Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Space Pirates

Previous viewings - few (Episode 2), one (Episode 1), 1/2 (Episode 3), none (Episodes 4-6)

For some reason I don't feel qualified to review this story. I was so uninterested in it while listening that I made no effort to get into the plot or characters. The audio for this one was particularly bad, with most characters sounding like they were speaking with their mouths closed, in fact at times I barely recognised the Doctor's voice. How I came to this story depends on how you look at it; on my last marathon I gave up somewhere during Episode 3, so that makes the latter half of this story the first proper 'new' Doctor Who to me. However as I listened (or watched in the case of Episode 2) I rediscovered the reasons I quit the first time.

Stylistically, this is probably the closest Doctor Who came to aping Star Trek; the ever-present operatic singing voice reminded me of the opening credits from that show, and along with the music was very effective in setting the desolate tone of the story. Couple that with the way the space setting is used - it's more about people than monsters and involves an Earth space organisation and unconvincing actors. In its own way it feels as far away from the usual Doctor Who as some people claim the historicals are - the regulars seem to get only a few lines in each episode and story lacks the typical juxtaposition of the everyday with the subnormal that the show does so often. In fact this story's closest cousin in the classic series is probably The Smugglers.

It's not all bad. If Episode 2 is anything to go by it looks good and is well directed, and there is some interest in the TARDISeers quest to recover the TARDIS. The charismatic Milo Clancey is a fun character although his accent is down there with the worst of The Gunfighters.

Unfortunately that's about it! I'm a bit in shock that Robert Holmes really wrote something this tedious. In fact, it was so boring I can barely muster up enthusiasm to say bad things about it.

The first episode sets the pattern in that it's not really about the Doctor or his companions at all. They land on a Space Beacon in the middle of a raid by pirates, and end up in the wrong section of the Beacon when it separates, with the TARDIS in another segment. The guest characters, including pirates Caven and Dervish, with Hermack and Warne in charge of the mission to apprehend the pirates, use up most of the screentime. All characters are unfortunately dull, and I'm afraid to say it's down to the writing.

You know where occasionally in a story there's an episode or two where nothing happens? Well in The Space Pirates this applies to all six episodes. The TARDISeers never gain a foothold in the plot, merely being led around by Milo, getting us closer to the pirates even though I've been given no reason to care. We're led to wonder if Milo is mixed up with the pirates but I figured right away that he was innocent. That leaves Caven, who isn't villainous enough to make me invest in the pirate plot as opposed to the recover the TARDIS plot. This left me feeling disconnected, like I do when I have to watch a show I don't like because someone else in the room is watching it. I percieve a story - so what?

The surviving Episode 2 is representative of the overall quality of the story, and it's the episode I tried the hardest to get into. Aside from the usual fancying Zoe and waiting patiently for the Doctor to appear and quite enjoying Milo Clancey's antics, I found the episode painfully slow. Jamie doesn't do or say anything Jamie-ish, and even the Doctor is (perhaps understandbly) downbeat. Only Zoe still seemed like the character she is usually is. Other visual faults I noticed were some poor model work (had the money run out?) and Madeleine Issigri's bizarre metal hair. I was also surprised that Hermack was such a little man given his booming voice. The design work reminded me of The Wheel in Space, and like that was well done but lacking in imagination or originality.

After quite a rubbish cliffhanger - Zoe shouting "you murderer!" at Milo only for us to find out Jamie isn't dead, we soon arrive on the planet Ta. I was struggling to visualise the planet, and I imagine my picture of a barren planetoid is nothing like how it really looked. Zoe calculates that the beacon segments will soon arrive on the planet too, which is a point of interest given I don't care about the pirates. Milo and the TARDISeers try to warn Madeleine Issigri, whose mining company is based on the planet, about the pirates, only to find out that she is in league with them. This twist did briefly get me interested in the plot, but as soon as Episode 5 started and the shock was over (not that I bothered about the character's allegiance) things settled down into the boring routine again.

The final two episodes see more action as the story reaches its climax, yet nothing happens to correct the issue of dull storytelling. I could have listened again, making sure to catch every line, hoping for some magic moment where I "get" the story - I wouldn't rule out seeing it more favourably the next time I listen. By this point, howeve, I'd long stopped caring, because the story just wouldn't seem to end. In way the manner in which this story is bad is even worse than The Web Planet, whose flaws are visible for all to see. This is just as dull, but for some reason I feel like I should be interested. Space pirates are a cool idea, and I can hear action going on that surely must be more exciting that that in The Web Planet, whose conclusion was a mess of Zarbi beeps and embarrassed actors. I detected no enthusiasm from Patrick Troughton, which is very unusual.

As Caven decides to cut his losses and kill Milo and the strangers, Madeleine starts to have doubts about working with him. Madeleine's father, Dom Issigri, is still alive, despite being thought to be dead, and they work to stop Caven, who has finally opted to commit mass murder by bombing the V-ship and the base on Ta. With the destruction of Caven's ship, there isn't enough time left to be devoted to the search for the TARDIS, which should be quite easy now anyway.

Dear oh dear. I don't like disliking Doctor Who stories this much, but after a great season so far this really drags it down. I'm starting to wonder why Robert Holmes was asked to write that pivotal first Third Doctor story, given his track record of this and a merely decent story. I noticed a few things that Holmes loves so much that he uses again and again - argonite being a valuable resource, an illegal operation being the danger part of the story (in a way done far, far better in The Caves of Androzani) rather than simple monsters invading. However overall this is a ponderingly slow and dull story that Robert Holmes was probably better leaving off his CV.

Horror quotient - Get behind the sofa! Close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears too. If you can still see or hear it, switch off the TV. You might be better off smashing the DVD just to be on the safe side.
Comedy quotient - Milo Clancey, I suppose. Come on Patrick!
Drama quotient - I felt so disengaged from this. I wish I pinpoint why I found it so dull, I just did.

The worst Troughton by far. Unlike The Web Planet, it's quite well made and hasn't aesthetically dated as much as that one has, but then The Web Planet has one cracking episode, this has none. Those two even out to it gets the same score.


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