Film review: ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’


I have to admit, when I head that Aardman Animation, the makers of Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, etc., had made an animated film about Pirates in an adventure with none other than Charles Darwin, I was concerned that it might contain one or two historical inaccuracies. However, I am pleased to report that whatever liberties the film takes with established historical fact—diabolical though they might seem—can easily be explained.

First things first, though: as we have come to expect from Aardman, the animation is as brilliant; the film is great fun; kids will love it; grown-up kids will love it too; and even sad, old Darwin groupies like me will be enthralled.

Second things second: as I said, the film does appear to contain a number of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. I do not think it will spoil your enjoyment of the film too much if I were to list a few:

  • the film begins early in the reign of Queen Victoria. A short while later, we encounter Charles Darwin in his cabin (presumably aboard H.M.S. Beagle, although the ship is not referred to by name).  Darwin even has a portrait of Victoria in his cabin (because, we later learn, he has something of a crush on Her Majesty). But Victoria did not come to the throne until 1837, by which time Darwin had already returned to Blighty (the Beagle completed her voyage on 2nd October, 1836);
Charles Darwin in his cabin. (Note the apparent anachronism: Victoria was not yet Regina when Darwin was on the Beagle.)
  • when we first encounter Darwin, he is writing in his journal on what he describes as the 93rd day of his voyage. A short while later, he goes on to record in his journal that the ship is being attacked by pirates. The 93rd day of Darwin's Beagle voyage fell on 28th March, 1832—over five years, incidentally, before Victoria came to the throne. Darwin's Beagle Diary entry for that day actually reads:

    During these two days the labours of the expedition have commenced.—We have laid down the soundings on parts of the Abrolhos, which were left undone by Baron Roussin.—The depth varied to an unusual extent: at one cast of the lead there would be 20 fathoms & in a few minutes only 5.—The scene being quite new to me was very interesting.—Everything in such a state of preparation; sails all shortened & snug: anchor ready to let fall: no voice or noise to be heard, excepting the alternate cry of the leadsmen in the chains.—

… You will note that Darwin makes absolutely no mention of any pirates;

  • confronted by the Pirate Captain in the Beagle's cabin, Darwin explains that two objects which the captain mistakes for gold are actually baboon's kidneys. The baboon is an African species. The Beagle did not visit Africa until 1836. So how could Darwin have obtained a pair of baboon's kidneys as early as 28th March, 1832?
  • later on in the film, we visit Darwin's London residence. At one point, somebody flips an electric light switch. The first commercially viable electric light bulbs were not invented (independently, by Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan) until the late 1870s;
  • in the film, Darwin has a monkey servant named Bobo. There is no record of any monkey named Bobo in any of Darwin's papers;
  • the word scientist was coined by William Whewell in 1833. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Charles Darwin would describe himself as a scientist on the 93rd day of his Beagle voyage—as he does in this film—in 1832. Although, in fairness, the film does claim to take place in 1838 (see first anachronism);
  • throughout the film, one of the pirates is quite clearly wearing a Blue Peter badge on his hat. For the non-Brits amongst you, Blue Peter is the world's longest-running children's television show, which first aired in 1958—long after the events supposedly depicted in this film.

Deadly as the above observations might seem to the historical veracity of The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, I believe they can easily be explained. If you listen very carefully to Charles Darwin's voice, it is quite clearly identical to that of the tenth incarnation of Doctor Who. As we all know, Doctor Who is a Time Lord—an extraterrestrial from the planet Gallifrey—who travels through time and space in a time-machine called the TARDIS. The important fact that we had not previously been aware of is that Charles Darwin and Doctor Who are/were/will be one and the same person! Once you introduce a time-machine into the equation, all arguments about anachronistic inaccuracy are automatically invalidated.

Which leaves us with Bobo, the monkey-servant. How do we explain him? Once again, there is a deceptively simple explanation. It is well documented that Charles Darwin did indeed have a servant aboard the Beagle, who remained his servant for some time after they returned to Blighty. That servant's name was Syms Covington. It seems clear to me that, contrary to what has previously been believed, Syms Covington was not a human, but a monkey. This explains his rather unusual first name: Syms is clearly a corruption of Simian. Furthermore, Bobo is a common nickname for people whose surname is Covington.

Historical concerns utterly refuted, I have no hesitation in recommending this highly entertaining film. Here is the trailer:

Note to American Readers: In America, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists has been given a different title, namely: The Pirates! Band of Misfits. This, presumably, is on account of misfits'—and even pirates'—being deemed far more appropriate for young American audiences than those incorrigible investigators of reality, scientists!

Postscript: Peter Lord, the co-owner and Creative Director of Aardman, tweets:

Peter Lord's tweet

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy via one of the above links.

Richard Carter, FCD

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteNewsletterMastodonetc…


  1. I'm shocked, shocked! I say, to discover that an animated movie is historically inaccurate. I am very grateful that you have assuaged my concerns. But I have a quibble: the Doctor has never before retained a voice through a regeneration. That is very unlikely. A much better hypothesis is that Darwin is K9 in a human form, using the Tenth Doctor's voice and the Teselecta robot, rebuilt after the events at Lake Silencio. Obvious, really.

  2. You misunderstand my brilliant hypothesis. I am not saying that Darwin is an nth incarnation of the Doctor (where n ? 10); I am saying that Darwin is/was/will be the 10th incarnation of the Doctor... The mild-mannered scientist persona is simply a brilliant disguise.

    Having said that, your K9/Teselecta robot hypothesis also works. But Occam's Razor makes my hypothesis preferable.

  3. Tragically, it's Band of Misfits in Australia, too, as I first learned via a bus ad. Presumably the American version was cheaper to import, but I think the root problem is that whichever organisation is responsible for importing it has not been attacked by enough pirates.

  4. In the film, Queen Victoria is introduced as Empress of India, a title that she didn't officially use until 1876, with the Royal Titles Act (39 & 40 Vict., c. 10), and even then the title was used primarily outside the United Kingdom.

    I'm just saying.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *