“The ship from the planet Gearon…”
“…and the beginning of the Great Alliance.” – Daleks
This relatively tense space drama is a very unique episode for two reasons: not only does it not feature the Doctor or any companions but it is actually just a set-up for a larger story that doesn’t actually start for five more episodes. It must have been a bit startling for viewers of the time—wondering when the TARDIS crew would appear and then finding that the story suddenly jumps to something entirely different the next week. Unlike modern day internet viewers who would be theorizing what every step of the story would mean for later, I don’t think people at the time would have known to expect that the recording seemingly lost at the end would come back as a key to a larger story in the future. (In fact, they would have to rely on their memories alone of it a full month later.)
Anyway, I have always known this story from reading it missed as part of the larger narrative to come, but famed fan Ian Levine’s has created an animated recreation of the stand-alone story with the existing soundtrack. Not only is it much easier to watch than simple audio and still photos, but it also really tries to portray the look of the original down to the design of the space ship and the Varga plants. It makes the episode a lot more memorable and tense than simply reading about it.
Several things stand out—first, the actual plot elements are very forward thinking: secret alliances, genetically altered plants, different classes of spaceships, an intergalactic secret agent. It’s also a very taught story—you can feel the desperation of Cory growing as realizes he needs to get his message out as the Varga and then Daleks are closing in. The cast of alien leaders uniting as the Great Alliance are all very unique and weird creations. Cory’s seeming last minute failure to warn of the danger fades to the war room gloating of Malthus and the Alliance. “Now all is ready. We at this table pledge our allegiance to the Dalek cause. Our armies will reduce the galaxies to ashes, their people to dust and Earth we will conquer first. Victory! Victory!” It’s a cliff hanger worthy of a blockbuster movie. (Keep in mind all of this is years before Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back.)
Best unsettling moments:
The constant howls and screams (especially one recurring shrill one) of the Kembel jungle are quite unnerving.
- Story without the TARDIS crew
- Set-up to a future story
- Galactic empires
Having only read the story before, I was a bit disappointed that the character of Marc Cory, who seemed quite heroic in my imagination, comes across much more self-important and condescending in actual portrayal. It doesn’t change the overall story but it does make me like his character a lot less.
Also I was rather surprised to learn that the first scene of this story was referenced at the end of Galaxy Four when Vicki notes a planet on the scanner as they pass by and wonders what is happening there. I think it would have been more appropriate and effective not to have viewers expect what was coming.