Doctor Who – “Doctor Who and the Pirates, or the Lass That Lost a Sailor”

All aboard, me hearties, for a rip-roaring tale of adventure on the high seas! There’ll be rum for all and sea shanties galore as we travel back in time to join the valiant crew of the good ship Sea Eagle, braving perils, pirates and a peripatetic old sea-dog known only as the Doctor!

Gasp as our Gallifreyan buccaneer crosses swords with the fearsome Red Jasper, scourge of the seven seas and possessor of at least one wooden leg! Thrill as Evil Evelyn the Pirate Queen sets sail in search of buried treasure, with only a foppish ship’s captain and an innocent young cabin boy by her side! Marvel at the melodious mayhem which ensues as we sail the ocean blue!

And wonder why Evelyn still hasn’t realised that very few stories have happy endings…

Colin Baker is the Doctor in Doctor Who and the Pirates, or the Lass That Lost a Sailor.

Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe)
Bill Oddie (Red Jasper)
Dan Barratt (Jem)
Helen Goldwyn (Sally)
Nicholas Pegg (Swan)
Mark Siney (Mr. Merriweather)
Timothy Sutton (Mate/Sailor/Pirate)

Written By: Jacqueline Rayner
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Trailer – http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/doctor-who-and-the-pirates-209

X X X X X

The audio format has allowed the writers for Big Finish’s line of Doctor Who serials to try new things. We’ve seen a grand army of Daleks invade Gallifrey itself. We’ve jumped through Britain’s timeline all in pursuit of one man desperate to summon his alien masters. We’ve seen the last survivor of a destroyed planet return to her homeworld’s past. We’ve experienced pantomime, high drama, nail-biting horror, and thrilling suspense.

And now…a musical?!?

Doctor Who and the Pirates, or the Lass That Lost a Sailor is billed as “A Doctor Who musical in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.” Without saying, the concept of a musical episode split the fanbase in half. Some people praise the serial for being original, daring, funny, and light-hearted, while others found it disjointed, silly, and schizophrenic. While Doctor Who and the Pirates treads new ground with its experimental format and gives us some good, catchy melodies along the way, the overarching story regarding Evelyn and one of her students is the real heart of this tale. Great performances by Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, however, can’t save the two separate stories from bumping into one another and knocking the narrative off-course, keeping this tale from becoming an instant classic.

Professor Evelyn Smythe is paying a visit to one of her students, Sally. Sally is surprised to see Evelyn, and asks her to please come back another time, but Evelyn will not be perturbed, insisting that Sally put the kettle on, as her friend the Doctor will be along any minute and they have a grand tale Sally must hear. A tale about lost treasure and pirates on the high seas…

The Doctor and Evelyn find the TARDIS has put them in the cargo hold of Her Majesty’s Ship Sea Eagle, which has just been captured by the notorious pirate Red Jasper and the nefarious crew of the Adventurer’s Fancy! Jasper is ruthless in interrogated the crew of the Sea Eagle, looking for anyone who knows the location of the Ruby Islands and the buried treasure of his old ship-mate, One-Eyed Trent! Believing the Doctor knows more than he is letting on, Red Jasper take him captive and orders the Sea Eagle sunk, trapping Evelyn on board…

Sally isn’t interested in the story. At all. She calls Evelyn out on the silliness of a time machine and the walking clichés that are the pirates and sailors. Evelyn insists on telling the story, however, and the Doctor realizes that the only way to keep Sally listening is to add theatrics. With horror, Evelyn realizes that, after all she’s been through with him, the Doctor is going to sing!

