Saturday 31 October 2020


This review of an absurdly overlong story picks up from here.

Are We There Yet?

When facing up to the failings of this serial, it should be acknowledged it was dealt two great curveballs. One came from simple co-incidence. The show had the Saturday night slot, and that year Christmas Day happened to fall on a Saturday. This was the era where that meant the nation grinding to a halt and every family gathering in front of the festive telly. It was decided that it would therefore get a lot more casual viewers, and besides nothing nasty should happen during the designated day of goodwill. 

The infamous result was that the already-thin through-line was interrupted for an
episode more like ‘The Chase’ than ‘The Chase’ was. (And we are perhaps fortunate that the same thing didn't happen for 'Dalek Invasion of Earth', whose finale went out on the near miss of Boxing Day '64.)

And this episode is full of metafictional skits, with the Doctor visiting a silent movie studio and the location of 'Z Cars’. Given this context, the episode's most infamous moment – the Doctor’s to-camera wishing “a merry Christmas to you at home” - hardly jars in the way you might imagine. Given the preceding half-hour, it was probably the thing which made the most sense.

And the second googly ball... that's the twelve-plus episodes. This was an imposition as unasked as it was un-called-for, BBC Managing Director Huw Weldon intervened to order the supersizing as a crude cash-in on Dalekmania. (Though it might have worked better if intended as a plot to kill the pepperpots off.) We earlier used the phrase for the Hartnell era “four episodes good, six episodes bad.” Which of course makes twelve episodes doubleplusbad.

Fans, still insisting on their 'dark story', try to deal with the Christmas episode by ring-fencing it. They point out, accurately enough, you can skip it while missing nothing plot-wise and the serial was offered to foreign markets without it. But rather than a one-off, it sets the tone for the next batch of episodes. The next thing up, the cricket commentary sequence (seriously, don't ask) essentially continues it.

For the past few episodes it had essentially been steam-powered, carried along by hammy hi-jinks. And by this point things just run out of puff. Those of the age to remember double vinyl LPs may remember side three was often where the filler got filed. Well, the double-length 'Master Plan' quite definitely has a side three.

First, the Monk from 'Time Meddler' reappears. Who never had to be a one-time villain, and there's an undoubted charm to see Butterworth and Hartnell spark off one another once more – exchanging surface pleasantries when they meet. If Chen and the Doctor are like id and ego, occupying opposite poles of the narrative, he and the Monk are more like adversarial neighbours from some 'Laurel and Hardy' sketch - forever tit-for-tatting one another and pranking each other's Tardises like you might wheelclamp a car. And against both Chen's hubristic arrogance and the Daleks' remorseless single-mindedness his low cunning is a creative counterpoint. (When Steven disbelieves yet another bout of turncoating he pouts “this destroys my faith in human nature”.)

At the same time, his reappearance serves no purpose within the overall storyline (not even relating to that tin of Maguffinite. And the only reason you don't care is because there isn't one any more and, like the frenetic pace in general, he's there simply to distract you from looking behind him. Ancient Egypt... volcano planets... at one point the Black Dalek announces “we shall pursue them through eternity” and it feels like that's just what they're doing. It doesn't even feel over-long any more, it's gone past that – instead it's just arbitrary. Like it’s still happening because some switch got stuck, so more and more produce just gets produced.

There are various points in late Hartnell, of which this is merely the most severe, where it feels like the show's supposed strength – it's mutability – has turned against it. The original chief characters, Ian and Barbara, left some while ago. And without them it feels that the show has lost its way, that its feverishly coming up with stuff hoping something will somehow stick. You watch these episodes feeling something really wants putting out of its misery. After all, by this point it had run the best part of three seasons. That's enough, surely.

Time Files (And Then You Die)

As all the furious peddling has been about keeping the thing from falling rather than going anywhere, you expect the ending to be where everything collapses in an unseemly heap. Bizarrely, the opposite happens. After all the charging around the universe things relocate back to Kembel, and you realise inside this thirteen episode monstrosity lies a decent three-or-four-parter. One that never got distracted from the perilous planet, that has just been waiting for these interruptions to end, and which might even have resembled the fans' favoured 'dark story'. (While in 'The Chase', notably, they don't go back to Aridius.)

(Some fans pin the blame for the lacklustre 'side three' episodes on Dennis Spooner, much as he copped it for 'The Chase'. As it was him who came up with the Monk in the first place, presumably he brought him back. Yet this ignores both Nation returning to write episode nine, 'Escape Switch', and Spooner penning this darker finale.)

Firstly, Chen goes out just the way he should. By now his credulous inability to see the Daleks want rid of him should have become ludicrous and anti-involving. But, like going into a skid, they choose to play up the absurdity. His by-now-virulent megalomania is unable to take the info in – he simply can't grasp the notion that he, Mavic Chen, could not be needed. Their later exchanges are characterised by simply talking over one another. And he assumes the Doctor's intention is to make his own alliance with the Daleks, one of the many cases where an inability to see outside his own parameters becomes a villain's undoing. His comeuppance, at the moment he cries defiantly “you cannot kill me!”, is both comic and dark.

And as for the Daleks... They now finally have the MacGuffinite they need for their Time Destructor. Up to now, no-one's bothered explaining what a Time Destructor is. And, given that the second episode of 'The Chase' was called 'The Death of Time' for no real reason whatsoever, everyone has been assuming its just been called the sort of thing that things in 'Doctor Who' get called. As it turns out it destroys time. Which is, by this point, about the last explanation anyone was expecting. Or, more accurately, it destroys all in its vicinity by accelerating time until they drop down dead. The Doctor decides to use their own weapon against them. And boy, does it show.

What use such a weapon would actually be is anybody's guess. Some claim earlier drafts explain it was to ping their adversaries back in time before attacking, reducing their weapons to sharpened flints. Others have speculated they merely intended to use it as a threat, which of course would make it a Bomb analogy fitting neatly with the Cold War scenario. But, while the Doctor talks of “activating” the Destructor, he doesn't prime it or set it off. He pretty much just takes the lid off. Which makes it something more akin to Pandora's box. The Destructor is not so much a weapon of war as War itself. And once switched on War cannot be switched off, it's mercilessly all-destructive. Even fighting back catches you up in it.

The Daleks die. We're used to them being destroyed, but here they definitely die. For the first time in the whole story, the actual Daleks, the creatures in the casings, appear. The transcript says “as time continues to race backwards, the Daleks start to decay. Their metal casings split and melt away, briefly revealing the clawed mutants inside. Helpless, the creatures scream, reduce to embryonic state then turn to dust. The ground shudders and heaves”.

But war whitens the hair even of the survivors. The Doctor and Kingdom attempt to escape but, like the worst anxiety dream you ever had, they age faster than they can run. It upends all the “with one bound he was free” business which normally ends adventure stories. This is something you simply can't walk away from. In fact it would have made much more sense for the Doctor to 'die' and be regenerated here, rather than appended to the forthcoming 'Tenth Planet'.

But it's Kingdom who dies. Though as said this serves no purpose, it does to some degree redeem her character. She dies a dutiful Space Agent. And it touches on a theme not taken up again until much later – travelling with the Doctor burns you. It ends with the Doctor and Steven, the only ones left alive, unsure whether they should be celebratory or mournful.

And by that point you can't really blame them. The whole thing is, you may not be too surprised to hear, rather hard to sum up. The best way to watch ’Master Plan’ is to forget anything the fans ever said about it. Of the whole Hartnell era, here this is where their rating is most off. (Even with their under-rating of 'Web Planet.') 

