Monday, August 11, 2014

What's in a Name... ?

I've always found having to think up titles or names for things to be a royal pain in the ass, whether it be essays at college, blog postings, or indeed the names of the websites or blogs themselves. I invariably spend way too much time dithering over what to call something, rather than just getting down to the subject matter itself. Just pick a bloody name and get on with it, willya! Well, I've never really been able to do that, unfortunately. Shame on me.

Surprisingly, that wasn't the case with this blog, when I first created it way back at the start of November 2011. A name just popped into my head, or, rather, a name very close to what I ended up using as the blog title. Initially I intended to create a general geek blog based around (but not confined to) Doctor Who, and I wanted a title that sounded not only sci-fi-ish, but also had some connection to my favourite TV series.

Later on, I decided to clear out all of the general geek stuff (which explains why all of the earlier posts prior to November 2013 are now gone), transfer those to another blog, and start over again from scratch in November 2013 with this one as a pure Doctor Who blog. This particular post is a much revised version of one that first appeared on the original blog back on Saturday, November 05, 2011.

Well, fortunately, the title still fitted perfectly. As I'd originally wanted something which would cover both Doctor Who and general sci-fi, for some reason the word "Galaxy" jumped out at me immediately. So right from the start the title was going to be Galaxy... something, most likely the "something" being a number. Initially I wanted the blog title to be Galaxy 5, which fans will remember as the name of the bad guys in the classic 1974 story The Monster of Peladon. But that name wasn't available on Blogger. Neither were any of the other names in the range of Galaxy 1 through 10. So I tried going down the One through Ten route instead, and the only one that was available was Four.

I ended up with "" as my blog address, but I changed the title masthead in the blog from Galaxy Four to Galaxy 4, because the number "4" just has a more visual appeal to me than the word "Four". Older fans will instantly recognize Galaxy 4 as the title of a really ancient, dusty old Doctor Who story, which originally aired on the UK television channel BBC1, over a four-week period during the months of September-October 1965. The story itself no longer exists in the BBC archives, as it was wiped during the shamefully short-sighted BBC "space-saving" purge of old TV shows back in the early 1970's, although a few bits and pieces did survive here and there.

The previously existing audio-visual material, including six minutes of footage from the first episode, "Four Hundred Dawns", was initially included on a 1998 VHS video as part of the documentary The Missing Years, and subsequently re-released on the 2004 DVD release of Lost in Time. Episode Three, "Air Lock", which was recovered back in early 2011, was released on the March 2013 DVD release of The Aztecs: Special Edition as an extra, along with reconstructions of the other 3 episodes, plus the other surviving clips and photographs, all of which had originally been intended for the DVD release of The Time Meddler.

The only way to enjoy the original story in its entirety is in book form, and the complete soundtrack also exists, released in 2002. Actually, there were TWO books, and I have really enjoyed both the Target Books novelization of Galaxy Four, by original writer William Emms, and the Doctor Who: The Scripts edition (Titan Books) of the William Emms Galaxy 4 script. The titles Galaxy Four and Galaxy 4 seem to be interchangeable, and vary from book to book, although Galaxy 4 seems to be considered the correct title. Either of these books will give you the full story, if you manage to get your hands on them. I'm uncertain if either book is still in print (if not, try Ebay or Amazon).

In this story, the TARDIS lands on an unnamed planet in the aforementioned Galaxy 4, a world which is only days away from exploding. The Doctor (the first Doctor - William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven encounter the Drahvins, a race of female clone warriors, who have crash-landed on the planet and are unable to take off again. Also on the planet is another crashed spaceship belonging to the frightening, alien Rills and their robot servants, the Chumblies (this rather silly name being given to them by Vicki). The Drahvins tell the Doctor that they were attacked by the Rills and both ships were damaged and had to crash-land.

The Drahvin ship is irreparable, but the Rill ship is almost fully repaired and will escape the death of this world. The Drahvins need to capture it, to get away. They are trying to enlist the Doctor's help, but the Doctor realizes that it's the Drahvins who are the aggressors and the Rills are peace-loving and civilized. The Doctor helps the Rills finish repairing their ship and escape, and one of the Chumblies stays behind and helps the Doctor, Vicki and Steven escape in the TARDIS, while it and the Drahvins perish when the planet explodes.

By all accounts, the televised story was a fair-to-middling mid-1960's Doctor Who adventure, pretty decent, although nothing special, certainly not one of the greatest classics of the series. However Galaxy 4, like a few other old Doctor Who stories, seems to go a little bit further than other sci-fi television shows of that era, with a few more twists and a less predictable plot. Back in those days most TV sci-fi was very simplistic - you always knew who the bad guys were, because they were almost always the ugly, scary ones.

Most of the time, Doctor Who was as guilty as any other show in that respect - the series was, after all, dependent on the monsters and aliens for its kiddie "scare factor". But in Galaxy 4, the writer, William Emms, turned all that completely on its head, making the repulsive, reptilian, warthog-like, ammonia-breathing Rills the intelligent, civilized "good guys", and the beautiful, blonde amazonian Drahvins the villains of the story.

I've also always admired the bravery of the production crew on Doctor Who, for at least making the attempt to create "alien-looking" aliens on the show's miniscule shoe-string budget, whilst US sci-fi series with much larger budgets (Star Trek, for example) have traditionally served up "aliens" who are, ninety-five percent of the time, obviously only humans wearing latex masks or with bumps glued onto their heads and markings painted on them. The effects and make-up on Doctor Who often looked tacky and cheap, but at least they had the guts to try and make the "aliens" look a bit "alien".

To the younger viewers of the modern Chris Eccleston/David Tennant/Matt Smith incarnations of the Doctor, most of these old 1960's Doctor Who stories must be virtually unwatchable. Compared to the modern, frenetically-paced, slick CGI series, these ancient shows creak along at an unbearably slow pace, with too much jibber-jabbering, not enough action, have rather simplistic stories (they were supposedly aimed at kids, after all, and seen from this perspective, they are pretty good), and terrible or non-existent special effects. But having said that, I wonder just how much of the current version will still look good in fifty years time. Modern sci-fi shows tend to depend far too much on SFX, which date very quickly, and less on strong storytelling, which endures pretty much forever.

Old farts like myself still love those ancient 1960's television shows, and we remember them fondly from our childhood (although I have no memories of Galaxy 4, as I was only four years old at the time). Nostalgia is an incredibly addictive drug. It's probably also stating the obvious to point out that we must take into account that, FOR ITS TIME, and compared to the rest of the 1960's BBC output, Doctor Who was an innovative, exciting, frightening and controversial television show. There was nothing else like it on UK television at the time, and the series has influenced countless other sci-fi shows over the decades since then.

I'm hoping that it'll still be around in another fifty years, long after I'm gone, entertaining yet another new generation of fans.

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