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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Doctor Who: Galaxy Boring

Serial Title: Galaxy 4
Series: 3
Episodes: 4
Four Hundred Dawns
Trap of Steel
Air Lock
The Exploding Planet

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'Brien)

The TARDIS lands on a desert mesa and is probed by a multi-layer dome robot (like a behive-esque wedding cake) that Vicki dubs a 'chumbley' based on its wobbly sound. (NFS: I think they look like dehumidifiers...but that is also what I think Daleks look They emerge to inspect it, but it is destroyed by a nearby warrior woman. She takes them to her her ship, a crashed hulk, at gunpoint. There, they meet Maaga, leader of these people, the Dhrahvins, a matriarchal society that kill all of their men- save for a few left over for breeding (NFS: Whoah...ew.). Maaga is the only true 'person'- all of the other women here are cloned soldiers. Maaga explains that their ship crashed after a firefight with an alien vessel, which also crashed here. The aliens- known as the Rills- operate the Chumblies- which are armed and dangerous- and the Rills send one daily to transmit harmful propaganda to them, which they block.

And also, the planet will explode in two weeks.

The Drahvin ship will not fly again, so they believe their only chance is to attack and capture the Rill ship, using it to escape the planet. As the warning of the planet's imminent destruction came from the Rills, the Doctor is suspicious of the situation and returns to the TARDIS for independent confirmation- Steven goes with him, but Vicki is made to stay behind. They witness a Chumbly trying to get inside, first with weapons, then with explosives (while the Doctor and Steven are inside.) Both attempts are unsuccessful.

Also, the planet will actually explode in two days.

The Doctor decides to keep this information to himself, instead claiming (once they return to the Dhrahvin ship) that he's confirmed the allegations against the Rills. Maaga is more determined than ever to take the Rill ship, and when the Doctor is reluctant to help (The Dhrahvin mean to put the Rill off the ship first, marooning them to die) they coerce his help by taking Steven hostage. The Doctor and Vicki reluctantly set out to scout the Rill ship.

Evading the Chumbley patrols, the Doctor and Vicki discover that the Rills are technologically superior, ammonia-breathers, and very alien- insect/lizard/lobster beasts. They are discovered and run for it, but a grille work separates Vicki and the Doctor. As the Chumblies force her back inside, the Doctor begins to sabotage the ammonia-atmosphere system, in hopes of using it as a bargaining chip to free her.

Vicki is brought before a port-hole through which the Rill observes her (though she is not shown their true appearance, which they believe will frighten her), communicating via a speaker on the Chumbley. The Rill reveal that the Dhrahvin were the aggressors in the space battle, and the Rill merely defending themselves- he also says that the Rill have been offering to take the Dhrahvin off the planet with them when their ship is repaired- they send a Chumbley daily to transmit the offer to the Dhrahvin. In fact, the Rills tried to help injured crash survivors, but the power-mad Maaga shot both the Rill and the wounded woman he was trying to help, claiming to her people that the Rill murdered the wounded crew member, and continues to block their offer of help, desiring conquest above all.

Convinced of their good intentions, Vicki stops the Doctor from sabotaging the atmosphere converter- which would have been more deadly to the Rills than previously thought- and brings him inside to hear the Rills' story.

Steven makes an escape attempt and seals the airlock behind him- but sees a Chumbley which he believes is armed and hostile waiting outside. He cannot return in, as Maaga demands, or he will be a captive yet again- but he cannot go out. To try and force him inside, Maaga begins to drain the air out of the airlock. Steven eventually decides he'd rather take his chances with the Chumbley, but can't open the outer door as the pressure differential is too great; the Dhrahvin will only restore the air if he surrenders and comes back inside.

The Chumbley transmits Steven's predicament back to the Doctor and Vicki, who rush to save him with a Chumbley escort, taking a Dhrahvin patrol captive in the process. The Chumblies attack the ship with a non-lethal ammonia bomb (essentially tear gas) and manage to breach the airlock, freeing Steven. The now-trapped Dhrahvin are stuck inside their ship, plotting, as the Chumblies guard it to prevent their emergence to further interfere with the escape.

