Tag Archives: The Space Pirates

The Space Pirates – Loose Cannon Reconstructions

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It’s time to celebrate. The penultimate serial of Season Six, The Space Pirates, is the very last missing Doctor Who story. Only episode two is held in the BBC Archives and the reason for its retention was that it was the first episode recorded on 35mm film.  For that reason it was considered to be of archival importance. For the purposes of this marathon I viewed Loose Cannon’s reconstructions of episodes one, three, four, five and six. Unfortunately these reconstructions feature a very muddy fan recorded soundtrack and contain no telesnaps. There is absolutely no visual record of the character Dom Issigri, who was played by Edmond Knight.  Accordingly Loose Cannon had to “invent” a visual representation for that character.

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 1 Part 1

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 1 Part 2

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 3 Part 1

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 3 Part 2

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 4 Part 1

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 4 Part 2

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 5 Part 1

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 5 Part 2

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 6 Part 1

Loose Cannon’s The Space Pirates, Episode 6 Part 2

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The Space Pirates

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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.

The Doctor and Jamie upon arrival in The Space Pirates

The Doctor and Jamie upon arrival in The Space Pirates

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.

The old time pioneer of space exploration, Milo Clancey

The old time pioneer of space exploration, Milo Clancey

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.

The Doctor and his crew collapsed

The Doctor and his crew collapsed

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.

Madelaine Issigri had the most fabulous metal wig

Madelaine Issigri had the most fabulous metal wig

That wig again!

That wig again!

Zoe's hotpants

Zoe’s hotpants

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. 

The Space Pirates was originally broadcast in the UK between 8 March and 12 April 1969

The Space Pirates was originally broadcast in the UK between 8 March and 12 April 1969

Episode two of The Space Pirates has been released on the triple DVD set Lost in Time

Episode two of The Space Pirates has been released on the triple DVD set Lost in Time


Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

“Lost in Time” Reshelved – Another Milestone Reached

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ImageThe triple DVD set Lost in Time has been my constant companion since the sixth serial of Season Two, The Crusade. 106 episodes of Doctor Who are currently listed as officially missing from the BBC Archives. My use of the words “officially missing” are quite deliberate as rumours continue to swirl throughout Who fandom of the alleged recovery of multiple episodes. With neither a confirmation nor unequivocal denial by the BBC, these rumours are unlikely to dissipate in the near future. 

Episode One of The Crusade is the first orphan episode on disc one of Lost in Time

Episode One of The Crusade is the first orphan episode on disc one of Lost in Time

Tonight I had the great pleasure of finally removing disc three of Lost in Time from my Blu Ray player, putting it away in its case, and then reshelving the set. Having watched the extant episode two of The Space Pirates, and the Loose Cannon reconstructions of the  remaining five episodes, I’ve just completed one of the greatest challenges of a Doctor Who fan – to watch reconstructions of all 106 missing episodes and the 18 full orphan episodes released on Lost in Time.  What a relief it is to have straddled the last hurdle in the seemingly unending race towards the final episode of Doctor Who’s monochrome era, The War Games. Henceforth, there are no missing episodes of Doctor Who and only 10 black and white ones remaining. The end of an era is fast approaching and I will certainly miss Patrick Troughton’s “Cosmic Hobo” Doctor.

Episode Two of The Space Pirates is the last orphan episode on disc three of Lost in Time

Episode Two of The Space Pirates is the last orphan episode on disc three of Lost in Time

Watch out for my review of The Space Pirates in the next day or two, and The War Games later in the week. The first post in my 50 Day Countdown to the 50th Anniversary will appear on Friday 4 October and will be rather unimaginatively titled The Ten Most Wanted Missing Episodes. Please join me then for a fun romp through 1960s Doctor Who. 

A Doctor Who Magazine front cover on Missing Episodes

A Doctor Who Magazine front cover on Missing Episodes

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

The Seeds of Death

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The Doctor had long shown himself to be adept at time travel, however it was not until the 1969 serial The Seeds of Death that he was seen to man a more conventional form of space transportation, a rocket.  That the Doctor and his friends should find themselves on a rocket to the Moon should come as no surprise given that this serial was broadcast in early 1969 and the Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon on 20 July 1969. What is more astounding is that in the world of Doctor Who rockets are perceived to be outdated and an anachronism.  In The Seeds of Death Professor Eldred is the curator of a space museum who spends his spare time secretly working on a rocket.  All transportation is now carried out by T-Mat, otherwise known as transmit, a form of instantaneous particle matter transfer. Even motor cars have become redundant and the T-Mat system is used to transport people and produce throughout the world.  There is a T-Mat relay on the Moon and it is from there that the Ice Warriors intend to commence their conquest of the Earth.

