Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 (parts three and four)

That was a very pleasant surprise. I never thought that I’d dislike “Galaxy 4,” but based on what I remember from reading the novelization many years ago, and occasionally skimming through other people’s reviews, it never seemed like it was anybody’s idea of a winner. (I only ever skim reviews of missing stories, preferring to know as little as possible when I get the chance to see them. Works out really well for me that way.) But this was a perfectly charming and engaging little adventure. It’s simple, and simplistic, certainly, but it was done extremely well given its limitations. The surviving third part reminded me – of all things – of the much later “Terminus”, what with all the sounds of things in the studio bumping into bits of the awkwardly-built sets, and actors moving without a great deal of speed in situations that demand them, because the space where they are acting is too small for running.

Switching back to animation for part four, I was amused by the script’s decision for the Doctor to charge one of the alien ships by running a very long extension cord between it and the TARDIS. I paused to remind our son that this was made in 1965. The idea of channeling energy through the air was still a little alien to TV viewers of the day. I reminded him of The Avengers installment “The Cybernauts”, which introduced the then-radical idea of broadcasting power to transistors*. “The Cybernauts” was actually shown in the UK for the first time just two weeks after this serial. Elsewhere, they discuss starting both ships’ “motors.” It may be science fiction, but it’s so very much a product of its time.

Most happily, our son says that he really enjoyed this one. I like that it could have been blunt and obvious and stupid about it – gee, the nice-looking women are the villains and the beasts are the goodies – but it’s subtle and pretty smart instead. The Rills are hesitant to reveal themselves because they are certain the Doctor and his friends will be repulsed by them, but they dismiss their fears, because they judge based on character, not appearances. I could imagine one of the modern Doctors telling the chief Rill how beautiful he is. In 1965, they didn’t go quite that overboard. So the kid got a good reminder of not letting prejudices get in the way, and being willing to cooperate, and enjoyed a well-made piece of 57 year-old TV and its well-made contemporary animation. Bring on those Snowmen, BBC Studios!

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4 (parts one and two)

And now back to 1965, for the debut serial of the third season of Doctor Who. “Galaxy 4” was written by William Emms and was among the last stories overseen by the program’s original producer, Verity Lambert. William Hartnell is our cantankerous time-travelling anti-hero, accompanied in this story by Maureen O’Brien as Vicki and Peter Purves as Steven. Even two years and eighty-odd episodes in, the show is still in its early exploratory phase. Much of the business about landing on alien planets is about learning what science concept of the day is going to be important. There’s very little action, but there are odd little robots, a very weird gang of women called Drahvins, and a cliffhanger revelation of a hideous sucker-eyed thing who lives in an ammonia-filled room.

Doctor Who was, then, very much for ten year-olds who couldn’t conceive of the incredibly fast-paced and action-packed world of entertainment to come. But while this story’s reputation is such that its new release didn’t excite me too much, it turns out that must have been a thunderous cliffhanger for the kids of the day. Even with all of modern film and TV at his disposal, our son enjoyed that episode ending very much.

“Galaxy 4” was junked by the BBC in the mid-seventies after they figured there was no further profit to be made in keeping it. The serial is the latest to have been animated and reconstructed by a freelance team, and was released in November with a fine edition that includes both color and black and white versions of the four episodes, the surviving third part, a six-minute fragment from the first, two documentaries, and several commentaries. An American release is said to be coming in March. I have the same minor complaints about the animation as I’ve expressed in these pages before – too few angles and cuts, gangly anatomy – but I appreciate the very hard work that the small team puts into these. “Galaxy 4” is hardly William Hartnell’s most exciting 100 minutes as the Doctor, but I’m glad to have the chance to see it.

Doctor Who: Mission to the Unknown

Among Doctor Who‘s many missing episodes, there is a one-off oddity made and shown 54 years ago this week, in 1965. Who was then made as a series of serials, and they were planning a mammoth twelve-episode storyline featuring the Daleks. The producers decided to take advantage of some budget and calendar hiccups and made a one-off adventure as a prologue to the Dalek epic. It didn’t feature the Doctor or his companions. It starred Edward de Souza as an outer space spy – it was 1965 after all – on a desperate mission to let the galaxy know that, after hundreds of years on the frontiers of space, the Daleks had formed an alliance with six strange alien races and were preparing an invasion of our solar system.

Edward de Souza is still with us, and a few months ago, he and Peter Purves, who had played one of the Doctor’s companions at the time, were invited to the University of Central Lancashire to see what the Culture and Creative Industries school has been doing. Each year, the staff and students collaborate on an incredibly intensive project, and this year, they recreated “Mission to the Unknown.”

