Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Serial 99: The Pirate Planet - The Key to Time Part 2

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companions: Romana I, K-9

Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts

Background & Significance: In 1977, a young fellow named Douglas Adams was offered a gig writing Doctor Who just as his grand opus and most famous work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy got off the ground.

Adams's first story for Doctor Who (one of three he wrote) was called many things by many people. Some called it too complicated. Others called it too expensive. Others called it too dense.

A BBC exec called it "Too funny."

And that's funny right? I mean, you hire a guy like Douglas Adams on the scene for a big sci-fi show, you're going to get funny, right? It's most odd, perhaps, because the backlash against Phillip Hinchcliffe's "violent and scary" tenure as producer on Doctor Who resulted in Doctor Who becoming more comedic.

As such, Adams was a perfect fit. So perfect, in fact, that he became story editor for the season after The Key to Time, but I guess we'll talk about that when we finally get there.

Needless to say, The Pirate Planet is indeed funny, although I'd call it silly more than anything. More than that, though, it is dense but with some very cool sci-fi ideas in it. Also, it's zany. Like really zany. I think this is the zaniest it's been so far.

But fun. I think.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

We open on "The Bridge". It's a Star Wars lookin place, with consoles and dudes with guns and buttons and consoles and booping lights.

A man in the captain's chair, The Captain, calls for Mr. Fibuli and asks for a status report. Mr. Fibuli enters and he's... well... he's a bit of a nebbish looking dude. I mean, let's take a look at him shall we?

Now what we have here is some stereotypical 70s lookin dude with a silly uniform and a nice curly hair 70s fro and some tinted sunglasses while he's inside in this Star Wars place.

That's bold. That's a bold look for someone so sheepish.

Mr. Fibuli begins giving a status report on minerals and other boring things, being all nebbish and handing charts. But The Captain throws them away! He has no time for charts! He wants results!

But who is The Captain, you might ask? This guy.

And really, this is where the story starts and it sets off the whole tone of the thing. It's... designed to be silly, with the Captain being a booming voice guy and barking orders and being all haughty. It's funny, don't get me wrong, but I found it mostly camp and off-putting.

That, however is just my opinion.

The Captain addresses the citizens of his planet, saying that they are reaching a new Golden Age of posterity and fortune.

And then the people say "Hooray" (no really, they say it like that. It's so passionless it's amazing).

Off in the TARDIS, Romana is looking at this book on a... I guess it's a stand. It's rather odd, and I don't think I've ever seen it or the book before. It seems odd that it's just been here, slightly off camera for about fifteen seasons at this point.

But ah, I'm digressing.

So what happens next.... Oh! Ah yes. She goes and insults the TARDIS by calling it "outdated and obsolete".

God. What. a. bitch.

The Doctor has tracked down the next location of the Key to Time to Calufrax Minor and starts to pilot the TARDIS there. Romana gets up in his grille, though, telling him he's flying it wrong and she knows because she's reading the instruction manual, meaning she'll know what she's doing.

The Doctor then rips the page out of the instruction manual.

Hahahaha. That's right, Doctor. Don't let a woman tell you how to pilot your vehicle. It is yours. Own it.

As he attempts to dematerialize on Calufrax Minor, however, there's a ripple effect and the TARDIS is thrown off course. Romana takes the opportunity to slam The Doctor for his TARDIS driving skills, but The Doctor refuses to let her talk to him that way.

On the Bridge, something blew out the engines while they were attempting to land. The Captain starts yelling again, and blames Mr. Fibuli for being a ponce. Mr. Fibuli vows to get right on it.

Still arguing, Romana convinces The Doctor to allow her to try to land the TARDIS, which she does, gracefully, making The Doctor a whole manner of indignant.

Romana turns on the scanner as The Doctor begins to describe Calufrax Minor as a boring old planet that's very cold and very empty and very boring.

Unfortunately, that's not the sort of planet they seem to have landed on. The Doctor starts laughing at her, saying she got the landing completely wrong and this is why women don't fly The TARDIS.

And then K-9 randomly starts spinning.

This makes The Doctor run some tests, leading to him saying that they're in the right point in space-time, but Calufrax isn't here. Some other planet is instead, a planet that wasn't there just a little bit before.

On the planet, which is called Zanak, a young lad named Pralix starts freaking out in his flat in the city, falling into fits of hysteria as a group of dark beige robed hipsters march in a circle in their cave some many miles away.

His family is worried, and they think people are coming for them, but it's only Kimus, the family friend. Still, though. Everyone is worried.

