Doctor Who – Galaxy 4

The recent months having seen a prolonged effort to reduce the gaps in the Patrick Troughton years of Doctor Who with animated releases of The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks and Fury from the Deep, attention has now turned to William Hartnell’s third season, one of those most depleted in the BBC archives with only seventeen of the forty-five episodes produced still present.

Originally broadcast between 11th September and 2nd October 1965 and launching the third season only weeks after the second had concluded with an encounter with The Time Meddler in July of that year, Galaxy 4 saw the TARDIS arrive on an unnamed planet under strange skies, Vicki and Steven exploring while the Doctor protests that “this isn’t a joyride, this is a scientific expedition!”

The conditions conducive to life but the planet apparently uninhabited, the planet is occupied but not by natives; first encountered are the mechanical drones named “Chumblies” by Vicki, then are the Amazonian warriors who identify themselves as Drahvins from the planet Drahva in Galaxy 4, led by Maaga to whom her cloned subordinates show absolute deference.

Engaged in an exploratory mission, they were attacked in orbit and shot down, landing only a short distance from the aggressors, the unseen Rills whose Chumblies now patrol the surface. Their ship damaged beyond repair, Maaga demands the help of the Doctor to allow them to escape, the planet calculated to break up imminently; returning to the TARDIS the Doctor revises Maaga’s estimate downward and concludes that in only two dawns they will be destroyed.

Directed by Derek Martinus, replacing Mervyn Pinfield who was taken ill during production, it was his first serial for the show though he would continue immediately with Mission to the Unknown and return for four further stories culminating in Spearhead from Space and then later also on Blake’s 7, Galaxy 4 might have been the only script contributed to Doctor Who by writer William Emms but it has ambition, paralleling though not equalling the eerie qualities of The Web Planet the previous season.

With only the third episode held in the vaults in its original transmission form alongside a surviving section of the first, in line with the present policy all four have been animated in both monochrome and colour, 400 Dawns, Trap of Steel, Air Lock and The Exploding Planet, allowing viewers to choose how they experience Galaxy 4, with the missing episodes also presented as a reconstruction from contemporary screencaps alongside soundtrack recordings.

The opening episodes heavy with dialogue, Galaxy 4 works better as an animation than stories where more elaborate physical sequences often feel stilted and flat, unsure how to depict whatever lost action is unfolding mysteriously in the darkness; additionally, space travellers before they met the Doctor, both Vicki and Steven are presented as intelligent and capable, he questioning the spaceworthiness of the Drahvin vessel, she comfortable after her initial shock when the elusive Rills are revealed despite the trepidation of the telepathic ammonia breathers.

Similarly, Maaga becomes more complex than her introduction suggests, declaring the superiority of the Drahvins yet frustrated with the limitations of the clones who are incapable of thought and devoid of intuition, though her pity is entirely for herself. Automatons without any form of language, the Chumblies are a ubiquitous presence and quickly become endearing, the strange alien atmosphere of the whole helped enormously by the soundscape of Les Sculptures Sonores crafted by brothers François and Bernard Baschet and the special sounds of Brian Hodgson which provide the Chumblies’ electronic communications.

The designs of the Drahvin and Rill ships contrasting, one functional and the other more abstract, conceived of frameworks and clear plastic sheeting; depicted in animation as opaque the corridors of the Rill vessel have lost the sense of space and complexity, of truly stepping into the unknown, presumably a decision made to simplify the animation in the same way as the Chumblies have been simplified to hard domes where before they were more shell-like with dynamic internal lighting, though the Drahvin ship is highly detailed in its decay.

The first animation to feature Vicki and Steven, the facial likenesses of Maureen O’Brien and Peter Purves good, though perhaps the biggest surprise is in the original Air Lock, filmed only a year before Hartnell’s declining health forced his retirement from the role yet giving an uncharacteristically energetic performance, darting from crisis to crisis more convincingly than the stiff-limbed Scooby-Doo scamper back to the TARDIS of the fully-presented finale, the actual disintegration of the planet never depicted in the original.

A simple story but well-executed until its final episode which somewhat runs aground when it should be conveying the greatest urgency, Galaxy 4 is supported by a plethora of commentaries moderated by Toby Hadoke with guests including Purves, O’Brien, Hodgson, Drahvin actor Lyn Ashley and others associated with the original and animated productions.

Titled The Trouble with Chumblies, Hadoke also presents an informal but charming look into the background of Galaxy 4, interviewing Purves in his home as he talks warmly of Hartnell and producer Verity Lambert who was handing over to her successor during production, with contributions from others including Mervyn Pinfield’s son and archive footage of Martinus and Emms, celebrating a sometimes disregarded story finally made available for reappraisal.

Galaxy 4 is available on DVD and Blu-ray now



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