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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 502 > The Space Pirates

The Space Pirates

We try to piece together the Second Doctor’s largely missing penultimate story from 1969...
ILLUSTRATION: BEN WILLSHER

MISSING IN ACTION!

FIRST BROADCAST

8 March – 12 April 1969

All these years, Doctor Who Magazine has been getting the title of this story wrong. It’s clearly stated in the opening titles, it’s not The Space Pirates; it’s “The Space Pirates”. It’s in quotation marks, which suggests a degree of scepticism and uncertainty. It’s a story about alleged “Space Pirates”. So-called “Space Pirates”. It’s a title which should be spoken with incredulity if not outright sarcasm. “Oh dear, I see the ‘Space Pirates’ are at it again.”

Because it’s not really about pirates at all. There’s no swashbuckling, no derring-do. Instead, it’s a cross between a Western and a gangster serial. The character of Milo Clancey is the archetypical grizzled prospector from dozens of Westerns (for example, the character of Jesse Tate in The Naked Spur (1953)) while the Interstellar Space Corps fulfils the same function as the State Rangers that tamed the Wild West. The villains, however, are a gang of brutish armed robbers, reminiscent of the perpetrators of the 1963 Great Train Robbery. The title promises adventure and romance and a sense of fun, but the actual story would be better called The Space Rangers or The Space Gangsters. Any viewer tuning in to “The Space Pirates” hoping to see a futuristic version of Treasure Island with Brian Blessed as a flamboyantly dressed buccaneer brandishing a laser musket would be sorely disappointed.

They wouldn’t be the only ones. In DWM’s most recent readers’ poll, “The Space Pirates” was ranked 237th, the least-loved story of the entire 1960s. It’s also one of the least remembered; during the 1980s when fans would fill fanzines with their detailed memories of The Evil of the Daleks (1967) or The Web of Fear (1968), they would tend to skip over “The Space Pirates” probably because they had been watching Land of the Giants or Joe 90 on the other side. At best, it was remembered as being ‘the one with the spaceships in it’ which, in terms of Doctor Who, is not exactly a unique selling point. ‘The one with some spaceships in it and nothing else worth mentioning.’ Its most notable feature is that it is the most forgettable Doctor Who story ever.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

DWM 502 looks forward to the new TARDIS team of the Doctor, Bill and Nardole! Contents include exclusive interviews with showrunner Steven Moffat and with casting director Andy Pryor; artist Mike Collins shows how he created the storyboards for the 2015 series Doctor Who; the new comic strip, The Pestilent Heart by Mark Wright continues; the history of DWM with BBC Enterprises in the mag's earliest days is revealed; the Time Team watch Amy's Choice; The Fact of Fiction focuses on the 1973 Third Doctor adventure, Frontier in Space; plus prize-winning competitions, official news, reviews, previews and much, much more!
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