Monday, January 06, 2014

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Pirates

A pirate is an individual who commits illegal acts such as robbery,on the high sea, or -- in terms of cult-television -- in outer space. 
Pirates have appeared many times throughout cult-television history as dangerous adversaries for space-going heroes. 
In Star Trek (1966 – 1969) history, pirates first appeared in the second season story, “Journey of Babel,” though they were disguised as Andorians in an attempt to sow confusion and discord. 
These “pirates of Orion” later appeared in their natural, un-altered form in The Animated Series (1973 – 1974) episode titled “The Pirates of Orion.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994) re-visited the space pirate trope in a two-part episode of its final season, titled “Gambit.” There, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) pretended to be a pirate called “Galen” in an attempt to learn about a crew of outlaws attempting to find and excavate important Vulcan relics.
Another great science fiction franchise, Doctor Who (1963 – 1989; 2005 - ), has also frequently told stories involving pirates.  In the Patrick Troughton era, a serial called “The Space Pirates” aired during 1969, and is one of the famous missing stories erased by the BBC. 
During the Key to Time Saga in the Fourth Doctor’s (Tom Baker) span, one story (by Douglas Adams) was called “The Pirate Planet” and concerned the planet Calufrax.  There, a pirate captain was plundering other worlds with a hollow planet/ship.
Most recently, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has tangled with pirates in the story called “The Curse of the Black Spot.” In this tale, a ship full of pirates is marooned at sea, and held hostage by the apparition of a siren.  It turns out that the siren is a medical hologram, not a supernatural monster.  In this tale, the Doctor is even forced to walk the plank, before Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) swings in to the rescue.

The very first episode of short-lived The Fantastic Journey (1977) involves pirates trapped on an island in the Bermuda Triangle.  20th century explorers also arrive on the island -- where all time zones seem to exist simultaneously -- and run afoul of the pirate leader Sir James Camden (Ian McShane).

Space pirates have also threatened the Serenity, in the Firefly (2002) episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” and Hanna Barbera’s Herculoids as well.


  1. John I always liked the both real historic and fictional pirate adventures. Nice overview of sci-fi pirates. Another reason, as a boy, that I liked watching the short one season The Fantastic Journey (1976-1977). This series should be released on dvd. Until you posted it, I had forgotten that Ian McShane was in that episode of FJ. As you know, he was also a great guest actor on Space:1999 too.


  2. And don't forget the "fake ghost-pirates" on the Venture Brothers... or their Scooby Doo inspirations.