Elsewhere, The Doctor, Romana, and K-9 disembark from the TARDIS, sensing the Key to Time all around them and the tracker not giving them an accurate reading. The Doctor dismisses it as a useless machine and then tries to chat up the locals.

But they ignore him, because his hair is too much like Mr. Fibuli's (although The Doctor did it first, I believe) and his scarf is far too long (and really, I don't mean to make a huge deal about the scarf, but at this point, that thing is just out of control. I mean, I love the scarf, and I love how ridiculous it is, but right now it's just too long and unwieldy. It's like they're shoving the joke in my face rather than just letting me chuckle at it; also, they really did sew the real scarf and the stunt scarf together to make Mega Scarf, so my complaints are not unfounded).

Sorry about that. Back to the commentary...

The Doctor asks K-9 why the people don't love him, and his dog explains that Romana is prettier than The Doctor, and thusly attracts more people to help her out when she asks for it.

Also, she'll offer them jelly babies. Jelly babies which SHE STOLE OUT OF THE DOCTOR'S POCKET.


The Doctor and Romana also find precious stones on the ground. Super precious, by the way. Stuff that shouldn't be on this planet. The Doctor decides to go investigate, landing him in Pralix's house.

While this is going on, the beige robed psychics, called Mentiads, begin to traipse across the land, heading for Pralix, unhindered by soldiers who try to take them out.

And then The Captain starts to talk to his robotic parrot and orders more troops to take the Mentiads out, but the Mentiads are powerful and nigh unstoppable.

And then Romana's arrested for being too inquisitive and poking her nose around too much. She tells K-9 to go fetch The Doctor and tell him what's happened (or rather, she tells him not to go do that, which makes him go do that because of The Doctor's instructions).

K-9 finds The Doctor to tell The Doctor of Romana's capturing, but Pralix has him otherwise occupied.

And then the Mentiads burst in and psychic The Doctor, knocking him back. K-9 tries to shoot them, but it doesn't affect them at all. The Doctor tries to talk to them again, but they psychic him again and he slumps.

And because it's a cliffhanger, it's possible the second time kills him.

Part 2:

On The Bridge, The Captain gets PISSED that his soldiers didn't capture and detain Pralix, as each additional Mentiad makes them that much harder to kill. He gets angry at everyone and then his robot parrot goes into the sky and kills one of the incompetents (not Mr. Fibuli. He is too 70s to die).

He then yells at them to stop standing around and get back to work.

In Pralix's flat, The Doctor awakens to find the Mentiads and Pralix gone. He asks K-9 to track the psychic resonance back to the Mentiads' lair with Pralix's sister while he goes with Kimus to have a daring rescue of Romana.

But how will they get to The Bridge?

By Air Car of course.

The Doctor manages to sneak into the air car using a clever stash of jelly babies to distract the guard guarding the air car long enough for them to steal it away and take it off to the Captain's ship.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fibuli enters the bridge bearing some bad news. Also, there's this random chick hanging out who decided to show up randomly. Who is she? No idea. But she wasn't in the last episode, but here she is, hanging out with The Captain, taking his temperature, stuff like that.

Anyways, Mr. Fibuli tells The Captain that Zanak has a burning out component, meaning they can only make one more jump or no more jumps or they'll need to somehow find a place that can have the component replaced, which is rare. It's entirely possible that they might have to settle down where they are and not jump to any more planets.

The Captain loses his $*#% and starts making small panels explode, angry at that solution.

And then Romana enters, acting all smug and haughty and Romana-y, talking about how she can travel in time and space, but The Captain doesn't believe her. He's about to sick his Robot Parrot on her when the random chick makes him stop, telling him to watch his blood pressure.

Huh. So this random woman is like Romanaesque to The Captain.

Elsewheres, The Doctor and Kimus arrive at the mountain where The Bridge is. And we get some sw33t shenanigans. Also, amazing special effects, especially Kimus running. Hahahah. Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

Also, if you're curious about what I mean when I say "this episode is funny in a camp way", this is exactly what I mean.

So now The Doctor's been captured by The Captain, so he and Romana (because she had to be stupid and out them as Time Lords) are taken to the engine room to try and figure out why the planet isn't moving, or won't move so well, or whatever. Not important. The Planet is broken, they are supposed to fix it.

This allows The Doctor and Romana some alone time to try and decipher what they know.

1) The Planet is actually a large space ship.

2) The Captain is a great big bully.

3) The Doctor figures out what's going on on the planet.

