16 Jan 2007Galaxy 4, by Eddy Wolverson
16 Jan 2007Galaxy 4, by Paul Clarke
14 Mar 2013Galaxy 4: Air Lock, by Chuck Foster

The first time I listened to “Galaxy 4” on CD (as all four episodes are missing from the BBC archives) I thought that it was one of the weakest stories of William Hartnell’s reign. The second time around I was slightly more impressed, largely because I’ve found that this dialogue-heavy serial is actually more suited to audio than many of the other ‘lost’ stories recently released by the BBC Radio Collection are. Nevertheless, I’m afraid to say that my thoughts on this serial are still far from positive.

William Emms’ story is heavily grounded in the old maxim “it’s what is inside that counts”, and whilst this may be a noble sentiment it is one that is all too often done-to-death in science fiction. The idea that the rather horrific Rills are a race of thinkers, learners and explorers whilst the more aesthetically pleasing Drahvins are an aggressive and warlike species is borne out well in the story, but with no telesnaps or photographs of the Rills the moral of the story falls a little flat – a tremendous shame as otherwise the story works so well in the audio medium. Obviously, this is no fault of the makers of “Galaxy 4” as they were not to know that the story would be junked, or even more surprisingly that forty years on somebody would be writing a review of it!

However, quite a substantial amount of footage from “Four Hundred Dawns” exists, including some shots of a ‘Chumbly.’ Their atrocious nickname (given to them by Vicki) is unfortunately fitting, as they are as feeble in appearance as they are in name. The Drahvins are probably the most interesting aspect of the serial; a race of militant females lead by the despicable Maaga. I’m not sure if Emms was deliberately trying to write a satire about Women’s Lib., but that’s how it comes across at times which is quite amusing considering Doctor Who’s sexist reputation in the sixties and early seventies! I also think this serial could be a possible contender for containing the most ever fluffs by the actors, and whilst that isn’t a damning indictment of “Galaxy 4” in itself, it serves as the proverbial icing on the cake. No, that’s a lie – the icing on the cake is the TARDIS flying past the planet Kembel whilst the Doctor and his companions cheesily say aloud “Oh, I wonder what’s happening on that planet…” dovetailing into their week off…

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The basic point of 'Galaxy 4' is essentially that one should never judge on appearances. This is not an uncommon message in fiction, but 'Galaxy 4' manages to take this basic premise and from it make an effective scenario, for a splendid four-parter that never outstays its welcome. 

Having never seen 'Galaxy 4' intact or the Loose Cannon recon, my assessment of the story is based on the audio soundtrack and the single surviving clip from episode two. And it's really rather good, with two distinct alien races, a simple but effective plot, and an engaging script. The Drahvins at first glance suffer from Xeron syndrome – they are depicted as alien by their eyebrows alone, and are initially fairly boring. Maaga raises them out of such low opinions however. Since all of the other Drahvins are (intentionally) fairly unintelligent cloned soldiers, they get few lines and are depicted as being stupid. Maaga however, is not; she is calculating, intelligent, ruthless, and sadistic, and shines as Doctor Who's first female villain (not counting the scheming Poppaea). Her unpleasant personality makes her interesting from the start, coming to the fore even when she is initially trying to convince the Doctor and his companions that the Rills are the villains – her description of them as crawling monsters is delivered with utter revulsion, suggesting that their appearance alone is enough to earn them her contempt and loathing, and she is eager to see them dead, as witnessed during the exchange in which the Doctor suggests that the Drahvins try and form an alliance with the Rills so that they might all escape from the doomed planet. 

