BBC really did a number on this one. Unlike most of the "lost" Second Doctor storylines, there are not even surviving "telesnaps" for "Space Pirates," Patrick Troughton's second-to-last adventure (1969). Only Episode 2 of this 6-episode tale survives, and is available in the (utterly indispensible) "Lost in Time" DVD restoration. So this is Troughton's fully mature portrayal of the Doctor. And what a portrayal it is - brilliant, intense, comical (though the plot calls for less slapstick on Troughton's part than usual), and thoroughly winning. There is little doubt Troughton was the finest actor to play the role, and that includes the great Tom Baker.
So what is this "most missing in action" Doctor Who yarn about? Space pirates have been deconstructing unmanned space beacons to melt them down for their argonite (the "most valuable metal in the universe" and which, in this particular time period, is used for building nearly everything, including spaceships). The pirates have twice eluded the Council's slower ships, and the General (expansively played in basso profundo here) orders the other beacons manned, as the pirates are on their way to take the third beacon apart for salvage. The TARDIS chooses that moment to materialize in one of the compartments of the doomed beacon; the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe (splendidly played as always by this truly great team) are mistaken by the Council forces for pirates, and in fleeing they find themselves many compartments away from the one containing their time machine. Their pursuers are killed, however, by the pirates, who have just arrived, and the beacon is blasted apart, trapping our trio. (End of Episode 1). In the surviving filmed Episode 2, the Doctor tries to keep Jamie and Zoe alive by rationing their dwindling supply of oxygen, while he attempts to use an electromagnetic field to pull their compartment to the next-closest compartment, a mile away. As Zoe fears, this attempt backfires, and the reverse-polarity between the compartments hurtles the three away from the rest of the beacon pieces, including the one holding the TARDIS. Milo, a crotchety old-fashioned argonite space miner with a aging spaceship spots the errant compartment and blows open the side; the ever stalwart Jamie confronts him, but Milo, surprised, shoots him with a ray gun. (End of Episode 2). Fortunately, Jamie is only stunned, and Milo rescues the trio just as a Council ship prepares to blast Milo's ship, believing Milo to be the ringleader of the space pirates. They make their escape, surrounding the faster Council ship with small copper pins, which render its argonite-based radar and weapons systems useless. Meanwhile, the pieces of the beacon, including the one housing the TARDIS, are on their way to the pirates' base, the planet Tar. The mining operations at Tar are owned by the daughter of Milo's old mining partner Dom, who disappeared years ago; Dom's daughter Maddy now runs the operations, and is close to the General. Secretly, however, Maddy has made a deal with archfiend Cavan, the ruthless head of the Space Pirates, under which Cavan brings stolen argonite to Tar for processing. In the succeeding episodes, Milo's ship lands on Tar, and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe become lost in its maze of mining tunnels until they are taken prisoner by Cavan. Cavan's spineless assistant Dervish rigs Milo's ship with a remote control, planning to let Milo and his new friends escape from Tar just in time to be spotted by the Council ships, at which point the ship will be blown to bits. The Doctor, Milo and the others are kept prisoner in what turns out to be Dom's old office, where they discover the missing, befuddled Dom, kept prisoner by Cavan all these years as a tool for manipulating his daughter Maddy. When Maddy learns Cavan plans to kill the group, including her long-lost father, she turns on him and tries to contact the General, but Cavan interrupts the transmission and posts Dervish as guard on Maddy, with orders to kill her if she makes a move. Meanwhile, through a usual clever ruse (which you'll certainly enjoy), the Doctor manages to escape with his comrades, and they head for the ship. Milo and Dom enter the craft, but Jamie and Zoe hold back, and the Doctor leaves to search for them, just as Dervish pushes the remote control unit that prematurely launches the Lizz, Milo's ship, and turns the oxygen off as Milo and Dom lose consciousness. But an even worse fate awaits the Doctor - Cavan and Dervish have rigged the mining operation's atomic reserves to blow the planet, and everything on it, in minutes, to cover their escape. The suspenseful conclusion is well worth the price of admission.
In the maturity of his portrayal of the Doctor in "Space Pirates," Troughton is much more serious than usual, and is very effective. While Tom Baker's Doctor, for example, is seldom in any real danger, Troughton's was a far more vulnerable, far more "human" Doctor, and these traits probably reach their zenith in this well-plotted story. Troughton's magic easily overcomes the near-absence of the film record, so fine an actor he was, and his richly expressive voice is a treat to listen to. Frazer Hines' (Jamie's) narration is gripping, and never gets in the way of the tale's unfolding action. If you're a fan of this greatest of all Doctors, Patrick Troughton, this is required - and most entertaining - listening. Go grab it!