The Pirate Planet (Doctor Who)

The Pirate Planet

The Pirate Planet is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from September 30 to October 21, 1978. It forms the second serial of The Key to Time. It was written by Douglas Adams, and featured some of Adams' style of humour.


The Doctor and Romana find that the second segment to the Key to Time is on the planet Calufrax. Yet they arrive on a planet called Zanak, which has been hollowed out and fitted with hyperspace engines, allowing its insane half-robot Captain to materialise it around other smaller planets and plunder their resources.


The Key to Time tracer points the Doctor and Romana to the cold and boring planet of Calufrax, but when they arrive they find an unusual civilisation that lives in perpetual prosperity. A strange band of people with mysterious powers known as the Mentiads are feared by the society, but the Doctor discovers that they are good people but with an unknown purpose. He instead fears the Captain, the planet's leader and benefactor. After meeting the Captain on the bridge he learns that they are actually on a hollowed-out planet named Zanak, which has been materialising around other planets to plunder their resources.

After repairing Zanak's engines, which were damaged when the planet materialised in the same place as the TARDIS, the Captain plans to take Zanak to Earth. The Doctor finds the true menace controlling the Captain is the ancient tyrant Queen Xanxia, disguised as the Captain's nurse, who uses the resources mined from planets in an attempt to gain immortality. Despite the Captain's apparent insanity, he is a calculating person who plans to destroy Xanxia. The Mentiads learn that their psychic powers are strengthened by the destruction of entire worlds beneath their feet.

Throughout Zanak, the Key to Time locator has been giving odd signals that seem to indicate that the segment is everywhere. Once the Doctor and Romana see the Captain's trophy room of planets, they conclude that Calufrax is the segment that they are looking for. They use the TARDIS to once again disrupt Zanak's materialisation around Earth while the Mentiads sabotage the engines. Xanxia kills the Captain when he finally turns against her. The Doctor, Romana, and the Mentiads destroy Zanak's bridge and Queen Xanxia, ending the devastation caused by Zanak's travels.

Cast notes

Vi Delmar, who played Queen Xanxia (uncredited) asked for extra payment to remove her false teeth in her scenes.


  • This is the second of six linked serials that comprise the whole of Season 16, known collectively as The Key to Time.
  • Whilst unconscious on the Bridge, the Doctor mumbles "No more Janus thorns", the admonishment he used several times on former companion Leela, particularly in The Face of Evil.
  • The Pirate Captain appears in the regeneration montage in Logopolis.
  • The Tenth Doctor mentions Calufrax Minor as being one of the missing planets in "The Stolen Earth".


  • The original draft for this story was extremely complex: centred around a Time Lord trapped in a giant aggression-absorbing machine and several paradoxes, it had to be heavily simplified by the script editor, Anthony Read.
  • According to the DVD commentary, the Doctor's accident with the console early in the story was staged to explain Baker's real-life cut lip, which was due to a dog bite.
  • The scenes in the engine room were filmed at the Berkeley Nuclear Power Station, which made many of the cast and crew rather nervous.

Outside references

  • At one point, the Doctor tells Kimus, "Don't panic," which is the tagline for Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • The Name "Bantraginus V" is likely a reference to "Santraginus V", the home for one of the key ingredients in Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Qualactin, mentioned as only other source than Bantraginus V for Oolion, is source for another Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster ingredient.
  • The Doctor claims to have met Isaac Newton, and says he dropped the apple that made him discover gravity. Newton is said to have told the Doctor to get out of his tree, and the Doctor later explains gravity to him.

In print

This is one of five Doctor Who serials that were never novelised by Target Books as they were unable to come to an agreement with Douglas Adams that would have allowed him or another writer to adapt the script. A fan group in New Zealand published an unofficial novelisation of the story in 1990, later republishing it as an online eBook titled Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet.

Broadcast, VHS and DVD release

  • This serial was broadcast over 4 consecutive Saturday nights starting on September 30, 1978 and finishing on October 21.
  • This serial was released on VHS in April 1995.
  • This serial, along with the rest of season sixteen, was released in North America as part of the Key to Time box set, and as an individually available title, on October 1, 2002.
  • A Limited Edition of the Key to Time box set (with additional clean-up and extras over the North American release) containing this serial, was released in Region 2 on September 24, 2007. The same set, though not in Limited Edition guise, was released in Region 4 on November 7, 2007. The serial is not available separately on DVD in Regions 2 or 4.


External links


Fan novelisation

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