Serial Title: The Space Pirates
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)
All’s not quiet on the final frontier. A group of no good Argonite rustlers has moved into the quadrant, and General Hermack aims to catch ‘em. This sector ain’t big enough for the two of them.
The Good: The Earth Space Corps, aboard the cruiser V-41, are out to put a stop to these pirates.
The Bad: Space pirates, led by Caven, are destroying Space Beacons and absconding with the parts to melt them down for their valuable Argonite hulls.
The Ugly: Grizzled space prospector Milo Clancey just wants to be left alone. He’s been hassled by these pirate varmints long enough, and Earth’s only taking an interest now that their own claims are in jeopardy. But bein’ in the wrong place at the wrong time, seems those space cowboys from Earth think HE done it…
Thankfully, ol’ Milo comes to their rescue. Now, trust doesn’t come easily at first, but when the Space Corps move in to take him up the river, an’ he puts his ship in giddyap and leaves those Corpsmen in the dust, well, you better believe they realize they’re gonna have to become fast friends, because they’re stuck with each other. Yessir. Yessir, they are.
That Varmint Caven re-routes some of the modules that were bein’ tracked over to Lobos, Milo’s claim, to throw suspicion onto him. After a while, the Corps find their way back to Ta, thinkin’ that Clancey is the guilty party. Milo frees the group and they up and head to Madeleine’s HQ, but they’re a mite bit too slow, and the pirates shanghai ‘em once again. They’re locked in a library, the old sanctum of Dom Issigiri, Madeleine’s pa, but the old cuss ain’t dead, just imprisoned all these long years by Caven and his pirates. Madeleine didn’t know this, and the pirates use this as mighty powerful leverage to get her to cooperate. They stick all'a the good guys aboard Milo’s ship, which they plan to remote-pilot to attack the Corps vessel in a suicide run to cover their own cowardly escape... and which they've also sabotaged so that everyone aboard Milo's ship will be dead by the time they’re captured, leaving the Corps to think that they’ve caught and killed the pirates... taking the heat off so that Caven and his band can resume operations after the Corps’ve left.
The TARDIS posse escapes, leavin’ just Milo and Dom aboard the doomed ship. The pirates, now desperate, plant bombs in the Issisgiri reactor room, reckoning that the resultin’ blast’ll blow both the escapees and the investigatin’ Corps ship sky-high. But the Doctor’s able to patch things up right nice, defusin’ the bomb and talkin’ Milo through emergency repairs. He an’ Dom land back to safety as the Corps catches up to the fleein’ pirate ship and meets out frontier justice. With the pirates blown to kingdom come, Madeleine off to the lockup (but happy knowin’ her pa is still alive), and Milo exonerated, the Doctor and his posse ride off into the sunset…
The storyline is unusual; an odd duck that almost feels like a Mission To The Unknown-style backdoor pilot - in that its only in the last few minutes of the first episode that the Doctor and co. arrive, and we seem to spend almost as much time on Milo and the Space Corps as we do on the TARDIS crew. And there’s a good reason; like the Krotons before it and the War Games after, this was written as a hasty replacement for a cancelled story. With that in mind, I think it turned out rather well (though its structure is understandably simplistic). Still, the characters are interesting- Milo in particular- and I feel it works. And the concepts expressed in the opening episodes are very clever- the 'explosion' and parallel pieces being explained with a very good grasp of space physics, the EM Field and poles concept working quite well... it's all very clever. More or less the Doctor and co are marooned, picked up, trail the pirates back to their lair, get captured, and must escape to warn the Space Corps of the pirates’ treachery before it can be enacted. Pretty simple, nice and fun. Made so mostly by its characters:
And not just funny bucket/Cossack hats, and the traditional complaining-underling-has-minutes-left-to-live-mentality; but even the dialogue and method of acting- these are old-school raiders, black-hatted and moustache-twirling, evil profit-driven blackguards with no respect for life (and very little intelligence in their tactics- if you’re only keeping your partner in line and from blowing your cover by threatening her father’s life, then what are you planning to do after you kill him?) and increasingly outrageous demands. The perfect foil for the science-based, mod space squad of the Space Corps.
As for our heroes… Zoe has a great moment when she reveals that she calculated the trajectory and course of the hijacked satellites in her head, factoring in every variable that the Doctor can object with... much to his annoyance. It's a clever use of her genius status that doesn't fall into Wesley Crusher 'annoying' territory. For once she’s not the ankle-twister (that honor going to Jamie this time), but still spends most of the story following rather than acting.
Ach. My character reviews are becoming more like eulogies the closer we get to the departure point for this entire era.
On the technical side of things, the model shots are fairly numerous and impressive. If the budget difficulties of Series 6 still existed, I see little evidence of them- effects are plentiful, so are sets- I suppose the costumes were traded off a bit, but still, this feels like a big-budget epic rather than a penny-pincher. Designs are unique- from the flat, swooping patrol ship to the needle-nosed dart craft (Perhaps Strargate's Wraith were Space Pirates fans...?) to the Saturn V-esque prospector rocket to the space buoys, whose top half seems to be a kit bash of the upper stage of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), the half of the moon lander that blasts off again to rejoin the capsule and service module in lunar orbit. So major kudos on those.
The pacing is perhaps a little on the slow side, but I suspect without the reconstruction-ness slowing things down, it would be a decently-paced serial; not the cream-of-the-crop in this aspect, but certainly at or above the average.
The Doctor’s failed attempt to attract the segments, his bomb defusal at the end, and most especially, his improvised prison-break.
So, overall, a 5 out of 5 reconstruction caps off this ‘last of the lost,’ a story that ranks a little lower in the 3.5 out of 5 Bickering Dominators, simply for not being all that exemplary in any particular area- but higher than average due to a unique mix of eras and character blends that give this unique serial a flavor all of its own.