As is, not entirely by co-incidence, their sense of what type of a story it is. It's “darker and edgier'” only through some very selective viewing indeed. If you're really keen to see what that might look like, watch just the intro, the first and the last two episodes. Or if you insist on a fuller dose imagine a ’Space Agent’ show which never got off the ground. Then the waste-not Beeb instead forcing the script on ’Who’ and the actors figuring they might as well embrace the low-brow lunacy of it all. Watch it in strict weekly instalments. Saturday mornings would be a good time. Never mind if you forget plot developments in the meantime. So did they. And even then cut out a good chunk of the second half, perhaps episodes seven to ten.

It may be I watched all unlucky-for-some thirteen episodes so you don't have to. And yet you do get something should you choose to go for the complete experience, even if that thing decidedly isn't good TV drama. Like 'The Chase' before it, it's the Hartnell era compressed together. Its absurd that it goes from hardboiled SF to (yes, really) men dressed up as mummies within a single story. But then again that's something the show does, and perhaps not just in the Hartnell era. Encapsulating the unencapsulatable may be just what it does.

Ultimately, you'll need to make your own choice. Just don’t, whatever you do, write a long analytical review of it. That really would be a sign of insanity...

Saturday 24 October 2020


Ye Olde Plot Spoilers below!
First broadcast: Nov 1965/ Jan 1966
Written by Terry Nation & Dennis Spooner

”That means that the Daleks can invade the universe and conquer it!”

Pricked by the Varga Thorn (Making the Daleks a Threat Again?)

This is a popular story with fans, the fiftieth anniversary poll ranking it as the third most popular Hartnell story and the 29th most popular overall. (NB Rankings for the classic show only.) And the clue most likely lies in the name. For the two Hartnell stories which top it are, respectively, 'The Daleks' and 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth'. Sensing a pattern? And yet languishing way behind it, in (I kid not) 111th place, is the other Hartnell Dalek story – 'The Chase'.

So we should conclude fans like Dalek stories, and like them most when they say they're Dalek stories on the lid? That I suppose would account for the continuing popularity of ‘Gone With the Daleks’, ‘Far From the Madding Daleks’, 'Dalek Copperfield', ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Dalek’ and ‘Let’s Dalek Again Like We Did Last Summer’. (Disclaimer: Some of the above titles may be made up. I am having that sort of a day.) But its not quite so simple.

As we saw, 'The Chase' was a strange attempt to inject comedy into the Doctor/Dalek relationship which left fans decidedly unamused. 'Daleks' Master Plan' is seen as the point where all that silliness gets forgotten, and things get back on track. Director Douglas Camfield has recalled the brief as “give back the Daleks their former menace”.

So the argument goes, it didn't just take the comedy out, it put the darkness back in. Again, clues lie in names. Tim Rolls-Pickering's review is titled 'Not Populist But Grim'. The not-even-necessarily-fannish TV Tropes lists it as 'darker and edgier', commenting “this is a very dark story compared to the previous Dalek serial. In fact, with the arguable exception of the following story, it may well be the darkest story of the entire Hartnell era.... This serial basically established the Daleks to what they are today.” So, kinda dark then.

The loss of so many episodes is partly due to this being the one story not shown abroad. Fan lore puts this down to the departure from cosy family viewing, making it less saleable. And notably, the first episode proper is called 'The Nightmare Begins'.

And, to give folks their due, at first it looks that way. If viewed consecutively it comes after a run of more lightweight stories, quite possibly the previous four. (Though whether you were supposed to take ‘Galaxy Four’ seriously is really anyone’s guess.) The introductory episode 'Mission to the Unknown' is famous for the Doctor neither appearing nor being mentioned. It opens with the line “I must kill... must kill... must kill”, not a great set-up line for gags. The conceit being that the unfortunate speaker's been pricked by a Varga thorn, which turn you into a mobile murderous plant. (Perhaps needless to say, another notion owing a little something to Quatermass – this time 'Quatermass Experiment'.) And at that point it feels like the story has itself been pricked by the Varga thorns, turned into something else.

(This episode was not even transmitted directly before the rest of 'Master Plan', but on the other side of 'The Myth Makers' - yep, another comic story - which must have confused contemporary audiences even more. This was for merely logistical reasons, after 'Planet of Giants' was condensed to three episodes, the previous production block had a spare slot. This time gap, not just in broadcasting but recording, explains the kazillion continuity errors. I've treated the whole thing as one super-long story here, for convenience's sake.)

Space Agent Marc Cory acts less like someone waiting for the Doctor to show up and more like the protagonist of some quite different show. Working from his own rules, when the Varga-pricked killer turns up he simply shoots him dead. And when his pilot protests (“You've just killed Jeff! You shot him down like an animal.”) he calmly produces a Bond-like license to kill from the Space Security Service. Then, in a savage twist which unfortunately we all now know is coming, he’s killed himself before he can get his vital message back to Earth.

The Doctor was from the start a gentleman amateur, blundering into situations. Which became a general signifier of goodness in his world, his allies civilians conscripted by events. The Thals could scarcely have been any less licensed to kill, and even the underground army of 'Invasion of Earth' were as much extemporising Home Guard as French Resistance. Cory is a pro on a specified mission, with a gun and a uniform. This is not the uncanny fantasy of 'Doctor Who'. This is more like hardboiled SF.

And if it seems like a wholly different show, if 'Space Agent Marc Cory' has something of a ring to it, there may well be a reason for that. This was the point where Nation was developing his spin-off Dalek show. (As the creator of the Daleks, his contract entitled him to take them elsewhere.) And Vyon and the SSS are clearly a springboard for this, much as Davies later developed the more 'adult' 'Torchwood'. (Though some accounts suggest the opposite order, that it was this story that gave Nation the notion of the separate series.)

And, while he was not exactly averse to recycling plots, something about 'Mission To the Unknown' seems to have stuck with Nation. He all but rewrote it in the Radio Times Twentieth Anniversary special, long after those plans had fallen through, with the text story 'We Are the Daleks'. Which, with it's breathlessly punchy but flat prose, is even more hardboiled SF than 'Mission'.

The protagonist here is not a space agent but a prospector, travelling to the nightmare planet to stake a claim for yet another rare element. Its vital to the war effort, but he's looking to get rich. When he's shot down in the same way as Cory the Doctor doesn't even show up later to right things, he appears only in an introductory scene as a framing device. Truth to tell, it was so shoehorned into the Whoniverse it somewhat freaked my young mind out when I first read it. (Nation then recycled the Butch-and-Sundance ending a third time. M
ost, I suspect, will already know what I refer to.)

And even when the Doctor does show up he runs straight into the ray gun of Cory's replacement, Bret Vyon, who tells him “give me that [Tardis] key or I'll kill you”. Which is clipped 'Space Agent' prose for “you have turned up on my show. Any new plot elements are clearly being introduced for my benefit, so hand them over sharpish. Reply only if you have been designated a speaking part.”

And perhaps it is intended precisely to set that tone. Because when you look back on 'Mission' it serves almost no plot function. Most of what happens in it is duplicated in the first two episodes proper. Yes they stumble on Cory's recording. But they also find out the bog-standard... sorry, master plan the same way he does – by some lo-fi spying. They do these pretty much simultaneously, suggesting the whole episode could have easily been written out. Cory was hatched merely so he could be dispatched.

Dalek Runaround

The only problem for fans of the dark is, at this point there's another eleven-and-a-half episodes to go. (Yep, you heard that number right! Counting the lead-in episode, this runs to a record-breaking thirteen.) In fact 
the nightmarish stuff starts to tune out even before 'The Nightmare Begins' has ended.

