The Pirate Planet was the second serial in season 16 of Doctor Who. It was the second story in the Key to Time arc. The Pirate Planet was the only transmitted story for which Douglas Adams received sole on-screen credit.
The Doctor and Romana learn the second segment of the Key to Time is on the planet Calufrax. Yet they arrive on a planet called Zanak, which has been hollowed out and fitted with hyperspace engines, allowing its insane, half-robot Captain to materialise it around smaller planets and plunder their resources.
On a mountain base, the nervous Mr Fibuli informs the impatient Captain that a new source has been found for vasilium. Immediate orders to mine it follow. The Captain speaks to the people of the planet, declaring a new golden age. As the people celebrate, a different group, dressed in yellow robes, mentally watch Pralix, who appears less thrilled with the Captain's announcement than everybody else.
In the TARDIS, the Fourth Doctor is securing the first segment of the Key to Time by tucking it in a boot and sticking it in the fridge. The tracer points Romana I and him to the cold and boring planet of Calufrax. The TARDIS is unable to materialise (damaging Zanak's engines as well) until Romana pilots it into a landing. The pair soon discover that they are not on Calufrax at all.
The area in which the Doctor and his entourage have landed is deserted until they meet a local who tells them that the people of his planet will be rich because of the Captain and his latest "golden age of prosperity." He gives Romana some diamonds and rubies, saying they can be found everywhere. He warns the Doctor and her about the Mentiads, then leaves before he can elaborate. The Doctor finds precious stones all around, including the extremely rare oolion.
Balaton is terrified that Pralix will be taken by the Mentiads. Kimus is sceptical, and Mula remembers her father's death at the hands of the Captain's guards, ostensibly to save him from the Mentiads. Meanwhile, the Mentiads declare their "harvest" of Pralix is imminent. As they march across the fields of Zanak, the Doctor hears Pralix and sets off to investigate. Romana waits behind, surveying the Captain's fortress with a telescope, only to be arrested for that forbidden item and her forbidden question: "Why?"
The Captain sends more of his soldiers to stop the Mentiads, but weapons are useless against their psychic powers. Instead, the Captain sends troops to find the telepath and eliminate him before the Mentiads find them first. They burst in on the Doctor in Pralix's home, but K9 quickly stuns them. The Mentiads enter soon after and strike down the Doctor with a blast of mental energy...
When the Doctor wakes, Pralix and the Mentiads are gone. K9 tells him of Romana's arrest, giving him an incentive to try to get to the bridge atop the mountain, where she has been taken by the guard. Kimus accompanies him, hoping to rescue Pralix from the Mentiads. They get up to the mountain in an air car. Meanwhile, Mula and K9 track the Mentiads in an attempt to find Pralix.
On the bridge, Fibuli breaks the news to the Captain that the macromat field integrator has burnt out and they cannot replace it themselves. He suggests one more jump to find mineral PJX 1-8, which would do the same job as the integrator. Romana is brought to the bridge, and the Doctor also finds his way up. The Captain, taking no chances, as guns trained on them as he encourages them to lend technical assistance. Romana is confused that the tracer gives out a continuous signal wherever they go. The Doctor realises what is going on--and it horrifies him. After they escape with Kimus and make their way underground, they find the ground beneath them is frozen. The Doctor explains the planet they are on, Zanak, has been hollowed out and fitted with engines so it can transmat through space and materialise around others — such as Calufrax — to plunder their mineral wealth.
The Doctor, Romana and Kimus have no time to pause as the Captain's guards give chase from behind. As they run, they face a group of Mentiads who say they have come for the Doctor.
The Mentiads are friendly, and have come to save the Doctor and his friends from the guards. The Mentiads, now including Pralix, create a force field with their psychic powers. This power of the Mentiads will not last much longer. Zanak has come to Calufrax for its crystals. When refined, they can be used to block their psychic abilities. Though the Doctor does not yet know it, the Captain is planning to materialise Zanak around Earth after mining on Calufrax is finished, because mineral PJX 1-8 (quartz) has been located there.
The Mentiads tell the Doctor that Zanak was a prosperous planet until the reign of Queen Xanxia, who supposedly had mysterious powers. Galactic wars she waged were the ruin of Zanak and its people.
The Doctor and Kimus fail to steal an air car and are taken to the bridge. The Captain shows the Doctor his trophy room of crushed remains of planets. The Doctor's secret plan is to break into the engine room, but whilst he is looking for it, Kimus and he find a room with an old body connected to a time dam, used to slow down the flow of time, using the energy Zanak acquires to keep Queen Xanxia barely alive. The Doctor returns to the bridge and exposes the Captain's nurse as a hologram under the control of Queen Xanxia. The Queen believes that she has made her hologram nearly real. The Doctor tries, but fails, to convince her that the escalating energy needs of the time dam she is using will eventually cause her real body to die. The Doctor is made to walk a plank suspended over a sheer drop, then the Captain fires a gun at his feet until the Doctor loses his balance and falls as the Captain laughs evilly.
