Doctor Who - Galaxy Four
|ISBN||0 426 20203 3|
|First Edition Cover||Andrew Skilleter|
|Back cover blurb: Following a skirmish in deep space, two alien spacecraft have crashlanded 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, he discovers that the planet will explode in two days' time. The Drahvins desperately ask for his help in escaping the planet and the belligerent Rills. But things are not always as they seem...|
A Chumbley of a time! by Andrew Feryok 22/1/12
"[Maaga] stared at her enemies in total hatred, unable to believe that she had been thwarted by such an ill-sorted trio of humans, particularly that ridiculous-looking Doctor, like something which had slothfully emerged from between the dried pages of time and would be well-advised to return there. Had it not been for the machines she would have had him and put an end to his machinations in short order. But her chance would come. Of that she was sure."
- Maaga after the Chumblies save the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, Chapter 4, page 111
Galaxy Four is not the best remembered Doctor Who story in the series' long history. Part of this is due to the fact that all four episodes are missing , but there are stories completely lost to time that are still discussed heavily by fans (Marco Polo or The Power of the Daleks). but Galaxy Four is rarely talked about at all, and when it is it tends to be dismissed as a simple "beauty does not equal good" morality play that can barely cover its episode length and isn't worth listening to. William Emms' 1985 Target adaptation is even more shrouded in the mysteries of time. Given the story's non-existent reputation and given the period in which the novelization was written, I went into this book thinking that I was in for a straightforward, but well-written transcription of the TV scripts, not unlike Ian Marter's adaptation of The Dominators.
Boy how wrong I was!
William Emms produces one of the great lost gems of the Target range and I would strongly urge any fans of the books or Doctor Who to track down this book immediately! Having the original author was a definite boon since I think anyone else would have written a simple printing of the script. Emms takes his original story and runs with it, producing some glorious science fiction and expanding heavily on the simple ideas layed out in his original TV story. His prose is excellent and never feels like it is talking down to you. Instead, it actually feels like it's elevating you as he discusses all manner of science fiction and philosophical ideas. I like how he gets inside the heads of the small cast of characters with us being privy even to the Doctor's thoughts so that we get a variety of unique and alien perspectives to the given problem. Characters in the book often become lost in thought for several paragraphs as they muse about things like the mortality of man, beauty vs. ugliness, and the nature of evil.
Structurally, Emms' book isn't the worst in the book range. He takes the same idea that Bill Strutton had in that each chapter of the book is an episode from the TV show. But whereas Bill Strutton could spread out over six chapters since the original story was six episodes long, Emms ends up breaking his book into four giant chunks since this was a four-part story. This is certainly better than John Lydecker who doesn't believe in using any chapter breaks whatsoever in his adaptations of Warriors' Gate and Terminus! But it still ends up being long stretches between breaks in the text.
Emms is also not afraid to make alterations to his story. If you're like me and listened to the surviving audio while reading the book, you may notice that the dialogue is the same in some places, but largely different. Emms seems to have particularly disliked how episode 2 (Trap of Steel) played out on TV since the greatest number of alterations is concentrated here. I didn't exactly agree with his addition of a whole sequence where the Doctor and Steven get trapped in a hole dug by the Chumblies. The sequence is not very exciting and totally pointless since it has no impact on the story at all. But other alterations are neat. I particularly liked how Emms made the breaking apart of the planet more gradual in the last episode. In the surviving audio, its clear that there is just one rumble at the beginning of the episode and then nothing but calm until the moment the TARDIS dematerializes. Emms' book makes much more logical sense in that the planet starts to rumble and fissures begin to appear sending off jets of steam. As the time travelers make the final dash to the TARDIS, with the Drahvins in hot pursuit of them, the situation turns particularly gruesome. The planet becomes a vision of hell and two of the Drahvins are graphically swallowed up and burned to death in jets of molten lava that erupt under them. And as Maaga watches the ship disappear and the last Chumbley deactivates, we get this sudden burst of fear along with Maaga as she realizes she is totally alone on a planet seconds from blowing up and there is nothing she can do about it! She then begins to melt, Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-style, before the planet spectacularly explodes. I love Emms' explanation as to why the planet is exploding as well. It seems that the planet is held together by the combined gravity of three suns, but two of the suns are rogue and about to spin off into space, thus disrupting gravity and causing the planet to burst. Interestingly, the book ends on the explosion with no epilogue in the TARDIS or cliffhanger into Mission to the Unknown. The book comes to a sudden and dramatic stop as the planet explodes.
