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Chumblies to the Rescue. Musings on “Galaxy 4”

September 5, 2015


Yes.  The one with the chumblies.  It is Vicki who calls them that, an attempt to convey their engagingly portly appearance, their good natured circularity.  Their masters – the Rill (who are so self conscious they hide behind screens lest they offend us with their ugliness) are happy to adopt the name, clearly not having come up with any more expressive epithet for their helpful robot chums.

In Galaxy 4, the Doctor, Vicki and Stephen arrive on a desolate looking planet only to discover that two rival sets of aliens are struggling to escape before the entire planet blows up.  It’s Rills versus Drahvins with the Tardis crew caught in the middle.  Who can they trust?

The relatively human looking Drahvins are cloned females.  Stephen adopts a flirtatious attitude towards them for approximately 0.7 seconds before the soul-less and sexless nature of Drahvin society reveals itself and has a properly deflationary effect on him.

Maaga is evil.  A palpable sense of evil is something that I look for in Doctor Who and Maaga has it.  Her soliloquy to camera is one most effective demonstrations of the drab banality of evil you’ll ever see on screen.  And Stephanie Bidmead (who died absurdly young) offers some of the best acting you’ll see in the 1960s Whoniverse, despite having a very limited (deliberately limited) range of expression on offer.  Hers is a world of cold power and casual hatred.

Now of course, it’s clunky.  Galaxy 4 offers a memory of an age in which TV looked to theatre rather then cinema for inspiration.  There is a sandy studio floor and a painted backcloth.  Sometimes the line where the backcloth meets the floor is rather visible.  Sometimes the backcloth looks wrinkled.  But you’re in a theatre, so you do the decent theatrical thing and suspend your disbelief.

It is possible that these technical limitations are highlighted because for the most part this adventure does not exist.  Episode 3 “Airlock” exists and there are snippets of film from other episodes which exist but for the most part you are watching a reconstruction – a montage of stills accompanying a soundtrack.  It may well be that you stare more closely and critically at a still photograph of a rumpled backcloth than you would were you watching people (and chumblies) moving in front of it.

Galaxy 4 comes with a message and the message is very very simple and clumsy and necessary.  Racism is bad.  Just because folks look strange and unfamiliar don’t make ’em bad people.  Don’t judge others on the basis of superficial appearances.  And in a situation where strangers in a strange land need to flee for their lives, a bit of hospitality and generosity defines what it means to be a fully sentient being.

You’d think by the second decade of the twenty-first century, fifty years after the civil rights movement and fifty years after this rather ponderous fable was penned, that this kind of laboured moralism would be otiose and tedious.  Unfortunately a brief perusal of the casually murderous hatreds infesting the “Comments” sections of many news websites tell us that the naively basic morality of “Galaxy 4” has not been sufficiently absorbed and perhaps we need things dumbed down even further for such decencies to penetrate many of our hopelessly dense skulls.


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