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Reviewed: Galaxy 4 Animated DVD and Blu-ray

After a run of Patrick Troughton stories, it feels overdue for a First Doctor tale to be given the animation treatment. Rather surprisingly, this new release is the first complete story from the William Hartnell era to be animated, and also the first in colour.  

Galaxy 4 is somewhat unloved story, both by the programme’s fans and those who worked on it. Incoming producer John Wiles, who aimed to offer more sophisticated fare, had a low opinion of it, and, in his contributions to this release, Peter Purves describes his frustration at finding that the script, written with Ian and Barbara in mind, hadn’t been adjusted to accommodate his character, the new companion Steven Taylor.

The discovery of the third episode, Air Lock, in 2011 led to a more favourable reassessment, partly because it filled in some gaps in what was known about the story. Those of us who hadn’t seen the original transmission had our first good look at a Rill and saw the Chumblies zip about quicker than expected. But there were also the nuances which an audio recording couldn’t wholly capture, such as Stephanie Bidmead’s charismatic performance as Maaga, full of cool malice as she breaks the fourth wall to address the viewer directly.

So what does animation bring to Galaxy 4? It’s certainly colourful, with producer Gary Russell explaining in his notes that the team were aiming for a 1950s B-movie or 1960s Star Trek feel – so the landscape has lots of vivid orange and red. The character movement feels better than many previous releases, but some likenesses (particularly Hartnell) seem a bit off.

There’s an enduring debate with these releases as to whether to go for a faithful reconstruction or to embellish what was seen on screen. It comes down to personal preference, of course, but for me the question is one of how far it should go. The space battle between the Rill and Drahvin ships, described in dialogue in the original, is shown as a flashback here and feels far more advanced than anything the production team would have attempted. And somehow the inside of the Rill ship, depicted in the animation as a fairly standard sci-fi interior, is a good deal less interesting than that seen in Air Lock, where it’s an engagingly weird (even if clearly cheaply made) affair, the planet surface visible through its transparent walls.

But it’s easy to forget how lucky we Doctor Who fans are. I may have my doubts over the animation but will add the important caveat that I continue to be thrilled and not a little surprised that someone is taking the trouble to go to all this work of recreating a television programme from over half a century ago. And if animation’s not your thing, you can instead watch a photographic reconstruction of the missing episodes, though the absence of any telesnaps for the story means this can’t be as sharp as for other releases.

As we’ve grown used to, there are some engaging extra features to enjoy. The passage of time has taken its toll on the availability of key personnel to take part in this kind of material, but the making-of documentary has valuable contributions from Peter Purves, Maureen O’Brien, and Drahvin performer Lyn Ashley, as well as vision mixer Clive Doig and sound designer Brian Hodgson. Purves is a good sport, allowing Toby Hadoke to try to convince him of the merits of a story he never cared for, and clearly enjoys playing with replica Drahvin guns (who wouldn’t?).

There’s a fascinating glimpse of original director Mervyn Pinfield in early test footage for the Doctor Who title sequence. It’s both eerie and moving, particularly when we hear from Pinfield’s son Mike that the illness which prevented him completing Galaxy 4 would later claim his life.

The story of the recovery of Air Lock is told in Finding Galaxy 4, with archivist and restorer Ralph Montagu filling us in on how he came to establish that Terry Burnett had lost Doctor Who treasure among his extensive collection of cannisters. Burnett, a softly spoken chap, clearly knows his stuff when it comes to film collecting but was taken aback when told just how important this particular piece of his archive was. So he had a think, went through his collection and turned up episode two of The Underwater Menace for good measure.

Such are the many and varied ways missing footage has turned up. In the same documentary former DWAS president Jan Vincent-Rudzki remembers how he managed to preserve the remaining six-minute clip of episode one after it was partially used for the Whose Doctor Who documentary, screened in 1977. Heartbreakingly, the complete story existed as late as November 1976.

1976! Just a handful of heartbeats ago…

Galaxy 4 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

Jonathan Appleton

A regular Doctor Who viewer since Pertwee fought maggots and spiders, Jonathan isn't about to stop now. He considers himself lucky to have grown up in an era when Doctor Who, Star Trek and Blakes 7 could all be seen on primetime BBC1. As well as writing regularly for The Doctor Who Companion he's had chapters included in a couple of Blakes 7 books.

Reviewed: Galaxy 4 Animated DVD and Blu-ray

by Jonathan Appleton time to read: 3 min
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