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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Jesse
    December 19, 2011 @ 5:14 am

    Well, here we are – the very first Doctor Who story I ever saw. I think my disagreements with other Who viewers about what is or isn't a proper direction for the show has a lot to do with the fact that my first contact with the series involved a Douglas Adams script, and a particularly crazy one at that. (I mean "crazy" affectionately.) If this is your intro to the program, and you like it, then of course you'll think the show should feature a lot of humor and social commentary.


  2. John Callaghan
    December 19, 2011 @ 6:44 am

    Just to even the scales… The Key To Time is one of my favourite seasons and this is my favourite story therein.


  3. Wm Keith
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:06 am

    All through this review, I've kept having to shake my head and tell myself that I'm not reading about "Paradise Towers".

    As for "Pirate Planet" in particular and "Key to Time" generally, I suspect the regular readership of this blog already are big fans.

    I think the previous example of genocide in the series was actually carried out by the Time Lords upon the Fendahl. Prior to that, it was the sui-genocide of the Kastrians. So, we've had genocide quite recently, it's just been good genocide.


  4. Tom Watts
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:15 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  5. Tom Watts
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:20 am

    The Doctor is rather unchivalrous about Xanxia isn't he? The script has her down as a disgusting old woman (as if aged womanhood is disgusting in itself), but what we see is a rather sweet looking old lady whose appearance in no way merits the ungentlemanly remarks aimed at her sleeping body. While it's typical of a woman to slaughter zillions for the sake of looking young, I think they should either have presented a proper image of horror, or given her character a bit more tragic depth.


  6. Yonatan
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:24 am

    While it might only be the third best Douglas Adams Doctor who story, when the others are Shada and City of Death that is really not saying much. One of the other things I loved about the swerve at the end was that it had been such an amazingly funny story so far, especially with things like the doctor doing a coin toss and it taking 30 seconds or so for it to fall down, that the horror of the last episode was even more impressive. Also, while it may not have had the best story (Shada) or the best atmosphere (city of death) this was, by far the funniest of the three scripts and probably the most intentially funny script that Doctor Who ever got.


  7. BerserkRL
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    "Adams's idea is a classic science fiction idea, with its most famous execution probably being Ursula K. LeGuin's 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.'"

    "Omelas" may be its most famous science fiction execution, but its most famous literary execution tout court is in The Brothers Karamazov:

    "'Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.'

    'No, I wouldn't consent,' said Alyosha softly."


  8. WGPJosh
    December 19, 2011 @ 7:48 am

    I never knew this serial had such a poor reputation-I always enjoyed it for many of the reasons Phil already stated. It's probably one of my favourite stories of the season, and I love how Baker just lays into the captain, as everyone seems to as well.

    While it wasn't my first serial, I have a similar history with the series as Jesse. I got all of Tom Baker pretty much at once, and, I was always partial to Seasons 16 and 17 over the other ones in no small part due to Douglas Adams' nuanced grasp of humour and social commentary. I always felt a more overtly humourous one fit Tom Baker's Doctor best, though he's certainly not incapable of gravitas as the aforementioned moralizing in this episode shows. Also, as I've mentioned before, I never quite got the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era when I first saw it-the tone never quite came together for me (and Sarah comes up pretty short next to Romana as far as companions go in my book, though not for lack of Lis Sladen trying). In no small part thanks to Phil's efforts, it does now, but I'll always be a staunch defender of this period of the show's history.


  9. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    December 19, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    "But all of this just begs the question – what sort of crisis?"

    And now, a pedantic response:

    I really don't thinks it begs the question, I think it raises the question. I don't really see any logical fallacy here, petitio principii makes no entrance.

    To whit:

    BEgging the question os a form of logical fallacy wherein "a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof" (thanks Wikipedia!).

    Raising the question is what you did (if A needs a crisis, that raises the question of what sort of crisis A requires).

    Thank you for your time. This is your local pedant, signing off.


  10. Jack Graham
    December 19, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    Very insightful, but I don't think this story is about drug addiction so much as it's about imperialism (often compared to piracy).

    Zanak is a culture of indolent and complacent and unquestioning people who kick jewels around their streets whenever their leader simply announces a new golden age of prosperity and the mines just fill up again… and all because their world grabs others, crushes them, sucks them dry of their wealth and then moves on.

    The people don't know because they don't care to know. It isn't convenient for them to know. Rome never looks where she treads, as Kipling put it.