These little hints as to her personality are immediately enough to make her seem unsympathetic, even when at this stage we have no other reason to doubt that the Rills are the villains. In addition to her barely-restrained bloodlust, the Doctor, Steven and Vicki are led to distrust by the obvious fear that she instills in her crew, and her paranoia – she is very insistent when she demands that Vicki remain on the Drahvin ship as a hostage whilst the Doctor and Steven return to the TARDIS to consult the Doctor's instruments and her entire attitude implies a threat. As the story progresses, her civilized façade slips further and further – in episode two, on learning that the planet will explode even sooner than she believed, she is belligerent even whilst still attempting to enlist the Doctor's aid of his own volition – until by the end she gets one of the most chilling speeches of any Doctor Who villain as she gleefully tells her near-mindless lackeys that she can delight in imagining the deaths of those left on the planet when it explodes, even if she cannot actually watch them die. Furthermore, on learning that in fact the Drahvins attacked the Rill ship first, the viewer realises the full significance of her early revulsion towards them; when their ships met in space, she had not yet seen what the Rills looked like, but attacked them anyway – like the Daleks, it is implied that anything different to herself is automatically the enemy. It is fitting then that this especially foul villain does not suffer a last minute defeat, but sees her chances of revenge and escape disintegrating from the end of episode three; after Steven is rescued from the Drahvin airlock in which Maaga sadistically tries to subject him to a lingering death, her attempts to take the Rill ship and then the TARDIS are increasingly desperate. Ultimately, against the alliance of Rills and TARDIS crew, she stands no chance, and whether she seethes from behind the rocks or frantically races the Doctor and friends to the TARDIS, she seems impotent and dies frustrated as the her enemies escape and the planet explodes. In addition to all this, we have other interesting tidbits of information about the Drahvins, as Maaga gives us a glimpse of life on Drahva – a few males are kept for breeding and the rest are killed, whilst an underclass of clones perform functional tasks. The clones are clearly little more than slaves; they receive none of the privilege of "real" Drahvins, and are fed basic rations whilst their betters dine in luxury. Even the soldiers on board Maaga's ship have inferior weapons, despite being bred to kill, with only Maaga's gun allegedly able to damage the Chumblies.

On the other hand, we have the Rills, who are also well portrayed. Despite their monstrous appearance (preserved for posterity only in a couple of photographs, sadly), they are thinkers and learners, seeking only to explore. They are portrayed as a noble race, keenly accepting the Doctor's aid, but adamant that if he cannot save them, he must still save himself and his companions. Their reluctance to reveal their true appearance to the Doctor, Steven and Vicki even when they have befriended them might be construed as a reluctance to incite revulsion (who would like being told they are ugly?) but somehow comes across as genuine concern that their appearance will cause distress. But in spite of their gentle nature, they are prepared to use force to protect themselves and their friends when all other options fail – even after being shot down by the Drahvins, they offer their aid to them, but having realized that they cannot negotiate with the Drahvins, they are willing to deal harshly with them. This makes them far less pathetic than the Thals seemed in 'The Mutants', but their restrained use of such force also contrasts with the vicious Drahvins, making them seem honourable, but assertive. Their appearance and the fact that they breathe ammonia gas and communicate by telepathy goes a long way to making them convincingly alien and on the whole they are one of the better alien races to appear during the Hartnell era. The Chumblies are equally memorable; from the surviving clip, they look unusual enough to be effective, with their beehive shaped bodies and short stature, but manage to avoid seeming overly cute thanks to their impressive arsenal of tools and weapons, established during their attempts to enter the TARDIS. The weird noises they make add to the effect, and whilst they are hardly up there with the Daleks, they are on a par with the Mechanoids. 

Hartnell continues to impress as usual, whether he's fiercely defying Maaga or philosophising with the Rills. I've noticed how much he's changed since the series began, in terms of confronting danger; compare his lack of hesitation when rushing towards unknown dangers here, with his obvious fear and desire to avoid conflict in '100,000BC' and 'The Mutants'. True, this change was established during season one, but by this point he almost seems indestructible. By 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth', he was resolutely prepared to stop the Daleks at all costs, but he still seemed very vulnerable on at least two occasions during that story. I'd never noticed this progression before, but watching the series in order really makes it noticeable. In addition, it is interesting that he almost kills the Rills by sabotaging their air converter, and Vicki has to stop him. Whilst he clearly distrusts the Drahvins by this point, he presumably still accepts some of what they have told him, since he tries to destroy the Rills without first hearing their side of the story. This is not his finest moment, but nicely reminds us that for all his good points, he still makes mistakes. Vicki is here relegated to the role of the Doctor's sidekick for the first time since 'The Crusade', and doesn't get much to do, but her befriending of the Rills is an important plot development so she isn't entirely wasted. I also still like the fact that whilst she respects the Doctor, she is more mischievous towards him than Susan was, and is often cheeky, as in the scene when she throws the rock towards the Chumblies. Steven also continues to impress, and is far more confrontational than Ian was. His voice shows almost as much contempt for Maaga in episode three as the Doctor's did earlier, and despite having guns waved at him, he continues to defy her. The bit at the end of episode three when, suffocating, he snarls at her that he'd rather face the Chumblies (which he still believes to be hostile) rather than her any day is one of his greatest moments. In addition, he argues with the Doctor more than Ian did, seemingly less keen to avoid needless squabbles with the old man. Combined with Vicki's cheekiness, this results in a more fiery atmosphere between the Doctor and his companions, which never the less retains a feeling of mutual affection and makes this TARDIS crew distinct from the previous two. 