Jacqueline Rayner penned the first official Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe story for Big Finish, the fantastic The Marian Conspiracy.   I’ll come right out and say it – despite the script bearing many of the standard hallmarks of a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, it’s only the third episode that contains any singing. But it contains a LOT of singing, as the Doctor is determined to keep Sally interested in their thrilling heroics by any means necessary. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, as a listener going in expecting to hear a song in the first episode will find themselves waiting sixty-two minutes for one instead. In the meantime, Richard’s script weaves in and out of two stories. One is the story of Red Jasper, his hunt for One-Eyed Trent’s treasure, and the efforts of the Doctor, Evelyn, and the cabin boy Jem to thwart him. The other is the story of Sally, one of Evelyn’s students who is doing her best to get the Doctor the Evelyn to leave her alone. The stories unwind at the same time, with one spilling into the other. Sometimes, Sally calls out Evelyn for trying to embellish, change, or lie about her adventures with the pirates, but as Sally’s story progresses, the listener finds out why Sally wants them to leave and just why the Doctor and Evelyn are so determined to stay. The stories mirror each other, becoming more serious as the play unfolds with the stakes being raised higher and higher. In any other type of story other than a musical, this could have been some great storytelling; the concept of telling a story to tell a story is one that goes all the way back to One Thousand and One Nights and Rayner is a capable enough author to pull it off. But by setting it within the confines of a musical, it becomes another bait-and-switch. A listener expecting a light-hearted romp will be surprised at the final results, for good or for ill.

With all that…said…what about the singing? Well, let’s ask Mr. Colin Baker about that. Mr. Baker, you’re on!

X X X X X

I 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!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle from!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle from!
With pestilential monsters that he got a lot of hassle-hassle from!

I understand each language and I speak every vernacular,
I’ll conjugate each verb obscure, decline each line irregular,
In short in every matter that a Gallifreyan holds most dear,
I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer.

In short in every matter that a Gallifreyan holds most dear,
he is the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer!
I’ve tackled shady Castellans with devious behaviour,
I’ve sparred with Time Lord chancellors like Thalia, Goth, or Flavia.

In fact on some occasions I’ve held office Presidentially,
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.
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical!
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents piratical!
With ups and down and twists and turns and incidents pirati-ratical!

I’ve sailed the seven seas of Earth and all the oceans of the Moon,
My trusty true Type 40 is my Gallifreyan picaroon,
But is this really what the average Gallifreyan holds most dear?
I wonder what they think about this Gallifreyan Buccaneer.
But is this really what the average Gallifreyan holds most dear!
We wonder what they think about this Gallifreyan Buccaneer!
But…

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 legate,
(Legate? 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!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Gallifrey!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Gallifrey!
A sentiment we all agree, remember him to Galli-Gallifrey!

I’m not content to just observe, I am a bold adventurer,
Though other Time Lords mock this Gallifreyan interventioner,
I know in every matter that a Time Lord really should hold dear,
I am the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer.
We know in every matter that a Time Lord really should hold dear,
He is the very model of a Gallifreyan Buccaneer!

X X X X X

Really, by this point there’s no question that Colin Baker is THE best Doctor when it comes to Big Finish. Even if saddled with a less than perfect script, Baker’s performances have always been the highlight of nearly single audio he’s performed in. In Doctor Who and the Pirates, it’s incredibly obvious just how much fun he’s having with this particular play. Charming, witty, verbose, and pretty damn funny too, given the verbose and twisting nature of the script, Baker gives it his all, arguing with the pirate Jasper AND Captain Swan with practiced ease. He gets two songs in the third episode, and it astounds me just how talented Baker can be when he handles the music with aplomb, belting out the lyrics without being off-tune or overly-bombastic. Again, anyone who wants to begin a Kickstarter to kick Michael Grade in the doubloons on the behalf of Mr. Baker, let me know and I’ll toss a few coins their way!

