February 12: "Air Lock" / "The Exploding Planet"

(Galaxy 4 episodes 3 & 4)

"Air Lock" was one of the two missing episodes recovered in 201115, which means that we can actually enjoy watching this episode, rather than just listening to the soundtrack.  And it does make it clear how much the visuals improve things: the soundtrack alone denies you the pleasure of Stephanie Bidmead's performance as Maaga, and how she turns directly to camera to deliver some of her asides; or how the Rill's recollection of events immediately after the crash are augmented by a flashback sequence that shows Maaga gun down her crewmember; or even the appearance of the Rill itself.  We're also treated to an interestingly abstract building that the Rills have constructed, a simple frame with pieces of plastic attached to the geometric design: the Rills, it seems, think in terms of triangles for their structures.

Maaga prepares to kill one of her soldiers. ("Air Lock") ©BBC
Of course, the story itself continues more or less down the same path as the last two episodes.  We're introduced to the Rills and we learn that they're actually quite decent folk.  Meanwhile, Steven manages to escape from the main part of the Drahvin ship, but then he ends up trapped in the airlock for the rest of the episode.  And, er, that's about it.  This episode is more about illustrating the morals of the two sides (the Rills are decent and giving, the Drahvins are ruthless and selfish -- witness their conversation about self-sacrifice) than anything else.  And like I said, it does help tremendously to be able to see things, but this continues to be not the most action-packed serial.

Back to the soundtrack for "The Exploding Planet", which is a bit sad because it sounds like things are actually happening this time around.  We can hear a Drahvin soldier stealthily approach a Chumbley and smack it with an iron rod.  The Drahvins start to attack the Rills' base, and then the TARDIS.  And the planet actually explodes!  One wonders if they used stock footage of volcanoes and things to show the destruction of the planet.  As such this is actually a fairly urgent-feeling episode, as the Rills need to power up their ship before the planet explodes.  Of course, we still get a little poetic moment: "To think that at dawn all this will explode into nothing," Vicki muses.  "No, not just nothing, child," the Doctor replies.  "Hydrogen gas that springs itself out like molten silver against the other stars in the same galaxy."  But beyond that, this is primarily wrapping everything up, as the Rills fly away and the Drahvins are left to their fate.  And then we get a teaser for the next episode: as Vicki wonders what's happening on a planet seen on the scanner, we travel to that planet, to see (well, hear) a man muttering about how he must kill...

Galaxy 4 isn't a terrible story by any means, but it's hardly a stand-out.  The tale seems a bit simplistic, honestly, as it focuses first on showing how ruthless the Drahvins are before then demonstrating how decent the Rills are.  If there is a sense of "appearances aren't everything", it's from the Drahvins, who believe the Rills to be evil just because they look weird.  But as the Drahvins are also shown not to understand things like friendship and loyalty, this more demonstrates that the Drahvins are really in the wrong, rather than just being misguided.  It's entertaining enough, and the existing episode suggests that this might have looked pretty good indeed (certainly "Air Lock" shows us that new director Derek Martinus has put some thought and care into things), but ultimately this is one of those pleasantly average stories that Doctor Who occasionally turns out, not doing anything wrong but not really wowing anyone either.

15 The other episode being The Underwater Menace Episode 2.