Doctor Who Discovers Pirates was the sixth Doctor Who Discovers educational novel. Originally written in 1976 with the intent that it would be published by Target Books, it was shelved as part of the cancellation of the series due to poor sales. The draft was uncovered in 2019, and eventually published by Panini Comics as a companion to Doctor Who Magazine #576, with series illustrator Jeff Cummins commissioned to finally create a sixth Doctor Who Discovers cover.
The clash of cutlasses, the roar of cannon and the shouts of pirates as they swarm over the hapless ships that have become their prey… Everyone knows about pirates, but what were these buccaneers really like? In “Dr. Who Discovers Pirates” the Doctor traces their unlawful history from Roman times to the China seas of not more than a hundred years ago, finding out about such infamous characters as Captain Kidd and Blackbeard as the Tardis takes him through the centuries.
“Dr. Who Discovers Pirates” is one of a series of illustrated stories in which the Doctor meets the famous — and infamous — of history and finds himself an eye-witness to great events.
The Doctor's TARDIS lands with a lurch in a new location and the Fourth Doctor wonders where he could be. Reaching the door, he discovers he has landed on the sea waves. He quickly realises he must be on Earth and on the Mediterranean Sea, which turns out to be correct. He eventually finds a telescope in a TARDIS locker and uses it to spot two sailing ships from the time of the Roman Empire, determining that he is watching a pirate invasion in progress. Throughout the ransacking, one young man remains calm - a young Julius Caesar, although he is quickly captured by the pirates and held for ransom. With the ships having sailed out of sight, the Doctor asks the TARDIS' computer how the story ended. It prints out a sheet revealing that Caesar's family paid the ransom, upon which Caesar enacted his brutal revenge upon the pirates and won the ransom back. The Doctor admits surprise at seeing pirates flourishing so early in humanity's history and asks the TARDIS for more information. He is quickly fascinated and, seeing as he is not too busy, decides to go and investigate first-hand.
The TARDIS lands in almost the same spot but in the 16th century at a time when Arabs had conquered most of the surrounding countries as part of a brutal war with the Christians. However, as the Doctor points out, many of the men involved were privateers or corsairs and therefore had an official license to engage in piratical behaviour. From the Barbary Corsairs, the most notorious were Arouj and Kheireddin Barbarossa. Arouj in particular was crafty enough to steal two ships belonging to the Pope, but the Doctor explains that once he tried to rule Algiers, he became so unpopular that he was eventually killed. Despite this, the corsairs' activities continued as late as 1830.
The Doctor decides to go exploring somewhere else, this time landing in 1572 South America. Eventually, he hears some voices whispering in English and deduces that he has stumbled upon Francis Drake in Nombre de Dios on the Gulf of Darien: a vital treasure store for the Spanish rulers which Drake and his men are planning to steal. Assisted by another group led by John Drake and John Oxenham, they start making such a noise that the townspeople and guards assume they are being attacked and flee. The Doctor laughs at this. However, as Drake tells his men to focus on a second, more valuable treasure store, he passes out from a loss of blood from his leg. Although he comes to and tells his men to leave him, they refuse and instead escape, but without the treasure. The Doctor decides to follow suit before he is captured. In the TARDIS, he recalls how Drake would get his victory in 1588 when he destroyed the Spanish Armada, cementing him as one of England's finest privateers.
Next, the Doctor sets the TARDIS on course for Jamaica and lands in the pirate stronghold city of Port Royal, later known as Kingston. He explores the streets and taverns before spotting an imposing man dressed in expensive clothes with a fancy moustache. Noticing what an impression he was making on the crowd, the Doctor asks a nearby townsman who he is, and he explains he is Sir Henry Morgan - now deputy governor of Jamaica but once a common privateer captain. With the townsman walking off, the Doctor thinks back on Morgan's career, remembering how he acted like a regular murderer, such as when he raided the harbour of Porto Bello in Panama by holding its governor to ransom, with many lives lost in the battle. He also tortured the villagers of every Caribbean town he plundered and once looted Panama City despite being vastly outnumbered by the Spanish. His actions led even the English to think he should stand trial for his crimes, but upon returning home, he was treated as such a hero he got a knighthood and an official license to hunt pirates.
