Doctor Who #85: Airlock

"It is best you do not see us."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of Galaxy 4. The episode was one of two episodes thought lost found late last year; since this review was first posted, it was released on the Special Edition DVD of The Aztecs. I've used the reconstruction on Dailymotion, pending reevaluation at a later date (see Versions, below). First aired Sep.25 1965.

IN THIS ONE... Vicki and the Doctor make friends with the Rill while the Drahvins make Steven choke in an airlock.

REVIEW: Seen in a brief flash (but not by the characters), the Rills are immediately more interesting than the Drahvins, but still manage to disappoint. Their monstrous appearance - a toothsome creature that almost seems to have mouths for eyes - might have had more impact if they had any effect at all on Vicki and the Doctor, but they're never allowed to see them, and regardless, never judged them based on appearance. The bit where they use Vicki's recorded voice to "learn" English, and the flashback sequence that may or may not invoke their telepathy (is Vicki "seeing" the images? This is apparently the one stylistic departure in style) are intriguing, but their booming voice is so one-note that they may as well be the robotic Drahvins. They certainly don't have any more character.

As for the amazonian warriors on the other side of this plot, they continue to vie for the universe's worst army award. I mean, what kind of mindless drone soldiers argue orders with their leader? And when they trap Steven in the titular airlock, why don't they just open the door and rush him instead of giving ultimatums and fiddling with the air supply? Steven stays in there and almost chokes to death rather than face the Chumblie outside, which doesn't speak very highly of him either. But then he spent the better part of the episode trying to sleep through it - who could blame him? Being relegated to inaction scenes is not what Steven was designed for. As for Maaga, the only Drahvin with the ability to think, she uses that ability to imagine her enemies dying, more a killer drone than any of her soldiers. Like I said, one-note. The revelation that she put her own soldiers out of their misery adds little depth.

And speaking of notes, this is another episode filled with bleeps and bloops, long sequences without dialog and only noise to accompany us on the journey. I suppose it's a good thing this episode now exists in the archive, because it might redeem these sequences. But it'll likely be a lot of wedding cake robots rolling along, or perhaps Steven breathing hard against a gray wall. The episode has a place in Who history because it's the first in which the Doctor leads some cables out of the TARDIS to power something else, but I wouldn't call is a BIG place.

VERSIONS: Getting the visuals back reveals more talent at work than previous believed. Derek Martinus actually takes chances with the direction, making the flashback sequence of Maaga putting down one of her soldiers chilling by keeping the camera distant, superimposing the air gauge with Steven's prone form, and most notably, have Maaga speak her monologue to the camera, a theatrical element predating The Caves of Androzani by almost two decades. The other revelation is Stephanie Bidmead as Maaga; she's far more expressive than the one scene we previously had (from episode 1) would have led us to think. It's mostly limited to a cruel smile, mind you, but the soliloquy gives her a nice streak of megalomania that clearly terrifies Steven who, now it seems, only FEIGNS sleeping. On the Rill ship, things aren't so redeemed, I'm afraid. The choreography is simply terrible. Vicki keeps saying she can't see the Rill as it speaks through the Chumblies, but it's in her line of sight all the way through, barely hidden behind transparent film. Worse, O'Brien has to make like the Chumblies have really penned her in when they clearly haven't. Still, the episode has so many silent moments, it can't help but be improved by visuals and reaction shots.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - There's a slim chance the visuals might improve the story quite a lot, because as an audio, it's another annoying mess. But I wouldn't count on it.
REVISED REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Maybe it's the after-glow from getting a lost episode back, but Airlock really is better than its soundtrack let on, mostly thanks to directorial choices.

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