It’s the Drahvins vs the Rills… with the Doctor caught in the middle! The partly-missing First Doctor story Galaxy 4 is returning as an animation…
Reviewed by Tim Robins
Galaxy 4 sees the first Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions; Vicki (Maureen O’Brian) and Steven (Peter Purves) arrive on a planet on the point of destruction. With time running out, the travellers are caught in a conflict between the glamorous Drahvins, a group of all female clones and their leader Maaga, and the Rills, a hideous race of creatures who breathe ammonia, and use robotic creatures, nicknamed “Chumbleys”, by Vicki, to carry out their work.
The story is high-concept Doctor Who, written by William Emms, who wanted to write a story in which beautiful people were the villains and ugly creatures were the goodies. Hooray for that, and a slap on the back for Doctor Who. Anyone who has lived through the stereotypes of 1980s cartoon series will appreciate this Doctor Who-does-Star Trek premise. The fact that the homeworld of the Drahvins is mostly populated by cloned women may seem a little throwaway, but it underlines the tension between the Drahvins apparent femininity and their militaristic nature.
Galaxy 4 has an interesting production history that is pieced together in a “Making Of” special feature. It was producer Verity Lambert’s last serial and had two directors: firstly, Mervyn Pinfield, but who selected the cast and carried out some initial work on the shooting of film inserts at Ealing. Failing health meant that he was unable to continue, so he was replaced and received no credit on the finished production. He was replaced by Derek Martinus, who stepped in at short notice and went on to direct key Doctor Who stories, including The Tenth Planet, The Ice Warriors, The Evil of the Daleks and Spearhead from Space. (These stories introducing of the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors, the destruction of the Daleks and the last featuring the arrival of Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor).
Of Galaxy 4‘s original episodes, only episode three, “Air Lock”, is available for broadcast. The episode was found in an individual’s collection of films, along with a missing episode of the Second Doctor story, The Underwater Menace. I must admit, seeing “Air Lock” was a particular pleasure for me, as it contains a scene that is my earliest memories of Doctor Who – the Doctor tapping a Chumbley on its head and saying that it must be asleep. For decades, I interpreted the robot as a Dalek, until Doctor Who Appreciation Society Hhstorian Jeremy Bentham put me straight.
I still wonder if I saw the scene as a clip on Blue Peter, but no one has confirmed that magazine programme had done so (Peter Perves became a popular presenter on the show, so reminders of his role in Doctor Who were sometimes shown).
Galaxy 4 is only four episodes, but boy does it feel long. There’s no way around it: this was a simple tale, where the show’s low budget really showed. I don’t envy the animation team. That said, I was rather taken by the style of the character designs. To my mind, they looked like decorative illustrations from a child’s story-book moving around my TV screen.
I watched the coloured version of the adaptation. A black and white version is available in the DVD/Blu-Ray for those nostalgic enough to want to recreate something of the story’s first screening. However, the colour adds to the adaptation with rich orange/red skies and scorched rocks (the planet has multiple suns). On the whole, the look recalls old Doctor Who annuals of the time.
The sound track faithfully reproduces William Hartnell fluffing his line and a non sequitur in which The Doctor suggests “We can go outside and have a long deserved undeserved break” – then tells his companions off for not treating the break as a scientific expedition!
The Chumbleys’ whistles and squeaks are a little irritating. There was absolutely no chance of them rivalling the Daleks, who were about to feature in the next episode, “Mission Into the Unknown”, and the fuss made about how they get their name is bewildering as it is contrived.
The “Making Of” documentary” includes contributions from the surviving cast including the charming Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves, who is as engaging as he was in his various TV performances and looks comfortably at home in his gorgeous 17th Century home, where the interview takes place. Purves was pretty annoyed with the script at the time as he couldn’t “find” his character in its pages. Indeed, the script had been written before he was cast as astronaut Steven Taylor.
There is also brief but rare footage of writer William Emms and descendants of the directors, and some discussion of the “little people” who operated the Chumbleys.
My takeaway from this documentary is that, in general, everyone involved was lovely and kept their cool, despite newbie director Martinus learning his craft while the story was in production.
A shorter documentary about how the one missing episode was found gives an insight into the world of film collectors and traces the precarious sequence of events leading from, if I recall correctly, a fete to copies being made in secret at the BBC.
As the rather limited photo gallery demonstrates, Galaxy 4 is woefully under-documented, so this animated edition is more than welcome.
• Episodes 1-4 (Animated Black & White)
• Episodes 1-4 (Animated Colour)
• Remastered Surviving Original Episode 3
• Remastered Surviving Clip from Episode 1
• Photographic Reconstructions of Episodes 1, 2 and 4
• Audio Commentaries
• Making Of Documentary
• Finding Galaxy 4 Documentary
• Photo Gallery
• Production Subtitles
• PDF ROM Content
William Hartnell – The Doctor
Maureen O’Brien – Vicki
Peter Purves – Steven Taylor
Stephanie Bidmead – Maaga
Marina Martin, Susanna Caroll, Lyn Ashley – Drahvins
Jimmy Kaye, William Shearer, Angelo Muscat, Pepi Poupée, Tommy Reynolds – Chumbleys
Robert Cartland – Rill Voices
Barry Jackson – Garvey
Directed by Derek Martinus (and Mervyn Pinfield, uncredited (1965 Production)
Written by: William Emms
Script Editor: Donald Tosh
Produced by: Verity Lambert
Directed by Chloe Grech (2021 Production)
Executive Producers for Big Finish Creative – Jason Haigh-Ellery, Mark B.Oliver and Gary Russell (2021 Production)
Executive Producer for BBC Studios – Russell Minton (2021 Production)