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Probably too visual a story for an audio release
on 27 August 2007
"The Space Pirates", which was one of the first contributions to "Doctor Who" by writer Robert Holmes, is one of those stories that received fan wisdom declares to be rubbish. I'm no follower of received fan wisdom but, after listening to "The Space Pirates" and watching the surviving second episode on DVD in the "Lost in Time" set, I must admit that the story didn't exactly push my buttons.
It doesn't help that, like episodes four and five of "The Reign of Terror", the CD release of "The Space Pirates" suffers from incredibly bad audio quality. The tech-heads at the BBC have done their best to remaster the audio copies of the missing stories with these CD releases, but the end product still depends to some extent on the state of the source material which, by reason of its ancient and off-air nature, is never perfect. The dialogue on the CD isn't often completely unintelligible, but you do have to concentrate quite hard at times to hear what's going on.
The story itself features an unusually hardcore sci-fi scenario involving space chases between renegades and galactic law enforcers. In doing so, the human element of Doctor Who is somewhat lost, and the roles of the principal cast are marginalised (much of the story is seen from the perspective of General Hermack, in a somewhat OTT performance by Jack May, and his V-Ship crew). The other main supporting character is the eccentric prospector Milo Clancey (Gordon Gostelow), who I think is intended to be American. Clancey is amusing during his early, predominantly visual scenes in episode two, but when his accent is combined with the poor audio quality, his lines become particularly difficult to hear, and the scenes between Clancey and the regular cast where Clancey does a lot of the talking get rather waring.
There's a certain amount of action to be had across "The Space Pirates"' six episodes, but it doesn't come across particularly well in the audio medium, even with the benefit of Frazer Hines' clear narration. If a clearer audio transfer can be produced and if the large-scale animation of missing episodes ever becomes economical, then this story is definitely one that would benefit from an animated reconstruction. As it is, the story offers relatively little on audio compared to some of the missing stories, and the best bit is probably towards the end, where the characters who have become involved with leading pirate Caven begin to realise just how dangerous and ruthless a man he is, and begin to have second thoughts. That, at least, is a good bit of writing and acting that doesn't require a video image to succeed.