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.

It was also the latest serial of the "classic" era to be novelised, only receiving this treatment on 5 January 2017.

Synopsis Edit

The Doctor and Romana I 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.

Plot Edit

Part 1 Edit

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 doesn't appear as thrilled with the Captain's announcement as 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.

Meanwhile, Pralix is now delirious, watched over by his grandfather Balaton, sister Mula and friend Kimus. Balaton is concerned that his rantings will be overheard.

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 are going to 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. 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...

Part 2 Edit

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 isn't taking any chances. He has 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's going on. 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.

They have no time to pause as the Captain's guards give chase from behind. As they run, they face a group of Mentiads.

Part 3 Edit

There is no danger. The Mentiads are friendly. They 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. The Doctor doesn't know it yet, but 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 while 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 controlled by Queen Xanxia. The Queen believes that she has made her hologram nearly real. The Doctor tries to convince her that the escalating energy needs of the time dam she is using will eventually cause her real body to die. He is thrown overboard for his troubles.

Part 4 Edit

The Doctor survives 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.
Bridge Boom

The Bridge explodes.

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, the remains of Calufrax. They set off back to the TARDIS to search for the next segment.

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

Uncredited crew Edit

References Edit

  • The Doctor mentions 73.

The Doctor Edit

  • The Doctor claimed that he is responsible for teaching Isaac Newton the theory of gravity.

Gallifreyan creatures Edit

  • Romana studied the life cycle of the Gallifreyan flutterwing.

Minerals Edit

Technology Edit

Pets and mascots Edit

Planets Edit

Vehicles Edit

  • Veteran and Vintage Vehicles was an elective that covered the Type 40 TARDIS.

Story notes Edit

  • This story had a working title of The Pirates.
  • 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.
  • The original draft for this story was extremely complex, centred around a Time Lord trapped in a giant aggression-absorbing machine and several paradoxes; it was greatly simplified by the script editor, Anthony Read.
  • Vi Delmar, who played the aged Queen Xanxia, demanded an extra fee before she would remove her false teeth for filming.
  • According to the DVD commentary, the Doctor's accident where he falls and bangs his face on the console during the TARDIS's failed attempt to materialise on Calufrax was staged to explain 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.
  • 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's 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.

Ratings Edit

  • Part one - 9.1 million viewers
  • Part two - 7.4 million viewers
  • Part three - 8.2 million viewers
  • Part four - 8.4 million viewers

Filming locations Edit

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When the doctor tears out a page from the TARDIS instruction manual it is clear to see its just a piece of white A4 with black pen on, where as the book is of a cream and gold trim.

Continuity Edit

Home video and audio releases Edit

DVD releases Edit

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


The Key to Time boxed set covers Edit

Doctor Who DVD Files Edit

Video releases Edit

Digital releases Edit

  • 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.

Novelisation and its audiobook Edit

External links Edit

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