My dear young man, this isn’t a joyride! This is a scientific expedition.
Season breaks in Doctor Who give the writers a chance to step off of the teaser treadmill, as most stories end with a glimpse of the next story to come. So instead of catapulting the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven immediately into yet another perilous setting, the season three opener, “Galaxy 4” (Story Production Code T), by William Emms, starts with a tranquil scene. Vicki is cutting Steven’s hair—in the TARDIS control room, of course—while the Doctor putters around the console, handling what would appear to be another normal materialization. The overarching sense is that this form of time and space travel has become commonplace for the two companions, in an “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Skaro” sort of way.
Once the TARDIS doors open on an apparently lifeless planet, though, the action picks up with a pleasant pace and doesn’t stop for four episodes. No elaborate and detailed exposition here, as our travellers are captured and removed from the TARDIS and then captured again in record speed. After the rather plodding plot presentation in “The Time Meddler,” a bit of immediate action is not unwelcome.
Vicki christens their first captors, squat, apparently vision-less, dome-headed robots, as Chumblies. She’s frankly enamored of them and anthropomorphizes them. Who can blame her? Relative to the Daleks and the Mechanoids, we have soft, rounded robots, albeit with death rays. But then again, Vicki did have a pet Sand Monster before Susan killed it in cold blood, so her cute-meter might need some adjusting.
The Drahvin, emotionless female warriors, quickly replace the Chumblies as the villains in the piece, “rescuing” the Doctor and his companions from the robots. A space conflict between the Drahvin and the Rill, who control the Chumblies, resulted in both parties crashing on this unnamed planet, which will, according to the Rill, explode in “fourteen dawns.” Maaga, the leader of the Drahvin, does not trust the “disgusting” Rill, claiming that they shot her down and killed one of her soldiers, so she holds Vicki as a de facto hostage to force the Doctor to verify the claims. It turns out the Rill were wrong—the planet does not have fourteen dawns left. It has two.
Maaga plans to capture the Rill ship and escape, her own vessel being inoperative. To that end, she forces the Doctor and Vicki to infiltrate the Rill ship. Steven volunteers to stay behind as the hostage, making a nice change of pace from Vicki being the captive. Once at the Rill ship, Vicki and the Doctor learn that the Rill—semi-telepathic reptillian ammonia breathers—have continually offered to rescue the Drahvin from the planet even though the the matriarchal warriors initiated the destructive space combat that stranded both parties on this doomed planet.
Using power from the TARDIS, the Doctor helps the Rill recharge their spaceship and escape the destruction of the planet. In turn, the Rill, through the Chumblies, help Steven escape from the Drahvin ship, and the TARDIS dematerializes from the planet just as it explodes, leaving Maaga and the other Drahvin, who have been fighting to the end, to perish.
All in all, a tidy morality tale over four action-packed episodes; appearances are skin deep, as the doctor notes with just a bit of trademark Billy Fluff:
Importance lies in the character to what use you put this intelligence. We respect you, as we respect all life.
One might argue that the beauty vs. truth storyline is a bit heavy handed. The Drahvin, after all, kill their excess males and breed warrior Drahvin to be dumb products, and even their level of technology is considered primitive by the Doctor and Steven. The Rill, on the other hand, make cute robots, trade quips with the Doctor, and go out of their way to not harm the Drahvin, even though their level of technology is far superior. Who we are supposed to be rooting for is telegraphed from the first encounter with the Drahvin.
But what’s more important for the show’s development is that the Doctor is not taken in by the Drahvin for even a moment. Steven oohed and ahhed at the pretty space Amazons—prior to their making plans to kill him, of course—but the Doctor is all business, cutting through Maaga’s obfuscations to get to the truth:
Steven: What are they like, these Rills?
Doctor: Well, see, that’s no description, no description at all!
Maaga: That’s all I’ll say.
Doctor: Yes, I, I think I’m beginning to understand.
