Doctor Who Reviews: Galaxy Four

No look-y. No like-y. The terrifying Take Me Out continues as a clutch of hapless blokes try to win over a gaggle of shrieking hen party members. The aim of the game is for the men to try and win at least one date, something that hardly happens, since they get ripped to shreds by the highly critical females, who switch off their booth lights with a metaphorical nyer-nyer-nyer-nyer-nyer.

All that power, it’s frightening. The women in Galaxy Four have this sort of power, too. The Drahvins are a slightly more restrained version of the Take Me Out coven, but they neatly sum up the main moral message of Galaxy Four, which is “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover”.

The Doctor and co. have touched down on a creepy planet that’s actually about to go ka-boom in 14 planetary cycles. The planet’s inhabited by two races – the Drahvins and the Rills. The former’s spacecraft is all but useless, while the Rills’ crashed wreckage could be made to fly again.

Of course, the Drahvins use their feminine wiles to try and win over The Doctor, Vicki and Steven in their desperate bid to take over the Rill spacecraft. The Rills are painted as the baddies of the piece, and about as good looking as Plug from The Bash Street Kids. But what do you know, the Rills turn out to be the goodies, while the Drahvins well and truly went over to the dark side when Darth Vader was still in nappies and teething on rusks.

It’s not quite as easy to take the Drahvins so seriously these days. For one thing they’ve dated faster than a UK Gold schedule, what with their 1960s haircuts and costumes that look like they were intended for the fag ash, blue rinse cleaning staff at the BBC studios. Presumably there’s a dog-eared calendar sitting in the cupboard of a dusty BBC office of the Drahvins posing suggestively with their guns and the Chumblies.

Ah, the Chumblies, silly robot pets of the Rills. They look like a set of salad bowls on wheels and make irritating squeaky, bleepy noises. Imagine those naff “Whassssaaappp!” adverts from yonks ago played over and over: that’s what the Chumblies are like in Galaxy Four.

The small cast allows for the regulars to take more of a central role. It’s jarring to see Hartnell’s Doctor be momentarily won over by the Drahvins and doubtful of the Rills’ true potential, since he’s always the champion of the underdog. It’s left to Vicki and Steven to provide the distrust of the Drahvins, especially Vicki. A neat about-face is that traditionally, it’s the female companion that gets locked up. However, in this case, it’s Steven that gets to be the Drahvins’ pet chimp. Despite this, both companions continue to work well together – I also like the way in which Vicki gives Steven a haircut at the start of the story. Vicki’s Haircuts would have gone down far better than Susan’s Snips, especially when the latter gets possessed by an unseen alien entity.

Galaxy Four is quite sophisticated for the time, and carries on a grown-up streak in the show. For a supposed kids’ show, Doctor Who was actually anything but, as stories like The Aztecs and The Crusade have demonstrated. There’s some deeper food for thought at work in Galaxy Four, with references to cloning (the identical Drahvins) and also the way in which the menfolk are treated as no more than breeding battery hens. It’s all intelligently thought out and reasoned by former English teacher William Emms, and echoes shades of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and in some respects, pre-empts grim Margaret Attwood novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

The only downside of this maturity is that the action tends to drag in places, especially in the middle two instalments. Part of the problem is that there is really only one guest character, and that’s Maaga, the principal Drahvin (well acted by Stephanie Bidmead). The other characters are drone Drahvins, and the benign Rills, but they’re not really characters in their own right. Similarly, the concept of the piece doesn’t make for gripping drama, since it’s blatantly obvious that the Drahvins will be consigned to a fiery inferno on the planet, while the Rills manage to get away scot-free.

Once upon a time it was hard to get a handle on Galaxy Four, since none of the episodes existed in the BBC archives. The third, fourth and fifth seasons of Doctor Who took a battering when it came to the mass junkings, but I'm delighted to say that the 1967-68 season is in a far healthier shape in 2017, with four out of seven tales available on shiny disc.

Carrying on the good news, the third episode of this story popped up in 2011, so there's more to latch on to visually. Derek Martinus does a good job, providing some neat innovations such as Stephanie Bidmead breaking the fourth wall Tlotoxl-style, to address the viewers with threatening soliloquies. The production values aren't bad either, with some good set designs. Plus on top of this, we get to see more of the Doctor/Vicki/Steven trio in action.

Galaxy Four, despite its dramatic deficiencies, makes for a good start to the third season, and demonstrates an ever-growing commitment to the more adult audience that the production team was striving for. But what's happening next? No Doctor? It can only mean one thing: The first ever Doctor-lite episode...

* Let the 1970s Doctor Who fan see the 1970s ebook guides at Amazon!