“I, at least, have enough intelligence to imagine it. The fear. The horror. The shuddering of a planet in its last moments of life… And then they die” – Maaga
A barren, unnamed planet in a distant galaxy is the Tardis’s next destination. It’s also the crash site for the spaceships of two alien races that engaged in combat just above the planet’s atmosphere – an unfortunate scenario for all, since this world is on the point of disintegration. Maaga, leader of the belligerent female Drahvins, tells the Doctor’s party that the explosion will occur in 14 dawns’ time, but his instruments reveal that they have only two dawns left. When the Doctor sides with the Drahvins’ enemy – the benign, ammonia-breathing Rills – it’s a race against time to power their ship and escape the cataclysm…
1. Four Hundred Dawns – Saturday 11 September 1965
2. Trap of Steel – Saturday 18 September 1965
3. Air Lock – Saturday 25 September 1965
4. The Exploding Planet – Saturday 2 October 1965
Filming: June 1965 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: July 1965 in TC4 (eps 1-3) and TC3 (ep 4)
Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Vicki – Maureen O’Brien
Steven Taylor – Peter Purves
Maaga – Stephanie Bidmead
Drahvin One – Marina Martin
Drahvin Two – Susanna Carroll
Drahvin Three – Lyn Ashley
Chumbly operators – Jimmy Kaye, William Shearer, Angelo Muscat, Pepi Poupée, Tommy Reynolds
Rill voice – Robert Cartland
Garvey – Barry Jackson
Writer – William Emms
Incidental music – library tracks (Les structures sonores: Lasry-Baschet)
Designer – Richard Hunt
Story editor – Donald Tosh
Producer – Verity Lambert
Director – Derek Martinus
RT Review by Patrick Mulkern (revised in 2012)
It is the tragedy of 1960s Doctor Who that great chunks of it no longer exist in the BBC archives. The cost-conscious Corporation recycled the original videotapes for re-use on other programmes, so the episodes we have now come from film copies sourced before the tapes were wiped. Unfortunately, many of those “telerecordings” were also junked after foreign sales had been exhausted.
Seasons three, four and five of Doctor Who are worst hit. Only four of the 27 stories aired during those three seasons survive complete – together with a handful of random individual episodes. Galaxy 4 was one of the last to be junked. Only two clips from the first episode and the soundtrack were thought to exist. Then, in 2011, Ralph Montagu, head of heritage at Radio Times, recovered the print for part three, allowing fans to reassess this largely forgotten production.
By no means a classic, Galaxy 4 is, though, a solid piece of 1960s sci-fi that would undoubtedly be fun to watch in its entirety. William Emms’ solo effort for Who, it was intended as a morality play in which the humanoids turn out to be ruthless villains while the ugly critters are actually our friends. So “don’t judge a book by its cover” is as sophisticated as it gets.
There are, however, sparks of originality: the most significant being credited to Verity Lambert. She decreed a gender reassignment for the Drahvins so that Emms’ bland male soldiers became busty bad girls. It was one of her last editorial decisions. By now she’d more or less handed over the producer’s baton to her successor, John Wiles.
So we get three additions to the Who alien panoply. Led by the dour Maaga, the Drahvins (who have dots instead of eyebrows) are a severe-looking bunch, bordering on butch. Men “fulfil no particular function” in their society. The ladies’ technology is backward: guns are ineffective and their spaceship resembles a postwar prefab. Even the Doctor gloats: “My ship’s not made of tin like this trash. Oh-ho, good gracious me, no! If I coughed too loudly the whole thing would fall to pieces.”
The “disgusting” but amicable Rills – sort of seal/warthog hybrids – are spied largely behind frosted perspex, breathing ammonia. Their thoughts have to be translated and boomed out (including the execrable line “What are you getting at?”) via their cute service robots – which Vicki has chosen to call “Chumblies”.
“It’s got a sort of ‘chumbley’ movement,” she coos, having briefly regressed to a juvenile state. The domed Chumblies wobble, concertina and extrude sensors, tools and weapons. Perhaps they were designed as an answer to the Daleks. Much of their movement (facilitated by dwarves) was captured on a sound stage at Ealing.
Fledgling director Derek Martinus often employs elevated angles to encompass the squat Chumblies, and we can also see now how he’s enlivened the leaden script with a sense of scale and fluidity. There are dramatic close-ups of a blood-soaked Drahvin and of Maaga as she savours the impending doom.
We see how the elderly Doctor and for the most part Vicki overcome one of the Drahvin soldiers with extraordinary ease, while the supposedly more heroic Steven is made to look a complete wuss as he’s subdued by the Drahvins and left gasping in their air lock. “The guy’s so wet!” Peter Purves later complained. (Hasty rewrites meant that Steven took on situations originally devised for the recently departed Barbara.)
In short, Galaxy 4 was an entertaining if pedestrian beginning to what would be one of the most unpredictable, underrated (and now unrepresented) seasons of Doctor Who.
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Radio Times archive material
RT trailed the return of Doctor Who the week before…
…and launched the third season with a full-page feature, introducing the Drahvins and Chumblies and tantalising about adventures to come.
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[Episode 3: Air Lock and an edited reconstruction of the serial are available on the BBC DVD, Doctor Who: The Aztecs. Soundtrack available on BBC Audio CD]
RT’s gallery of images from the rediscovered episode, Air Lock