The Doctor thinks about how Morgan was much luckier than Captain William Kidd: another British privateer who instead focused on the French. One day, in 1697, he set sail as his men were talking of mutiny and he was forced to kill a gunner called William Moore in retaliation. By the next year, after capturing some French ships, he returned home to find he was a wanted man. He was betrayed by his confidant, Lord Belmont, and spent thirteen months in prison before being found guilty and hanged. The documents that could have proved his innocence only mysteriously reappeared two hundred years later.
With the Doctor lost in thought, he notices a small seaman standing by him who asks if he is looking for work as a buccaneer. The Doctor replies that he is just doing some research for a book. The seaman asks what the Doctor would like to know and he starts by asking what a buccaneer is. He replies that it is the term for Caribbean pirates descended from French settlers, with many in the trade greatly preferring it to joining an official navy due to them having written rights. The Doctor next asks about marooning, and the man explains how it only happens occasionally, noting that walking the plank has never happened in the real world either.
The seaman next mentions Blackbeard as an example of a villainous captain. The Doctor asks to know more. He describes that his real name was Edward Teach or Edward Thatch and how many stories had been passed down about his marauding ways, terrorising the coast of the United States of America. One day, in North Carolina, he sailed into battle having been drinking the night before and was finally outwitted by an officer called Maynard. Blackbeard was the last one of his men to die before his head was cut off and nailed to Maynard's ship. The Doctor also asks about how real the skull and crossbones flag is, to which the seaman explains that it is true and a local captain called Bartholomew Roberts, or Black Barty, was known to fly ones representing the heads of the locals.
The seaman asks if the Doctor has heard of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who the Doctor is unaware of, so he explains that they were female pirates as feared as any man. When Bonny fell in love with a man called John Rackham, or Calico Jack, she was forced to dress as a man to join him on voyages, though her attention later turned to an English sailor they met called Mark Read, who turned out to actually be Mary - also a woman in disguise. Read served a life in the navy and the army until she fell in love with a sailor called Tom Deane. When Deane was eventually forced into a duel with his crew, Read took his place and won. The Doctor is impressed, especially when he hears how Bonny and Read were both betrayed by Calico Jack when he was captured and left them to be tried; the two women escaped hanging by claiming to be pregnant. With that, the seaman takes his leave and the Doctor thanks him for his time, deciding not to tell the seaman that he will likely never see him again.
Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor asks the computer about some pirate activity closer to the 20th century, and he is told that pirates operated in the China Sea even after World War II. The Doctor remembers the name of the pirate Shap-ng-Tsai who became an enemy of the British Commander Hay after his henchman, Chui Ah Poo, killed two officers. He decides to go and check it out. Landing nearby and watching the naval action through the TARDIS monitors, he spots the HMS Columbine launching two smaller boats towards the Chinese pirate ship and eventually they all desert it and swim for shore, except for one, who runs to the gunpowder store with a lit torch in hand, destroying the ship and killing many in the resulting explosion.
The Doctor turns back to the TARDIS computer and asks what happened next. It tells him that Hay sent for reinforcements and defeated Chui's forces despite overwhelming odds but had to chase Shap to the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam. He sends the TARDIS to the bay so he can watch and notes that Hay's men are again vastly outnumbered. However, he discovers to his surprise that one of the British rockets scores a direct hit, blowing up one of Shap's ships, which sets off a chain reaction of several other ones. The Doctor recalls that in the end, the British navy won despite the odds and was the death blow for large pirate fleets worldwide, although piracy was not stamped out entirely. He notes that although pirates may be glamourised by the 20th century, they were still criminals and fiends in the end. Secretly, he thinks about how he rather enjoyed his voyage of discovery as the pirates themselves were quite appealing, although what they did was quite wrong. Finally, the Doctor hopes aloud that he will meet more law-abiding people on his next adventure and bids farewell.
- Fourth Doctor
- Julius Caesar
- Francis Drake
- John Drake
- John Oxenham
- Henry Morgan
- Unnamed townsman
- Unnamed seaman
- When the seaman mentions Israel Hands as a man who was wounded by Blackbeard, Doctor recalls that Hands became posthumously famous when he appeared in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a book published in 1883.
- Like other entries in the series, Doctor Who Discovers Pirates came with a poster depicting the cover artwork. However, instead of being pull-out like the original books, it was included separately alongside the book within DWM 576's packaging.