Doctor Who episode 243: “The Space Pirates” – Episode Six (12/4/1969)
‘The General doesn’t seem to think that the outcome will be disastrous.’ Not the unmitigated failure of repute, but easily the weakest set of episodes in the season. All the material featuring Troughton, Hines and Padbury was pre-recorded for this episode as they were off doing location filming for The War Games. And that pretty much sums up The Space Pirates: it feels like the one they threw under a bus to make sure Troughton’s finale got the time and attention it needed.
The biggest problem with The Space Pirates is Holmes’ failure to find anything much for the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to do. They spend most of it as passengers – this even ends with them hitching a lift on the Liz 79 back to the TARDIS. In between, Troughton has spend most of his time dismantling props, Jamie’s punched a couple of people and Zoe did some maths and that’s about it. It’s like they’ve stumbled into Milo Clancey’s show for a few weeks, which could have been quite good fun except even that doesn’t really work as Clancey himself becomes a bit sidelined in the second half of the story, which refocuses on Madeleine and Caven’s falling out.
On the plus side, Madeleine is a good character: cool under pressure, commanding, and oddly honest when it comes to it. It’s nice to see a former villain actually face up to going to Earth to be tried for their crimes, rather than conveniently sacrificing themselves and escaping justice. Lisa Daniely allows herself one moment of sadness, as she contemplates seeing her father again after so many years – and manages to cram into one line all the emotion of a reunion that the script doesn’t actually show.
And the last episode, in which Caven turns Ta into a massive nuclear bomb, works as well as most eleventh-hour races against time, even if it means General Hermack and his crew are reduced to providing updates on the countdown rather than doing anything practical. It’s all perfectly adequate without being compelling. I’d still rather have this than The Ice Warriors.
Next episode: The War Games