The Doctor might show up in Vyan's universe, but he rapidly makes it his. His response to the ray gun is to trap Vyan in a magnetic chair. Though, unless Space Agents have metal bums, Katarina's more on the mark by calling it “magic”. Its an early indication that the Doctor isn't just seizing control of the situation, he's taking back the tone of the show along with it. He effectively pulls the Varga thorn from the story's paw. In fact those thorns – the bane and tone-setter of the first episode – promptly disappear. From then on everyone seems able to charge through the jungle without even worrying about them.

And what it goes back to is... fans please look away now... 'The Chase'. Even the darker opening mirrors the way 'Chase' starts on Aridius. The only formal difference is that this time the Daleks are after the Doctor because he's pinched an irreplaceable but handily transportable tin of MacGuffinite they need for their Time Destructor. Rather than last time, when they just didn't like him. But they still give... and there is no other way of putting it... chase.

Pretty soon they're even doing it in their own time machine, all over again. Its another episodic saga in which things don't develop so much as ricochet from one setting and situation to another. Not only is the plot clearly extemporised, even much of the dialogue sounds improvised. (A situation probably not helped by Hartnell's failing memory; forgetting a line he'd often simply make up another.)

You would search in vain across 'Daleks Master Plan' for any kind of master plan. Maybe the knife the convicts fight over on Desperus is some petty analogue for the Time Destroyer, like life was ever this. But from thereon in... It's not really a story at all but a serial, like 'Flash Gordon' or some Saturday morning equivalent. The plot exists only as a production line for cliffhangers, like history to Henry Ford, just one damned thing after another. 

With previous stories I've had to resist the urge to continually click 'next', to watch the episodes in instalments, retain some semblage of the way they were first seen. With 'Master Plan' an episode a time seems the most natural thing in the world. It's a virtual circuit breaker for your sanity.

Like many rules, however, this has an exception. The hardboiled tone goes soon enough, but the wider soap opera elements stick around. 'Doctor Who' has since gained a popular reputation for being stuffed to the gills with arcane and incomprehensible references, as in this French and Saunders sketch. Yet at least in this early era, it was really anything but. Anything that might require explaining was reiterated a thousand times. And what required explaining was plot functions, not setting. No-one really cared when Vortis, Marinus or Aridius didn't seem much like real places, they were only really there as a backdrop to the action.

'Master Plan' is about the first time you can imagine someone getting that impression. For example Zephon, one of the delegates, goes on about his allies in the system he dominates. Such incidental details can't really be called world-building, they're more world-sketching-in. But they're there. There's even a couple of stabs at a Dalek chronology, something scarcely bothered with before. People remember they once invaded Earth, and had their own empire.

Companion Runaround

At this point fans will be asking “if it ain't dark what about all the death? Death is dark, isn't it?” For here we encounter the hitherto-unknown prospect of companion deaths - and not once but twice.

Katarina throws herself out of an airlock to save the others. But she only became a companion at the end of the previous story, 'The Myth Makers'. So, while she formally made the companion-defining transition between stories, she scarcely had time to engage audience sympathies to the degree of Susan or Vicki. And, thrown from an early civilisation into the future, she interprets everything from the start as “the place of paradise”, the afterlife. Before she's even aboard she has said, and I quote, “This is not Troy. This is not even the world. This is the journey through the beyond.” Which would seem a fairly hefty clue as to what she's in for.

True she had originally been intended as a new companion, replacing Vicki. But it came to be feared her past background made her unsuitable; she'd be asking “but what's that Doctor?” about a kettle as often as a Ozbluturator. (Perhaps an odd decision for a show which would soon pick a Highland warrior and a sheltered Victorian daughter for companions, but the one they made.)

But she may have in fact been too good for the role rather than too bad. A slave, she sees the Doctor as her new master. At one point he says to the more argumentative Steven “Look at Katarina over there. She doesn't ask questions, she just looks and learns. Now, why don't you try the same thing?” As Tomb of the Anorak points out “It's an uneasy and low point in 'Who's development, seeing someone who is female in the most negative way sacrifice her own life for that of her male 'master'.”

Ironically the moment that proves their theory right, fans tend to ignore. The significance of Katarina's death isn't that it happens. Characters sacrifice themselves in this show all the time. Its that it comes after a cliffhanger, a device whose sacred rule is to rack up the tension only to resolve it. In his 1936 film 'Sabotage' Hitchcock raised the aforesaid in a scene where a small boy carries a ticking bomb on a bus. He then let it go off, something he later called “a serious mistake”, which left the audience “resentful”. Here the hornet's nest of thwarted expectation is deliberately stirred. They're doing it because they're supposed not to.

Perhaps what's most striking is the juxtapositional difference between Katarina and her replacement, Sara Kingdom, described by Eddy Wolverson as “far more aggressive and capable than any other female companion seen thus far in 'Doctor Who'.”

Except... For a long while it was part of fan lore Kingdom was planned as a permanent companion. True, the point she appears is just as Katarina flies off. But beyond that no-one connected to the series has said such a thing was intended, and more to the point there's no intra-story reason to suppose it. Would anyone have watched 'Invasion of Earth' and assumed Jenny, a character who is to some degree similar, was joining the crew? (The BBC now officially list the notion as a myth.)

And, in an example of fans ironically under-counting the death toll, this overlooks Brett Vyan. Like Kingdom, he travels with the Doctor long enough for us to get to know him, before dying along the way. Steven lists the three of them as the significant deaths at the end.

But the real significance lies in comparing her not to Katarina but to Vyan. As afore-said, Vyan and the Doctor's approaches are very different. But they evolve a grudging mutual respect, in a pre-echo of actor Nicholas Courtney's later role as the Brigadier. (I assume someone's already written some fanfic explaining one as the descendent of the other.) And the Doctor's objections to his more brutal methods seems as much aesthetic as moral. After he's inelegantly left yet another body littering the place, the Doctor chides “we have other ways and means of dealing with evildoers”.

Kingdom comes from the same space police agency, yet with her everything is different. She's first spoken of, where she's described as “ruthless, hard efficient” but not identified as a woman until she appears. The transcript then describes her as “strikingly attractive, dressed in the black cat suit of all SSS operatives but she is unsmiling, her blue-grey eyes lacking any warmth.” This ruthlessness drives her to kill Vyan. Only in her realising her mistake is it revealed he was her brother.

Steven challenges her “even though it meant killing one of your own people, you obeyed [your orders] blindly, without question?” In short, what were effectively positive attributes in Vyan become problematic in Kingdom – something she needs to be cured of. Her key point of character development is realising she should be doing what the Doctor says, just like Katarina. It's really not so far from the infamous 'Galaxy Four' in it's notions of the perils of too much “women's lib”.

When she dies the Doctor claims “without her help, this could never have been achieved”, yet this is really nothing but a platitude. Apart from fixing a scanner, she hasn't had all that much agency in the story. Even her well-intentioned yet life-limiting going back to help the Doctor achieves nothing, and she’d have done better to heed his words when told to head for the Tardis. Unlike Katarina, her sacrifice is ultimately pointless. (It's Steven who actually rescues him by discovering the Time Destructor has a reverse gear. We'll come to that later and it won't make any more sense.)

Both 'The Daleks' and 'Invasion of Earth' were dark stories with high death tolls. The truth is, here the production line of short-lived companions has the opposite effect, people crop up and are killed off as a symptom of the overall hurtlingly episodic nature of everything. It happens so often it just becomes hard to care.

