blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: Galaxy Four (TV Serial T)

Blurb: When the TARDIS lands on a barren planet the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki find themselves caught in a deadly fued between two very different races.

On one hand are the Drahvins, beautiful cloned female warriors led by the ruthless Maaga. With her spaceship crippled, they resist constant attacks from the Chumblies, robot servants of their enemies the monstrous Rills. Maaga knows they must find a way to escape this world, as it is only fourteen dawns from complete destruction.

At Maaga's mercy, the time travelers have little choice but to help with her plans to seize the Rills' spacecraft for their own purposes. But things are not as simple as they seem on journeying to the Rills the Doctor is shocked to find them protest their innocence and desire for peace.

The travelers must decide where their loyalties lie and soon. Despite Maaga's belief, the planet doesn't have fourteen dawns left. It only has one.

Format: Television drama transmitted from September 11, 1965 - October 2, 1965. Episodes 1, 2, and 4 are missing from the BBC archives. Episodes 3 was released with a truncated reconstruction of the remaining episodes based on the existing audio and pictures on the Aztecs: Special Edition DVD released on March 12, 2013. I watched the story as part of the Loose Canon series of telesnap reconstructions LC11 released in December of 1999. The BBC has also made the audio for the story available on CD, which was recorded by fans at the time off air. The CD has linking narration by Peter Purves to explain any visuals lost on the audio.

Disclaimer: The DVD cover above is in no way official and was made by Simon Hodges for use by fans such as myself who would like their telesnap recons to look like they fit in with the rest of the Doctor Who range.

Setting: An unnamed planet in Galaxy Four, time unknown. I don't buy the theory that the Drahvins came from Galaxy Four but this planet isn't in it. They list Drahva as being in Galaxy Four because they know that Earth isn't. There's no way that a spaceship that can be scratched with a screwdriver is going to make intergalactic journeys.

Continuity: The astral map make an appearance (see The Web Planet) and the Doctor mentions the planet Xeros (see The Space Museum). Vicki and Steven had earlier met the progenitor of the Drahvin race although she never used that name and they don't appear to notice it here (see The Suffering).

DVD: The DVD release of this story lacks any extras except for the truncated reconstruction of the remaining episodes. There is no audio commentary for episode three nor are there any extras about the making of this story.

Discussion: Galaxy Four is one of those stories that many Doctor Who fans don't know much about. It's the season premiere for the third season of the series, but it made at the end of the second production block in order to have some episodes "in the can" when they came back from the break. All four episodes were wiped by the BBC years ago and there were very few pictures that remained. A few clips were recovered from other TV shows where they were shown but this remained one of the stories that we had the least extant material for of the entire classic series. Then in 2011 episode three showed up, so we've gotten a chance to go back and re-evaluate this story based on the evidence that we can gather from that third episode.

In the days where all that I had to go on with this one was the Loose Canon reconstruction it always stood out to me how boring this story was. There's a lot of moving back and forth between locations but not a whole lot happens. There are other stories with no surviving episodes but even a seven parter like Marco Polo keeps me interested because of how good the dialog and vocal performance is of the cast. In Galaxy Four we don't have that luxury. Part of the problem I think is that Mervyn Pinfield was originally supposed to be the director of this story. For those who haven't been keeping score, Pinfield is responsible for what I consider to be the worst stories of the first two seasons of Doctor Who - Planet of Giants; The Space Museum; and to a lesser extent, The Sensorites. While he was a very competent technical director and was responsible for some of the best effects of the earlier stories he seemed to be awful at directing people. Even beyond that that he seemed to have an awful time at finding the right actors for rolls. Anyone who saw Maitland in The Sensorites, Forrester in Planet of Giants, or Lobos in The Space Museum can really feel like this was a guy who found the right talents for the roles. Pinfield eventually fell ill and was replaced as director on this story by Derick Martinus but not before he had completed the casting. Maaga could have been an excellent villain. I imagine someone like Jean Marsh in the role truly relishing every line and being able to play sweet and meek one minute and fierce and scary the next. Instead we get Stephanie Bidmead who seems to treat Maaga like she's a very bored office worker. Yeah she delivers all the right lines but her performance isn't far from Richard Shaw's as Lobos in The Space Museum. She's more like a weary office worker than a space commander. It also hurts that her performance as an altruistic and peaceful space commander leaves so much to be desired that there's never a question that she is inf act the aggressor. For a story that hinges on the "twist" that the Rills are the good guys and the Drahvins are the bad guys this is a really big problem. There's also the question of her troops. It's really not clear if they're just really bad actors or they're fairly decent ones that are doing their best to play the part as stiff and robotic as possible. Either way, it leaves Maaga holding the lion's share of the workload as she's really the only true "character" out of the Drahvins. Thankfully, one Pinfield decision was overturned and Robert Cartland who ends up being the voice for the Rills is actually really good and I enjoy his performance immensely. He gives the proper wisdom to the race that helps the viewer to get past what to our eyes would be a horrific appearance.