The Doctor manages to convince The Captain to let them head back to The TARDIS, but Kimus is there at the exit, just in place for a firefight to go down. The Doctor and Romana hit the deck, just as Kimus manages to take out all three guards like the badass he is.

With that taken care of, The Doctor then takes Romana and Kimus off to investigate the mines. Which they do, and The Doctor confirms his suspicions that Zanak is hollow.

The Doctor then explains what's happened: Zanak is hollow, but it jumps around to random points in space and time and swallows other planets, scrunching them and then mining all the minerals dry before moving on.

And that, my friends, is how you do a really awesome scifi concept.

But then they're attacked by The Captain's soldiers and they have to run away. And run away they do, gun firing as they go.

And then the Mentiads randomly show up for no reason. And they say they've come for The Doctor.

Which leads to some sweet Tom Baker cliffhanger face.

Part 3:

The Mentiads throw up a psychic forcefield to allow them to escape from The Captain's guards and head back to The Mentiads' lair, where K-9 and what's-her-face are waiting.

Soon after this, one of the guards informs The Captain that The Doctor and Co. have gone to the Mentiads. For this, The Captain shoots The Messenger (really, he sicks his robot parrot on him, but who's counting?) and orders the mining operations accelerated, despite the fact that it'll most likely overload the mining equipment.

Elsewhere, in the Mentiads' lair, The Doctor explains how Zanak works. More expoisition, we know this already. Yada yada yada. And then Pralix, now a Mentiad, explains the history of the world, speaking of Queen Xanxia, who ruined Zanak with her many massive wars, and The Captain, who fell from the sky and was healed with cybernetics. And now he's the Captain on Zanak.

Really, that's all that's happening here.

The Doctor resolves to go see The Captain again, and, with Kimus tagging along, attempts to steal the same air car from the same guard by using the same exact trick. He thinks he'll get away with it, but the guard is one of those "Fool me twice" guys and they're captured and taken away to The Bridge.

Mr. Fibuli gives a status report, and says that they need one mineral in particular (quartz) to function (although he never quite says what it is). They choose one planet in particular: Earth.

But they don't say Earth. They call it "The third planet orbiting around the star 'Sol': Terra."

And guys. Come on. Just say Earth.

The Doctor awakens on the bridge, tied up along with Kimus. There's, then, the big "I know your plan and here's what I think of it" discussion he has with The Captain. This only makes The Captain angry, because The Doctor can't suss out why it is The Captain's doing this at all.

The Captain starts shouting (which, The Doctor aptly points out, seems to be his solution to everything) and then orders The Doctor released so that he can show The Doctor... something.

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this K-9 hijacks an air car.

And no, I'm not joking.

Seriously, as we're about to see, Douglas Adams just *gets* K-9. For reals, this is awesome K-9.

The Captain shows The Doctor his trophy room, which is the compressed remains of all the planets The Captain has plundered. The Doctor is horrified at all the wanton destruction, but marvels at the astrophysical brilliance of keeping such densely packed spans of matter in gravitational alignment.

Also, great sci-fi concept.

Most importantly, what's it all for?

The Doctor winds up on the bridge where Kimus is released. The Captain reveals that he plundered Calufrax in order to harness the energies of the crystals found on that planet to power a new psychic inhibitor, thereby completely negating the power the Mentiads hold over him.

And then this awesome youtube happens. Also, it's awesome.

The Doctor and Kimus break into a room and find an old woman connected to a chair. The Doctor notes that the woman (who is the supposedly dead Queen Xanxia) is in the last few seconds of her life, which have been prolonged indefinitely by powerful Time Dams, designed to slow down time as Xanxia's life comes to a close.

And it's powered by the gravity of the plundered planets.

The Doctor sends K-9 and Kimus downstairs to sabotage the engines in the engine room while he heads off to The Bridge.

Once there, he says that his friends are dead, but so is the Parrot, which he presents to The Captain with sad face.

And then The Captain cries like a man and then yells as loud as ever, bringing down the screen and dragging The Doctor to the fore of the bridge, where he reveals.

A plank. A frakkin plank. And they're going to make The Doctor jump off it. Which they do.

And he falls off.

And they laugh. Maniacally.

Part 4:

But how is it resolved?! You tell me.

So the chick who randomly started showing up isn't The Captain's nurse, but Queen Xanxia herself, attempting to gain corporeal form through holographic projection strengthened by Zanak. In this, she becomes immortal.

Cool. I can get behind that.

The Doctor tells her it won't last, though. No amount of power in the universe can keep her projection bound like that, not for long, definitely not forever, especially not when she can't escape her real body because the power needed is increasing faster than she can escape it. But she's haughty and got a God-Complex, so what does he know?

