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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Pirate Planet


Authors: Douglas Adams and James Goss
Read by: Jon Culshaw
Publisher: BBC Audio
RRP: £25.00 (CD), £11.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78529 531 7
Release Date: 05 January 2017

The hugely powerful Key to Time has been split into six segments, all of which have been disguised and hidden throughout time and space. Now the even more powerful White Guardian wants the Doctor to find the pieces. With the first segment successfully retrieved, the Doctor, Romana and K9 trace the second to the planet Calufrax. But when they arrive at exactly the right point in space, they find themselves on exactly the wrong planet – Zanak. Ruled by the mysterious ‘Captain’, Zanak is a happy and prosperous planet. Mostly. If the mines run out of valuable minerals and gems, then the Captain merely announces a New Golden Age of Prosperity and they fill up again. It’s an economic miracle – so obviously something’s very wrong…

Your report, Mister Fibuli… is 39 years late!

Almost four decades after its original transmission (in 1978), The Pirate Planet, the second story in the Key to Time series and the last outstanding Douglas Adams Doctor Who serial to be converted into prose, has finally been novelised. If it’s any comfort, the late Adams was a notoriously slow writer (almost as slow as me producing this review), so even if he had still been alive, it might well have taken him this long to get around to it!

As with the previous two adaptations, Shada by Gareth Roberts and City of Death by James Goss, this is a lavish affair, running far longer than the Target novelisations of old. In an impressive feat, Goss’s second such adaptation manages to match the duration of Shada (400 pages in print, 11 hours on audio), despite the fact that the original Pirate Planet was two episodes shorter than the six-part Shada. Adams’s initial story notes and first draft scripts for The Pirate Planet contain a great many lines and ideas that didn’t make it into the completed television serial, and Goss has tried to squeeze in as many of those as he could.

The book therefore contains lots of additional Adams-like touches, such as people with gold umbrellas who have become blasé about the everyday miracle of diamonds raining from the sky; other people who take to hiding in cupboards; and an entire planet’s population who discover the meaning of life, the universe and everything, shortly before their world is obliterated. Admittedly, some of these elements (which also include a reference to an Arcturan mega-chicken and the Pirate Captain threatening Mr Fibuli with a pun on the word “late”) may seem like direct rip-offs from Adams’s later work on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but then Adams did have a habit of recycling his own unused ideas (see also Professor Chronotis in Shada and Dirk Gently), so it’s hard to know for certain where the genuine Adams material ends and Goss’s invented embellishments begin.

The novelist skilfully adapts the television serial’s gradual revelation of the Captain’s appearance by making it seem as though the authorial voice is terrified to look at the biomechanical monstrosity and needs a bit of time to work up to it – so he starts off by describing the Captain’s chair instead. He also expounds upon the Doctor’s reluctance to be involved in the search for the Key to Time (which ironically makes him the perfect candidate for the job) and explores the feelings of uncertainty experienced by the young Romana, as she strives to be accepted by her fellow Time Lord in only her second trip in his TARDIS.

Goss also works in alternative names for the heroes and their gadgets that were never heard on screen, such as Romy, a short version of the name Romanadvoratrelundar that was used in the production team’s original outline document for the character. Romana herself likes to refer to the Tracer as the Locatormutor Core, the term that was used in Ian Marter’s novelisation of The Ribos Operation.

Amid all this vintage material, references to modern phenomena such as Starbucks and Girls Aloud feel a little out of place.

What feels just right, though, is the involvement of Jon Culshaw as the reader of the audio book. The talented mimic is, of course, famous for his impersonation of Tom Baker, so it’s almost like having the real thing talking to you. Culshaw also breaks out his Boris Johnson imitation to play the voice of an alien politician, and he is very good as the bellowing Pirate Captain and the mobile computer K9. He sounds remarkably similar to Bruce Purchase and John Leeson, the actors who played them on screen.

So at long last, the quest for the Key to Time has been completed in prose. Happily, though, James Goss isn’t quite finished with the works of Douglas Adams. Next he is tackling Adams’s unmade movie script, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen


Richard McGinlay

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