Doctor Who (Classic): S03E01 “Galaxy 4”

Season 3
Directed by Derek Martinus
Written by William Emms

Welcome to Season 3 of Doctor Who Classic and we’ve come a long way. ¾ of the original cast is gone and despite being only two seasons in, we are already 81 episodes in heading into this serial with the longest season to come at 10 serials and 45 episodes. More importantly though we are heading into the dark ages not in quality, but in extant material. Of the next three seasons, 79 out of 98 episodes are missing with 21 out of 26 serials being partially or completely missing. We are of course still lucky to even have what we have in terms of episodes along with complete audio soundtracks and telesnaps, but that doesn’t make it much easier to watch. It also makes analyzing these episodes critically extra hard since it is hard to get an accurate read on quality. Still, there’s plenty of worthwhile stuff upcoming and some great serials both missing and extant.

“Galaxy 4” is not one of those serials. Well it is one of those partially missing serials with only one episode currently remaining, but it’s not one of the great serials. As is typical with sci-fi Doctor Who episodes at this point, there are two main alien species, Drahvins and the Rills (aided by the robotic “Chumblies”). The only twist this time is that the humanoid looking Drahvins are the evil ones and… that’s really as far as the plot develops. The story feels the need to tease this out so much that by the time the twist comes it feels less a twist and more an inevitability. After the affable, well-intentioned Monk last time, the unambiguously murderous Drahvins are a huge let down. There’s a bunch of talk about how the Rills are hated because of how they look, but the Drahvins never seem to act this way as they seemingly hate anyone who isn’t them or at least their leader and only character who is actually capable of thinking, Maaga. This may work for say the Daleks but here it just feels ham-handed and there is a missed opportunity to explore these unthinking aliens manipulated by their leader and left to die.

There’s a ticking clock with the planet exploding in the next two days but no matter how much they tell us this, there’s never any sense of urgency. The Rills already have a working ship (they have no fuel but hardly seem to do anything to fix this) and despite the Drahvins lacking one, their attempts to acquire one consist merely of ordering The Doctor to get it for them and rarely seem concerned. The Doctor and first Steven then Vicki, just sort of wander about with little concern that one of their own is being held hostage but why would they when they never really seem threatened. Heck, Steven easily escapes at one point and the plot has to contrive a reason for him to stay so that the plot can drag itself out for another episode. Almost all the action is confined to the first half of the final episode aside from a flashback which makes you wish the plot had been set then instead.

After the past serial was devoted to convincing Steven that The Doctor was really a time traveler and the brief introduction at the end of “The Chase”, this was a real opportunity to start to establish Steven’s identity. Instead with a hastily rewritten script intended for Ian and Barbara, Steven remains as much an enigma as he was before and never really stands out positively or negatively. Whereas Vicki quickly found her place, Steven right now just feels like the other for when they can’t have the other two more interesting characters do something. There’s still plenty of time for him to establish himself, but it’s a weak start for the character.

Grade: C-

Stray Observations

– This is the first serial to not have its name start with “The” since last season’s “Planet of Giants” and only the 4th overall.
– Vicki at one point offers to go tell Steven that the Chumblies are friendly but instead The Doctor just says that he will be fine on his own and just leaves him to possibly die and almost certainly be recaptured and is a remarkable amount of confidence in someone he hardly knows.
– Thanks to the deleted episodes there are no real great shots of the Rills remaining, only a single blurry shot, but it actually looks pretty cool.
– Interestingly all the Drahvins are female. Nothing is really made of this though.
– Besides the threat of the planet exploding(!) it is The Doctor who poses the greatest threat almost killing off the Rills before Vicki stops him.
– The story really falls all over itself trying to get everyone to say the Rills aren’t so bad looking, but hilariously there’s an undercurrent of “if we didn’t know you were good guys we would have hated you” which is exactly what the Rills insisted at earlier but it is swept under the rugged. I would not have pegged The Doctor as a xenophobe based on everything that came before and after this so I’ll chalk it up to poor writing.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Vicki stares down at a planet wondering what is going on down there and we are shown a crashed astronaut who remembers that he must kill.

Next Up: The single (missing) episode prelude “Mission to the Unknown” on 2/19 featuring a distinct lack of The Doctor. Expect a very short review.

“The Myth Makers” – 2/22
“The Daleks’ Master Plan” – 2/29
“The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” – 3/4