Douglas Adams writes this one, and he is a really good fit for the good-humoured sci-fi the show has developed into lately. I definitely see more than a hint of Hitchhiker’s “big ideas” in The Pirate Planet. There’s the ridiculously advanced technology that allows a hollowed out planet to teleport around the universe, swallow up smaller planets and leech them of minerals, which recalls memories of a certain factory floor. The unmalicious threat to Earth itself is not unlike Vogons blowing it up because it’s in the way, and of course the charismatic self-congratulatory Doctor is not far removed from one Betelgeusian president. There’s also a chase sequence through an inertia-cancelling corridor that ends in one of the funniest moments I’ve seen in this show so far.
The fact that it does all of this on a 1978 BBC budget is commendable. Douglas Adams paints a picture of a vast universe full of wonder without having to actually show it, which is perfect for Doctor Who. The dialogue offers up a lot of technobabble, and under any other circumstances, it might seem too much, but it really works here, and is frequently funny. The plot revelations are nicely spaced out and the whole thing is a rather enjoyable watch. My main complaint would be the apparent villain of the piece, the cybernetic Captain, who is just insufferable. I get that’s the point, but his blustering and threats are a pain.
Big ideas, snappy humour and some nice twists – this has all the ingredients of a classic. The Key to Time is worked into the story, thankfully without impeding on it, with no further mention of the guardians for now.