We’ve been treated to a lot of Doctor Who missing episodes recreated using animation recently. However, it has been eight years since the previous William Hartnell release. Is Galaxy 4 worth the wait?
So far, only orphaned Doctor Who episodes from the First Doctor’s era (The Reign of Terror and The Tenth Planet) have been animated. Galaxy 4 is the first full Doctor Who story starring William Hartnell to be animated. Eight years on from those previous animations, this latest release is much different from that provided by Planet 55. Instead of the highly stylised artistry seen before, there is a leaning towards the more realistic. Overall, it works rather well.
The planet surface design is strong, particularly when viewed in colour. Similarly, the character likenesses are also very good as is their movement, a tricky feat in animation. It is a shame however that the Drahvins are all the same. Granted they are clones but the roles were played by different actors. That said, the characters all look excellent, courtesy of concept designer Ioan Morris. Stephanie Bidmead delivered a truly memorable performance as Maaga, the Drahvin leader, and the animation does that performance justice.
Unfortunately, there are issues. Although I like the look and colours of the planet’s surface, an attempt was clearly made to provide scale. A scale not available in the studio during production. Whilst the inside of the Drahvin’s ship is detailed to convey the rustic nature, the interior of the Rill’s ship is rather bland and upscaled. The interior looked big but also empty. It needed more details, pieces of equipment etc. to fill the space. This in turn made the Rills look rather small within their tanks. I rather liked the creative set that was constructed for the Rill’s ship in studio but it certainly needed to be more convincing for an animation.
Creative decisions have clearly been made to differ from the story as broadcast. Shots differ from those that we know were used because we had that footage. Some might not like it, but it allows the animators to attempt to realise the episodes in as engaging a way as possible. For instance, this does mean that we actually see the battle between the two spaceships above the planet. Ultimately, the success or failure of these releases is how enjoyable they are to watch, which with Galaxy 4 is a bit tricky.
Some might say that Galaxy 4 is an odd choice for being animated. It is not one of the most popular stories from the 1960’s and lacks the obvious draw of featuring Daleks or Cybermen. However I have always found the premise rather intriguing. The lesson of not judging by appearances is as valuable now as it was in 1965. Similarly, helping those who are willing to help others is a hugely positive message. There is also the definitive peril of a planet about to disintegrate to create a sense of urgency. It’s a fun story which I enjoy greatly.
However, there are some peculiarities. For instance, how could a Rill observe Maaga killing Drahvin 4 unless they were in a portable tank of ammonia gas? How did the Chumblies actually detect things around them? Could you hide behind them and be invisible to them? But equally there are a lot of fun elements, especially with the Chumblies. The special sounds created by Brian Hodgson are wonderful. They bring the little creatures to life superbly. The Rills similarly sound wonderful, such a shame we can’t see more of them. Even in the animation.
We’ve already mentioned the strong performance from Stephanie Bidmead but William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien are also clearly enjoying themselves. Peter Purves did not enjoy this story quite as much but the reasons for that are revealed in the bonus features.
A first DVD/Blu Ray release for Galaxy 4 provides an opportunity for the making of the story to receive some attention. Central to this is a ‘making of’ documentary. Appropriately, Peter Purves provides the centrepiece with an interview by Toby Hadoke and his magic satchel. Interspersed with their discussion are comments from Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Lyn Ashley (Drahvin 3), Clive Doig (Vision Mixer), Brian Hodgson (Special Sound Designer), Mike Pinfield (son of director Mervyn Pinfield). Also included is archive material from writer William Emms, director Derek Martinus and designer Richard Hunt. It is a very thorough piece which is tricky given we are over 50 years from the event.
Another nice feature is a short documentary explaining how Episode 3 ‘Air Lock‘ was returned to the BBC ten years ago. The return of missing episodes always provides for an intriguing tale. There is also of course the hope that highlighting the return of missing episodes will encourage other collectors to check their film cans. There is also a discussion about how the lengthy clip from Episode 1 still exists too.
Also included are multiple, wonderful commentary tracks and a photo gallery, which includes a second picture of a Rill which I previously had not seen before. Overall, it is a great release and finally gives a missing story some much warranted attention. Hopefully viewers will reappraise Galaxy 4 and appreciate the good things rather than focusing on the issues. The same is also true of the animation.