TARDIS Index File

The Space Pirates (TV story)

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The Space Pirates
Spacepirates title
Novelised as: The Space Pirates
Doctor: Second Doctor
Companion(s): Jamie, Zoe
Main enemy: Caven
Main setting:
Key crew
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Michael Hart
Producer: Peter Bryant
Release details
Story number: 49
Number of episodes: 6
Season/series: Season 6
Premiere broadcast: 8 March - 12 April 1969
Premiere network: BBC1
Format: 6x25-minute episodes
Production code: YY
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Doctor Who television stories
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You may wish to consult Space pirate (disambiguation) for other, similarly-named pages.

The Space Pirates was the sixth story in the sixth season of Doctor Who. It is the last serial to contain missing episodes which only exist in stills, fragments, or reconstructions.

Narratively notable for featuring the Doctor and his companions in a comparatively minor capacity for the times, Robert Holmes' second script for the programme was an attempt at creating a "science fiction western". Clear allusions were evident to western character types as were being seen at the time in Britain on American imports like Gunsmoke. Holmes provided archetypes like "the lawman", "the deputy", "the pioneer", "the miner" and "the female businesswoman", amongst others. Indeed, the character of Milo Clancey wasn't even an allusion to a western stereotype; he was a wildcat prospector who dressed as if he'd just walked off the set of Bonanza.

Behind the scenes, the show was more than just the penultimate Patrick Troughton story. It was notable for a number of different reasons.

Episode 6 was effectively the series' first double banked episode. It was the first not to use any of the regular cast in studio recording since "Mission to the Unknown". While the story was being recorded, the regulars were actually on location with The War Games. Their portion of episode 6 was in fact pre-recorded and played back into the studio as required. (DWM 242)

Moreover, episode 1 was the final episode filmed at Lime Grove Studios, a particularly difficult studio that had been the bane of the production team since An Unearthly Child. While a number of stories had been recorded at BBC Television Centre before Pirates, episode 2 was the beginning of the period where Doctor Who was more or less permanently assigned to Television Centre. More specifically, it was the first episode recorded at TC4, one of the premiere studios at Television Centre. Also, episode 2 was, unusually, a studio show recorded on 35mm film — which is why it's the only episode of the serial which survives. The BBC deemed it "historically significant" and retained it. (DWM 242)

The visual effects were somewhat unique for Doctor Who. They realistically depicted space as starless at short range, perhaps informed by the then-daily glimpses of starless space in press coverage of the Apollo 11 launch.

Famously, the story was the first one on which John Nathan-Turner was employed by the Doctor Who production office, albeit in the minor and uncredited role of floor assistant. even though he was just called John Turner.

Synopsis Edit

The TARDIS materialises in Earth's future on a space beacon just before it is attacked by pirates. The travellers find themselves trapped in a sealed section of the beacon. It is blown apart and flown to where the pirates will plunder it of the precious mineral argonite. They witness a conflict between the pirates and the Interstellar Space Corps, led by General Hermack and Major Warne.

The ISC are convinced that the pirates' mastermind is an innocent yet eccentric space mining pioneer named Milo Clancey, while their true leader is a man named Caven. Caven has a secret base on the planet Ta. He is assisted by Madeleine Issigri, daughter of Clancey's ex-partner Dom, who - unknown to her - is now his captive.

When Madeleine discovers Caven's full treachery she helps to bring him to justice. The time travellers are given a lift back to the TARDIS by Clancey in his rickety old ship, the LIZ 79.

Plot Edit

Episode one Edit

Beacons on the space lanes are being blown up and plundered for precious argonite by a gang of space pirates led by Caven and his associate, Dervish. The Earth Space Corps cruiser V-41 notices the destruction of the beacon. With General Hermack and Major Warne in command, it sets out to apprehend the pirates. Another beacon is destroyed despite their best intentions. The fragments are taken with rocket propulsion. Hermack deploys troops to all nearby beacons to prevent another robbery.

The TARDIS crew has arrived on Beacon Alpha Four shortly before the pirates reach it. Caven and his men mop up the security force on the beacon. The pirates seal the time travellers in the beacon before blowing it to pieces.

Episode two Edit


The Doctor considers the dangerous position he, Jamie and Zoe are in onboard a segment of Beacon Alpha Four

The beacon falls into discrete, sealed pieces. The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in one. The Doctor attempts to use the compartment's magnetics to attract the next segment, but sends their segment hurtling off into space instead.

The eccentric Milo Clancey, in his aged ship the LIZ-79, is discovered by the V-41 crew. Clancey is brought onboard by General Hermack, questioned and released, although Major Warne disapproves. Hermack explains that he suspects Clancey and places his spacecraft under observation.

