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1 April 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day Ninety-One: The Exploding Planet (Galaxy 4, Episode Four)

Dear diary,

well here's a first for the 50 Year Diary - I watched today's episode twice. No, no, not because The Exploding Planet is the best episode of Doctor Who ever made, but because having listened to the narrated soundtrack release, I really wanted to see how the new recon on The Aztecs disc two held up.

The answer? It makes things seem a little rushed. It's odd, really, as I spent the audio version of the episode thinking on how little tension there is. They spend the time with Steven constantly asking the Doctor for a time update, and then they take a stroll back to the TARDIS before the world blows up. It's all very leisurely.

The recon, though, just makes the wrong things happen very quick. The Chumblies throw an ammonia bomb into the Drahvin's spaceship, so they all hurry outside, where they spend twenty seconds saying hello to the Chumblie, before they all turn on their heel and go back inside! At lest in the full length audio, they're outside for a while, and the Chumblie tells them when the air inside the ship is safe to enter again.

The other thing lost in the cut-down version, which really is a shame, is some depth to Steven's character. Everyone knows the big twist to Galaxy 4 - the beautiful aliens are evil, while the hideous ones are the good guys. You see it coming before you're halfway into Episode One. What's nice in the full-length Episode Four, though, is that when Steven is left alone with a Rill, he asks why he should trust the creature.

He muses that they must have given the Doctor enough evidence to be working with them, but that he's less sure. How does he know they're any different to the Drahvins? This goes on for a few moment,s before he concludes that the Doctor will have made the right choice, and he agrees to help work on the power transfer. In the cut-down version, most of this exchange is cut, and he simply agrees to help out with the power transfer as soon as the Doctor leaves the room.

If anything, this makes me even more glad to have Airlock back in the archive. The story could fall very very flat: there's nothing particularly new and exciting about it, after all. One of the most interesting things in here, though, is the way that Maaga acts during the third episode. We've seen her as steely and uncaring, dishing out punishments to her crew if they fail to obey her orders. We've seen her talk down to them, and ruthlessly trap Steven in the airlock.

But then there's s moment in that third episode, when she laments being stuck on this planet with her soldiers because they are just that - soldiers. She talks of how she tried to tell her commanders that they weren't right for a mission like this, but that they sent them along anyway. The character is given in that scene far more depth than we see anywhere else in the story. It's the one moment when she's not just your cardboard cut-out villain of the week. It's something of a redeeming feature to the character, and to the story itself.

Of course, she then goes on to talk about the thrill of watching the Doctor, his friends, and the Rills as the planet explodes around them, so there's a chance that she's just plain mad, too.

And one last thing, is the serial called Galaxy 4, or Galaxy Four? I've gone with the former because it's the more common (and I seem to remember about five years ago, when they announced the episode 42, Russell T Davies described it as being the first Doctor Who story to feature a numerical character in the title since this one), but the Target book opts for the latter version. What's everyone's preference?

(You have no idea how tempted I was to give this a '10', just for April Fool's sake. But then I figured you'd all see the score, figure I was mad, and leave for ever. Come back! Come back, I cry!)

Next Episode: Mission to the Unknown

Next Episode: Mission to the Unknown 
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