Doctor Who and Galaxy 4
By William Emms
Transmitted: 11 September – 2 October 1965
The third series of Doctor Who is a strange time for the program as it branched away from the somewhat traditional science fantasy into absurd space drama. This period was rife with changes in front of and behind the camera as Vicki was unceremoniously written out and Adrienne Hill (Katarina), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom) and Jackie Lane (Dodo Chaplet) arrived as the replacement companions. Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) shared the anxiety and frustration exhibited by William Hartnell at the frantic nature of these changes in addition to the revolving door that seemed to from the producer’s officer after the departure of Verity Lambert. Both John Wiles and Innes Lloyd served as producers and the script editing duties were split between Donald Tosh and Gerry Davis (co-creator of the Cybermen).
Hartnell was growing increasingly frustrated by the quality of the scripts and the level of violence. The fact that he viewed himself as intrinsic to the program’s future no doubt gave fuel to his fury and aided his reputation as being short-tempered and crotchety at times. Nevertheless, he was the longest lasting regular on the program and felt that his opinion carried some weight.
Bearing all that in mind, a story like Galaxy 4 makes perfect sense. It’s a science fiction opera with a morality tale, rocket ships, robots, bug-eyed creatures and beautiful lady warriors set on a planet about to explode, yet it seems to be missing some element. This could be on account of the changes around the production team, but in the end Galaxy 4 feels like it could have benefited from other characters, plot complications… anything.
Even so, Galaxy 4 is a charming story with an astounding musical score by Les Structures Sonorés (the same glass-tube music that graced The Web Planet), some inspired design and a talented guest cast. It’s even hauntingly close to having at least one, if not two, classic-worthy monsters.
After giving Steven a much-needed hair-cut (?), the TARDIS crew emerge on a blasted heath of a planetary terrain. The Doctor is unsure if it’s a planet that he had previously visited, but no dice. The first encounter with any intelligent life comes in the shape of roving robotic creations making an incessant humming mechanical noise. The weirdest part of Galaxy 4 is these robotic creatures nicknamed ‘Chumblies’ by Vicki. I know that the BBC were anxious to replicate the success of the Daleks with something similar, but… really? These creatures are just bizarre, roll about like inflated beehives then expand to make bleeping noises. The sound effects are haunting and very intriguing, but… they don’t really do much in the end.
Before the Doctor can investigate one of the Chumblies, it is attacked a band of Amazonian-like soldiers who use a sophisticated array of weaponry designed specifically to destroy it. Of course the attack proves useless and the indomitable Chumbly rolls away. The Doctor, Vicki and Steven are taken by their rescuers back to a damaged spacecraft. Inside is the leader of these woman warriors called Drahavins, the cold and conniving Maaga. She unravels a story of space-combat with the Rills who are using the Chumblies as mechanized muscle. The Rills and Drahvins are stranded on a planet that is due to explode in just ‘fourteen dawns.’ The Doctor and Steven are anxious to check Maaga’s story with the Rills, agreeing to leave Vicki behind as security.
The Drahvins that had attempted to subdue the Chumbly are actually vat-grown soldiers, designed only to kill in the unending wars that the Drahvins are engaged in. It’s surprising that they seem rather childish and emotional rather than cold and robotic as their handler, Maaga behaves. It’s unclear exactly what Emms was trying to say here aside from not judging a book by its cover, but there seems to be some kind of anti-war statement nestled within the nature of the Drahvins that I can’t manage to unwrap.
The Doctor and Steven discover that the planet has far less than ‘fourteen dawns’ after realizing that the planet has multiple suns orbiting it, leaving them only two days. Strangely, their return to the Drahvin ship results in a change of hostages and Steven is left behind while the Doctor and Vicki venture forth to contact the Rills. They discover that the truth behind the Rills/Drahvins conflict is far more complex than they imagined. The reclusive Rills, described by Maaga as hideous murderous creatures, claim that they were attacked when aiding one of the Drahvins. Maaga not only attacked the Rill, but also killed her own soldier, later blaming the death on her foes.
The lack of time to resolve any of the conflict and the problem of Steven being held hostage raises some difficult choices for the Doctor. Luckily, Steven is far from helpless and manages to manipulate the Drahvins to get out of his cell… and into an airlock. Oh well. Ian Chesterton, he’s not. Actor Peter Purves retains a bitterness about this story and how it treated him as rather useless while the Doctor and Vicki wandered off and had a grand adventure. But… turn about is fair play, mate. It’s about time the male companion was shuttered away for an episode while the female took on the bulk of the leg work.
Of course, much later another male companion would receive far worse treatment when Turlough was locked in a closet of left wandering around a Dalek spaceship. Maybe male companions just aren’t as easy to write for?
Maaga is a real piece of work, wonderfully played by actress Stephanie Bidmead (no relation to the future author/script editor). Her every movement and delivery of dialog is calculated and frosty yet backed with a kind of practical manner that makes her seem trustworthy. After all, she’s the first person that the Doctor meets who has all the answers. Nevertheless, her mistreatment of her soldiers and fierce distaste of the Rills shows her horns, as it were.
By contrast, the Chumblies are downright adorable. Even though they are armed with flamethrowers and such, the Doctor and Vicki erupt into a fit of giggles every time they meet one. It’s only at the conclusion of part two when a Rill is glimpsed (if only for a moment) that the real danger becomes clear. The Doctor is always putting his nose into other people’s business, despite his claim that he ‘seldom interferes,’ but in this case he is so much in the dark and there is so much to lose. His time is limited and he is cornered by two armies determined to zap each other until the planet itself is destroyed.
Hartnell is in fine form in this story, acting every part the gentleman scientist and adventurer, standing the higher moral ground when dealing with the Rills, yet content to let the Drahvins expire in a cataclysm if their own making. I do enjoy his interactions with the pixie-like Vicki who simply sparkles on screen. Maybe it is on account of her undeniable cuteness that everyone else in the program refers to the Chumblies after she has coined the nickname?
So little is known about this story due to the almost total lack of surviving material. The lack of enthusiasm from the fan community doesn’t help, so when part three emerged last week there was a roar of confused excitement online. Fans are of course overjoyed at new material from the 1960’s, but did the finds have to be from Galaxy 4 and the Underwater Menace? No dice on Evil of the Daleks, Marco Polo or the Macra Terror? Ah well.
Galaxy 4 ended rather unusually with the Doctor yearning for a rest and Vicki wondering about the events taking place on a nearby planet. The point of view then shifted to the planet Kembel where a deranged soldier mutters to himself ‘I must kill… kill!’ and stalks through the strange alien jungle.
A fan-made short film depicts this ending to the final installment of Galaxy 4 “The Exploding Planet,” bridging to “Mission to the Unknown:”
It’s worth noting that while this story stirs little to no reaction to fans today, it was ratings stunner back when it was screened, earning the highest figures between The Web Planet (yes, I know) and The Three Doctors (again… I know). You never can tell what kind of reception these episodes had when they were shown versus their reputation in the fan community today.
When Tomb of the Cybermen, previously regarded as a lost classic, was unveiled as a complete story, it was judged as a disappointment (though I still adore it). Maybe the discovery of these missing episodes will alter the reputation of Galaxy 4 and the Underwater Menace?