The Pirate Planet
Working Title: The Pirates.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), John Leeson (Voice of K-9), Mary Tamm (The First Romana).
The Doctor and Romana head to the planet Calufrax in search of the second segment of the Key To Time. Inexplicably, however, the TARDIS lands on Zanak. The Doctor discovers that Zanak is a pirate planet, materialising around other worlds and reaping their mineral wealth. The leader of this operation is the crazed Captain, who is prepared to take Zanak onto its next conquest: Earth.
In 1976, a young scriptwriter named Douglas Adams submitted two story ideas to Doctor Who's then-script editor, Robert Holmes. The first of these, The Krikketmen, was a sprawling comical adventure about robots who sought to liberate their planet, trapped in Slow Time, by collecting the pieces of an artifact shaped like enormous cricket stumps. (Nothing is known of Adams' other submission, except that it was written with a friend.) Holmes rejected The Krikketmen (which would later be recycled into Adams' third novel, Life, The Universe And Everything) but encouraged Adams to keep trying. Consequently, when Anthony Read replaced Holmes, Adams was amongst the writers he had under consideration for Season Sixteen.
The story Adams was asked to work on was a combination of three disparate concepts, one by producer Graham Williams and the others by Adams. Williams' was simply a desire to have a "space pirate" adventure. Of Adams' two, the dominant one was an idea about a planet which was mined by the Time Lords, who used a giant aggression-sapping machine (disguised as a statue) to pacify the natives. One Time Lord becomes trapped in the statue and absorbs all the aggression, causing him to turn against his people. He causes the mining devices to hollow out the planet and plans to make it dematerialise and reform around Gallifrey. Finally, Adams had also conceived a drug allegory, about a company which preys on people who fear death by using machines to slow time down for them -- at an exorbitant price. The company goes bankrupt, however, leaving one old lady in need of a source of fantastic energy.
Although none of these concepts were felt to be able to support a story by themselves, it was decided that some combination of them might be more successful. The aggression-draining subplot was dropped (because of perceived similarities to the Season Fifteen serial The Sun Makers) and the slowing-time subplot was deemphasised as the outline, called The Pirates, progressed. In August 1977, Adams was formally commissioned to write what would become The Pirate Planet. Around this time, another idea -- that the villain would be a Time Lord stuck in the slow-time field, in the midst of his last regeneration -- was dropped because Williams felt the Time Lords had been overused of late. Indeed, he had created the Guardians for Season Sixteen specifically to create new godlike characters for the series.
Writing on the story proceeded slowly, not the least because Adams was also working on his radio serial The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and producing Week Ending for Radio 4. It quickly became obvious to Read that The Pirate Planet would need a lot of work on his part, because Adams had little idea of what could be accomplished on Doctor Who budget. Read was, at the time, handling both the producer and script editor chores for the series. Williams had left on holiday in February 1978 and broken his leg in Madeira, delaying his return.
To make matters worse, Head of Serials Graeme McDonald was very negative about The Pirate Planet, suggesting to Read in a memo on March 14th that the serial should be abandoned. In particular, McDonald disapproved of the extremely humorous nature of the scripts, something he had also disliked in The Invasion Of Time the previous year. This was somewhat ironic, given that it was a directive from BBC management that had led Williams to style the series away from the more violent and horrific serials of his predecessor, Philip Hinchcliffe. Despite McDonald's objections, Read and director Pennant Roberts (who had mostly recently directed The Sun Makers) championed the adventure's cause, and pointed out that -- because of the linked nature of Season Sixteen -- it would be virtually impossible to change around the recording order to accommodate a replacement story.
Recording got under way with location filming between May 1st and 5th, in South Wales. Production then went back into the studio, starting with a two-day session from Monday, May 22nd and a three-day block from Sunday, June 4th. At one point, the Polyphase Avitron prop was stolen and found hidden in a skip the next morning. Adding to the strangeness, actress Vi Delmar demanded an extra fee before she would agree to remove her false teeth to play Xanxia. One script change made during recording was the Doctor's fall against the TARDIS console, injuring his lip. This was to explain the dog bite injury Tom Baker had sustained toward the end of taping on the previous serial, The Ribos Operation, which was very noticeable on film. Fortunately, by the completion of The Pirate Planet the wound had mostly healed.