The Doctor has survived because it was only a projection of him that walked the plank. He has figured out the final piece of Queen Xanxia's puzzle, the device he found in the room with the body. Xanxia has been using the device to create an image for herself, disguised as the Captain's nurse. Xanxia is almost immortal because of the power of Zanak, which she uses to give permanent form to her image.
The Mentiads approach the bridge. They expect the Doctor to have taken control of the engine room by now, but because of the psychic interference transmitter, they are disadvantaged. The Captain seals the bridge as Zanak prepares to make the jump to Earth. Since Zanak's engines were damaged when the planet materialised in the same place as the TARDIS, the Doctor escapes and tries to employ the trick again to prevent Zanak from materialising, while the Mentiads do their best to sabotage Zanak's engines. Xanxia kills the Captain, who is saddened when Mr Fibuli dies, when he finally turns against her. The Doctor, Romana and the Mentiads destroy Zanak's bridge and Queen Xanxia, ending the devastation caused by Zanak's travels. In the aftermath, the Doctor and Romana collect the second segment of the Key to Time, which the Doctor had realised is the remains of Calufrax itself. They set off back to the TARDIS to search for the next segment.
- Doctor Who - Tom Baker
- Romana - Mary Tamm
- Voice of K9 - John Leeson
- The Captain - Bruce Purchase
- Mr. Fibuli - Andrew Robertson
- Balaton - Ralph Michael
- Pralix - David Sibley
- Kimus - David Warwick
- Mula - Primi Townsend
- Citizen - Clive Bennett
- Mentiad - Bernard Finch
- Guard - Adam Kurakin
- Nurse - Rosalind Lloyd
- Writer - Douglas Adams
- Costumes - L. Rowland Warne
- Designer - Jon Pusey
- Film Cameraman - Elmer Cossey
- Film Editor - John Dunstan
- Film Sound - Doug Mawson
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Make-Up - Janis Gould
- Production Assistant - Michael Owen Morris
- Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner
- Script Editor - Anthony Read
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies
- Studio Sound - Mike Jones
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - Colin Mapson
- Producer - Graham Williams
- Director - Pennant Roberts
- Visual Effects Assistants - Chris Lawson, John Brace, Charlie Lumm, Peter Wragg (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Director's Assistant - Hazel Marriott (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Film Ops Manager - Ian Brindle (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Assistant Floor Manager - Ruth Mayorcas (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Floor Assistant - Peter Leslie (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Tecnical Manager - Tony Bate (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Grams Operator - Ian Tomlin (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Make-Up Assistants - Linda Burr, Miranda Davidson, Sally Millican, Catherine Whitfield (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Assistant Sound Recordist - Norman Johnstone (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Senior Cameraman - Spencer Payne (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Assistant Film Cameraman - Brian Hall (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Design Assistant - Peter Higgins (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- Vision Mixer - Sue Thorne (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- The Doctor mentions 73.
- The Doctor claimed that he is responsible for teaching Isaac Newton the theory of gravity.
- Romana studied the life cycle of the Gallifreyan flutterwing.
- Calufrax was rich in voolium and madranite one-five.
- Earth has quartz.
- Oolion is abundant on Bandraginus V and another planet called Qualactin.
- Diamonds and rubies and gravel litter the streets of Zanak.
- The synchronic feedback circuit or the multi-loop stabiliser are both essential for a smooth rematerialisation of the TARDIS.
- The warp oscilloscope registered the dematerization of the TARDIS is a slight disturbance.
- Queen Xanxia is held in stasis by two time dams.
Pets and mascots
- Planets that the Captain has in his collection include Bandraginus V, Calufrax, Granados, and Qualactin. It also included Aterica, Bibicorpus, Lowiteliom, Temesis, and Tridentio III. (INFO: The Pirate Planet)
- This story had the working title of The Pirates.
- This episode ties into the arc's themes of balance; notably with Queen Xanaxia’s suspension in the last few seconds of her life, and the Captain’s trophy room; however, there is an implicit criticism here of the idea of “balance” being inherently a moral good.[source needed]
- This is Douglas Adams's first contribution to Doctor Who. According to the documentary A Matter of Time, included in the 2009 special edition DVD of The Key to Time, it was while working on The Pirate Planet that Adams sold his radio play, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to the BBC. He worked on both projects at the same time.