And she slaps him.

Romana and the Mentiads arrive at The Captain's mountain and prepare to go inside, but only barely manage to take out the guards guarding it before Mr. Fibuli activates the psychic inhibitor and their powers turn off making them all weak and normal like.

With Calufrax completely plundered, The Captain (who, we now understand, is controlled by Xanxia) orders Zanak to prepare for a final jump, this time onto and destroying Earth. The Doctor manages to escape The Bridge just before it's sealed off, and he races towards the engine room as the countdown to swallow the Earth begins.

He arrives at the engine room, where The Mentiads are trying to open the sealed engine room door with little success. The Doctor checks to see if K-9 can help counteract the anti-psychic machine, but K-9's batteries are drained. Nothin doin.

He powers up K-9, and K-9 manages to interfere with the anti-psychic machine enough to give the Mentiads some of their mental powers back, but it's not enough.

And then Romana remembers how they were cockblocked by Zanak when they tried to land on Calufrax. Theorizing that they could cockblock Zanak if they use the TARDIS in the same way, she convinces The Doctor to run back to their ship and try it.

After a thrilling chase scene (in which The Doctor mentions that he dropped an apple on Isaac Newton's head. It's related, I swear), Romana and The Doctor wind up on The TARDIS, setting coordinates and trying to time it just right so as to blow Zanak's re-materialization.

Zanak dematerializes, and The TARDIS goes the instant before it. The Doctor and Romana manage to stay just ahead of The Captain, and this time, The TARDIS and Zanak block each other.

Back then, the world just goes shimmery, but in the modern world of technology, I'd love to watch The TARDIS and Zanak both flying through the space-time vortex, jostling and jockeying for their position to materialize first, bouncing off each other as they go.

Anyways... That's just what I think. It'd be cool, and there's sparks and mini explosions and stuff...

The Doctor opens a communication with the Mentiads, trying to get them to shut down Zanak's engines. They haven't had any luck, but The Doctor tells them to project into the engine room, pick up a spanner, and whack the engines until they explode.

Which they do. There's explosions on The Bridge, and The TARDIS wins out, shutting Zanak back to where it was.

The Doctor and Romana materialize the TARDIS in Xanxia's room and try to figure out how to disrupt the planet room enough to make the time dams around Xanxia collapse and force the aging Queen to die.

Oh, and The Doctor figures out that Calufrax is the second part of the Key to Time, so they'll need that, but it's in the Planet Room, in perfect harmony.

They break onto The Bridge just as The Captain, distraught over the loss of Mr. Fibuli and the betrayal of Queen Xanxia, attempts to kill Xanxia by destroying the planet room. But she manages to explode his robot parts (that sounds so much wrong than it's supposed to) and kill him.

With him out of the way, Xanxia turns on The Doctor and Romana, but she's vaporized by Kimus, who breaks in and shoots her.

Then The Doctor jerry rigs the Captain's plan to shoot the planets into space (or something, this part is ridiculously complicated and I can't say I understood it) or they all absorb each other... And... yeah.

So that happens. And then The Doctor and the Mentiads blow up The Bridge and then set off to actually grab the Calufrax piece of the Key to Time.

And... yeah. So that's how it happens.

Final Thoughts?: I didn't realy care for this serial too much the first time, but the second time was not nearly so bad. Except for The Doctor's endgame (which really didn't make so much sense), the rest of the piece is actually pretty fun and funny, overly campy in places, but very watchable.

More than anything, I really got a good handle of K-9 in this. Great use of K-9. It takes a good mind to have robotic dog eat robotic parrot, and having him hijack an air car is pretty awesome.

I also find myself warming to Tom Baker a bit, and I really think there are some things that he does really well and others that he doesn't. I find his Doctor to be marvelously cunning when he wants to be. When he's in control of a situation, but plays it like he's not, I think he excels the most for me. The slapsticky humour that Tom Baker, himself, is most proud of I'm not so much a fan of. I mean, he does it well, but it's those moments that I see Tom Baker, not The Doctor.

Other than that, I find that this episode is just a bit too camp for me. The Captain is just irritating on my nerves more than anything, but the science fiction concepts almost make up for it. Almost. I find his voice... I dunno. It's... It's not for me, and it makes me worried about some of the humour I know to be coming around eventually, because ummm.... Eeeeeegh. I'd rather not....

Next Time!: 4th Doctor! Wigs! Circles! And.... Druids? The Key to Time continues on Friday with Cassandra reviewing "The Stones of Blood"!

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