The Space Pirates

The Space Pirates is the mostly missing sixth serial of the sixth season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which originally aired in six weekly parts from 8 March to 12 April 1969. This is the second story written by Robert Holmes, one of the show's most successful scriptwriters, who would subsequently rise to become Script Editor on the show in the Tom Baker era. Only one of the six episodes is held in the BBC archives; five remain missing.

049 The Space Pirates
Doctor Who serial
Milo Clancey, on board his ship, the LIZ 79.
Directed byMichael Hart
Written byRobert Holmes
Script editorDerrick Sherwin
Produced byPeter Bryant
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerDudley Simpson
Production codeYY
SeriesSeason 6
Length6 episodes, 25 minutes each
Episode(s) missing5 episodes (1, 3–6)
First broadcast8 March 1969 (1969-03-08)
Last broadcast12 April 1969 (1969-04-12)
 Preceded by
The Seeds of Death
Followed by 
The War Games


Space beacons on the space lanes are being blown up and plundered for precious argonite by a gang of space pirates led by Caven, and his associate Dervish. The Earth Space Corps cruiser V-41 notices the destruction of the beacon and, with General Hermack and Major Warne in charge, sets out to apprehend the pirates. Another beacon is destroyed despite their best intentions, and the fragments are stolen using rocket propulsion. Hermack deploys troops to all nearby Beacons to prevent another robbery.

The TARDIS crew arrive on Beacon Alpha Four shortly before the pirates reach it. Caven and his men murder the security force there, and the pirates seal the time travellers in part of the Beacon before blowing it to pieces. Fortunately the beacon falls into discrete, sealed pieces and the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves inside one. The eccentric Milo Clancey, in his aged ship, the LIZ-79, rescues them – but they cannot retrieve the TARDIS, which is in a separate segment taken by the pirates.

The nearest inhabited world is Ta, dominated by the Issigri Mining Corporation, whose leader is Madeleine Issigri. The firm was founded by her father and Clancey, and the latter is now suspected of Dom Issigri’s murder, though nothing has been proved. Hermack visits Ta, believing that Clancey, whom he suspects of being the pirate leader, will end up there in due course – and he is right. However, Hermack leaves just as Clancey and the TARDIS crew reach Ta. Zoe has plotted the trajectory of the segments of Beacon and believes they were destined for Ta too and the Doctor and his companions soon find the pirate headquarters. They evade capture and make contact with Clancey.

Meanwhile, Caven forces Dervish to reroute some of the beacon fragments to Lobos, a frontier world where Clancey has his base, so as to throw suspicion on the prospector. It is clear that someone has tipped him off about the Corps suspicion of Milo Clancey. Hermack and his crew see through this ruse, but it takes time, and they spend hours orbiting Lobos while the real action is taking place on Ta.

When the Doctor and his party reach Madeleine’s offices it becomes clear that she is in league with Caven, and the Doctor and his friends are imprisoned. Their prison is the study of Dom Issigri – alive but frail and scared – and it takes time for him to recover his wits. Madeleine has meanwhile decided to break her alliance with Caven, and does so by radioing Hermack to bring his troops to Ta. Caven reasserts his authority by telling Madeleine her father is alive and threatening to kill him unless she returns to her compliant self. She responds by contacting Hermack again and telling him not to come to Ta.

The Doctor and his friends have meanwhile escaped, taking the weak Dom Issigri with them, and head to the LIZ-79. Caven has thought ahead and forced Dervish to cut the oxygen supply to the ship. As only Milo and Dom board the ship, theirs are the lives in danger, and Caven’s callousness finally convinces Madeleine to support him no longer. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe save their friends and Dom Issigri makes contact with Hermack, persuading him of the truth of the situation.

Caven now gets desperate, threatening to destroy Ta, the Issigri base, and the orbiting V-ship by means of a series of bombs. The Doctor manages to disengage the triggering device, while Major Warne blows Caven and Dervish’s ship to pieces. As Hermack’s ship lands, Madeleine looks forward to a reunion with her father, but knows she will also be imprisoned for her part in the conspiracy, while the Doctor and his companions prepare to seek out the TARDIS on one of the fragments of the Beacon.


EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
1"Episode One"24:118 March 1969 (1969-03-08)5.8Only stills and/or fragments exist
2"Episode Two"25:0215 March 1969 (1969-03-15)6.835mm t/r
3"Episode Three"23:5022 March 1969 (1969-03-22)6.4Only stills and/or fragments exist
4"Episode Four"22:2529 March 1969 (1969-03-29)5.8Only stills and/or fragments exist
5"Episode Five"24:445 April 1969 (1969-04-05)5.5Only stills and/or fragments exist
6"Episode Six"24:2612 April 1969 (1969-04-12)5.3Only stills and/or fragments exist

^† Episode is missing

This serial was written as a replacement for The Dream Spinner by Paul Wheeler, which for technical reasons was dropped at a late stage in production. This is the last story to be produced by Peter Bryant, although it was originally intended that he receive the producer's credit on Doctor Who and the Silurians. This changed when Barry Letts was appointed the series' producer on a full-time basis.

Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury were all away on location filming The War Games during the production of episode six and appear only in pre-filmed inserts. Thus, this is one of only two 1960s episodes to have none of the regular cast present for a studio recording, the other being the 1965 story "Mission to the Unknown".[3]

This was the first Doctor Who serial which John Nathan-Turner worked on as a floor assistant.[4] Nathan-Turner would become the Unit Production Manager of the show in 1977 and the Producer in 1980, a role he hold until the series' cancellation in 1989.

Missing episodes

All episodes, except Episode 2 (preserved as a 35 mm film telerecording), are missing from the BBC archives. Pre-filmed inserts from Episode 1 also exist, as well as the audio soundtrack for all episodes. Episode 6 of the story is chronologically the final missing episode of Doctor Who.

In 1998, Episode 2 of this story (the single episode already held in the BBC archives) was discovered in the collection of an amateur video enthusiast. The episode is the earliest known existing off-air domestic videotape recording of an episode of Doctor Who.[5]

This is the final story which is considered to have episodes missing due to no video being known to exist. Whilst some of the Third Doctor’s episodes are missing the original colour footage, these episodes have complete video, even if only available in monochrome.

Commercial releases

In print

The Space Pirates
AuthorTerrance Dicks
Cover artistTony Clark
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
15 March 1990

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in March 1990.

Home media

Episode 2 was released on VHS in 1991 on Doctor Who - The Troughton Years, the introduction for the episode being recorded in the Lime Grove Studios where Episode One had been taped. In November 2004, it was released on Region 2 DVD in the three-disc Lost in Time box set. The DVD also includes surviving pre-filmed inserts from Episode 1. In February 2003, the audio soundtrack was released on CD with linking narration by Frazer Hines.

See also


  1. "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  2. Shaun Lyon; et al. (31 March 2007). "The Space Pirates". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 31 August 2008.
  3. "BBC – Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide – The Space Pirates – Details".
  4. Sullivan, Shannon. "The Space Pirates". A Brief History Of Time (Travel). Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  5. Roberts, Steve. "Missing episode hunting". Archived from the original on 21 July 2012.

Target novelisation

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