Big Finish Folly, Part 88 – Doctor Who And The Pirates, by Jacqueline Rayner

Break out the rations of rum, me hearties, for we leave on the tide for The Ruby Islands, with Red Jasper on our heels! There’s a pirate queen aboard too, and a multi-coloured chirugeon! And where would we be without a cabin boy named Jem and a captain with a stiff upper lip, eh? Perhaps we’d have to break into songs that sound a lot like they’ve been mercilessly cribbed from the armoury of Gilbert & Sullivan…. oh, wait, that’s exactly what seems to be happening here…

I-iiiiiiiii–am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer.
I’ve information on all things a Gallifreyan holds most dear.
I’ve linked into the Matrix through its exitonic circuitry,
I understand dimensional and relative chronometry.
I’m very well acquainted too with matters of the Capitol,
I’ll give you verse and chapter on Panopticonian protocol,
I’ve been into the Death Zone and I’ve played the Game of Rassilon–
(Rassilon? Assilon, Bassilon– ah ha!)
With pestilential monsters that I got a lot of hassle from!

I really don’t know what to make of this one. I can’t begin to tell you whether it’s a classic or an absolute misfire. What I can tell you is that it’s totally barking, and only in the last part of the fourth episode do you actually find out why the Doctor and Evelyn have come to visit Sally, one of Evelyn’s students, to tell her this whole salty old tale. At that point you realise that Doctor Who and the Pirates has a heart buried deeper than any chest full of rubies, but you have to sail through an inordinate amount of bluster to get there first.

And songs, of course. We can’t forget the songs. The play’s score is actually very clever, riffing off several Gilbert & Sullivan compositions (Doctor Who has always “borrowed” from other sources), but in episode 3 the cast actually break into full song. As you can see by the example quoted, the lyrics are skilfully reinterpreted to fit the occasion but again, until you realise precisely why the Doctor and Evelyn are going to all this trouble to sing their way through the story they are telling Sally, the presence of the songs just seems rather bizarre.

I’ve tackled shady Castellans with devious behavior.
I’ve sparred with Time Lord chancellors like Thalia, Goth or Flavia.
In fact on some occasions I’ve held office Presidentally,
‘though maybe I won’t mention I was ousted out eventually.
I know just how it feels to be a wanted man and on the run,
but wouldn’t leave the carefree buccaneering life for anyone.
Though sometimes my adventures seem absurdly operatical–
(Operatical? Hatical… patical– ah ha!)
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical.

Not all is jollity however. Red Jasper, as portrayed with the requisite manic energy by Bill Oddie, enjoys torturing his prisoners. And his crew. And practically everybody else he can get his hand on for that matter. Poor Evelyn finds herself unable to prevent Jasper doing his worst, and though Jasper does get his comeuppance eventually it seems poor recompense for the blood he has spilled. Evelyn only blames herself for not being able to affect matters, just as she did in Jubilee previously. And Sally herself, the reluctant audience for this story, also wishes she could have done things differently, as she feels there is blood on her own hands…

At the end of it all, it becomes apparent that the ramshackle, poorly-narrated tale of high seas piracy is in fact supposed to be poorly narrated – Evelyn and the Doctor are desperately attempting to distract Sally from her own troubles. The mirror shifts and the play takes on new meaning. In some respects that’s a good thing – some darkness and humanity to dilute the levity. I don’t often like musicals – and unfortunately for Gilbert & Sullivan, I’m really not a fan of opera-style musicals (far too much shouting; it ruins the music) so for any musical-themed episode of drama to work, there has to be something darker to balance out the choruses. Buffy’s Once More With Feeling managed that excellently; Hedwig & The Angry Inch was another good example. Doctor Who and the Pirates just about makes the cut.

I’ve defeated evil robots such as Daleks, Quarks, and Cybermen.
I’ve overthrown dictators from Tobias Vaughn to Mavic Chen.
I’ve rescued helpless maidens from the devastating Viking hordes.
Vanquished Autons, Axons, Daemons, Krotons, Monoids, Vampires, Voords.
I’ve liberated planets and delivered them from total war.
Saved Earth, Manussa, Dulkis, Skonnos, Earth, Tigella, Earth once more.
In short I know I am the truest Rassilonian legatee
(Legatee? Decate…Hecate…Hecate?? Mm. Not sure if that’s canonical. Ah ha, I have it!)
And so to Time Lords all I say remember me to Gallifrey!

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