Hearing It For Hokum

Yet overall, this letting the darkness out... It may not be what the fans want to hear, but it was most likely a wise decision. Eleven-plus episodes of unremitting grimness would be unremittingly grim. ('The Daleks' was seriously dragging at seven.) Eleven-plus episodes of flying through space, getting into scrapes and adventures, balancing on the barest of through-lines, seems a more bearable prospect.

Tomb of the Anorak says the single smartest thing about this serial: “it's 'Doctor Who' as you played it in the school playground. No character introspection or serious political subtexts, just stealing starships and Dalek gunbattles.” We don't want something metafictionally 'self-aware' like 'The Chase', which was all too often the very definition of neither clever nor funny. But we could cope with something happy to be hokum, something which charges across the galaxy while wearing something silver and silly for the sheer sake of it.

And once we've adjusted to how we should be taking this episode, rather than the way we've always been told to, there's some great moments. Freed from 'The Chase's' need to be funny, it becomes a whole lot more entertaining. You can relish the Black Dalek saying “their greed for power is so great that they can be trusted”. Or screeching “this is not an emergency! We are still in command!” (Reminiscent of Principal Skinner's urgent tannoy announcement that “all is well in the school”.) While the nest of nasties that is the Galactic Council are such an Addams Family of creatures and weirdies, bedecked with absurd costumes and arch dialogue delivered in silly accents, you half-expect Dr Evil to turn up.

It’s like the tropes of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and You Have Failed Me marinated together into some super-virulent bumping off. It’s all so telegraphed that when they turn on Council member Trantis it doesn’t even happen on-screen. (I always imagine some director’s cut moment with the Black Dalek peering down at him through a withering eyestalk - “seriously, you didn’t see this coming?”)

If you're going to do hokum you need to do it with gusto and aplomb. Its one of those dishes where the taste is all in the sauce. And Hartnell hams it up like a trouper, as if the Doctor's secret weapon is his own eccentricity. Most of his plans involve doing something so audaciously daft no-one else could possibly conceive of anyone attempting it. After all, he has more in common with Brer Rabbit than with Buck Rogers.

But the real cherry on this cake is Kevin Stoney's performance as arch-villain and traitorous Earthman Mavic Chen. Interestingly the script conspires to keep the two apart, so they largely react to one another from afar. Even in the final episode the Doctor disappears just before Chen appears, then shows up again just after he's been dispatched. (The Daleks bump him off. I don't think that counts as a plot spoiler.)

With his supreme scheming and monstrous ego, Chen is also the one element which legitimises the use of the Daleks. In a rapid degeneration they've already become a generic menace. The story needs a recurring villain, the side we know to be uber-badass enough to win out over the rest of the Council. But the Daleks are given that role by default. It couldn't have been the Mechanoids because they were crap, but that's the only reason it couldn't have been the Mechanoids. Had the Cybermen or the Ice Warriors been around then, they'd have done. Yet Chen is both a worthy opponent and a contrast to them, his suave tones contrasting to their metallic screeching. He relishes telling them things like “guile and cunning will succeed where force would fail”.

He is perhaps not an easy figure to parse. The most silken-tongued of snake-oil salesmen, he's mellifluous-voiced and statesmanlike. When its established he has a large public following on Earth it seems credible. He's headmasterly, reassuringly posh. Which makes his traitorousness reminiscent of Kim Philby, who had fled to Moscow only two years before in a betrayal which became a great staple of popular culture.

But Chen also has an Oriental name, and his look is that of a 'Blackamoor', a jumble of foreign stereotypes. He's essentially wearing blackface. (An element perhaps diluted to modern audiences, who with all the lost episodes are mostly reliant on audio.) The juxtaposition is deliberate (if not necessarily conscious) - his tongue may be honeyed, but that face is there to give him away. He's not really one of us. Like “the Jew” in Nazi propaganda, the jumble tries to prove something through it’s own incoherence. It conveys a ruthless cosmopolitan, blood untied to soil. Compare him to Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless, or the Hood from 'Thunderbirds'. 

Why this combination? U Thant, had become the first non-Western Secretary-General of the United Nations, whose role was sometimes controversial. (For example, his sympathies with Algerian independence from France.) Unlike Philby, Thant was probably more symptomatic than causal – he typified a trend. It was getting increasingly hard to tell who was 'one of us', among those who might have talked like one of us but looked and acted like one of them.

But overall Chen is probably no more than a riff on the popular distrust of politicians, filtered through some knee-jerk racism then dressed up in SF tropes. He's a barefaced liar possessed of tremendous chutzpah, a Blair of the future. (Which I suppose would make the Daleks into Dubya.) And ritual distrust of politicians, however understandable, when held in isolation remains reactionary. They're assumed to be separated from 'real life', a ‘political class’ in 'the Westminster bubble', not functions in an inherently exploitative political system. Here for example it comes with a corollary trust of the military in the shape of the SSS, honest and dutiful workers.

Comparisons to Thant do convey the way the Galactic Council are like some anti-UN. (We even see the UN logo on Brett's spaceship.) Events are specified to happen after twenty-five years of galactic peace, on a show broadcast just over twenty years after the end of World War Two, and in the thick of the Cold War. The “outer galaxies” who mostly populate the Council are the Third World, drawn into the powerful orbit of the Russian empire. And the Daleks... well, this means this time they're not Nazis! 

As we’ve seen, not only was the Ian and Barbara era chock-full of World War Two analogies, it was the first two Dalek stories which were the most classic examples. That so soon into the Steven era even the Daleks are being morphed to more resemble the Cold War, that suggests some fairly fundamental changes are afoot.

And if all these references to contemporary politics seem off for a self-styled space adventure, consider this... The script has a chronic inability to distinguish between the fairly basic terms 'solar system', 'galaxy' and 'universe'. (See the Steven quote up top.) Which is ludicrous and laughable. But also fitting. Just as the show often came from a world view which assumed southern England to be the centre of the Earth, so in a case of pan-galactic parochialism the Earth here is essentially the centre of the universe. Even in the story where they make some stabs at world-building, this is still unashamedly a displaced tale about us.

To be continued...

Saturday 17 October 2020


”Close your eyes,
”Breathe slow and we’ll begin”

’This is the Sea’, released in October 1985 is the final, fully realised expression of the early Waterboys sound.” So said Mike Scott, and he should know, being not just the main songwriter but the only constant band member.

Some albums are classic because they’re so mysterious, leaving you feeling compelled to constantly re-engage with them even as you know you’ll never ‘solve’ them. We’ve already had 'Paris 1919’ and ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’ in this series, and expect more. But other albums are classic just because they’re so… well, classic.

Everything just combines so naturally, symbols clicking together like Duplo blocks until they form a perfect picture. The imagery in this album is so recurrent from song to song it virtually becomes one long multiform number. It’s a fusion of Romanticism with Jungian psychology, which isn’t particularly smart or novel. But it is heady and potent. I already know every word and note of the album. I don’t go back to try and extract more meaning from it, like re-reading a book that always fascinated you. I go back just to be back there, like revisiting a place you love.

So we can just come out and say what this album is about – it’s about adulthood as apotheosis. Growing up isn’t about getting a driving license or no longer having to lie about your age in pubs, it’s a lesser person being replaced by a greater. (“There’s a man in my head/ And he isn’t me any more.”) No less than three songs were structured around a less/more dichotomy, ’Spirit’, the hit single ’The Whole of the Moon’ and the shimmering title track – with it’s refrain “that was the river, this is the sea.”

While most rock music tries to capture the angst of puberty, this promises you the end of all that. ’Medicine Bow’ is the classic example, in which the world is a tempestuous troublespot for our adventuring hero to stride boldly through. (“I’m gonna stop my squawking, grow some wings.”)

