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.

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