The Space Pirates
To be honest I can't really understand all the animosity, as, while poor, I don't see anything as outstandingly awful in it as, say, Gel Guards or Christopher Bowen. That said, I have only "seen" it once, and that through the reconstruction video. So, a second glance?
One record the story holds is the longest time before the introduction of the regulars. That's not something to praise, obviously. With all credit to the reconstructions, they're not helped by the fact that there are no telesnaps for this story, and so individual images and text screens make up the bulk of the content. This does have the unfortunate effect of making the episode seem even more boring than it actually is, with a fuzzy soundtrack not being compensated for by the one or two small clips of existing spacecraft footage. (Which, incidentally, look pretty good for the period).
This first episode sees some tacky costumes and mentions of all things "interstellar", suggesting there's some attempt at pulp SF send-up, but really it's just pulp SF. I have to confess my attention did continually wander and I couldn't really tell you what it was about, while Dudley Simpson's jokey music is insufferable.
It's fifteen minutes in before the regulars appear, and in The Space Pirates they're written Nation-thin. The normally hyperbright Zoe requires exposition to be dealt out to her every five minutes (albeit not in this particular episode) and their constant experience of artificial perils does begin to tire after about... oh, two minutes. More than any other, The Space Pirates probably isn't really a six-part story, and this padded, listless first part is unlikely to inspire anyone to sit through another five. But the penultimate worst story of all time? Nah, not even close.
Fans of Robert Holmes like to disregard his two Troughton stories as try-outs before he got his muse for Pertwee. Really big fans even like to suggest that, while weak, The Space Pirates introduced a self-referential character humour never seen before in the series. The first misses the point that Holmes had as many misses as hits, while the second overlooks the work of Dennis Spooner, and others. For me, while Holmes's writing is above average, his inconsistency means he's never one of the greats. For every genuinely inspired story like Carnival of Monsters or The Deadly Assassin there's lazy filler like The Sunmakers or The Ribos Operation. And his humour is always self-conscious and without naturalistic reference. Okay, you might laugh at the antics of Litefoot and Jago, or even Garron and Unstoffe, but real people just don't talk like that. Who should be able to be funny without reminding you that you're just watching a fictitious programme, and Holmes always has an overegged nod to the audience.
All of which brings us to Milo Clancey. Contrary to popular belief I actually think Milo is funny. Yeah - funny as f***! But it's a neat idea to have a cowboy hick with egg and toast as a starcraft pilot. Well, I say "neat". Completely f***** stupid might have been a more apt description, but there you go. His accent is all over the place, while is his talk of "floaters" one of Holmes's rumoured toilet humour gags?
For a penultimate Troughton story then this doesn't serve him well (again, he's hardly in it and given nothing to do), while there's still no explanation for why May's accent changes from scene to scene. Is he an aristocrat? A German? To be honest I don't really care. Some cobblers about magnets takes Who back to its educational remit, while even the Mind Probe gets a look in. Holmes supporters - listen to the dialogue between the General and Issigri, it's possibly the worst exposition in the entire history of the series. Oh, and "Clancy has a terrible temper - he's likely to explode like glycol trynitrate." Even Pip and Jane couldn't have done a better job.
All of which titular ramblings help to disguise the fact that I have little to say about this episode. The dialogue is a step up, albeit still poor, but the Tardis crew reach two dimensions instead of one for the confines of this instalment. Unfortunately we also get some witheringly awful exposition with the Argonite speech, and how Clancey gets away. It didn't knock me out, but after hearing it I certainly had to take two steps towards the ref from a standing eight count.
Actually, it's to the cast's credit that the three leads play their roles adequately here, despite obviously realising that it's below par. I only noticed this when The Mighty Trout stumbles over his line about asking to be taken to a space station. He obviously doesn't care less about the pap he's having to say, but he, and Wendy and Frazer, all give worthwhile, if not career best, performances. All, that is, except for the feeble screams when they fall in arguably the series' most inane cliffhanger.
Following on from the lacklustre Seeds of Death, this story sees twelve episodes of "pretending to be in a rocket" shenanigans. Looking at it like that, you can't help but think that season six was indeed as bad as they say. For this particular episode, though, it's a narrative-almost-at-a-standstill vague step up towards mediocrity.
As all the plot elements were pretty much wrapped up by episode five (and only lasted that long thanks to padding), Caven decides to blow things up. We get a narrative graft-on of an unexploded bomb that takes up eleven minutes of screentime, while before you can say "jumping galactic gobstoppers!" (or even get any inclination to) we're left with an ending where all the remaining cast laugh heartily at nothing at all into the end credits.
A lot of The Space Pirates' faults are excused by it being a rush replacement for an abandoned story, and it quite clearly required at least one more draft. But should we excuse such behind-the-scenes technicalities when they would have meant nothing to the viewer? Making entertaining television was the job of the production team, and here they didn't succeed. It's worth mentioning, however, that they didn't quite fail, either, and that The Space Pirates is significantly better than its reputation.. Just not by much
The worst story of the 60s? One of the worst stories of all time? Come off it, it's not even the worst story of the season - poor, but not as awful as people make out.