Though I’d heard the album earlier, the time I really got into was after I’d somehow got my way through my degree and had moved into the crumbling grandeur of a mansion-like squat on the edge of town. I’d play this album loud looking out onto the grounds (yes our squat had grounds!) and convince myself the world lay at my feet, I was destined for greatness and not at all the sort of person who would in later life turn to writing obsessive and long-winded blog posts.

Characteristically, I may have been overlooking something. If puberty was about focusing in on your private pain, accentuating the self, this was about embracing the universal. Beating your chest and making your sound, that might sound the very definition of rock ‘n’ roll. But Scott admonishes us: “Not here, man, this is sacred ground.”

Rather than being portrayed as knowing stuff, adulthood is no longer needing to know, being so in tune with the world you can simply act. The younger self is rent by indecision. (“You’ve got a war in your head/ And it’s tearing you up inside.”) Whereas maturity is beyond the need for decision, the antithesis of ego. (“Not to try/ Just let it come/ Don’t bang the drum”). An early lyrics from the title track was “forget all your schooling/ It won’t give you the key.”

And so the sturm und drang of ’Medicine Bow’ with its “pummelling rain, murderous skies”, segues from ’The Pan Within’. Which made it clear travel was as much inner as outer, “a journey under the skin” where “all we gotta do is surrender”. The sea, towards which the whole album draws, is depicted the way it so often was in Romanticism - as the infinite, the horizon-less sublime. Immersing yourself in it rids yourself of separation, draws you back to where you belong.

From the first single, ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, Scott had written character songs. But such things now seemed just the river. ‘Red Army Blues’, from the previous album had told the tale of a young Russian lad in the war. It had proved popular, but he was soon saying he’d be writing nothing more like it. Conversely the track which did most presage ‘This is the Sea’ was ‘The Thrill is Gone’.

With a violin part that doesn’t so much accompany the track as haunt it, it’s an awesome number. But then so was ’Red Army Blues’. Why then, as laid out by, was ‘Thrill is Gone’ played seventeen times live in ‘85 alone, and ’Red Army Blues’ a mere twice? I’ve seen the band play a fair few times. And I think they may have always played ‘Thrill is Gone’ and never ’Red Army Blues’. Why was one orphaned, left behind by the band’s development, and the other so taken up?

’Thrill is Gone’ didn’t stay because of it’s theme (another break-up song) but because it offered no pedestrian reasons for the separation. (There’s no “now you’ve had that office affair” or “if you’re really taking up that transfer to Oldham”.) Instead it just reasserted the essence of the thing in four short words - “the thrill is gone/ And we’ll never get it back.” Emotional states direct our lives, shifting like tectonic plates, the details which seem to count merely surface markers moving with them. A line Scott would often sing live was “it ain’t why, it just is.”

Anything which suggested specifity was now out, snagging us on the real and immediate when we were headed for the bigger picture. It’s not just that the more immediate “you” and “I”s predominated, songs were often directly addressed to the listener. Including both opening and closing track. (The only exception is ‘Old England’, a personified state of the nation. But then that’s probably the least ‘This is the Sea’ track on ‘This is the Sea’.)

Songs took place inside a richly symbolic realm. As I said another time, the album’s set in a “heightened, idealised world – painted broadly so as to be beyond detail. You’re not supposed to be in a place, but the place, which wouldn’t appear on anything so petty as a map.” For Scott was at heart an idealist, not in the sense of naive or deluded, but in imaging there was an ideal state of things which we lay outside of, but which we could at times tap into. (“What spirit is, man can be.”) And music might work as a handy bridge between the realms.

Like every fool before me who tried to capture music with words, I’m focusing on the lyrics here. But like all great music the first thing that makes it work is the music, which would perfectly convey the feel of all this even if you couldn’t follow a word being sung.

Scott had grown up through punk and always retained a sense of punk ethics, but soon went beyond the aesthetics. He’s said he wanted a sound “like sunlight bursting through clouds.” An expansive, exuberant sound which came to be called the Big Music, after the title of an earlier single. Which made for a great contrast to earlier post-punk years, where music had been deliberately grey and austere, keen to deconstruct concepts and dispel romanticised notions. Perhaps most pointedly in the Magazine lyric “I couldn’t act naturally if I wanted to”. Now, to quote that earlier single, “everything came into colour”.

Scott brought back nature imagery in abundance – not just sunlight bursting through clouds but fullmoons, mighty seas, black winds blowing across those murderous skies. He became in his own words full of “the conviction that music can evoke landscape and the elements.” After seeing the band at Glastonbury, in the midst of the verdant sweep of the land, I can attest that was the perfect setting for them.

Interviewed the previous year Scott had said he didn’t see his music as “a product of the times in which we live”. Yet expansiveness and universalism, going beyond time, suddenly that seemed timely again. Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ was released the same year. And the story that ’Whole of the Moon’ was a hit at early raves, however bizarre, does seem to be true.

And yet I’d been a huge fan of post-punk, from first to last. Whereas in the main I found this newly enbiggined music risible, ostentatious dreck, full of stadium gestures, the soundtrack to the oversized hair and jackets seven sizes too large which filled Eighties fashion, all of it ludicrous even at the time. ‘Bigness’ was presented as if it had a value in itself, as if printing money on larger notes made you richer. So what made the Waterboys such a different order of things to Simple Minds and Big Country, and all those self-proclaiming no-hopers?

One answer is better influences. Scott always said the Velvet Underground were a prime influence, with the band even named after a Lou Reed lyric. But with this album he added to the mix Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, channelling it to the point where he covered ‘Sweet Thing’ - later included on the later expanded CD. (And in the spirit of full disclosure I’ve already listed ‘Astral Week’s as one of my favourite albums here, and should this series ever get that far it will doubtless also include the VU.)

And what he was able to take from Morrison was his sense of spontaneity, that all this was happening in the moment, with him in the midst of some epiphany that had struck him just now and was compelling him to sing. ‘Astral Weeks’ may best be defined by the trapeze instructor in the film ’Wings of Desire’ who insists “not with force, with a swing.” It doesn’t just sound organic, it makes almost all other music sound factory farmed. Scott called it “luminous and gossamar-light”, not anything anyone’s said about Simple Minds.

And there were more functional, more autobiographical reasons. In a Quietus interview Scott confessed he’d been suffering from the dreaded ‘third album syndrome’. For the first time writing for release, “I suddenly grew self-conscious”, something he fought by “doing what the music told me to do.” It’s reminiscent of the famous Captain Beefheart line: “You couldn’t have done this if you knew what you were doing.” Being in the moment was something he was then keen to build up in himself, his songs a kind of self-cure. He was summoning the slow train for himself to jump on, as much as you and me.

And if this album was “the final, fully realised expression” then from this point that big music wasn’t going to get any bigger. In fact Scott knew not to try. He compared recording it to climbing a mountain, then being immediately transfixed by sights the peak view it revealed. The chief sight being… well, a story for another time...

For those who like to know such things, otherwise unattributed quotes from the 2004 expanded edition of the album. And for the two or three of you who don’t already know ‘Whole of the Moon’. Because for once the hit single really is a good introduction...

...and should there be anyone who hasn’t enough of this sort of thing yet, I’ve written about three Waterboys gigs, the tour for ‘Appointment With Mr Yeats’, the anniversary of ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and the more recent ‘Modern Blues’.

Saturday 10 October 2020


Written by Donald Cotton
First broadcast Oct/Nov 1965

“Is nothing sacred to you?”


