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!
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.
Our son clarified that while he was no longer excited about this story after the betrayal of the bad fight with the ugly pig-faced man, he is “attached” to Doctor Who and wants to see what will happen next. Fortunately, the mad Omega banishes the pig-faced man almost instantly as this episode opens, and he enjoyed this part much, much more.
Honestly, we all grade “The Three Doctors” on a curve because we love the idea of multi-Doctor adventures and we love Patrick Troughton. This isn’t as good as it could be. My biggest aggravation is actor Stephen Thorne’s one-note bellowing, but in his defense, he lets out a seriously painful and agonized howl when he realizes that his body has been completely disintegrated, and that’s my second biggest aggravation: it’s the emotional climax of the story and it takes place six minutes into part four.
The director seems to think the climax is all the guest stars walking up a fairground haunted house’s staircase into a column of smoke one at an endless and tedious time and saying their goodbyes to the Doctors, and it assuredly isn’t. This story badly needed to have one more draft: have the Doctors realize what is wrong without telling Omega, escape for a bit, get everybody home through the smoke column, and then explain to Omega that his body has been destroyed, let the villain give out that wretched and painful howl, and then annihilate the anti-matter universe. I try not to Monday-morning-quarterback old TV too much, but I insist that would have worked better.
So it’s entertaining if not necessarily all that good, and I enjoyed letting our son know that Doctors will occasionally meet each other in the future, and never really get along with each other. It’ll be a couple of years before he sees his next teamup, though!
We’ll be taking a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll resume our look at the tenth season in early November. Stay tuned!
Our son turned on this story in a big, bad way! Episode three ends with the third Doctor battling a weird, pig-faced man in a black void, the representation of the dark side of their enemy’s will. It doesn’t look like he’s winning this fight; in fact, Jon Pertwee and his stunt double are getting slammed all over the room.
And our son took this as a very, very grim turn of events. He loved the comedy stylings of the Brigadier earlier, bellowing at the Doctor for transporting UNIT headquarters to some “deserted beach,” and sat riveted to the story, but the Doctor losing this fight wasn’t fun. Hopefully he’ll make it out of this mess for the final episode!
There are people who really, really don’t like what they see as the deterioration of the Brigadier’s character into a disbelieving comedy stooge, and for them, the middle episodes of this story are the nadir. They’ve got a point – the guy in this story is a pompous military idiot, and the Brig in “Spearhead from Space” isn’t – but most people don’t complain too loudly because Nicholas Courtney is so darn fun in the face of escalating chaos, and because it’s nice to see him teamed up with Patrick Troughton again.
Our son is really enjoying this one, which is nice because the last two were pretty far from his favorites. He says that it’s weird, but weird in a really good way. The cliffhanger sees UNIT’s headquarters zapped away from Earth and into a black hole, which he loved. This will lead to the Brigadier’s line about Cromer next time, which I think is completely hilarious.
Meanwhile, Marie is getting accustomed to classic Who‘s tropes and cliches. The third Doctor and Jo wake up in the strange universe of anti-matter, which is “so strange.” “It’s another quarry,” she grumbled. Yeah, a few more of those are yet to come.
Incidentally, the notion that Time Lords can have different bodies is still not actually written into the text even at this stage. There is nothing onscreen yet to indicate that changing appearance is something that anybody other than the Doctor can do. This also emphatically states that William Hartnell’s character is the “earliest” of the Doctors. Three years later, a different production team will attempt to retcon this and show us eight Doctors prior to Hartnell’s character. It won’t take, but I do love the moxie.
“I like the other Doctor, the one we haven’t seen in a while! The one with the dark hair!” Well, our son’s in luck, because this is the tenth anniversary adventure, and the first time that Doctor Who had brought back a previous incarnation, or two, of the hero. I enjoyed myself by not telling him the title, starting the episode midway through the credits, and letting him enjoy the surprise. Since this is one of the most celebrated stories of the series, I wonder whether many people have had the opportunity to see it without knowing that Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell were back in it.
Well, mostly. Conventional wisdom holds that the massive fun of Pertwee and Troughton squabbling patches over several pedestrian moments in a silly story, but the biggest shame is that Hartnell was just far too ill to participate much. He’s limited to some pre-filmed segments at Ealing Studios and played back in the studio, which remains a huge shame.
Anyway, the story is by Bob Baker and Dave Martin and it’s directed by Lennie Mayne, who brings in actor Rex Robinson for a supporting role for the first time. Mayne directed four Who serials and cast Robinson in three of them. He also used Robinson in an episode of The Onedin Line and a couple of installments of Warship. I love seeing how BBC directors in the seventies went back to trusted names.