If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then no better example could be found than in the premiere story of Doctor Who’s third season, Galaxy 4. It’s at this stage that you’d anticipate me summarizing the moral thesis of the story as my opening catch phrase alludes to. Not so! The beauty to which I refer bears no relationship to the relative physical characteristics of the Drahvins and the Rills, but rather to the viewer’s appreciation of the serial. In their book Running Through Corridors, Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke approach a marathon watch of Doctor Who with the intention of finding the good in each and every story – even the downright shockers. Despite their best endeavours, neither Shearman or Hadoke could find much to endear them to Galaxy 4. I beg to differ, and as such am perhaps one of the few fans who genuinely love the serial.
It’s probably because I’m a woman that I find the concept of a female dominated alien race somewhat appealing. The Drahvins, natives of the planet Drahva in Galaxy 4, are a most practical bunch. When the Doctor and Steven ask the leader, Maaga, if all their race are female, Maaga’s response if most abrupt – “Oh, we have a small number of men, as many as we need. The rest we kill. They consume valuable food and fulfil no particular function.” I almost squeal with delight whenever I watch that segment, but please don’t tell my sons. They’ll probably find it hard to sleep at night! The Doctor responds cheekily by saying, “Yours must be a very interesting civilisation”. If ever there was an understatement, that’s one. When Maaga later offers to free Steven if he takes the Drahvins off the planet in his ship, his retort is classic. “Oh, yes, yes. But even assuming I believed you, that on the way you didn’t decide that I was eating too much food, there is a snag … I can’t operate it”, he states. There are no flies on Steven. He’s a bright one!
The Drahvins that the Doctor and his companions meet are small in number and comprise only four in total. All have long blonde hair and wear unflattering green and white uniforms. All but the leader, Maaga, are drones. Bred purely as soldiers, the three are without intelligence and cultivated in test tubes. Whilst Maaga is a living being, she considers the soldiers to be mere products, and inferior ones at that. “Grown for a purpose and capable of nothing more”, she says, “To fight. To Kill”. The soldiers are programmed to obey all orders on command and to offer themselves up to death if they fail in their mission. Like the Tribe of Gum in An Unearthly Child, the Drahvins cannot understand human kindness and why a person might sacrifice their life for another. While Maaga eats real food, the soldiers subsist on tablets only. Steven endeavours to reason with one of the Drahvin and convince her of the inequality of this class based system. Before he can succeed Maaga enters the room and stops the conversation.
The soldiers’ lack of intelligence is the cause of constant frustration to Maaga. Charged with finding a new planet for colonization, she was lumbered with soldiers to assist her. All thinking is left to her and the drones lack even the intellect to imagine the Rills dying on a white exploding planet. Death and destruction are things Maaga intellectually craves, but killing is undertaken in an automated and routine manner by the drones. They are incapable of enjoying the process of killing. Maaga is one sick and twisted psychotic individual!
It is little wonder that the writer, William Emms, saw fit to have the Drahvins all killed at the story’s end. They’re not nice people, even if the thought of a planet with limited men might appear momentarily enticing. Both the Doctor and the Rills’ failure to rescue the Drahvins, although logical, is morally troublesome. The Rills had long offered to transport the Drahvins home, notwithstanding their longstanding aggression against them. Earlier in the serial the Doctor had even stated to Maaga that neither he, nor his companions, kill. And yet, the Doctor leaves the Drahvins on the planet knowing full well that within minutes it will explode. Compare this, for a moment, with the Fourth Doctor’s classic moral dilemma in The Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor is afforded the opportunity to destroy the Daleks forever, and yet he hesitates. Does he have the right to commit genocide, even though the Daleks are evil reincarnate and will cause death and suffering to millions of people? Sarah Jane certainly considers it morally acceptable but the Doctor is not so sure. By the Seventh Doctor’s tenure, however, such moral concerns appear far from his mind when Skaro is seemingly destroyed in Remembrance of the Daleks.
That Galaxy 4 featured humans produced by test tube, 13 years prior the first in vitro fertilisation (IVF) birth in 1978, is quite marvellous. The story canvassed the moral issue of cloning three decades before the birth of Dolly the Sheep in 1996. Future science, rather than science fiction, was at the core.
I opened with the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This, undoubtedly, was the major theme of the writer, William Emms. The beautiful people in the serial, the Drahvins, are actually morally bankrupt and psychotically evil. Given their blonde hair, I suspect the Drahvins to be modelled on the Nazis. Not unlike Hitler, their leader Maaga rallied her troops’ support by openly lying about the “enemy”. The Nazis lead the German people to incorrectly believe that the Jewish people were the cause of Germany’s economic woes. Maaga convinced her people that the Rills had killed a Drahvin soldier and were necessarily evil. Maaga had actually killed the soldier herself.
The Rills are the “ugly” of the story and even consider themselves to be physically unbearable to all but their own kind. They are great big green blobs that can only breathe ammonia. They are, however, the good and the just of the story. Notwithstanding having their spacecraft shot down by the Drahvins, they offer assistance to the stranded women when both peoples are marooned on the planet. They continue to offer the hand of friendship almost to the end. They immediately forgive the Doctor for sabotaging their equipment and attend to the repair without seeking the Doctor’s assistance. Like the Sensorites, the Rill communicate telepathically. Having no vocal chords they speak through the robotic Chumblies.
I cannot end this review without mention of Chumblies. I love the Chumblies. They’re cute and chumble around in a most endearing fashion. So named by Vicki for that very reason, it’s somewhat amusing that the Rills had no problem using this adopted nickname when referring to their robotic assistants. Surely they already had a name for them! “Bring back the Chumblies” I say to BBC Wales, and while you’re at it, a big stuffed Chumbley would look rather nice on my bed!
Only episode three of Galaxy 4 exists in its entirety, having been rediscovered in 2011. A reconstruction of the missing story, using off-screen stills, audio recordings and animation, together with the recently recovered episode three, was included in the special features of The Aztecs Special Edition released in 2013.
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.
Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke, “Running Through Corridors. Rob and Toby’s Marathon Watch of Doctor Who” (Mad Norwegian Press, Des Moines, Iowa: 2011),