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Audio Book Review
When a series of explosive charges detonate, space beacon Alpha One disintegrates into lumps of metal. A band of space pirates have discovered a new source of the precious mineral argonite. General Hermack of the Space Corps diverts his V-ship to investigate, and arrives in time to witness the destruction of another beacon. Determined to trap the pirates, he leaves a squad of guards on beacon Alpha Four – where, shortly afterwards, the incongruous shape of a blue police telephone box materialises. Suspected by the Space Corps of being pirates, and then pursued by the pirates themselves, the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie risk asphyxiation, execution and explosion in their attempts to unmask the mastermind behind the argonite raids. But who can it be…?
This is an unabridged reading of Terrance Dicks’s 1990 novelisation of the 1969 serial The Space Pirates, which was the penultimate story to feature Patrick Troughton in the lead role.
Though the reading is unabridged, fortunately the novelisation itself isn’t an unexpurgated transliteration of the rather sluggish six-part original. Only Robert Holmes’s second contribution to Doctor Who (after The Krotons), The Space Pirates gives us little indication of the high-class, witty and gripping work for which he would ultimately become famous. Much of the screen time is spent on lingering space shots and discussions between the guest characters, including Space Corps General Hermack and his second-in-command Major Warne, with relatively minor roles afforded to the Doctor and his companions. Dicks tightens up the narrative considerably, cutting out a lot of padding, especially during the second half, and as a result the audio book runs to just under three hours.
This remains one of the lesser Second Doctor adventures, but it still has some points of interest to offer. The Space Pirates provides an early indication that the hero is more than a mere human, when he claims not to need as much oxygen as Jamie or Zoe do. (The next serial, The War Games, would see the introduction of the Time Lords and the first real explanation of the Doctor’s background.) The story also contains a burgeoning example of Holmes’s sense of humour, in the character of Milo Clancey, an eccentric and plain-speaking old space pioneer. With his decrepit spaceship, the LIZ-79, the controls of which often need a hefty thump to get them going, and with little respect for the rules and regulations of his own people, he is decidedly reminiscent of the Doctor. (Coincidentally, the Time Lord himself would soon have a dependable Liz of this own – Liz Shaw during the Third Doctor’s first year!)
Davros actor Terry Molloy has no connection with the television production of this story (which is mostly missing from the archives, with all but one episode existing on audio only), but he is a talented voice artist and gives a good reading. He appears to have done his research into the original performances, and effectively imitates Jack May’s portrayal of General Hermack and Major Warne’s American accent. In contrast to the screen version, though, his Milo Clancey is Irish rather than American. Perhaps this is in order to avoid any confusion with the voice of Warne, but it does rather lose the idea of Clancey being the space-age equivalent of a gold-rush prospector from the days of the Old West.
All in all, Terrance and Terry do their best to make The Space Pirates as entertaining as possible.