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Doctor Who: The Space Museum (TV Serial Q)



Blurb: The TARDIS lands on the planet Xeros, where a vast museum houses a collection of relics from the galactic conquests of the mighty Morok Empire. While they are exploring, the Doctor and his companions make a disturbing discovery: their future selves are preserved as exhibits.

Format: Television drama transmitted from April 24, 1965 - May 15, 1965. This story was bundled with The Chase and released on DVD July 6, 2010.

Setting: The planet Xeros within the Morok Empire, time unknown. In the novel, The Death of Art, Roz mentions that the Morok Empire has collapsed by her own time of 2975. This also implies that it is within the Milky Way galaxy, as extra galactic contact had not been established by that time. It also must span some portion of time after the Daleks venture into space as one Dalek is an exhibit in the museum. Lance Parkin's AHistory gives this story a date of 2965 but he admits that this is pretty arbitrary.

Continuity: Vicki mentions that children in her own time are taught about the Dalek invasion and Ian and Barbara tell her that it's one of the time periods that they've visited (see The Dalek Invasion of Earth). Early on there are several references to the fact that they just came from the crusades (see The Crusade). The Doctor mentions that extreme cold aggravates his rheumatism (see Marco Polo).

DVD: In addition to the normal commentary there is an extra where Rob Shearman tries to rehabilitate the image of this story. There's also one where William Hartnell's granddaughter talks about her memories of her grandfather as the Doctor.

Discussion: The Space Museum is one of those much maligned stories from the early days of Doctor Who. It's one of the last stories to be script edited by Dennis Spooner as well as one of the last stories to use the original TARDIS crew format of the teenager, two contemporary adults, and the Doctor. It's also the last story recognized to use the "sideways in time" story type proposed by Sydney Newman. It comes at a juxtaposition of two eras of the show when it began to transition from the format of its earliest days to something different, so I find it to be an interesting one to examine in that context.

The orthodox fan analysis of this story is that the first episode is great, but episodes two, three, and four really let it down. It's easy to see why that might be. The first story sets up a mystery. The travelers arrive somewhere but they're not able to do anything. A glass broken in the ship reforms and jumps back into Vicki's hands. The travelers don't leave footprints on the ground. They can't hear or interact with any of the people in the museum nor can they touch anything. Then at the end of that first episode they see themselves as exhibits in the museum. The whole setup seems so much like a Twilight Episode that you might expect Rod Serling to show up and give a monologue. Many people feel that the ending is a let down because the situation is resolved in the first episode and is only explained at the very end when you find out that once again something has broken in the TARDIS. Yet, I think that misses a bit of the point. The idea that the travelers could only partially arrive in a space and see an alternative timeline that shows what would have happened if they had completely arrived is kind of neat and once the TARDIS clicks over and completely arrives they arrive fully, having glimpsed the possible future that could happen to them there. That's a pretty neat concept and it overshadows the remaining episodes which become about fate and consequences. Every action or even inaction can put them closer or farther from being placed within the display cases and they have to decide how they'll proceed along each course.

Yet, it's really easy to see why people don't really care for this one. Long scenes of the characters sitting around talking about whether they should go left or right or do nothing at all is not the way to really draw people into a story. Added to that fact you have the worst rebals in the shows's history. The Xerons all appear to be late teens who are so lame that they can't steal more than one gun at a time and once they have one they're easily made to give them back. They're so lame in fact that the evil imperial power enslaving the planet doesn't care about stamping them out. Instead when some of them are seen gathered around the TARDIS at one point they're told to move on as if they're just simple loiterers. The Morocks as the evil alien opporessors aren't much better. They all grumble about how they're overworked and couldn't care less about the glory of the empire. They're also easily overpowered and vastly incompetent at their various jobs. Lobos is an interesting character idea. He's a scientist serving out his military service to the Empire at this museum of past glories and dreaming of a time when the Empire was a force to be reckoned with. It's clear that he relishes the chance to deal with the Doctor and his friends because they post a challenge that he hasnt experienced since he came to Xeros. In fact that may be one of the reasons why he allows the Xerons to run free as their attempts at rebellion may at least give him some freedom from the monotony. Yet the decision to end the story with the four regulars locked up and hoping that maybe someone will rescue them just seems like a bad idea. Yes, it may be an end to the idea of whether or not they've changed their destiny. They still ended up in the same place but since in this version they interacted more with the Xerons they end up being rescued.

Even with all of that said there are things to like about this story. I think that episode two isn't as bad as people say. Yes there are some really long and talky parts, especially when Lobos has his very long monologue where they try to infodump who these people are and what the situation is. Yet, there are also some great scenes. The Doctor getting away from the Xerons and tying up his captor and then hiding in the Dalek is an inspired sequence. Then there's the part where the Doctor is tied into the mind probe and his mental control is such that he can direct what is shown on the screen. This is the first Hartnell story that I ever saw and I thought that this scene was amazing, especially when he tries to convince them that he traveled to the space museum on an old fashioned bicycle. Even in episode 3 we have that great scene where Ian pretends to be Dirty Harry and almost tells a Morok guard to go ahead and make his day before wrestling his gun away from him. It's also a fairly important story. Up until this point the Doctor has treated history as sacrosanct. Yet here, when he's finally up against a situation where his own life is in danger he starts to look to alternatives and is willing to change the future that he's seen. It isn't enough to fully redeem the story but I don't think it's right to say that episode one is the only part of the story that's worth watching.