- Douglas Adams's original outline involved a planet which is being mined by the Time Lords, who use a giant aggression-sapping machine (disguised as a statue) to pacify the natives. A Time Lord (stuck in the slow-time field, in the midst of his last regeneration) is sent to disconnect the machine, but becomes trapped in the works and absorbs all the aggression — inducing him to turn against his people. He causes the mining devices to hollow out the planet and now plans to make it dematerialise and reform around Gallifrey.
- Anthony Read remarked in the DVD commentary that he undertook most of the producing duties for this serial as Graham Williams was recovering from a broken leg.
- Graeme MacDonald, who was Head of Serials at the time, did not want this story to be put into production. He felt that it was too ambitious for their allocated budget and that Douglas Adams was taking the show too far into comedic territory. He voiced his concerns in a letter to Anthony Read who assured MacDonald that they would be able to "make it work" and Pennant Roberts supported him; adding that an attempt to realise the story's ambitions would be easier than trying to find a last minute replacement. In the DVD commentary, Read claimed that, after production on the serial was complete, MacDonald apologised to him.
- Vi Delmar, who played the aged Queen Xanxia, demanded an extra fee before she would remove her false teeth for filming of her scenes.
- According to the DVD commentary, the Doctor's accident where he falls and bangs his face on the console during the TARDIS' failed attempt to materialise on Calufrax was staged to explain Tom Baker's real-life cut lip. This was due to a dog bite from a Jack Russell terrier owned by Paul Seed which had occurred during filming of the preceding story The Ribos Operation (where Seed played the Graff Vynda-K.)
- At one point, the Doctor tells Kimus, "Don't panic," which is the tagline for Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Mula's line "I get the feeling the Doctor isn't fully in control" was originally supposed to be spoken by Romana but Mary Tamm was having problems saying "control". Pennant Roberts initially complained that she was saying it in her natural Yorkshire accent and then that she was using too much of a posh voice so she ultimately suggested that Primi Townsend say the line instead.
- The name "Bantraginus V" is likely a reference to "Santraginus V", the home for one of the key ingredients in the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- This is the second of six linked serials that comprise the whole of season 16, known collectively as The Key to Time.
- Romana shoots an enemy soldier dead. Although her predecessor, Leela, often used deadly force, this was one of the only on-screen occasions in which Romana did so. Romana's reaction to doing so leaves it unclear as to whether this is the first time she's killed someone.
- Part one appears to begin the day after the conclusion of The Ribos Operation. The Doctor is about to put away the newly acquired first segment and talking to K9 about the success of the mission. He says "Good morning" to Romana, suggesting at least an evening has passed, but not much more.
- In part one, the Doctor actually directly refers to Romana as having "good looks", one of the few times in the original series that the Doctor made such a remark regarding one of his companions. Ironically, Douglas Adams's later story, City of Death, included the line, "You're a good looking woman, probably", which has been used in some aspects of fandom to suggest that the Doctor doesn't (or shouldn't) consider the physical appearance of his companions.
- The Doctor's line — "Standing around all day looking tough must be very wearing on the nerves" — was later used in one of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio serials, directed by the character Ford Prefect at a Vogon.
- The close-up of the Doctor at the end of part two is used in the Atraxi's holographic montage of all the previous Doctors in The Eleventh Hour.
- Mary Tamm named this as her favourite serial.
- Douglas Adams had originally conceived a drug addiction allegory, about a company which preys on people who fear death by offering machines which can slow time for them — but at an exorbitant price. The company goes bankrupt, however, leaving one old lady in need of a source of fantastic energy.
- Douglas Adams did not like the casting of Bruce Purchase as the Captain. He envisaged a grotesque, and felt that Purchase played it far too jokey.
- Douglas Adams came up with idea of the air car as a device he could employ to avoid scenes set in corridors, which he detested.
- Douglas Adams concocted the Polyphase Avitron to make the Captain's scenes more interesting; for a time, he considered giving the robotic parrot dialogue like “Pieces of silicate!”
- The 16mm location work for this story is still held in the BBC archive.
- Part one - 9.1 million viewers
- Part two - 7.4 million viewers
- Part three - 8.2 million viewers
- Part four - 8.4 million viewers
- Dan-yr-Ogof caves in Powys, Wales
- Berkeley Power Station, Berkeley, Gloucestershire
- Coity Mountain, Gwent
- Gellifelen Railway Tunnels, Daren-felen, Gwent
- Monmouthshire Golf Course, Llanfoist, Gwent
- Big Pit, Blaenavon, Gwent
- Bwlch y Garn, Ebbw Vale, Gwent
- National Showcaves Centre for Wales, Dan-yr-Ogof, Swansea
- Shepperton Studios, Littleton, Middlesex
- BBC Television Centre (TC6), Shepherd's Bush, London
- When the Doctor tears out a page from the TARDIS instruction manual, it is clear to see that it is a piece of white A4 with black pen on, whereas the book is of a cream and gold trim.