The Doctor in this story harkens back to the scientific, rational Doctor introduced in the first stories, though tempered by a concern for his companions. When Vicki is taken off by a Chumbley in the Rill ship, the Doctor works to disrupt the oxygen-to-ammonia converter to rescue her, despite the potentially catastrophic effect such disruption would have on the Rill. He announces his basic approach to all problems:
In this case, first we must observe, note, collate, and then conclude. After that, perhaps we can act.
The Doctor also firmly reiterates his and his friends’—not “companions,” alas, that word absent again from the script—strict resistance to killing. However, he’s not above leaving the Drahvin to their fate nor, as we’ve seen, harming the Rill to save Vicki. The Doctor’s “pacifism” has always been a continuum rather than a strict moral code, but the notion is clear: the Doctor doesn’t start fights, but he’s not above finishing them.
His trademark walking stick returns for the story, and of even more significance, the Doctor wields a screwdriver for the first time, using it to test the hull metals of the Drahvin and Rill ships and to sabotage the Rill’s atmospheric converter. It’s not sonic, but it’s a nice precursor to the Doctor’s eventually iconic tool-of-the-time-travelling-trade.
“Galaxy 4” also provides a near-technological equal for the Doctor, or at least one that isn’t bent on conquering the universe by force. The Doctor is quite impressed with the Rill’s spaceship, in a manner that does not sound condescending. The Rill, in turn, see in the Doctor a kindred approach to existence, in helping others and exploring, and they would be willing to sacrifice themselves to help the Doctor escape the planet. Though we never re-visit this particular galaxy nor again see the Rill and Chumblies (and Drahvin, for that matter), this story nicely fills in the universe of Doctor Who.
Steven, in only his second full story as a companion, begins to round out nicely. Being from Earth’s “future,” he can readily agree with the Doctor that the Drahvin ship is of poor construction, indeed, “old-fashioned,” in a way Ian or Barbara could not have done. He’s also willing to sacrifice himself for the Doctor and Vicki if necessary, and that willingness does not seem out of place despite their relatively short time together. Still, he has some doubts abut the Doctor, revealing to the Rill that he finds the Doctor a bit naïve, susceptible to persuasion if the “right” ethical reasons are given.
Vicki shows a capacity to take matters into her own hands, using the Doctor’s scientific method of observing before acting to figure out a way to sneak into the Rill ship without being spotted by the Chumblies, much to the Doctor’s consternation. She does get the story’s only scream, when she sees the apparently hideous eyes of the Rill watching her behind thick glass. But Vicki looks past the Rill’s horrible countenance just as quickly as her fellow travellers, accepting, in the words of the Rill:
Not all the dominant species in the universe look like humans.
The Rill are only apparently hideous, because we can’t really see them ourselves. “Galaxy 4” is one of the missing stories. Only one of the four episodes, “Air Lock,” is known to exist on film, recovered in 2011 by the BBC and recently released, for some unfathomable reason, as part of a re-issue of “The Aztecs” on DVD. Given the extent to which this story relies on ideas of beauty and ugliness, plus the effects work with the Chumblies, it’s an especial shame for this story to be mostly lost.
I listened to the entire story via the AudioGo Doctor Who: The Lost TV Episodes CDs, actual recordings of the shows made mostly by fans in the 1960s propping tape recorders up against the speaker and featuring linking narration in this case by Peter Purves, who played Steven. In conjunction with the shooting scripts, included with the AudioGo collections, one can follow the story quite well. It’s not quite the same as having a reaction to the visual appearance of the Rills oneself, but it suffices.
Reading the shooting scripts while listening to the actual production reveals a remarkable disconnection between the two, though. Mostly, the actors got close to the script as written, conveying the idea if not the actual lines, with William Hartnell floundering quite frequently when needing to relay technical notions about the TARDIS and time travel. They shot these stories quickly, and it shows.
And so, as the TARDIS moves quickly into another galaxy to escape the unnamed planet’s demise, Vicki wonders what’s happening on other planets, one in particular, to which the screen conveniently fades, showing us a man moaning in a jungle. Something about killing. It seems like we’re about to go on a “Mission to the Unknown” . . .
(Image via BBC)
(Previous Story: The Time Meddler)
(Next Story: Mission to the Unknown)
Post 18 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project