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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
Galaxy Four


Author: William Emms
Read by: Maureen O’Brien
Publisher: BBC Audio
RRP: £20.00 (CD), £7.00 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78529 667 3
Release Date: 06 July 2017

Following a skirmish in deep space, two alien spacecraft have crash landed on a barren planet in Galaxy Four. The Drahvins are a race of beautiful females, led by the imperious Maaga. The Rills are hideous tusked monstrosities, accompanied by their robotic servants, the Chumblies. When the Doctor arrives, with his companions Vicki and Steven in tow, he discovers that the planet is due to explode in two days’ time. The Drahvins desperately seek his help in escaping the planet and the belligerent Rills. But things are not always as they seem…

The ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ moral that lies at the heart of Galaxy Four was innovative at the time of the television serial’s original transmission in 1965. It neatly reversed the roles of the monstrous villains (the Daleks) and their attractive opponents (the Thals) established in Doctor Who’s very first alien planet story two years earlier. In retrospect, the message is a simplistic one, and writer William Emms takes his time to make his point, in one of the more slow-moving examples from the William Hartnell era.

The serial was not well liked by the programme’s regular cast, in particular Peter Purves, whose character Steven Taylor inherited lines and situations that had originally been devised for the schoolteacher Barbara Wright. As a result, the space pilot sometimes behaves out of character, allowing himself to be held hostage by the Drahvins, for example, and then duped into getting trapped in their air lock.

The writer made some notable additions to his 1985 novelisation of the four-part serial. Steven benefits from a macho moment in which he wrests Maaga’s gun away from her – which helps to make up for the passive role he plays later in the story. We are allowed access to the inner thoughts of Steven, Vicki, the Doctor and even Maaga. The characterisation of the Doctor is remarkable, in that he makes frequent references to regeneration, a process that had not yet been established in the programme’s mythology when the television story was transmitted, but had of course taken place on numerous occasions by the time of the book’s publication. Peculiarly, it is suggested that the old man featured in this story is not the Doctor’s first incarnation, as he is usually assumed to be (maybe Emms had seen the controversial mind-bending sequence from The Brain of Morbius). Perhaps even more surprisingly, alongside references to the Doctor’s alien biology, including his two hearts, it seems that he believes in God.

During the second chapter (each episode of the serial is presented as one entire chapter of the novelisation, each of which in turn fits neatly on to one CD of this four-disc, four-hour release), there’s a substantial additional sequence in which the Doctor and Steven get caught in a pit trap set up by the Chumblies.

Unfortunately, all of this extra material does nothing to hasten the sluggish pace of the plot. Quite the opposite, in fact. The author tries to ramp up the tension by having the characters repeatedly remind themselves and each other about how little time they have left before the planet’s destruction, but this only draws attention to the fact that things are taking rather a long time to get done.

Adding to the enjoyment of this unabridged audio book, however, is an excellent reading by Maureen O’Brien, who played Vicki on screen. It was a good idea to employ a female reader for this release, given that it boasts an unusually large proportion of women characters for a story from the 1960s, owing to the presence of the all-female Drahvins. O’Brien sounds remarkably similar to the original Drahvin actresses (Stephanie Bidmead, Marina Martin, Susanna Carroll and Lyn Ashley) as she voices the coldly ruthless Maaga and her disarmingly childlike cloned underlings. Having said that, O’Brien is also good as the measured, modulated tones of the Rills, which are imbued with calm wisdom, while her affectionate impersonation of Hartnell’s Doctor is already well known to listeners of her previous work for BBC Audio and Big Finish.

Galaxy Four will never be hailed as a classic, on video, in prose or on audio, but it certainly has its charms. Out of ten, Four gets:


Richard McGinlay

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