- The Seventh Doctor later recalls being on Zanak in 1978. (PROSE: First Frontier)
- The Thirteenth Doctor also encountered a foe using similar planet-shrinking technology. (TV: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos)
- The Doctor once again tells Romana not to trust "gimmicky gadgets". (TV: The Ribos Operation)
- Unconscious, the Doctor seems to believe he's talking to Leela, mumbling "no more janis thorns". (TV: The Face of Evil, The Talons of Weng-Chiang)
- Inside the TARDIS, Romana and the Doctor look at the TARDIS Instruction Manual. The Doctor tears a page out. The Eleventh Doctor later claimed to have thrown the manual into a supernova because he "disagreed with it". (TV: Amy's Choice)
- A planet known as Calufrax Minor is among the stolen planets used by Davros' reality bomb. (TV: The Stolen Earth)
- Romana pilots the TARDIS by the book, and the TARDIS makes the usual materialisation noise, as it does every time she pilots it. However, when River Song pilots the TARDIS while following the Byzantium, the TARDIS does not make the noise. She says that it is due to the Doctor leaving the brakes on. Other TARDISes (i.e.the Master's or the Rani's), piloted by experienced and trained pilots, also make this noise, contradicting what River said. Given the nature of their relationship, it is possible, even likely, that River Song was just teasing the Doctor. (TV: The Time of Angels)
Home video and audio releases
- This story was released along with The Ribos Operation, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll and The Armageddon Factor as Doctor Who: The Key to Time. This October 2002 release was only in Region 1. Extras include commentary by Bruce Purchase and Pennant Roberts, a photo gallery and production information subtitles.
- It was also released with same stories as Doctor Who: The Key to Time, an extras-laden box set limited to 15,000 in its initial UK release on 24 September 2007, later followed by wide release in Region 1 on 3 March 2009 as The Key to Time - Special Edition.
Contents (2007/2009 version):
- Commentary by Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and Anthony Read
- Commentary by Bruce Purchase and Pennant Roberts (carried over from the 2002 set)
- Parrot Fashion - A 30-minute documentary featuring an archive interview with writer Douglas Adams, plus cast and crew including Mary Tamm, John Leeson, Bruce Purchase and Rosalind Lloyd.
- Film Inserts, Deleted Scenes & Outtakes - Raw footage and alternate takes from the filming of the serial, plus a couple of bloopers.
- Weird Science - A spoof of late-1970s-style school programmes, poking fun at some of the science seen during Season 16.
- Continuities - Off-air continuity links from the story's original transmissions.
- Radio Times Billings - Listings from Radio Times (DVD-ROM PC/Mac).
- Coming Soon Trailer - Planet of Evil. (2007 UK version only)
- Photo Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
The Key to Time boxed set covers
Doctor Who DVD Files
- The story is available for streaming in the US through Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.
- It is also available to download through iTunes.
- The story was released as a soundtrack CD by BBC Audio in October 2012 with linking narration by John Leeson. A vinyl version was released on 18 March 2022 by Demon Records.
Novelisation and its audiobook
- Douglas Adams reserved the novelisation rights to his television stories for himself, saying that he would like to novelise The Pirate Planet and City of Death when he had "run out of things to do", and didn't want another author writing them. However, he never got around to writing them before his death in 2001.
- Because of this, The Pirate Planet is one of only five serials not to have been novelised by Target Books, along with City of Death, Shada (as far as Adams was concerned Shada would never see print as he felt it was "just not up to much", but it was officially novelised despite this in 2012), and two others written by Eric Saward: Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks.
- In 1990, an unofficial novelisation, written by David Bishop, was published by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club.
- Another was made by James Goss in 2017, created out of the original novelisation, though it was slightly different. For example, the Mentiads were known as the Mourners and their psychokinetic energy was fuelled by the Life Force of dead planets.
- On 1 October 2012, AudioGO released an audiobook of The Pirate Planet, as a "4th Doctor TV soundtrack", read by Tom Baker and Mary Tamm, and narrated by John Leeson (the voice of K9).
- The Pirate Planet at the BBC's official site
- The Pirate Planet at RadioTimes
- The Pirate Planet at BroaDWcast
- The Pirate Planet at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Pirate Planet at The Locations Guide