After the Doctor and Vicki rescue Steven from the airlock, they leave him to have a chat with the Rill (still voiced in a deep and booming fashion by Robert Cartland). This is one of the more interesting scenes in this final episode. Earlier, both Vicki and the Doctor were happy to accept the Rill’s bona fides at face value, but Steven’s a much more cynical sort.
STEVEN: So the Doctor trusts you?
RILL: Why shouldn’t he?
STEVEN: No reason. I suppose you gave right ethical reasons for him, so naturally he does trust you.
RILL: We rescued you from the Drahvins, but you still don’t trust us?
STEVEN: Oh, you could be the same as them – using us for your own salvation.
Steven eventually accepts that the Rills are operating in good faith, but this scene demonstrates Steven’s independence. Peter Purves’ dislike for the story is well known (he believed his part had originally been written for Barbara and then was hastily rewritten) but little moments like this are good ones for the character.
In the end, the moral of the story is helpfully spelled out after the Doctor, Steven and Vicki have a face-to-face meeting with the Rill. Even the Doctor is slightly taken aback by his appearance, but after his initial surprise he treats him with equanimity.
Vicki and Steven are equally accepting. Vicki says that “I mean, after all, we must look just as strange to you” whilst Steven tells the Rill that “what difference does it make what your form is?” The Doctor is able to cap these noble sentiments off when he grandly proclaims that “importance lies in the character and to what use you put this intelligence. We respect you as we respect all life.”
It’s Maaga’s inability to see past the Rills’ startling experience which seals her fate and that of her soldiers. The Rills would have been happy to take the Drahvins with them once the Doctor had repaired their ship, but this was never a possibility for Maaga. For her there was only one answer – kill the Rills and take their ship by force.
But her attempt to launch an attack comes to nothing and she’s forced to watch as the Rills’ spaceship takes off without them. That we’re denied a pitched Drahvin/Chumbly battle for control of the Rills spaceship feels like a missed opportunity, as is the fact that the Doctor and his friends are able to reach the TARDIS without being stopped by Maaga.
I wonder if some of the other Doctors would have decided to rescue Maaga and the others? Not Billy though, he’s more than happy to nip off and leave them to their fate. In the world of the first Doctor it’s plain that the Drahvins had their chance to demonstrate that – like the Rills – they could show compassion for others. They didn’t, so the Doctor leaves them to face certain death.
With only one extant episode it’s hard to really know how effective the story was. The Loose Cannon recon certainly makes an heroic effort to provide some visual moments for the other three episodes, but even if the whole story existed I doubt it would be regarded as anything more than a fairly middling story.
The rather simplistic message at the heart of the story (ugly doesn’t have to mean evil) had been covered more fruitfully before – even in the sedate form of The Sensorites.