As far as I can tell from the surviving footage, the sets and costumes of 'Galaxy 4' are effective, but really it is difficult to tell. Based on the soundtrack alone however, 'Galaxy 4' is an excellent opening story to season three and a tragic loss to the BBC archives.

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Reviewed by Tim Robins

Galaxy 4: Air Lock
Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus
Originally broadcast 25 Sep 1965
Released as part of The Aztecs SE (R2)
I believe Galaxy 4 to be the oldest Doctor Who story that I can remember from when the programme was first broadcast. I can tell that I have a true memory of the story because of the inaccuracies. I recall William Hartnell hitting a Dalek with his cane and the Dalek sort of unfolding. The Doctor chuckled, "It's asleep!" I got lots wrong. It was Jeremy Bentham, former historian of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, who pointed out that it must have been a 'Chumbly', the Doctor's companion Vicki's ridiculous nickname for the robots that serve the hideously ugly, ammonia-breathing Rills. I nearly fell off my chair when episode three opened with the Doctor saying these words, although the robot did not semi-wake up as I remembered. In a long-distant past, I saw the the climax of Westworld at the cinema as a child but recalled the scarred gun fighter as a witch, falling back into a cauldron (which is in the scene). The police have long realised what psychologists have not, that truth and accuracy are two separate things (witnesses recalling events in exactly the same way and with the same words are likely to have conspired with each other).

Episode Three of Galaxy 4 is startlingly good. The story involves the Doctor, Vicki and spaceman-of-the-future Steven Taylor (played by Peter Purves in an ill-advised mismatched ensemble comprising a woolly cardigan, slacks and hush puppies) arriving on a soon-to-blow-apart-world where two races, the all-female Drahvins and the Jabba the Huttish-looking Rills, have crashed and are engaged in a grim battle of survival as they attempt to escape the doomed planet. When the planet does blow apart, you can be sure it's the villains who are left behind, victims of their pre-programmed hatred of others.

The high concepts in the story are that attractive-looking characters can be evil and ugly characters good - a concept that entirely escaped children's animation such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The second twist is that the main antagonists are a race of women, the Drahvins, cloned or bred to fit particular social roles - in this case soldiers. The moral here being that military personnel are (contrary to Star Trek) not the best people to make first contact.

All of this preaching gives the episode the feel of a US TV series such as Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or One Step Beyond. The Doctor and his companions seem thrown into an entirely different TV series. This is emphasised by the way the Doctor misunderstands the entire situation and busies himself trying to kill the 'Evil' Rills until Vicki stops him. He also, in one brilliant scene, abandons his companion to the tender mercies of what he believes to be menacing robots. Classic Hartnell. Not since he tried to kill a caveman with a rock just so he could escape Earth's prehistoric past has the Doctor seemed more calculating.

Of course the production is wonky in places. Vicki is trapped behind a fairly flimsy door. But even the Chumblies - imagine three upturned pudding bowls wobbling along at waist height - have more appeal than the Mechanoids, their big brothers, or the Quarks who are, alas, rubbish on screen. The planet itself is realised by a paint-and-paper landscape that looks bogus even by the standards of Doctor Who at the time. However, it is worth remembering that the team who have lovingly restored this episode have made the picture far clearer and sharper than anyone viewing TV in the Sixties would have seen - woe betide anyone watching an old Doctor Who DVD on a Blu-ray player because the image is automatically upgraded to make the image look worse than any VHS copy. And, for me, the tatty set underlined the experience of Galaxy 4 as a US TV episode, specifically Classic Star Trek with its garishly-lit skylines, glam rocks and randomly-placed twigs.

One thing that lifts Galaxy 4 above rather too much Hartnell 'Doctor Who' is that the supporting acting is tremendous. The Drahvin leader Maaga, played by Stephanie Bidmead, has some brilliant moments of angst in which she curses being given soldiers on her mission to explore space. The direction reminds me of how startling it was to revisit the Sixties' series when given the chance by Jeremy in the late-Seventies. By then Doctor Who's actual direction rarely departed from a linear narrative and a limited range of set-ups. But Galaxy 4 has a great piece to camera and a soliloquy and a flashback. At an art house screening of episode three, media scholars and professionals talked excitedly about it as the first use of a flashback in Doctor Who. Not so, of course. The first-ever episode, An Unearthly Child, is replete with flashbacks.

Sadly, I do find it increasingly hard to enjoy the early seasons of classic Doctor Who. Alas, the audacious The Web Planet - once beloved by me - becomes unbearably embarrassing as the story progresses. But this episode of Galaxy 4 leaves me hoping that the full story might actually be lying in the bottom of someone's cupboard. Who knows?
LinkCredit: First Doctor, Classic Series, Blu-ray/DVD 
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