Story 18Aired: Sept 11 – Oct 2, 1965
Episode 1 – Four Hundred DawnsEpisode 2 – Trap of Steel
Episode 3 – Air Lock
Episode 4 – The Exploding Planet
Written by William EmmsDirected by Derek Martinus & Mervyn Pinfield
The Doctor, Vicki and Steven arrive on an arid planet in Galaxy 4, where they meet the occupants of two crashed spaceships: the beautiful Drahvins and the hideous Rills. Confounding expectations, the latter prove to be friendly, compassionate explorers while the former are a group of mindless cloned soldiers terrorized by a warlike matriarch called Maaga. Both ships were damaged when the Drahvins precipitated a confrontation in space, but whereas the Rills' is almost ready to take off again, having been repaired by their robot drones which Vicki names Chumblies, the Drahvins' is irreparably damaged.
When the planet is discovered to be on the point of disintegration, Maaga tries to force the time travelers to help her steal the Rills' ship. Instead, the Doctor allows the Rills to draw power from the TARDIS in order to refuel and escape, leaving the Drahvins to their fate.
Galaxy 4 has whole host of ideas accompanied by some truly wonderful moments. It also has a few real clunkers sprinkled throughout. This results in a mixed bag, although one that has slightly more good moments than bad.
One has to recall that most science fiction that people saw in those days tended to portray aliens as bug-eyed, ugly monstrosities. William Emms' script tries to force the audience to confront our inherent mistrust of the ugly, which is a novel approach for a series that relied on that mistrust so often. The ability to trust and knowing when to do so, is in fact the driving theme of the story.
Similarly, making the Dravhins both beautiful and also female is against the standard grain. Once it is established that females are dominant on their planet, it's not really an issue again. They simply become the villains, and Maaga is a particularly strong one. She is relentlessly single-minded and ruthless throughout, twisted by contempt and bigotry. Her soliloquy in the third episode, where she contemplates the sadistic satisfaction she'll feel imagining the death of the Rills and the TARDIS crew, is chilling and terrifically delivered by Stephanie Bidmead in a great performance.
The direction of the story has a number of great touches as well. The Rill spacecraft is nicely unconventional. It's a bit mystifying how the thing is actually space worthy, but that can be forgiven for the sake of innovation. Additionally, the use of a flashback sequence is quite rare for classic Who, and it's done remarkably well.
But, the design of the planet, while true to the story, is so desolate as to be boring. And everything about the Chumblies, from their name to their design to the noises they make, are incredibly annoying. The most major failing is that the threat of the imminent apocalypse is never reinforced terribly well. Some tremors, or other effects, would really have jacked up the tension. The biggest downfall to an otherwise effective story is this lack of tension. So, a middling effort, but Galaxy 4 is a pleasant enough watch.