Of course Pinfield direction doesn't really explain the regulars. One of the things that really stood out to me this time was how little William Hartnell seems to be enjoying himself. The Doctor almost seems bereft of energy this time. It's a real stark contrast to The Chase and The Time Meddler where he's clearly having a ball. Even though he says the right things, like when he gloats about his forcefield, there's no laughter in his voice and no humor. He just says his lines and gets on with things. My suspicion is that it's a two-fold symptom. First, he was at the end of a recording block and was likely tired and couldn't want to get to his six-week break. The other issue is that he knew what was going on behind the scenes. Verity Lambert was the last member of the original production team to still be working on the show and by the time that Hartnell returned from the break she would be gone and replaced with new producer John Wiles. Hartnell apparently met Wiles during the making of this story and strongly disliked him so he might have been pondering that as well. I don't know what the excuse is for the normally ebullient Vicki. She gets one line when she teases the Doctor about his methodical practices and just throws a rock at a Chumbly that seems like the fun Vicki that we had in The Time Meddler. She's also become the TARDIS hair stylist which is a nice little familial twist but all her banter with Steven is gone as well. Vicki kind of drifts through this one and it's a shame as she won't be on the show for long. As for Steven, I'm pretty sure that Peter Purves was unhappy that this was a story that was written with Ian and Barbara in mind and he was lumbered with the many of the Barbara parts. It's a problem when the cast isn't really bringing their enthusiasm to the table and it makes it very hard to take this story.

Episode three has helped me in re-evaluating the story though as it is clear to me now that Derick Martinus was a very good visual director. There's no getting around it, some of the set decisions are poor. They once again put the TARDIS way to close to the backdrop and a lot of the action occurs with full view of it as well. That just doesn't work visually. The barren alien landscape really doesn't work in the studio either. It's so spartan that it fails to hide the backdrop while also giving very little of interest in the exterior shots so it feels very much like they're on a stage. Yet Martinus tries to get around this by injecting a lot of movement into the story. There's a rather awful Chase scene between the Doctor and the Chumblies in episode three but the reason that it's there is to keep the pace going and make it feel like the story is moving. That's something that is completely lost on audio but works well visually. There's also a really nice transition sequence when the Doctor and Vicki go to check on Steven that has a fade to the next scene while they're walking. Thinking about the limited resources and stresses on the studios back then that transition really impressed me. The flashback sequence is also a nice touch helping once again to give us something different to help break up the monotony of the story. It also helps that the Drahvin spaceship and the Rill landing site are both very well realized sets. I especially like the design of the Rill spaceship. It looks a lot better than the single picture or two of it that we had would lead you to believe. For the other visuals, the Drahvins aren't really anything special. For all the talk of them being a race of sexy, blonde warriors they're really not all that attractive and the dots on their eyebrows remind me to much of the Xerons. The Chumblies are an obvious attempt to cash in on the Daleks but the things just look way to small and ineffectual to be taken seriously. I will say that they did have me believing that they were radio controlled though as I have a hard time believing that even a midget could fit in those little things, but apparently they did. The Rills look like Hutts from Star Wars and it makes me wonder if George Lucas somehow saw this story in 1965. Add some tusks to a Hutt and paint it green and you have a Rill. They work really well even though it's hard to believe that they're so hideous that even a seasoned space traveler like Vicki whose been to Vortis and befriended Menoptra would be terrified of them and immediately believe that they're evil because of their appearance but if you get past that it's ok.