Deflating the Legends

The Romans and Greeks, historically they overlapped. We know that full well. But our hindsight can’t help but build a divide between them. The Romans were ‘early’ and serve up historicised adventure stories, the Greeks ‘ancient’ and provide us with quasi-primordial legends. Think of the difference between two early Sixties films, ’Spartacus’ (1960) and ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ (1963). One asks us to imagine this is the way real things happened, even if no-one’s speaking the Latin. The other has mythological creatures and yer actual Gods gazing down while proclaiming things. 

Which seems explicable. Rome's connected to us in two ways. They invaded us, leaving things behind when they went. Hadrian’s Wall makes for something of a memento. And later Roman times incubated Christianity. While the Greeks are more removed from us.

And associated with this is the way the Greeks represent culture. Which is seen as somehow beyond human creation, the heirloom we can no longer remember how we got. The Romans of popular conception watched human blood sports at colosseums, the Greeks did serious-minded theatre. We use terms from Greek comedies, such as “cloud cuckoo land”, without even thinking they had comedies. Our minds go to their tragedies. While as much as we think of Roman theatre at all, it’s the farces.

So when the earlier story ’The Romans’ was played as a comedy, partly it seemed audacious but it was as equally fitting. Making this Greek-set, legend-based story a comedy is the bigger step. Pissing on a Greek statue becomes a bigger art of desecration than on a Roman monument. This story knows this. In fact, that’s precisely why it’s here. To piss on stuff.

(Which may be behind the well-known fact that the BBC barred the punning episode titles. For some reason the least of them, ’Small Prophet, Quick Return’, was passed. But alas we lost ‘Zeus Ex Machina’ and the even better ’Is There a Doctor in the Horse?’)

So this opens as if it was going to be played straight, with characters of legend saying things like “the God of my people are not lightly mocked” and sounding all thespian. Setting up a tonal clash with the more everyday speech of the travellers, with the Doctor intent on asking them for directions.

But this source of comedy is soon replicated between the historical characters, and we’re witnessing exchanges such as Cassandra intoning “the auguries were bad this morning. I woke full of foreboding”, only for Paris to complain “never knew her when she didn’t.” (Generally the squabbling family unit of the Trojans gets the best lines.)

Despite the adventure story trappings, it soon comes to resemble a sitcom when ’The Romans’ had only really got as far as farce. This time we’re shown a situation which is on repeat, even if we get only one iteration of it. Set ten years into the siege everyone is trapped in a stand-off they don’t like with people they care for even less, with all having become wearily accustomed to it.

After the initial fight, the Greeks and Trojans don’t meet until the final episode. It’s their own kind they have the trouble with, Paris loudly complaining he gets more respect from the enemy. While Menelaus is (as the saying goes) “in his cups”, a cynical and washed-up drunk. Plans are confounded like that’s just a law of physics. (And besides anything else, epic history on a budget? The only way to play it successfully is to thwart expectations.)

History is Rough Hewn

But then in that final episode they do meet. With far from hilarious consequences. This widely noted tonal shift takes things more into the realm of revisionism. The Sixties was a prime era for revisionist Westerns, which morally muddied and de-heroised America’s founding myths. (And notably Cotton’s next ’Who’ script would do similar things to Westerns.)

So it perhaps wasn’t surprising that the same era saw revisionism of legends, such as the Pasolini films ‘Oedipus Rex’ (1967) and ’Medea’ (1969). Was Helen the face that launched a thousand ships? Of course not, Menelaus is glad to see the back of her and the whole thing’s really an unseemly squabble over trade routes. Helen’s so unimportant to the true course of events she doesn’t even appear.

Which sets up the story’s best-known feature for fans. It’s known for breaking what was once a prime directive, in letting the characters affect historical events. And it’s true, this happens to a greater degree than the inadvertent, incidental stuff in ‘The Romans’. But it’s a perspective which reduces the series to a bunch of formal innovations, and in-so-doing misconstrues what happens within the story itself. Yes it’s the travellers, not the “heroes” they run into who are the myth makers of the title. But how does this work out?

Unusually, the travellers admit they’re from the future. Which has the Doctor and Vicki seized on by both sides, as “prophets” who can get them out of all this. From there the story not only assumes we know the basics of the legend, but builds gags around it. The Trojans, for example, are forever going on about their fondness for… nudge, nudge… horses.

The legend was told to me at school as an illustration of how smart the Greeks were. But it more suggests the opposite, the Trojans history’s thickies in falling for such a transparent ploy. And the Doctor originally dismisses the wooden horse as a dumb idea, clearly a fiction dreamt up by Homer, and only reverts to it out of desperation. It’s a plan so flimsy Cassandra sees through it straight away, but can make no-one listen.

(Generally round here, legends get deflated. Achilles is a single- and slightly simple- minded lad bereft of special powers. The Cyclops is just a bloke Odysseus knows with a bad eye. But Cassandra’s prophetic powers seem genuine, she even tells Odysseus it will take him ten years to get home.)

The causal loop, they only know of the horse because they’ve read about it, isn’t dwelt on. The point is that history was made by the bad, fall-back idea because the people at the time couldn’t think of anything better. It’s the biggest reversal on audience expectations in the story, the Doctor doesn’t come up a brilliant last-minute masterplan to save the day, he effectively has to give up. But it’s more than that…

In the epilogue to the novelisation of ‘The Crusades’, history had been specified as moral and instructional, paving the march of human progress. Here plans are hasty and extemporised, motives grubby and grasping. See history up close and it becomes, as Priam describes the horse, disappointingly “rough hewn”.

And the badness of the idea becomes associated with the carnage that ensues, once the Greek troops get inside the city. This isn’t one of the Doctor’s elegant plans which resolves everything. It’s closer to him being forced to build a weapon which then gets used, while he’s forced to witness the results. Odysseus, about the only character at home in the situation, described by the Doctor as “selfish, greedy, corrupt, cheap, horrible”, is effectively the villain of the piece. Yet he triumphs, and does so gloatingly. Precisely one Trojan gets saved from the lot.

It’s the biggest reversion to flight-over-fight since ‘The Aztecs’. Yet there, and in ‘The Time Meddler’, the Doctor was forced to yield to history, as an overpowering force. But, contrary to what almost everyone says, he doesn’t change history here - he enables it. Odysseus’ butchery triumphs precisely because of him. Which is somewhat revisionist not just to tales of legend but ’Doctor Who’ itself.

Vicki Vacates

Vicki, meanwhile, is more the ingenious young woman of ‘The Space Museum’ than the poor li’l orphan girl we met in ‘The Rescue’. For the majority of her stories she hung off the Doctor’s side, asking him narratively useful questions. Here she spends very little time with him at all. Frustrated at being told to stay in the Tardis, she’s mostly with the Trojans and is frequently contrasted with Steven’s impulsive hotheadedness. Her chiding riposte to him, “I told you strong-arm tactic wouldn’t work”, is itself quite a Doctorish comment.

Which of course means she leaves at the end of the episode. It’s like the classic thing people say about relationships, you wish the person you split with at the end could have been the person you met at the beginning. It follows the Susan formula, growing up equals falling in love which itself equals leaving the show. And, just like Susan, Vicki has been allowed the regulation two stories to be interesting in.

First Troilus and Steven get all huffy with each other over her. But in the legend Cressida (aka Vicki) dallies with Troilus before going off with Diomede (aka Steven). Here there’s the strange congruence of them getting a battle injury at almost the same time, and her getting Steven to the Doctor before going off with Troilus. It’s like a transference is occurring between the two.

It seems incongruent that the Doctor and Steven’s mission becomes to get the hell out of Troy, while she elects to stay forever. But, if we’re to accept the somewhat schzio way her character’s been presented, it makes some sense for her. She’s attracted to Troilus partly because of his own love of adventure and, while Susan needed some not-so-subtle nudging out of the nest, she just takes off. Given which, the tabula rasa caused by the fall of Troy becomes almost a plus for her. The girl always complaining she had no place in the world hasn’t found one, she’s decided to make one.