The nearest inhabited world is Ta, dominated by the Issigri Mining Corporation, whose leader is Madeleine Issigri. The firm was founded by her father and Clancey. The latter is now suspected of Dom Issigri’s murder, although nothing has been proved. Hermack visits Ta, believing that Clancey, whom he suspects of being the pirate leader, will end up there in due course.

Meanwhile, Clancey has found the segment of the beacon with the TARDIS crew and upon entering, shoots Jamie!

Episode three Edit

TSP 0-01

Dervish (l) and Caven

Clancey has just stunned Jamie. He rescues them from the station segment, deploying copper needles which immobilise Major Warne's ship. Zoe works out where the space pirates went: the planet Ta, where Clancey wishes to hide under the nose of Madeleine Issigri. Pirate leader Caven orders his subordinate, Dervish, to route the space station segments to Lobos, where Clancey is headquartered, to throw suspicion on him. Once on Ta the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe leave the ship but are chased by pirate guards and end up falling down a chasm.

Episode four Edit

The TARDIS crew find the injured Lt Sorba, seized from Beacon Alpha 4. General Hermack retrieves Major Warne and they pursue a Beta Dart used by the pirates. The Doctor opens the audio lock on the door of the cell they fell into. They find Clancey and escape to Madeleine Issigri's office, where they tell her of the pirates on Ta. When Caven enters killing Sorba they realise she's in league with them.

Episode five Edit

The Doctor, his friends and Clancey are flung into an old-fashioned study by Caven. They find Dom Issigri, Madeleine's father, whom Caven has been holding prisoner. Caven sabotages Clancey's ship and fits it with a remote control device. Madeleine Issigri, finding that Caven intends to kill the prisoners, calls General Hermack for help with the pirates, but Caven coerces her into keeping quiet when he reveals he has her father. The Doctor, Clancey, Dom Issigri, Jamie and Zoe escape, but the Doctor is separated from his friends and is caught in the blast as Clancey takes off.

Episode six Edit

Jamie and Zoe escape their guards and find the Doctor. Milo Clancey and Dom Issigri are trapped on Clancey's ship, which is out of control with a diminishing oxygen supply. Caven has Dervish booby trap the Issigri base by setting demolition charges in the atomic fuel store before they leave. The Doctor reactivates the oxygen supply on Clancey's ship. He instructs Clancey in how to disconnect the remote control. At a safe distance, the pirates send the signal to detonate the explosives, but the Doctor has removed the detonator, preventing an explosion. Major Warne in a Minnow tracks the pirates' Beta Dart and destroys it. Madeleine is taken to Earth to stand trial for her part in the proceedings, while Milo Clancey offers to take the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to Lobos to retrieve the orbiting space station fragment containing the TARDIS.

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

Uncredited, Mary Thomas provided the vocals that accompanied Dudley Simpson's music in this serial.

References Edit

The Doctor Edit

Metals Edit

  • Argonite, a metal, is the most valuable mineral known to man. It is practically indestructible.

Planets Edit

Story notes Edit

  • A rumoured working title for this story is The Pirates, but this does not appear on any contemporary BBC paperwork.
  • This is the most recent story from which episodes are still missing in their entirety. A number of later Pertwee episodes are missing in that their original 2" quad tapes were wiped, but copies exist. Episode six is the last episode of Doctor Who to be completely missing.
  • The story title, episode number and writer's caption credits for each episode are shown in black against a white background following (except in episode one's case) the reprise from the previous episode.
  • The serial features a brief, diegetic rendition of "Over the Rainbow" in episode two when Milo Clancey prepares a boiled egg for his breakfast aboard the LIZ 79. This was an unscripted ad-lib by Gordon Gostelow.

Ratings Edit

  • Episode one - 5.8 million viewers
  • Episode two - 6.8 million viewers
  • Episode three - 6.4 million viewers
  • Episode four - 5.8 million viewers
  • Episode five - 5.5 million viewers
  • Episode six - 5.3 million viewers

Myths Edit

This "latter day" myth was wholly created by poor copy editing by Loose Cannon Productions. Unfortunately, the popularity of their reconstruction means that many fans will have encountered it. 12 May 1969 was a Monday, so Doctor Who couldn't possibly have been broadcast on that date. Moreover, the 12 May was some ten weeks after the 8 March start date of the six-part story. The truth is that the story was broadcast from 8 March to 12th April.

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.
  • In the cliffhanger to episode three, the screams of the Doctor and the others can be heard for ages, whereas in the next episode they are shown to have only fallen a few feet.
  • In episode one the wire holding one of the pirates is clearly visible.

Continuity Edit

to be added

Home video and audio releases Edit

  • The surviving episode (episode two) was released on the Troughton Years video.
  • Episode two was reissued in digitally re-mastered form on the Lost in Time DVD, together with surviving film footage from episode one.
  • This story's soundtrack has been released on audio CD.

External links Edit

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