Galaxy Four is one of those reasons I periodically curse the BBC.
I first heard the audio track of this story back in the late 80's, when audios of the missing stories first started surfacing in fan circles. The Galaxy Four copy I managed to get was rather hard to listen to and prone to distortion, as much due to the poor general quality of the recording as the fact that it was an nth generation copy from the original. The story was difficult to follow; there were large spaces devoid of conversation (with only the odd sound and the even odder strange electronic noise to punctuate it), and even with conversations there was only so much one could understand without having to resort to visual representation of some kind. Yet, somehow, through all the hissing, static, and ambiguity, it became obvious that a fairly interesting and quick-paced story was there lurking frustratingly just out of reach. Listening to the soundtrack alone was giving it inadequate justice.
Now, more than ten years later and some thirty-five years since its initial broadcast (and twenty-three years after it was wiped from the Archives), the BBC Radio Collection has issued a two CD set of the audio portion of this story, complete with linking material by Peter Purves (who played Steven Taylor in the original). Aside from the tantalizing snippet from episode one that has come down to us, this is likely to be the closest any of us will ever come to the original story in all its glory.
Galaxy Four is one of those tales that is actually pretty simple and straight-forward, unfettered with needless subplots and complications. So much so, as a matter of fact, that I suspect in a later era it would have been a three- or even two-parter. The Doctor and company (in this case, Steven Taylor and Vicki) land on a planet that is evidently about to explode. On the planet are two crashed spaceships, one manned by the humanoid Drahvins, the other by the mysterious Rills. Neither ship can leave due to the damage each has inflicted on the other. The Doctor must try to navigate a treacherous path between the two, and hopefully find a way to get each side to help the other to escape.
This is a story of appearances and first impressions. The Drahvin, a race of beautiful women (evidently cloned, which means that this is one of the earliest SF stories of any kind to deal with this concept), may not be as peaceable and helpless as they seem, nor the Rill as malevolent and evil as the Dravhins claim. Appearances can be deceptive, and just because someone carries a pretty face does not mean they are your friend, nor does repulsive alieness automatically denote an enemy. It is a person's actions, not their mien, that count. What is on the inside is much more important than the out.
William Hartnell is as cantankerous as ever as the Doctor; you can't help but like him, even when he's being condescending towards you. Maureen O'Brien's Vicki is adequate as the traditional female companion in semi-distress; no great character revelations here, but at least she only has to scream once. Peter Purves' Steven Taylor, on the other hand, plays a major role in the events of the story, at one point acting almost as the decisive man of action. Steven Taylor is, in my opinion, one of the most overlooked companions ever (exacerbated by the fact that large swathes of his tenure no longer survive), and it is nice to see that he is at last starting to get some of his due. Stephanie Bidmead is good as the ambiguous Maaga, leader of the Drahvin; one does wish that this character or her cloned sister had made another appearance in the series, but alas that was not to be the case. William Emms script is crisp and fast-paced and keeps the listener wanting to hear more, although there are one or two minor points that I thought ill-conceived or not thought- out properly (why is Maaga still obsessed with using the Rill spaceship to escape, when she finds that the Doctor and friends have a spaceship of their own? I can think of a few reasons, but none are adequately explained in the story). The acting itself is all around decent and only slightly campy.
As for the linking material provided in Peter Purves' narration, it does serve to hold the story together, much more satisfying than the unnarrated cassette tape I remember listening to in my car. But make no mistake, this is not a Big Finish production; this story was originally produced as a visual presentation, and this fact is constantly apparent as you listen. There are a couple of points that probably could have used additional narration, and when we finally do get to the Rills practically no description of any kind is provided for them -- their robotic Chumley servants actually get more description than their masters -- and in my opinion, this is probably the single greatest problem with this edition. But these are minor complaints at best. Overall, the story is presented well, and is a fun if nostalgic trip back to the early years of the series.
Highly recommended. Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Back in 1965, this little gem opened up Dr Who's third season. For two years, the show had been riding high in the ratings, and had survived the departure of the Doctor's original companions Ian, Susan and Barbara. To continue this success, constant efforts were being made on behalf of the production crew to create a new monster or villain to equal the success of the Daleks. The contenders for this story, so the newspapers of the day would have their readers believe, were 'the Chumblies.'
The squat robotic creatures are actually nameless, but for companion Vicki's insistence on calling them Chumblies, a title that rubs off on the rest of the cast as things progress.
The plot for this one and only story contribution from William Emms is straightforward - simple even: don't judge a book by its cover. Originally intended to have educational leanings, here the show attempts to teach us that just because someone may look pretty, like the all-female Drahvins featured in this story, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are virtuous. Equally, the hideous Rills turn out to be decent and honourable. And as far as plot detail goes, that's just about everything covered for Galaxy 4.
But it is in the way the tale is told that makes it interesting, especially in this audio format. Peter Purves' narration is excellent, an improvement from the earlier 'Massacre' release. The constant electronic clicks and whirr's (especially from the Chumblies) makes this fun to listen to, slightly reminiscent perhaps, of an early episode of 'Lost in Space'.
Hartnell himself is on good form throughout, as are Vicki and Steven. Whilst Vicki is pleasant enough, she nevertheless is too similar to Susan to carry any real identity of her own, a fact endorsed in interviews by Maureen O' Brien, who played her. The character of Steven, meanwhile, is finally getting some overdue attention as these Audis are released. He virtually carried the earlier 'Massacre' story, and here, is given some good bits of sparring dialogue with Drahvin leader Maaga (played by Stephanie Bidmead, who is also very effective). Some of the dialogue is rather forced, however, which is typical of some of these early stories. For example, as soon as the Doctor meets Maaga, she not only introduces herself and her lackeys, but also the reason why there are no men around, how they come to be in their present predicament, and why they hate the Rills so much. As this last statement is so heartfelt, it is somewhat unlikely that the Doctor should then claim to wish to meet them. To stay as far away from them as possible would make more sense. But, to advance the story, meet them he inevitably does.
As for the Rills themselves, there were apparently four of them in the television production, but the same actor, Robert Cartland voices them all, so there may as well just have been the one! Cartland has an excellent voice, and makes some of his occasionally rather tortuous dialogue rather better sounding than it is.
Overall, Galaxy 4 presents a simple and occasionally slow moving story. But the enjoyment is from the performances, and the overall atmosphere of the planet provided by the raw sounding electronic noises available to the BBC at that time. A little naïve compared to some tales around at the time, Galaxy 4 is straightforward fun.