She’s replaced by a dutiful servant girl, rather hastily concocted up by the plot, who thinks the Doctor is a God. Ah well…

Further reading: At Chair With A Panda, BJ O’Shea homes in on something I barely allude to, Vicki being given a new name within the story. It perhaps veers towards the category error of trying to weight genre characters with psychological depth, but for all that is worth reading.

Saturday 3 October 2020


aka 'The One in Which Dumb Blondes Who Can't Drive Their Spaceship Try to Take Over the Galaxy. With Explosive Consequences’

By William Emms

First broadcast: Sept/Oct 1965

To celebrate the lucky-for-us thirteenth anniversary of this blog, let’s pick up the Hartnell ’Who’ reviews again, going into his third and final season. And are we kicking off in style? With another classic story? A firm fan favourite?



Note – this story contains more sexism than is usual.”

Avery’s Doctor Who Guide

Space Women From Space (Again)

'Galaxy 4', as Tomb of the Anorak points out, can be seen as 'The Daleks' upside down. There, the Daleks tell our intrepid travellers that the Thals are hideous mutants. But then Susan finds out they’re blonde and good-looking. So they must be the good guys, right?

Okay, hang onto your hats folks, because those good-looking blondes are back but with a cunning twist. This time they’re the bad guys and the “creeping, revolting, green monsters” the good! Unfortunately, a cliché’s somewhat like a carrot, turn it upside-down and you’re still looking at one. 

But never fear for the script then bolts on another twist to enliven... well, actually it just dulls things down more. You see, the really radical thing here is that the bad blondes are actually women - an Amazon race called the Drahvins. TV Tropes labels this as Lady Land. In fact Femizons have even made it into the ranks of official SF clichés, having their own dedicated 'Futurama' episode.

It’s continually surprising that of all the genres science fiction can be so consistently conservative. The Drahvins' oh-so-unnatural girl-on-top origins aren’t just anti-feminist but explicitly related to technology – their troopers are all test tube babies rather than the offspring of two people who love each other verymuch. Even if some men are kept around purely to fertilize the elite, a classic case of nice work if you can get it. (And let’s remember the Daleks were essentially test tube babies who never really left the test tube.)

Though of course at the same time the male-voiced Rills must have superior technology. In fact, it’s this which first tips the Doctor off to their peaceful nature. (Giving technology to women presumably being analogous to handing your missus the TV remote. You know, a no-no.) 

It’s also interesting to compare the Drahvins to Vicki. She is the first to distrust them, while Steven is still eyeing them up. And the story opens with - I kid you not - her cutting Steven’s hair, one of many strangely folksy moments. Her willing embrace of domestic tasks is held in contrast to their war-raging. (Disclaimer: Later, it’s Vicki who finds a way on to the Rills' spaceship.)

It is bizarre to discover this plot ‘twist’ was suggested by a woman – in fact by a woman part-way through a highly successful career, none less than Verity Lambert herself. But when you consider how much more tedious this storyline must have been as first draftedwithout this one faint flicker of interest, you wonder if - dramatically speaking at least - her instincts weren’t correct. (I imagine the conversation going something like - “But couldn't this story have some kind of point to it?”, “Well I suppose it could in theory, but what kind of point?”, “I reckon any kind of point would do right now.”)

For Domination, Call Us Now

But why such conservatism? Or, more accurately, why this conservatism? In times past, the dominant image of the World Turned Upside Town was human/animal inversion, men having to carry donkeys on their backs and so on. However, by the time of modern science fiction there'd come to be two main persecution flips - what if the blacks made us their servants and what if the women started wearing the trousers? These reach critical mass at a similar time, and of course for similar reasons – its the hysterical reaction by reactionaries to the threat of liberation movements.

And this is hysterical in both senses. Jordan Peterson, laughably held up as the thinking man’s bigot, once tweeted: “Women: if you usurp men they will rebel and fail and you will have to jail or enslave them”. Which is the whole cognitive dissonance summed up within the necessary character limit. There is nothing wrong with the way we men treat women right now, it’s all just fine. But if the thing reversed it would suddenly become terrible, because then we’d be treated as badly as them. You might try to point out feminism calls for equality, not a reversal of dominance.But this isn’t someone’s dialogue with feminism, it’s with their own guilty conscience.

But it gets interesting when you compare the two. There’s obvious overlaps, but one clear-cut difference which entirely transforms the type of stories which get written. Race persecution flips generally result in straight-ahead horror stories. Let's assume El Sandifer is right about the adversaries in 'The Ark' (only a couple of stories hence) a href=>(Spoiler - she is.) The goofiest critters you ever saw, even outwitted by Dodo, are still played as monsters - as a terrible threat to the natural order.

While matriarchal phobias are at the same time fantasies, because ‘dominant’ women come across as thrillinglykinky. You normally have to look up numbers in phone boxes for that sort of thing. Hence the necessity of the men encountering the matriarchal society from outside, then either escaping from or ‘re-righting’ that society at the end. Even the most willing masochist needs his safe word.

Hence the paradox that patriarchy defends itself with junk science and folk myths, while at the same time maintaining a separate set of folk myths about matriarchy. Which characteristic cretinism, Peterson invoked the fallacious appeal to nature with his now-infamous “consider the lobster” quote. While at the same time the Black Widow spider was even named after the (almost entirely) junk science story that the female kills and eats the male while mating.

Of course in patriarchal society women are supposed to be sexy. Not sometimes be found sexy by straight men or gay women, depending on taste it’s simply what they're for. But its more than that - it's the 'natural' state of male domination that's being asserted. And this is truer of patriarchy than other oppressions. Even the most virulent racist is dimly aware that colonialism and slavery didn't just happen, they're historical processes which had to be brought about in some way. Someone had to sail the ships and lock the leg irons on the slaves. But the patriarchal family is assumed to just occur in precisely this way. In the famous Gloria Steinem quote “gender cuts deep enough to be confused with the laws of nature”.

And of course were any of this really natural it wouldn't need asserting. Which is why we should probably welcome such a reaction from the reactionaries. To use the famous quote often attributed to Gandhi: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. In short, them getting mad is the precursor to yougetting even. And by 1965 they'd already been pushed into some midpoint between the laughing and the fighting. The emerging sisterhood should have seen 'Galaxy 4' as a promising sign...

When Even Sexism is Sexless

Yet curiously that salaciousness is what's so conspicuously absent here. At one point Steven suddenly swaps with Vicki as the Drahvins’ prisoner, and their leader Maaga sets about trying to win him over. Yet there’s not a whiff of seduction to be found! This is a let-down both to those who find assertive women a kinky novelty, and to the rest of us who might find such a scene risibly amusing – it’s the thing without the essence of the thing.

In fact the Drahvins seem more intended to demonstrate the deficiencies of rigid hierarchies. They're effectively tin soldiers in drag, identikit and interchangeable, characterised as pack-animal clones (“we do nothing until our leader speaks”), described by Maaga as “products”.

Yet the BBC’s pre-publicity was suitably salacious, leading the Daily Mail to run the story 'Enter Dr Who's new foes: The ray-gun blondes'. And their soundtrack theme is a slightly raunchy saxophone motif, quite distinct from the regular electronica. But all the armchair viewer of 1965 would get was the tease.

