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.