    Even the rebellious Mula and Kimus don't really know that their society is responsible for anything terribly wrong. Kimus complains about not being free. He's angry about police repression but more angry about social conformity, stability, prosperity. In short, his big problem is that he's bored being comfortable. That's why a big deal is made of it when Kimus is told where all that conformity, stability and prosperity actually comes from. He takes a little private moment to make a personal blood oath. His concerns have suddenly and dramatically shifted from bourgeois disaffection to moral outrage at horrific evil that he has just discovered underwriting all his nice clothes.

    This imperialist society even has a little subgroup of dissidents who are calumnied and made into objects of fear and hatred for the population, precisely because they alone seem aware that all the prosperity comes from imperialism.

    The matter of the constant need to feed power into Xanxia's time dams is more about the constant need to funnell more and more resources into empire. The history of every empire shows that they decline because the centre (ie Rome itself) demands more and more from the periphery, from the colonies… this is one of the factors which, for instance, leads to imperialist over-extention. The need for more power is exponential because the system itself creates the ever increasing demand. Imperialism loots resources through theft and murder. Xanxia will always need to keep crushing worlds in order to keep crushing worlds. It is the systemic need that is fed and sustained by the operation of the system. In its way, its like an addiction… but I think just calling it an addiction is too simple, especially if that implies that Adams was positing an original indictment of drug use based on the idea that drug use entailed too much suffering for others. This can be true, but it can also be true of all wealth (ie conformity, stability, prosperity) in imperial systems. The centre gobbles them up at the cost of the colonised, invaded and subjugated… and also at the cost even of the subjects at the centre. The ravenous appetite at the core of imperialism is always the imperial ruling class (ie the Captains and Queens) even if the people of the empire have a relatively comfortable life too.

    Modern capitalism cannot exist without imperialism. Imperialism is generated by it. Asked if he thinks it's "wrong" for mines to just fill up with minerals all by themselves, the Doctor replies: "It's an economic miracle; of course it's wrong!" That, fundamentally, is where 'Pirate Planet' is coming from, I think.


  11. BerserkRL
    December 19, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    Sounds like Herbert Spencer's analysis of imperialism.


  12. Keith
    December 19, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

    While I enjoyed this season, I was mildly annoyed by the apparent lack of thought that went into the connecting premise. I was always bothered by the Manichean setup of the two guardians, as there was no real explanation of what they were – just a lot of handwaving about balance, darkness and light. One of the things that I loved about the show was that no matter how weird things got, it (more often than not) sided with the scientific explanation for such things (eg: they're just aliens/robots, etc. Though the line about Morgaine using sorcery in BATTLEFIELD really rubbed me the wrong way), so it was bothersome to have two ill-defined "gods" just show up all of a sudden.

    And further to your point about "stopping" time, it is also never explained how the Guardians alter the so-called balance of the universe during this stopped moment. Why does time need to be stopped for this – whatever it is – to happen? What does it even mean to restore balance? Do they just zap people they don't like out of existence?

    In addition to how loosely the Key to Time links the episodes of the series together, it isn't until later episodes (STONES OF BLOOD) that we learn that the individual segments seem to have their own special abilities. This feels like something they just made up on the spot. In fact, the entire premise of the MacGuffin itself seems to be so ill-defined and vague, it is little wonder that the Key itself barely factors into the stories of this season. See the THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR for the strongest example of an episode made up entirely of ill-defined ideas that exist solely to move the plot along.


  13. Jesse
    December 19, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    When I originally saw this season, I was in the sixth grade and my little brother was in the fourth. He wasn't really watching the show very closely, just hanging around sometimes while I had it on. At the end of the first post-Key of Time story, he turned to me, puzzled, and said, "What about the jewels?"

    "What?" I said.

    "The jewels! Aren't they trying to get some jewels?"

    Apparently, in his halfway-attentive state, he had gathered that the Doctor and Romana were intergalactic jewel thieves. While this may say more about my brother at age nine than it does about the show, it may also indicate the extent to which the Key was interchangeable with any other McGuffin.


  14. Dougie
    December 20, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

    It matters not a whit but, with reference to pedantic responses, the expression is "to wit".


  15. Wm Keith
    December 21, 2011 @ 12:12 am

    I make no bones about pointing out that "os a form of logical fallacy" contains a typographical error.


  16. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    December 21, 2011 @ 8:10 am

    Aw nutbunnies. Here I thought I fixed those.


