre 4; first episode (save for Mission to the Unknown) in which no regular cast members were present for a studio recording; and finally, the first time that John Nathan-Turner worked on a Doctor Who episode. The Space Pirates is also credited for having the greatest time lapse between the commencement of an episode and the appearance of the Doctor and his companions. Emerging onscreen fifteen minutes into the first episode, this is even longer than the 14 minutes it took for the Eleventh Doctor to appear in the Series Seven episode, The Crimson Horror.
It would be remiss if I failed to mention Madelaine Issigri’s fabulous metal hair. Women’s wigs in the near future are not only made of metal, but are also styled with an exceptionally large beehive at the back, as opposed to the top, of the head. It’s just brilliant! Whilst discussing women’s fashion, Zoe’s hotpants are just divine.
The Doctor and his companions were noticeably absent from the greater part of The Space Pirates and could be fairly said to have played supporting roles. Patrick Troughton’s request for a lighter acting role undoubtedly accounted for this to some degree. In respect of the final episode, the TARDIS crew were heavily engaged in the location shoot for their final adventure, The War Games. Accordingly the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie only appeared in pre-filmed inserts for that episode. The results of the Crew’s location filming will be evident in my next review as we say farewell to the monochrome era of Doctor Who, and the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, in The War Games.
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.