Emms has very strong ideas for the regular characters, especially the Doctor. The Doctor has regeneration foremost on his mind as his body is starting to wear out. At one point, he expresses a yearning for a younger and more agile body like Steven's, and even expresses an out-and-out hatred and loathing for his current body and the limitations it puts on him. This is actually a neat little reversal from Emms. We are usually used to seeing younger and younger actors playing the Doctor, but displaying a wisdom of a being who is getting older and older. But here, the Doctor is still extremely young and yet he's trapped in an old man's body! The Doctor is also more serious in the book than he was on TV and instead of charming his way through Maaga's threats at the beginning of the story, he instead diametrically opposes her from the start and keeps ratcheting up tensions between them whenever he can. I also found it interesting that Emms adheres to the theory from The Brain of Morbius that there were many regenerations prior to William Hartnell's Doctor as the Doctor actually explicitly states this as being just one of many, many different bodies he's had before!
Steven plays a much more active role in the story. On TV, Steven often came across as an observer. In the book, he is much more proactive in solving problems and even cuts in on the Doctor several times to give his opinion on matters. Vicki is her usual self, serving as the Doctor's surrogate granddaughter while also showing that she's grown a bit since the last "season's" worth of adventures (even though the Target books were adapted out of TV order) since she is now prone to picking verbal fights with Steven and deflating his machismo whenever she can. Emms also ratchets up Vicki's sarcasm a lot more, making her much more biting and sarcastic sounding.
The Rills and the Drahvins are much expanded upon in the book. We learn a great deal about both of their societies. We learn that not only are the Drahvins a bloodthirsty warrior race, but that they are also a political one. There is a whole flashback from Maaga in which she is sent on this space mission by the Ministry as a means of quietly getting rid of her. We also learn Maaga's deep-felt hatred for the Drahvin clones and how she would much prefer actual proper Drahvins whom she could talk to and relate to as well as share the burden of decision making. The clones are deliberately designed to be stupid with only thoughts of killing on their minds. You can only imagine what it would be like trapped in a small box in the deepest reaches of space with only them for company. But then, the Drahvin society's treatment of the drones is not exactly exemplary either and there is evidence that the drones aren't as stupid as they seem, and have the capacity to learn and grow, but are just stifled by the society that created them.
The Rills on the other hand are totally telepathic and remind me a great deal of the Eternals from Enlightenment except without the boredom. Although even they admit that they did go through a boredom phase for a while as they faced huge lifespans with nothing to do but think all day. It was their younger generation who convinced them to travel into space and explore, and it seems that exploring the delights and wonders of the universe has inspired the Rill race to greater heights. I was rolling on the floor laughing when I read about the Rills' notions of sexuality and attraction. It seems that female Rills prefer male Rills with thicker skulls! I also like how the Doctor and the Rills get along so well because both come from races that have exceptionally long lifespans and have a unique outlook upon eternity and the universe.
On the whole, this is a book that is criminally overlooked. Most will look at its bland cover (why couldn't they have shown the planet actually exploding behind the Drahvins) and think this is just a dull script adaptation. This is far from the truth. While Emms takes the structure of his original TV episode, he has actually produced an entertaining book in its own right. If you don't care for the original story, give this a try since it may change your mind. If you are indifferent, still give it a try since it will definitely entertain you better than the original TV story. And if you are a fan of the original, then hold onto your hats for a much deeper and more rewarding exploration of events. A true hidden gem of the Target range. 10/10