Now not only were the Drahvins a late addition to the story, it had originally been written for the Ian and Barbara model. Perhaps most amusingly, in the realignment Steven ended up with some of Barbara's lines. Yet that shouldn't necessarily be seen as an encumbrance. Necessity is often invention's mother. Both Cathy Gale in 'The Avengers' and Ripley in 'Alien' got much of their characters from old scripts meeting new casting, donning the male-intended lineslike trouser suits. Alas none of that happens with Maaga.

Perhaps this is an early prototype, a cliché still in production. The natural comparison is 'Star Trek,' the standard go-to for sexism in Sixties SF. However, inevitably, feminophobia wouldn’t reach its shrill apex until the mid-Seventies – at the point where feminism itself was at its height. Take for example Gene Roddenberry’s post-‘Trek’ spin-off ‘Planet Earth’ (1974), where the Femizons' matriarchal leader is even called Marg - clearly some cousin to Maaga, both a not-so-subtle homophone for 'Ma'. 

And the following year, when those uppity women's libbers still wouldn't quit, the trope spawned a whole series, the beyond-parody ‘Star Maidens.’ In which a planet of - inevitably enough - Medusans kidnap Earthmen to set them the domestic work and otherwise invert all natural laws. With hilarious consequences. Some of which might even be intentional. 'Who' scribes John Lucarotti and Ian Stuart Black both contributed to this.

It might be objected that such things couldn’t happen on a family show like 'Doctor Who'. Against which we might point to the stronger stuff in 'The Romans' or 'Keys Of Marinus'. But we might also be tempted to ask - in which case, why bother? 

Part of the show's remit was to play commercial channel ITV at its own game. But the Drahvins’ frumpy costumes make them look like nothing less than a hopeless attempt to upstage the hipper rival. With their funny dotted eye make-up, they look as though they weren’t sure whether they were going to war or out dancing, so tried to dress for either. They’re less the boots of shiny, shiny leather and more the Women’s Institute swapping jam for domination.

The effect is weird. We’ve all become used to inveterately sexist writers trying to turn feminist in a bid to stay ‘with it’, shortly before failing miserably. Future years of 'Who' are stuffed with some risible notion of what an ‘empowered’ woman would be. (“She could wear trousers for a bit then start screaming!” “She’s feisty in a half naked sort of way!” etc.) Bizarrely, ‘Galaxy 4’ often feels the other way up – like someone is trying really hard to be sexily sexist, but isn’t quite sure what’s being expected of them. Perhaps because it doesn’t seem to have the courage of its own wrongheaded convictions, it’s not even very good at being bad.

The Ticking Planet

Perhaps the comparison to 'The Daleks' is telling. Though over-long, it throws up interesting subplots and questions along the way – the Doctors’ reckless curiosity, the Thals’ pacifism. 'Galaxy 4' is strangely bereft of subplots or secondary themes – in fact it barely has a main plot. If you didn’t already know which side was which, you’d guess it pretty quickly - with approximately three-and-a-half episodes to go. With little capitalised on over the Drahvins, the script largely returns to the book-by-its-cover theme which was so hackneyed to start with. The last episode in particular piles on the platitudes so endlessly you wonder if the Rills don’t have some sneaky masterplan to bore us all to death.

Part of the problem may be establishing so early that the Rills are more powerful. Once they’re then outed as the good guys, there’s little narrative tension – you expect the Drahvins to lose and then they do. There’s a suggestion that Maaga has a more powerful gun than she lets her troops get hold of, but that’s simply forgotten about. 

Perhaps they should have entered the Tardis while the power cable led out its door (don’t ask!), then held the crew hostage while unprotected by the Rills. Okay I’ve previously argued that the Tardis should be a Narnian wardrobe, and not intrude too much onto the stories it brings us to. But, by introducing this galactic jump-lead, they’ve already thrown this precious rule away. 

(It’s absurdly ill-explained why the Drahvins don’t simply take the Tardis in the first place. They know of its existence and manage to take the whole crew captive. Did they regard the Rills' ship as the most pimped ride?)

The main attempt to get things moving is the old stand-by of the ticking bomb, now made planet-size. It will soon explode, it seems, so it may be a good idea to get off it. This device might have been more effective if it had been integrated into the main plot rather than being rather desperately imposed upon it. Perhaps, in a twist, it could even have been an accidental side-effect of the Rills' drilling for fuel – something to compound the travellers’ initial distrust of them. 

Plus, we require earth tremors or some accelerating signs. As it is the ticking bomb is dressed unconvincingly up as the planet’s natural death but keeps obstinately to it’s own type – no physical pre-warnings, then one big boom. (A script which measures space travel via number of “dawns” was probably unlikely to win many scientific awards.)

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is the way Maaga herself gets so frustrated by her underlings’ limitations. She starts off a strict prep school headmistress, starchily criticising their gormless inefficiency. But before things are through she's pretty much given up on them and is effectively talking to herself. She's even staged staring into the camera, like she doesn't want to be part of proceedings at all. (The fact that she's effectively soliloquizing while they respond in clunky sci-fi dialogue underlines this.) And some of the subordinate's lines are genuinely funny - “but Maagda, we always go on patrol at this time.” Just as all the best clowns are at root tragic figures, the best villains are frustrated social reformers. 

The Rills are staked across a thin line between having a form unsightly to us and having no form at all. They're semi-shapeless, not humanoid like most ‘Who’ monsters. (The Daleks, the Cybermen, the Zarbi, even the Mechanoids – all reduce easily to an outline.) The scene where Vicki encounters one through the airlock is reminiscent of 'Quatermass II.' However, there irresolvable form was made a visualisation of incomprehensible thought. Here Vicki can converse with the Rills, as their robot Chumblies (don't ask!) can transmit their thoughts. 

Yet it remains significant that they can only communicate through intermediaries. Combined with their benevolent superiority this bestows something almost religious upon them – angels disguised as demons. The cloned Drahvins are essentially bodies, shells. The monstrous appearance of the Rills, conversely, is there to point us away from petty appearance and the merely material - they're things of spirit. Perhaps even the otherwise unexplained exploding planet can be pressed into serving this theme – our time on earth is limited, and only celestial forces can get us off it. (As with ‘The Sensorites’, telepathic communication is seen as an inherent sign of goodness and wisdom.)

So good guys equal spirit, bad girls mean material in a story keen to tell us the material is temporary. Popular culture associates women, the begetter of children, with the body more than it does men. And religion, or at least the ascetic type of it which the Hartnell era sometimes slides into, thereby associates women with wrongness.

There are perhaps one or two other things we could add to the plus side:

  • Encountering the Rills is held back until half way through, a dramatically effective device. (Even if it’s exactly the same trick as pulled in 'The Web Planet', another previous episode it much resembles.)

  • Refreshingly, there is no World War Two analogy.

  • Equally refreshingly, nobody gets lost in any caves or tunnels. Admittedly, instead of this nothing much happens at all. But it still makes for a change.

After the second season had started with the sub-par ‘Planet of Giants’, you could almost believe this was a tradition they were keen to keep up. The cast themselves openly disliked this script, and it’s perhaps telling that none of Emms’ later submissions were ever taken up. In fact, as soon as you list the one-off scripters for the first Doctor, you quickly see a pattern.

The Hartnell years, and the second season in particular, often seemed to take an almost cavalier approach to experimentation. But part of this impression might come from time constraints which left the producers unable to drop anything which had been started, however badly it was turning out. Misfires, however, weren’t always given a second shot....

Postscript: Having thought the term ‘Femizon’ to be some clever neologism on my part, I discovered Marvel already has a group of villains of that name. Led by Superia, their goal is to enslave all men while wearing as little clothing as possible, ensuring that the only actual Marvel death is parody.