The regulars are all over the place on this one. You can tell that Jacqueline Hill and William Russell don't seem to have their hearts in things anymore. Ian comes alive in the scene where has to wrest the gun from the Morok guard but other than that his delivery of all his lines is flat almost in line with the same low energy that the Morks are giving. Barbara isn't much better. She's great when she's berating Ian for trying to rip up her cardigan to make a string that they can follow throughout the museum but she's pret quiet through the rest of it. The Doctor steals the show as I mentioned before. He also has some great lines like "it's just a matter of putting two and two together to make three" showing how bizarre the situation is but also showing how much fun he's having with trying to solve the situation. This story really seems to be a vehicle for Vicki though. Once she separates from the regulars she takes charge of the situation and leads the Xerons on their revolution, getting them access to the armory and organizing them so that they can overthrow the Moroks. She seems to relish every minute of it and she seems to inject energy into all of thet scenes that she's in, something that's sorely needed once Hartnell takes the holiday in episode three. Most of the supporting cast is fairly lackluster and isn't deserving of any special note. Yet Lobos is probably the most wooden character that we've had in the show since Captain Maitland in The Sensorites. I don't think that it's an accurate that both stories have the same director. Mervyn Pinfield seems to have been great at the technical side of direction but doesn't seem to have been able to motivate the actors at all. It's a pretty bad thing when such an important character to the story fails to sell you on any of the details that he's supposed to be explaining to you.

Being a Pinfield production it's based around the spectacle and the show isn't lacking in that respect. There are some nice effects shots especially in episode one. We have the playback of the glass coming back together and jumping into Vicki's hand. We also have all of the images of the Doctor and company putting their hands through objects. At the time that sort of thing would have been really exciting. Unfortunately spectacle ages more poorly than anything else, so to our modern, jaded eyes none of those things are really that exciting since modern effects can show them more effectively. The music is also pretty good and effective, which is surprising as it's all stock music. Strangely though, all the budget and effort appears to have been expended on the effects. The model work looks poor. We're told that the Space Museum is this giant structure but in the model it appears to be just about twice as wide as some of the rockets sitting nearby. We also have the TARDIS placed poorly on the studio so that it's close to a studio wall. There are two problems with that. First the backdrop on the studio wall was painted incredibly poorly with very minimal detail so it doesn't convince as a forced perspective conveying distance. Secondly the characters throw shadows on the wall highlighting that it is a backdrop or if the forced perspective works for you making it look like they're throwing shadows on far away mountains. This story also boasts the worst hand-to-hand combat scenes of any Doctor Who story up to this point. I've been pleasantly surprised on this aspect of the show in earlier episodes but this just seems pathetic with characters barely doing anything and clearly not touching each other but acting like it's major combat.

There are some things that don't make sense in this story. Why is the Doctor completely unconcerned that their clothes changed without them doing anything? He laughs it off but feels no need to get to the bottom of the mystery as he usually does with anything that doesn't make sense. Why does no one realize that if they've ripped up Barbara's cardigan that they've at least changed the future to some degree? She was wearing the cardigan in the display case. While it hardly means that they wouldn't end up there anyway it would at least show that it is possible to change the future. They're in a futuristic space museum but there are no cameras? Also there are no means of protecting the exhibits or even alarms if you touch something? Ian is able to steal the gun with absolutely nothing happening. Why is the Dalek the only exhibit with a plaque indicating any of the details of the exhibit? I paid attention and none of the other exhibits have a plaque. How are you supposed to know what they are? When the soldiers capture Barbara why do they kill one Xeron but club the other over the head? If the Xerons are in full revolt you'd expect them to kill them both or if they want to ask one questions you'd think they'd take the live one with them for an interrogation. Instead he's only left so that he can explain what happened to the others. Why when Vicki reprograms the computer to only respond to the truth does it ask less questions as well? Why were the Xeron children left on the planet? You'd think that maybe the Moroks would train them to be menial laborers or something but it seems like they just let the kids laze around and do whatever they want. It's no wonder they turn to revolution if they've just been left to their own devices like that. Also where are the female children? Are Xerons unisexual perhaps with new members of their race springing from their gigantic eyebrows? Is all of Xeros as desolate as we see around the space museum? Do the Xerons expect to repopulate by themselves or do they mean to get their slave ancestors back from Morok space somehow? They seem to be all excited thinking that somehow all their problems are solved now that the Moroks have been killed, but I don't see how the handful of them expect to make a living on a desert planet with no prospects of reproduction unless they are genderless as I postulated above. Also it seems really out of character for the Doctor to not decry the destruction of the museum exhibits by the Xerons. Surely the materials not wanted by the Xerons should go back to their planet of origin as well. Destroying all of that history seems like a real shame and usually the Doctor would speak out about something like that. Just how big is the Morok Empire anyway? We're told that Xeros is only 3 light years away but if Xeros was conquered when these kids were children then it seems like this must be the limits of the Empire as it has stopped being expansionist. Maybe the Moroks come from a syste with several stars with habitable planets within a few light years or maybe their own system boasts more than one habitable planet, but I get the impression that it can't be all that big and at worst case maybe they've conquered their own world and Xeros is the only other planet that they've ever gotten to (many assume that they've attacked Skaro but the Dalek in their exhibit could be from a Dalek ship that invaded their own system and they successfully repelled).

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: It tries hard, but the Space Museum is something of a tedious story to get through. There's some humor and there are some interesting concepts at work. Unfortunately we also have some very ponderous scenes, some awful fights, some awful model work, and some effects that just don't work. Hartnell is great and it's a great vehicle for Vicki but everyone else seems to be sleepwalking through the story. You can definitely skip it.

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