Jamie, the Doctor and Zoe arrive on Earth following their adventures with The Krotons

Jamie, the Doctor and Zoe arrive on Earth following their adventures with The Krotons

The Doctor is covered in foam as he attempts to gain entry to the Weather Station

The Doctor is covered in foam as he attempts to gain entry to the Weather Station

That there is no alternative transport to T-Mat is extraordinary, particularly as the sustenance of the whole world is dependent upon its operation. This extreme example of “putting all your eggs in one basket” was what led the Doctor and his companions to risk their lives in an untested experimental rocket.  It appears that together with world famine, local stock-piling of goods has long since ended. Although the details provided in The Seeds of Death are sketchy, it appears that the T-Mat system is operated, if not wholly owned, by a corporation named Travel-Mat.  What Travel-Mat’s relationship is to the governments of the world is not specified. Perhaps Travel-Mat is the world government? Travel-Mat certainly has some relationship with the United Nations as Professor Eldred describes Sir James Gregson as the United Nations Plenipotentiary.  Radnor clarifies this by saying that Gregson is the Minister with special responsibility for T-Mat. I suspect that the climate change sceptics with whom I frequently debate would revel in declaring The Seeds of Death to be an accurate prediction of their New World Order conspiracies. Come to think of it, most climate change deniers know so little about science that they’d probably think the mistaken “science” of The Ice Warriors is correct.  Distinguishing fact from fiction can at times be difficult for some, hence the premise behind The Mind Robber!

T-Mat employees wear an unfortunate uniform with their underpants on the outside

T-Mat employees wear an unfortunate uniform with their underpants on the outside

Arguably the most powerful person employed by Travel-Mat is Miss Gia Kelly, the Assistant Controller, who inexplicably is the only person who completely understands T-Mat.  Again the question arises as to what would happen to this world-wide transport system, on which the distribution of all Earth’s food is dependent, if Miss Kelly suddenly became indisposed. It’s a pleasant development in Doctor Who to have a women in such a powerful role and not be denigrated for her gender by fellow on-screen workers. Kelly even managed to escape the sexism inherent in the UNIT soldiers’ praise for Zoe in The Invasion, when they said that she was “prettier than a computer”.  That being said, I’m at a loss to understand why Kelly was portrayed as so officious and unable to smile.  What does this say about our perceptions of powerful women? Do women that attain the giddy heights of success necessarily relinquish all vestiges of humanity in the minds of others? Even a casual observer to Australian politics in recent years would be cognisant of sexist vitriol thrown at our former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Being “deliberately barren” was perhaps the most offensive of them all.  I would posit that the writer Brian Hayles’ portrayal of Kelly is an example of this offensive stereotyping of successful women.

Miss Kelly is the only person who truly understands T-Mat.  She is pictured here with the rocket countdown reflected onto her face

Miss Kelly is the only person who truly understands T-Mat. She is pictured here with the rocket countdown reflected onto her face

Gia Kelly is arguably the most powerful person working for Travel-Mat

Gia Kelly is arguably the most powerful person working for Travel-Mat

Unfortunately I have a concern with the Doctor’s ethics in The Seeds of Death. At the serial’s end the Doctor sent the Ice Warriors’ rockets onto an orbit close to the Sun by transmitting a fake homing signal.  When the Warrior Slaar told the Doctor that he has destroyed their whole fleet, the Doctor’s response was that “you tried to destroy an entire world”. Given that the Doctor believed these Warriors to be the only survivors of their species, he was effectively committing genocide. Whilst we all now know that the fleet didn’t comprise the last of the Ice Warriors, that’s not the point.  The Doctor acted in a similar manner to the Daleks in The Evil of the Daleks and to the Drahvins in Galaxy 4. In my review of Galaxy 4 I discussed in some detail how the Doctor’s apparent genocide of a race was at odds with his classic moral deliberations in The Genesis of the Daleks.

