Chapter 104. Doctor Who – Galaxy Four (1986)

Synopsis: Two spacecraft lie in ruins on an otherwise deserted planet. The Doctor and his friends must decide who to help – the beautiful Drahvins and their leader Maaga, or the hideous Rills and their robot servants. Their choice is made all the more difficult when the Doctor learns that the planet is about to explode…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Four Hundred Dawns
  • 2. Trap of Steel
  • 3. Airlock
  • 4. The Exploding Planet

Background: William Emms adapts his own 1965 scripts for a serial generally known as ‘Galaxy 4’, 20 years and one month after the story aired.

Notes: The book is divided into four chapters that pretty much match the TV episodes. The Doctor brings the TARDIS ‘back into time and space’, though we’re not told from where. Steven is said to have fair hair. The unnamed planet’s surface is black, like tarmac, and the Doctor identifies it as being in ‘Galaxy Four’ (getting in an early title check and providing better context for the title than the TV serial had). When Steven ponders which of the three suns they might be revolving around, the Doctor suggests it’s ‘quite possible that they revolve around us’.

The Drahvins have…

… long, blonde hair and would have been considered extremely attractive by any man were it not for the total lack of warmth in their faces which were straight and set, reflecting no emotion whatsoever.

They carry weapons like machine guns. When held at gunpoint, the Doctor notes that there appears to be ‘something of a surplus of weapons on this planet’, which he doesn’t care for. He notices that the Drahvins are not identical, so are not physical clones, but he speculates that they might have cloned minds.

Fleeing the Chumbleys, the Doctor has ‘hearts’ (plural) and he wishes that he ‘had found a younger body to inhabit’ as ‘there was not a lot to be said for this one’. Initially, this might just be interpreted as flippancy, but in Chapter 2, the Doctor has an interesting train of thought:

[Steven] had been wrenched into it by unforeseeable circumstances and had borne up gamely whereas he, the Doctor, had learnt to adapt since time immemorial. Human life wasn’t long enough, he thought, no sooner given than taken away, with insufficient time to learn what was necessary or do what had to be done. He dismissed the thought. There was nothing he could do about it. He wasn’t God, simply something of a clown in his own eyes, trolling about through time and space seeking the final truth as he inhabited one body after another, and yet with the dull feeling that that final truth would remain forever beyond his reach.

So either he’s predicting his future incarnations, or he’s recognising that he’s had past lives. Also, Emms’ understanding of regeneration makes it seem more like possession! Later, he has the Doctor claim to be ‘five feet nine or ten’ (William Hartnell was 5’8″), adding ‘I’ve never measured this body. It’s enough that I inhabit it.’ Steven is six feet tall. The Doctor and Steven fall into a pit and manage to tempt a poor Chumbley over to the pit and pull it over so they can use it to step out to safety. The Doctor paraphrases philosopher Bertrand Russell’s assertion that a belief that the sun has always risen is no guarantee that it will rise tomorrow.

Maaga is certain that she was sent on this mission as a political act by the Minister for Offensive Research, a member of the elite on Drahva, like herself; Maaga had insisted that soldiers were not suitable for space exploration but she was overruled and she now feels she’s not expected to return. There is only one political party, but they hold elections anyway.

The Rill who speaks to Vicki has ‘huge, heavily-lidded eyes’ like ‘soft pools of concern, dark brown and gentle’ and ‘a scaly coat resembling that of a lizard’. They also have tentacles, ‘six of which have hands’. Vicki has apparently always felt uncomfortable with reptiles (her late pet Sandy seemingly forgotten). We’re told some of the Rill way of life and evolution; they developed thick skulls that helped them survive their natural predators (though some female Rill undergo skull-thinning as a preference). Like the Drahvins, the males aren’t considered to be especially important: ‘Anyone who happened to be passing could and did fertilise an egg’. As usual, the book ends without the lead-in to the next story.

Cover: Andrew Skilleter goes full B-movie with two gun-wielding Drahvins in front of a boiling planet.

Final Analysis: Apparently the idea to make the Drahvins female came from Verity Lambert, so William Emms’ original storyline was even more generic than this. So what do you do when you adapt your cliche-ridden scripts after 20 years for an audience who might have seen 2001 or Planet of the Apes and have definitely seen Star Wars? You take your time, work your way through the script and give it an extra layer of polish as you go. As he progresses through the story, Emms introduces backstory and extra information that make the alien societies seem much more credible and rich. The tone also darkens as we approach the climax, slowly ramping up acts of violence (Steven’s painful asphyxiation is particularly distressing).

For the ardent Doctor Who fan, the bonus comes in Emms’ iconoclastic depiction of the Doctor. By 1986, we’d had six TV Doctors, all of whom had been seen on TV within the living memory of your average seven-year-old (plus a different ‘original’ in The Five Doctors and a recent repeat of the two Peter Cushing movies). So while we might think of ‘The First Doctor’ here, Emms depicts him as just one of many – and not necessarily even the earliest incarnation. At the time of writing, Emms was the same age that the ‘elderly’ Hartnell had been when he first played the role and there’s a sense that both writer and character feel frustration over growing old. In one passage, the Doctor longs to replace his form for something more agile, foreshadowing his eventual regeneration rather beautifully..

Sooner or later renewal would come and he prayed that when the time came he would be better served. Something comfortable and capable was what he longed for, something able to do more of what he asked of it. He mused and pondered on the whimsical ways of Fate.

Galaxy 4 was William Emms’ sole contribution to both the TV series and the Target novels, though he did also write a ‘Make Your Own Adventure’ book called Mission to Venus, published by Severn House just a few months after Target’s Galaxy Four. He died in 1993, aged 63.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 104. Doctor Who – Galaxy Four (1986)

  1. I love this book and read it loads of times. In my imagination, my Rills were softer looking than the TV version. I quite liked the episodic structure of the book too. I wish more had done this.

    Having now seen the animated episodes, I was disappointed by the pronunciation of Chumbley. My interpretation had a harder B but the TV pronounce it like crumb.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emms has a rather beautiful interpretation of the Doctor getting ready for his “renewal”. It’s very different from the TV serial, substituting the great acting, direction and design for something more knowing, but works just as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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