Doctor Who episode 240: “The Space Pirates” – Episode Three (22/3/1969)

It’s taken a while, but now the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are involved in the story this is moving along quite nicely. The theme of this episode is suspicion: everyone, including the TARDIS team, doubts Clancey’s motives, notes his mysterious arrival at a section of destroyed beacon, his flight from the ISC, and him landing at exactly the spot the space pirates have picked as their headquarters. Without saying so overtly, Madeleine Issigri’s description of her father’s old partner is meant to feed General Hermack’s suspicions.

But the viewers are a step ahead of the characters. Clancey is clearly coded as a Doctor figure – impatient with authority, shabby, brilliant at improvisation, and inordinately fond of his clapped-out old ship. It’s almost inconceivable that he’s going to turn out to be the villain. Whereas Madeleine, with her weird metal hair, her vast wealth (throwing out numbers like ‘a hundred million credits’ as if it’s small change), and her very suspicious ownership of the same type of spaceships that the pirates have been using, feels much more like a wrong ‘un.


I don’t think this is a fault of the script: this is a Western in space, and the grizzled, comic old timer is unlikely to turn out to be the villain. It’s there to make the older members of the audience feel satisfied with their deductions, while the kids are more likely to be entertained by the space battles and the banter. This is the first episode that contains some classic Holmes dialogue, particularly in the Han Solo/Princess Leia vibe between Clancey and Zoe:

ZOE: There’s one thing I don’t understand.

CLANCEY: Well you’re very lucky, girl. There’s about a hundred thousand things I don’t understand but I don’t stand around asking fool questions about them, I do something useful. Why don’t you do something useful? Why don’t you make us all a pot of tea or something?

Later, Clancey describes a damaged radio as ‘Whistling like some sort of hysterical canary’, and there’s one of those glorious Season Six routines where Zoe shows off her superior intellect to the Doctor by deducing where the Pirate HQ is (the Doctor accuses her of ‘messing about again’). Then, as they’re trying to sneak out of the Liz 79, Jamie falls over, knocking down half the set. The production team know they’ve hit gold with this cast, and make sure the audience is getting at least one big scene of them mucking about together in each serial.

This works like one of the funnier Hartnell historicals. The notion of the Doctor spending his penultimate story evading the government men, creeping round tunnels, uncovering pirate bases, and finding the rich in league with the criminals all amount to one conclusion: this is The Smugglers in space.

Next episode: “The Space Pirates” – Episode Four


One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 239: “The Space Pirates” – Episode Two (15/3/1969) | Next Episode...

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