  17. BerserkRL
    December 21, 2011 @ 9:25 am

    I must point out that "os" means "bone" in French, thus belying your claim that you make no bones in your post.


  18. Alan
    January 2, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

    I first saw Pirate Planet at age 11 and hated it. The Captain was so far over the top that even my pre-adolescent sensibilities were offended, and the robot parrot that pooped lasers was just preposterous. It wasn't until I saw it repeats years later that could grok the existential horror of a society that casually engaged in mass murder solely to maintain a high standard of personal comfort.

    That said, the original story must have changed a lot if it was about drug addiction, because I don't see that at all. To me it's a straightforward indictment of imperialism. Instead of using sweatshop labor to make their cheap sneakers, the empire just devours the sweatshop laborers whole.


  19. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 21, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Philip Sandifer:
    "the entire reason that Williams was pursuing humorous scripts like those that would be expected from Douglas Adams is that he'd already been told not to pursue scary scripts, making this something of a case of "well what do you want me to do then.""

    I ran into this kind of thing once at a civil engineering company. The owner insisted the furniture in the computer-drafting room be re-arranged. Each suggestion for how to re-arrange the furniture was vetoed by the chief engineer. When, frustrated, I said to him, "Well YOU come up with something, then.", he got VERY annoyed, glared at me, and insisted that we come up with something else. As far as I could see, the main point of re-arranging the furniture was so the owners could look over people's shoulders and make sure they weren't doing personal work on company time. (There was also an intense culture clash at the company, as the owners and many of the employees were from India, whose "caste system" was very much in place. Management treats employees like SCUM, and it's accepted by both sides. Every single employee who was not born in India quit at some point– the receptionist quit twice, the second time, she changed her phone number so they couldn't keep calling to beg her to come back. I lost a good friend because of that situation.)

    "It's a brilliant contrast – one of the silliest stories we've ever seen is also the one that provokes the most furious reaction from the Doctor."

    Yes. I bet if Hartnell or Colin Baker had had more humor in their stories, they might have been more popular with U.S. audiences.

    "Despite the objects in question generally existing for thousands or millions of years, the Doctor somehow manages to turn up at moments when the objects are also at the heart of some other crisis."

    That kind of sums up every story in the history of this show– as well as those on THE TIME TUNNEL.

    "We haven't seen someone so freshly responsible for the annihilation of entire species and cultures in Doctor Who in a long time."

    Davros came to mind– he killed his own people, and because they wanted to end the war.

    "I never quite got the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era when I first saw it-the tone never quite came together for me (and Sarah comes up pretty short next to Romana as far as companions go in my book, though not for lack of Lis Sladen trying)."

    I got to love the stories with Sarah, mostly because of Sarah. But these stories, with a companion who begins so aloof and seemingly above-it-all (Emma Peel without the fighting skills) I got to like on their own terms. It's been said: "Horror is easy; comedy is tough." That means someone here is REALLY doing a damned good job.

    It was nice to see the Doctor-Romana relationship advance a bit. She's still being sarcastic, while laughing to herself when she claims she isn't. But she is getting to like and respect him. At one point, she says, "The Doctor knows what he's doing." Never mind that at that exact moment, he's just been captured and is helpless.

    This story usually boggles my mind. The structure is absolutely brilliant. Adams reveals the plot a tiny bit at a time, in between jokes and action pieces, so that slowly, episode by episode, what's really going on becomes clear. And each time he does, he then dumps more on you. I'm afraid in the 4th episode it gets lost a bit. It's as if the sheer momentum of so much begins to overwhelm itself. Still, it makes for an interesting challenge, to try and keep up with it.

    Isn't it amazing that, if The Doctor hadn't stopped Zanak, that 2 segments of the Key would have been lost, not just 1? (See next story.)


  20. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 21, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

    What, more humor than The Reign of Terror, The Romans, half of The Chase, The Time Meddler, 3/4 of The Myth Makers and the bulk of The Gunfighters?


  21. David Gerard
    November 30, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    Discogs shows only the Italian version of "Kiss You All Over" having the exposed breasts sleeve; the UK RAK edition appears to have come in a plain paper bag, not a picture sleeve.


  22. Jeff Heikkinen
    August 4, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

    All Internet commentary criticizing someone's spelling, grammar, usage, or word choice will itself contain an error similar to the one being criticized. It's "to wit", not "to whit".


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