Earlier today – well, yesterday, if, like this blog’s calendar, you’re in Europe – the recreation of “Mission to the Unknown” premiered on the Doctor Who YouTube channel. Click the image above and check it out! I won’t swear that it completely met our son’s expectations. We watched the trailer a few days ago and he was bellowing how badly he wanted to see that. Unfortunately, “Mission” is, like a lot of Who from its day, very slow and imaginative. It isn’t action-packed; the original production seems to have been cramped even by the low-budget standards of the William Hartnell years. It’s practically silent for long stretches, with only a few library music cues and actors projecting fear and intensity. More creepy than thrilling, the design may be dated in the way a lot of sixties sci-fi is – our hero’s tape recorder is about the size of a VHS double-pack – but you can see what kids in 1965 were wowed by.

I think the UCLAN team did a terrific job. It’s both a labor of love and, hopefully, valuable work experience for people looking to work in the film and television industry. I’m glad that the BBC and the Terry Nation Estate allowed them the privilege to recreate this.

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

When I was a kid and comics cost 35 or 40 cents, Superman’s father Jor-El was so recognizable that he was regularly merchandised. There were dolls and action figures of the guy. DC’s writers and editors were almost pathologically obsessed with telling stories of Superman’s home planet. There was a World of Krypton miniseries, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes time-traveled back to meet him. It was all very, very boring and unnecessary to me.

With that in mind, in Terrance Dicks’ anniversary adventure “The Five Doctors,” we finally say goodbye to the Doctor’s home planet for a good while. It is the most boring and unnecessary place for our hero to ever visit, and this stale feeling is driven home by the actors who play Time Lords. This is the fourth story in seven years set on Gallifrey and exactly one actor – Paul Jerricho, as Commissioner “Castellan” Gordon – appears in two of them. Even the most important supporting character, President Borusa, is played by four different actors. How are we supposed to feel any connection to any of these people?

Fans just love kvetching and kibitzing about “The Five Doctors” and all its missed opportunities, but I think the biggest one comes in not addressing these unfamiliar faces. When the Master is shown into the president’s office, he addresses the three people inside. He says “President Borusa, Lord Castellan,” and then Anthony Ainley should have looked at the woman and said “I have no idea who you are.”

But everyone loves “The Five Doctors” anyway, because it’s a lighthearted anniversary celebration and it’s fun to watch Pertwee, Troughton, and Courtney squabbling again. Yes, Peter Moffatt’s direction is incredibly pedestrian and slapdash (count how many times actors don’t respond to objects that are clearly in their sight line), yes, they could have at least given us one clear and well-lit shot of the Yeti, and yes, surely while stuck in the TARDIS, the strange alien teenager and the Doctor’s granddaughter could have found something more interesting to talk about than “what do you think the Cybermen are doing.”

Yes, the Doctor’s granddaughter is in this, but Carole Ann Ford is only allowed to play Random First Doctor Companion. She calls her Doctor “Grandfather” twice and that’s it. This is apparently because the producer at the time insisted on presenting the Doctor as an asexual figure to avoid British tabloid journalists making rude headlines about Peter Davison and his attractive female co-stars in short skirts. That’s another huge missed opportunity and a scene we should have had: the fifth Doctor introducing his granddaughter to Tegan and Turlough.

Our son mostly loved it, as you’d expect. He did that standard grumble about the Master and the Cybermen and a Dalek showing up, but then he went eyes-wide and jumped with a huge smile when he saw the Yeti. He loved the famous “Cyber-massacre” scene, where about nine of them get impaled and decapitated before firing a single shot, but his favorite part of the whole story was when the third Doctor and Sarah “zip-line” down to the top of the tower.

I really enjoyed teasing our son with the strange possible-continuity-error brainteaser about Jamie and Zoe. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury show up for a cameo as “phantoms” warning the second Doctor from going any deeper into the tower. The Doctor realizes that they’re fake when he remembers that Jamie and Zoe’s minds were erased of the period they spent with him. (The real error is that Troughton asks “So how do you know who we are.” They should both remember the Doctor, but Jamie shouldn’t know Zoe. Glossing over that, the important part is that neither should know the Brigadier. The line should have been Troughton pointing at Courtney while saying “So how do you know who he is.”)

It took our son a minute to wrap his brain around the problem. Where in his lifetime does the second Doctor come from if he knows about Jamie and Zoe’s memory wipe, when (we’ve been led to believe) that the very next thing that happened after the mind wipe was the Doctor regenerated and was shipped to Earth? I told him that we’d get a little more information about that in a couple of months, and that we’d see Patrick Troughton again in a different role in just a few days…