Writer William Emms is sometimes described as the first fanfiction writer in Doctor Who because he was a fan of the show. It's kind of easy to see why when you think about this one. So much of this story is a combination of things that we've had in previous stories. We have the small robot-like creatures (Daleks), we have the alien race who are judged by their appearance but are actually quite nice (the Sensorites), we have the astral map (the Web Planet), and we have references to Xeros (The Space Museum). All that continuity is nice and he was clearly a regular viewer but it doesn't really add anything to the story or give us anything unique. Instead it makes it feel like Doctor Who has established a formula and that this was a story that worked because it was a combination of things that went before. Yet, I don't want to judge Emms to harshly because there are some really nice ideas in this story. For instance, I like that the Rills breathe something other than oxygen. This will be a rarity for Doctor Who but gives us a real touch of realism. I also like that for once we've actually brought up the fact that the TARDIS crew need to be translated for a species. Remember that in these early days there had never been an onscreen explanation for why the TARDIS crew are always able to speak to everyone wherever they go, so it must have seemed odd to viewers at the time. Having the Rills need to translate Vicki's speech also added a nice note of realism. I must confess that I originally saw the Drahvins as a very misogynistic creation. I assumed that of course they hate anything ugly "because they're women" and of course they're completely unreasonable because "they're women in power". Yet upon some research I found that making the Drahvins a matriarchy was Verity Lambert's idea and I think that I was being a little to harsh on them. Imagine Emms' same script with a bunch of guys looking like the Bannermen and you see what I mean. Rather than hurting the story it also helped by giving us another neat sci-fi/twist concept. In fact its probably the one thing that makes the Drahvins interesting, as they would have been completely forgettable if Verity hadn't made that suggestion.

Yet there's one fundamental plot problem that's so large that it needs to be mentioned. The Drahvins are our villains yet from the very first moment of the story they're outnumbered, outwitted, and outgunned. There's a reason why it's usually the protagonist that's the underdog. It's hard to create dramatic tension when your villains are clearly at a strong disadvantage. You never buy that the Drahvins can overcome the Rills even with the Doctor's help and even when they have Steven captured you know that they don't want to kill him as it removes their bargaining chip. To me it's one of the real weaknesses of the story.

There are some other plot problems. We're told that the planet only has two dawns left but we only appear to have one nightfall towards the end of the story. Did we miss a dawn at some point in Maaga's ship or am I missing something visual that wasn't commented on in the story? The idea that the Chumblies are not only blind but can only sense sound from directly in front of them is ridiculous. Why would you build in such an obvious limitation to the robots. While we're on that subject why the heck can a pipe put them out of commission when weapons fire can't? Are the Drahvin weapons really only flashlights? The Doctor clearly clues in that the Drahvins are really not all that altruistic so why doesn't he make a harder move to get out of there and why does he lie to Maaga about how long they have left? Without urgency she may just keep them in her ship longer and that would only make it harder for them to finally leave. Although not really a flaw I really find the moral of this story to be way to heavy-handed and as I said earlier it seems really odd for the Doctor and Vicki to judge by appearances even though we don't know enough about Steven yet to know if it's in character for him. Finally, do the Drahvins really think that sending out a group of 5 women (remember one died before the start of the story) with the directive to "conquer all space" would really be all that successful? I begin to suspect that they were just trying to get Maaga out of the way or something.

I do want to address two other items before I go. First, a lot of people have inferred that Maaga's comment that Drahva is a world in the fourth galaxy to mean that the planet that they're currently on is not in the fourth galaxy. Yet, the Doctor can scratch her ship with a screwdriver. There is no way that such a primitive spacecraft can make an intergalactic journey. I doubt that it can get very far in space, leading me to suspect that this is one of the first worlds that the Drahvins have visited. Maaga even talks about how she tried to convince her superiors that they needed beings with brains to "conquer space" as if the directive to conquer space was a new one. Its more plausible to me that somehow she recognized the Doctor and company as visitors from outside her galaxy and made the explanation accordingly.

There's also been an assertion that the Doctor tries to kill the Rills in episode three. That clearly isn't the case. He wants to sabotage their ammonium producing machine to force them to bargain with him. If you shut off oxygen to a room that doesn't naturally get its own supply you don't kill anyone right away. It takes a while for them to die. I think that he was bluffing to get them to cooperate and never really had the intention of killing them off. The Doctor has had a complete change of attitude since his early days and even tells Maaga earlier in this story that he "never kills", so I think that the context proves my point.

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: It's slow and tedious and everyone seems like they're tired and wish that they'd rather be somewhere else. It's a shame that so much of this one is missing as the available evidence indicates that the visuals in this one would have been one of its primary advantages. Derick Martinus seems to have tried to liven up this dud but in the end there wasn't really a whole lot that he could do with the script and cast that he had on hand. It's got some nice touches but you're probably better off skipping this one unless you're a hardcore 60's fan.
Tags: chase, daleks, doctor who, first doctor, galaxy four, maureen o'brien, peter purves, season 3, sensorites, space museum, steven taylor, suffering, time meddler, tv series, vicki pallister, web planet, william emms, william hartnell

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.