With apologies to Nicola Bryant and Bonnie Langford, Six is really at his best along with Evelyn Smythe. Where Baker does the heavy lifting on the pirate side of the story, Maggie Stables takes over on the Sally side. Her chemistry with Six is easily on display, as well as her cheerful optimism and her unwillingness to suffer fools and complainers. And her attempts to be the Pirate Queen are simply head-shakingly chuckleworthy, including a missed shot with a pistol that’s covered up with “that was just a warning!” But where Stables shines here is on the other side of the story. It’s very early on in the serial where the listener realizes a certain character is going to die, and as the story continues, Evelyn becomes more and more distraught, finding it hard to go on and trying to change the story several times until the Doctor gently chides her back into telling the truth. When the death finally comes, Stables is HEARTBREAKING with her reaction. It is mood whiplash (which I will touch on below), but the scene is simply stunning and a tribute to how fantastic Stables is within the audio format. Doctor Who and the Pirates is the beginning of a major character arc for Eveleyn, as she realizes travelling with the Doctor isn’t always fun. It was foreshadowed a bit in Jubilee and comes to full blown throughout Project: Twlight and Arrangements for War, leading all the way to Evelyn’s final episode, A Death in the Family.

A good musical does need a good supporting cast. Nicholas Pegg once again shows off in a Big Finish production as the over-the-top Captain Swan, who clutches to his command, completely oblivious to reality. Bill Oddie is on the flip-side as the over-the-top evil Red Jasper, who twirls his mustache for a good 90% of the time and is absolutely terrifying the other 10%. On the dramatic side is Dan Barratt as the wide-eyed, optimistic cabin boy Jem, and Helen Goldwyn more than makes up for her performance in [b]The Rapture[/b] with her turn in this one, even if the whole arc with her turns out to be a bit “Afterschool Special.” The very last line in the play is uplifting, but adds a bit to the melodrama of the whole thing.

Of course, for a musical, the audio has to be on key. The director of The Chimes of Midnight, Barnaby Edwards, is at the helm for this one. He handles the scene transitions very well, never making them feel out-of-place or jarring, as if someone is simply interrupting a story asking for clarification or exclaiming about the silliness of the proceedings. The sounds of the ocean, the swords and pistols clashing and firing, the duel between the Doctor and Merryweather all over the ship, the Ruby Islands with the birds and lapping waves…Edwards puts it all together very well. As for the music, I have to single out Timothy Sutton, who did the music for Doctor Who and the Pirates.  Not just the songs, but the score itself is solidly done, all the way to a sea-shanty version of the Doctor Who theme and a wistful, lonesome harmonica at just the right points.

So, as I said before, some people really like this one, and some people really hate this one. Personally, I really wanted to like Doctor Who and the Pirates, especially after the back-to-back letdowns of Nekromanteia and The Dark Flame. For the most part, I did enjoy this play, but the mood whiplash prevented me from really getting into it. The “telling the story while telling the story” aspect is a bit jarring and takes a bit to get used to, but the story can’t decide what it wants to be; a uplifting tale or a story where some things just can’t be helped. The two don’t intertwine so much as butt heads with one another, and like the impact of two rams slamming into each other, it reverberates and makes things a bit fuzzy for a little bit. If this had just been the tale of Red Jasper, or just been the tale of Sally, then this could have been something special. But the music, instead of being something unique and different, an experiment in the audio format, simply comes off as a gimmick. Which is a shame, because Baker and Stables do bring down the house, but in the end, there’s very little to encourage an encore listen. Maybe time and distance will make this tale grow on me.

I can say one positive thing, however. Not a hint of Murray Gold.

Synopsis – A sweeping experiment with several grand moments, Doctor Who and the Pirates suffers from a severe case of mood swings, but it doesn’t overshadow the spotlight-stealing performances of its two leads.  3/5

Next – Nyssa, under arrest! The TARDIS, inoperable! The Doctor, facing interrogation!

Where does the story begin, and where does it end? Sometimes, it is all a matter of perspective.

Peter Davison is the Doctor in Creatures of Beauty.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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One Response to Doctor Who – “Doctor Who and the Pirates, or the Lass That Lost a Sailor”

  1. Thanks for the follow! I remember watching Doctor Who since the early 70’s during my vacations in France. The Doctor is an amazing character.

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