The Doctor kills the first of many Ice Warriors

The Doctor kills the first of many Ice Warriors

Akin to Brian Hayles’ problems with science in The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death is similarly tainted.  Remarkably, whilst the Ice Warriors collapsed when the temperate reached 60 degrees Celsius, the humans exhibited no ill effects at all.  Not a bead of sweat was seen to develop on a single brow. This story did, however, again exhibit Hayles’ apparent concern for things environmental. The plant consuming foam which emerged from the Ice Warrior’s seeds would eventually result in the removal of all oxygen and the death of humans as the atmosphere became more akin to that of Mars.

The Doctor discovers that water destroy's the Ice Warriors' seeds

The Doctor discovers that water destroys the Ice Warriors’ seeds

Technology had also caught up with Doctor Who by the Ice Warrior’s second appearance. Filmed inserts for episodes were by then being produced during the recording of the previous stories.  Because of the 1968/1969 Christmas/New Year break, some inserts were filmed up to six weeks prior to the recording of the episodes. It’s for that reason that careful observation will show that within the same episode the Doctor can at one point have particularly bushy side-burns, and the next moment has none.

The Doctor discusses retro rockets with Professor Eldred

The Doctor discusses retro rockets with Professor Eldred

When Jamie suggested that the Doctor should use the TARDIS to travel back to the Moon the Doctor was quick to advise that “the TARDIS is not suited to short range travel”.  It’s a shame that the Eleventh Doctor  didn’t remember that  when he decided to take the TARDIS for a quick hop to the Moon to run her in during The Eleventh Hour (2010).  He didn’t come back to Amy until two years later!  The Doctor also seemed to have forgotten exactly how much of an unpleasant time he’d had when last he visited a space museum (The Space Museum). Quite naturally Zoe knows how to pilot a rocket so she necessarily went up in my esteem, yet again.  She also has a photographic memory.

Clearly the Eleventh Doctor had forgotten that the TARDIS is not suited to short range travel in The Eleventh Hour (2010)

Clearly the Eleventh Doctor had forgotten that the TARDIS was not suited to short range travel in The Eleventh Hour (2010)

Amongst her many skills, Zoe can pilot a space rocket

Amongst her many skills, Zoe can pilot a space rocket

With the conclusion of The Seeds of Death we say goodbye to the last monster story of Patrick Troughton’s tenure.  Not only is it the final monster serial of the 1960s but also of Doctor Who’s monochrome era.  Troughton’s penultimate adventure, The Space Pirates, has no aliens although it does have a space cowboy who is almost as bad, in a frightening sort of way!

The Seeds of Death was originally broadcast in the UK between 25 January and 1 March 1969

The Seeds of Death was originally broadcast in the UK between 25 January and 1 March 1969

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

The Underwater Menace

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In the 2009 Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200 Poll of Doctor Who stories, The Underwater Menace was voted the seventh least popular.  Coming in at an appalling 194, it was one story above another long derided Patrick Troughton serial, The Space Pirates. Throw in The Dominators at 191,and the Second Doctor has three of the ten least popular serials.  That even beats Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, each of whom had two serials each in the bottom 10.

Two Fish People resplendent in their sequin costumes

Two Fish People resplendent in their sequin costumes

So why is The Underwater Menace so lowly regarded? That until late 2011 only one of its four episodes were held in the BBC Archives may provide part of the answer.  In fact, nearly two years after episode two’s return, it has yet to be released on DVD.  Episode three was first released to the public on VHS cassette in 1998 and subsequently reissued on the 2004 DVD Lost in Time.

Damon in his funny head gear

Damon in his funny head gear

Without the context of the previous two episodes, episode three of The Underwater Menace must look extraordinarily bizarre to the casual viewer.  The classic disparaging comments dished out to Doctor Who, including bad graphics, wobbly sets and atrocious acting might, to the uninitiated, appear spot on.  The Fish People, who are enslaved by the Atlanteans, are surgically modified humans.  Having gills, flippers and scales, which are none other than sequins stuck to their faces, the Fish People farm the plankton that they, and the Atlanteans, are reliant upon for food. Being apparently bereft of refrigeration, this food source lasts only several hours before deterioration, thereby requiring the slave labour force to work around the clock to provide a constant fresh supply of stock. Polly narrowly escapes being operated upon to become a Fish Person in the episode one cliff hanger, which thanks for the ever vigilant Australian Censorship Board, we still have for our viewing pleasure.

