Tag Archives: douglas adams

Who Review: The Pirate Planet

The quest for the six segments of the Key to Time continues. This time, the tracer takes the TARDIS crew to the planet Calufrax. The Doctor’s attempt to land fails, so Romana tries, and succeeds. The Doctor suspects something’s not right, and not simply because Romana succeeded where he failed. Calufrax is supposed to be cold and uninteresting, but the planet they land on is warm and thriving. Indeed, an announcement declares a new age of prosperity for the inhabitants. The people seem happy enough, though they live in fear of the Mentiads, strange robed people with powerful mental abilities who live under the planet’s surface. But as the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 soon discover in their quest for the the second segment, the planet holds a secret that even its inhabitants don’t know about. Only the planet’s ruler, the bombastic Captain, and his crew have any idea what’s going on. And the truth is more horrific than the Doctor could ever have imagined…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This is the first script submitted to Doctor Who by up-coming writer Douglas Adams. At the time, Adams’s radio play, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” had just been broadcast, and he was riding the wave of success from that. A second series was due, and a book adaptation. Nevertheless, as a life-long Doctor Who fan, he relished the opportunity to write for the show. What we have here is classic Douglas Adams: clever and witty, with characters that ride a fine line between real and parody. There’s a good story that comes to us in pieces but gradually forms a complete picture as the serial progresses.

The Captain is the bombastic pirate, pilot of the planet that hops around the galaxy devouring smaller planets, mining them for their minerals, then spitting out what’s left. His right-hand man, Mr. Fibuli, grovellingly submits to every command of the Captain. The two of them remind me of Hook and Mr. Smee from Peter Pan.  And then there’s the Captain’s “nurse,” who spends most of the story skulking in the background. Little do we realize how important she is to the plot until near the end. When we first encounter the Mentiads, they seem hostile, but the Doctor finds out they are very misunderstood. Indeed, they recognize that the Doctor shares their desire to bring down the Captain and stop his evil plan.

There’s not much I can fault with this story. Perhaps the biggest plot hole I can find is the fact that the planet Calufrax is the second segment of the Key to Time. So, if the Captain hadn’t destroyed it to mine it for minerals, the Doctor would have destroyed it to convert it back into the second segment. I suppose one could argue being the second segment of the Key to Time is better than being sucked dry and having one’s remains mounted for display. Either way, the planet was doomed.

What impresses me the most about “The Pirate Planet,” however is the sheer imagination of the story. Everything from the Captain’s robot parrot (that gets into a laser fight with K-9) to the real reason the planet needs to destroy all those planets and harvest their minerals.

A point of interest: The Doctor and Romana use jelly babies to break the ice with the residents of the planet. However when the Doctor leaves a trail of confectionery from his white paper bag to tempt a guard away from his hover car, the candies are clearly Licorice Allsorts, not jelly babies.

Also, when the Captain announces “a new golden age of prosperity,” he talks of there being “wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” This same phrase was used in the previous story, “The Ribos Operation.”

Must-see Who? Almost. Douglas Adams’s next Who story, “City of Death” certainly is. But this one is worth watching, and is one of the best freshman efforts of Who’s many writers to date. I wouldn’t quite call it essential, though. Others may differ. 🙂

RTW: Uomo d’Acciaio

This week is the last of our YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday/A-to-Z Blogging Challenge mash-ups. Next week, we’ll be back to the regular Road Trip Wednesday. The question this week is:

In Debra Driza’s MILA 2.0, the main character discovers she’s an android trained to obey orders. We want to know: What other human-like robots (or robot-like humans?) have you enjoyed in books, TV, or movies?

Our letter for today is “U” which explains my brief excursion into Italian for the blog title. “Uomo d’Acciaio” literally means “Man of Steel”–in this case a reference to robots, not Superman. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but it’ll do…

My first thought went to Iko, Cinder’s very likable robot friend and the family factotum, from Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” series. She has a lot of sympathy for Cinder, and is loyal to her. But she also longs to be more like a human. She’s a great character… but in the end I had to go for Marvin, the Paranoid Android, from Douglas Adams’s HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. Marvin is not actually so much paranoid, as manically depressed. He came with The Heart of Gold, the ship that the heroes of the story hitched a ride on. All the computers and robots on The Heart of Gold have GPP: Genuine People Personalities. The doors are obnoxiously cheerful, and delighted to open for you. Marvin, on the other hand, is like Eeyore on his worst day. And then some. For example:

“Sorry, did I say something wrong? Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it… I’m so depressed. Here’s another one of those self-satisfied doors. Life! Don’t talk to me about life.”

[In response to the question “What are you supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?”]: “You think you’ve got problems… what are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don’t bother to answer that, I’m fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don’t know the answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level.”

My favorite screen depiction of Marvin is still the one from the 1981 BBC television series adaptation, voiced by Stephen Moore (see the picture on the right–that’s Marvin, not Stephen Moore, btw). His low, bored, almost monotone fits the character perfectly.

And if the picture’s not enough, here’s a clip I found on YouTube, a little over 4 minutes long, featuring Marvin:

Who’s your favorite literary or screen robot/android/uomo d’acciaio? You can answer in the comments, or better still, join the Road Trip (details at the YA Highway blog)