The Doctor uses a connection from the TARDIS to the Rill ship to recharge their power as the planet enters its final hours, a skeptical Steven is convinced of the Rill's good intentions (NFS: He's just skeptical because they are insect/lizard/lobster beasts and not hot babelian chicks like the chicks the Dhravins) , and the Dhrahvin escape their ship, engaging in pitched battle with the Chumblies, who successfully hold them at bay.

The Rill, in a final gesture, finally allow the group to see their monstrous appearance completely (NFS: Gee.....thanks?), and the two groups share their mutual respect for each other, appearances meaningless to them. The Rill ship is powered up and lifts off, as does the TARDIS- and the planet explodes with the few remaining Dhrahvin on it.

There's just... not much there. A very simple story- visit one camp, visit the other camp, find out both sides of the story premise... a basic 'seemingly rescued by one side, who are jerks anyway, and then it turns out the other side they're supposedly "protecting" you from are the good guys after all' plot that has been used about a million bazillion and three times. I believe it was first written by Eve during her maternity leave for Abel- at that time, it was an original story. By the time of this serial, it was not. Nowadays, it's practically expected that the aliens who rescue your heroes are bad guys; it's a surprise twist ending if they really are as decent as they seem. Even the apparent anti-racism message about the appearance of the Rill is weak and shoe-horned in. Maybe there were some good performances... somewhere... but without video, we can't see them.

As it turns out, this was written before the departure of Ian and Barbara was known, and thus lines written for them were just split up between the new characters (Star Trek: Generations Syndrome, as I like to call it.) The actor portraying Steven was saddled with many of Barbara's lines... and it shows, unfortunately, as he waffles indecisively in the airlock until it's too late and generally comes across as a bit passive; an indication that Barbara's character still had some growing to do, despite it's enormous progress.

The Dhrahvin culture was cliched and silly; hitting all the standard buttons- matriarchal society taken to man-hating extremes, cold, cruel leader of the aliens lusts for power and doesn't care about the lives of underlings, society in which clones are second-class, etc. It's like no one really gave a care about this episode- not any of the writers, at least. (NFS: And it's like....sci-fi always does that extreme. If it's a women led society it's usually run by a really cold man-hater. It's like...why can't she like guys but be in control? Would that really violate anything? Are they saying you can't like guys and be a leader? Nay you must wish to slit all their sorry throats if you are to be one respected??? Just....weird. At least Angel One in TNG did it a lot better, I mean that girl LIKED...I mean LIKE LIKED guys! :)

It's hard to comment on much else, as this is nearly a complete reconstruction, minus 5 minutes of footage in the first episode. The reconstruction team did go all-out, however- model work, landscape matching, over-the-shoulder and hand-with-prop inserts, characters photo shopped from different serials onto Galaxy 4 backgrounds, and the piece-de-resistance- apparently, a model Chumbley with full functionality built and pupeteered around- something which works well, considering the majority of the footage of the episode involves Chumblies rolling around and doing things! For a very fragmentary serial, the effort put into this one is extraordinary and truly exemplary- a shame it was wasted on such a weak serial with such a dull, uninteresting story (there was apparently a minor controversy at the time as a British newspaper accidentally released the plot 'twist'- that the bad guys were really good several weeks ahead of time in a review. I'd call it not much of a spoiler as it's evident from the get go.) ( could tell the bad guys were good from the first time that you saw the 'good guys'...I mean seriously)

Weak as a story, weaker still as a season-opener, and incredibly pathetic next to the stellar production values of the last season-opener (Planet of the Giants); this is a dull, flat, lifeless, predictable, and very poor effort on the part of the original makers (and no great loss as a missing serial)- but a stellar, phenomenal, outstanding, and above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty effort on the part of the restoration team, who were given almost nothing to work with... and decided that, in that case, they'd just make it all themselves and GIVE themselves more to work with.

Lastly, I hate that name, Dhrahvin- it looks unnatural and is hard to remember to spell right. Bah!

Great moments:
When it... ended?

Ironically for our ratings-namer for this Series, Galaxy 4 gets 0 out of 5 Chumblies- there's nothing there. Bleah.

But Loose Cannon Productions' restoration work gets a stellar 5 out of 5, and makes the lousy story worth watching anyway!

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