Polly narrowly escaped being turned into a Fish Person

Polly narrowly escaped being turned into a Fish Person

Polly and Damon

Polly and Damon.  Polly’s Atlantean gear is just fab

Almost universally condemned for their costuming, I personally think the Fish People look fabulous, in a trippy, 1960s sort of way.  The Fish People swim around gracefully in an extended  performance of synchronized swimming during episode three.  I’m not entirely certain what the sequence’s purpose is  however it looks completely wild.  I can even excuse the trapeze wires that hold up the swimming Fish People up as they  elegantly swoon around.  Spotting the wires holding up space ships has always been one of my favourite parts of watching Doctor Who (there are some great strings to be spotted in The Dalek Invasion of Earth). This is just a logical extension of that peculiar interest!  That the Fish People decide to go on strike after having their humanity questioned by some enslaved miners is a bit farfetched, but hey, the reverse logic worked.

A rare colour photo of the Fish People

A rare colour photo of the Fish People

Not all Fish People wore sequins.  Given that The Underwater Menace went so over buget the BBC must not have been able to afford more sequins for this poor Fish Person

Not all Fish People wore sequins. Given that The Underwater Menace went so over budget, the BBC mustn’t have been able to afford more sequins for this poor Fish Person

Joseph Furst’s acting as the insane Polish Professor Zaroff is frequently the source of criticism.  Episode three ends with his classic manic cry of “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”  That Zaroff is a parody of the mad scientist, and clearly meant to be played in a hammy, over the top fashion, appears lost on most critics. Where’s everyone’s sense of humour gone?  Zaroff’s plan to drain the oceans into the Earth’s molten core, thereby causing the planet’s explosion from overheated steam, is also dismissed as ludicrous.   Sure, he only wants to destroy the Earth because he can, and will also die in the resultant explosion, but that’s what mad scientists do.  They wouldn’t be mad scientists if their plans were rational. As Philip Sandifer states in Tardis Eruditorum, Zaroff’s scheme is no crazier an idea than the Daleks’ plan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth to drill the core out of the centre of the Earth and use the planet as a space ship. And that second Dalek serial isn’t dismissed out of hand as some form of corny atrocity.

The mad scientist Professor Zaroff

The mad scientist Professor Zaroff. “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”

The Doctor and Zaroff

The Doctor and Zaroff

The Underwater Menace sees the Doctor take the lead in saving the Earth without recourse to dressing up continuously, although he does look rather cool when briefly dressed as some sort of tambourine playing hippy with sunglasses and bandanna.  We are even afforded the opportunity to see a snippet of the Doctor’s good conscience when he decides that he just can’t let Zaroff drown at the end of episode four.  A rock fall blocks the path to rescue, although at least the Doctor’s intentions are good. In this story the Doctor begins to display the characteristics that become his  staple for the duration of his tenure.

The Doctor is disguised as a tambourine playing hippy

The Doctor is disguised as a tambourine playing hippy

Polly, however, is denied the forthrightness of previous outings, and plays the screaming damsel far too often. Having been buoyed by her characterisation in The Highlanders, Polly’s inability to assertively take control of her own destiny in this serial was more than a little disappointing.  She can, however speak “foreign”, as Ben refers to it, and is conversant in German, French and Spanish.  Ben displays a good rapport with the Doctor and Jamie appears surprisingly unaffected by being dragged out of the 18th Century Scottish highlands, and into an underwater world of Fish People, temple worship and mad scientists. Ben and Jamie spend much of the time running around in black wetsuits.  The synthetic rubber of the wetsuit must have been an unusual sensation against Jamie’s highland skin, but remarkably he is not seen to make a comment about it.

Jamie and Ben spend much of their time in black wet suits

Jamie and Ben spend much of their time in black wet suits

The Underwater Menace ends with the mad scientist dead and the Atlanteans saved from Zaroff’s dastardly plan, although the city of Atlantis is flooded. No more Fish People will be made, and presumably they are freed from servitude. Religion, however, will be no more.  Damon believes that priests, superstition and temples made the Atlanteans follow Zaroff’s crazy plans and the temple should be buried forever.  Quite how this conclusion is reached is never stated and is certainly a very superficial solution to the Atlanteans’ problems. All told, however, The Underwater Menace is a fun romp and nowhere near as bad as its reputation.  Watch it with an eye for the ridiculous and you won’t be disappointed.

The Underwater Menace was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 January and 4 February 1967.  Episode 3 is available on the triple DVD set Lost in Time

The Underwater Menace was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 January and 4 February 1967. Episode 3 is available on the triple DVD set Lost in Time

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCE:

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.