For a television show with the concept of time travel at its core, Doctor Who took its time in giving viewers a story about time paradoxes. Towards the end of the second season, Glyn Jones’ four-parter “The Space Museum” saw the TARDIS “jump a time track” and give the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki a glimpse of their future – as exhibits in a Morok Space Museum on the planet Xeros. The premise works well in the context of the story as the TARDIS crew struggle to avoid their destiny – Vicki stirs up the Xeron rebels, Ian tempts fate trying to talk down an armed man safe in the knowledge that he can’t be shot… but no matter what the travellers do, their destiny seems to be those glass museum cases…
Reviewing this story almost forty years on, I have been completely and utterly spoiled by the sheer brilliance of writers like Steve Lyons, whose skill when it comes to writing these time paradox stories is beyond compare. I have become used to stories so complex that is only quite a while afterwards that things start to make sense, and herein lies the rub. Glyn Jones’ resolution to “The Space Museum” is absolutely awful. There is no clever manipulation of time, no reset button, no grandfather paradox, no Blenovitch limitation effect… not even an excuse from the Doctor about mysterious “…power that Time Lords have.” Instead, the TARDIS crew are rescued by the Xerons, and don’t end up as exhibits in the Museum. They did change their fate after all. And that’s it.
The slow and contemplative bulk of “The Space Museum” is completely overshadowed by the ending – DALEKS! The Dalek casing in the Museum earlier in the story reminded us all that the destroyers from Skaro were never far away, and the cliff-hanger ending sees them actually begin pursuit of the TARDIS in the own time travel machine…
A Hartnell tale that, admittedly, has a few problems (as most of his stories do since the series was, very much, "finding its feet" during this era). But, in several ways, it's also very much ahead of its time. And is, overall, a pretty enjoyable runaround. Considering when it was made.
Its biggest problem, of course, is that it really does go very "cheesy sci-fi" in places. Even a little too much for 60s Who. We have references to "ray guns" and some really awful dialogue, in general. One aspect of the script that grates on me hardest that no one seems to remark on is the way the Commander must always call the governor "illustruous". It's bad dialogue delivered poorly and it really adds to that overall downright silliness of the way the story is executed. Then, of course, there's the notorious line about "arms falling into Xeron hands" that the Discontinuity Guide so loves to pick on (for ample reason - it is probably one of the cheesiest lines ever in the history of the show).
Another really "cheesy" problem in this story are the Moroks and Xerons. Doctor Who's attempt to create Star Trek aliens by doing something wierd to their eyebrows or foreheads! Though such attempts are rare in Who (usually they try to be much more imaginative in their creature construction) the incredible cheapness of the make-up work that was done to "alienise" the characters is just plain laughable and it's very difficult to take any of these characters seriously because they just look so ridiculous.
Our final major problem in this story is some of the very deliberate padding. There seems to be a lot more discussion between characters about what's happening in the plot than is genuinely needed. Not just some of the extended conversations that the TARDIS crew has about their plight, but those Xerons can really go on forever too, sometimes! It becomes blatantly obvious that the author put this sort of stuff in because he just didn't have enough story. Something that I can somehow tolerate in a 6-parter but when four episodes has this much unnecessary dialogue it really makes you wonder if the script was ever worth producing!
However, for all its flaws, there's a lot about "Space Museum" to like too.
Many have heaped praise on the effectiveness of the first episode. And it deserves that praise. Some of the creepiest black and white Who you'll find. And, though I love most of what "The Mind Robber" was about, it could learn a lesson or two from this episode about using cheap visuals to create surreal atmosphere. But what a lot folks don't seem to catch about this episode is the extra "layer" it adds to the whole story.
This could have easilly been a "the Doctor arrives on a planet and overthrows a tyranny" plotline and be done with it right there. But the fact that Glyn Jones threw in the whole extra premise of "slipping a time track" adds so much more sophistication to this tale. Many of 60s and even early 70s Who could stand adding extra layers to their plotline like this story did but this trend really didn't start to set in til years after Space Museum was produced. I loved late 70s and 80s Who because of its abundance (or even overabundance) of plot threads. Having so many stories told at once somehow made it "better" than a lot of other sci-fi T.V. Almost as if you got "more bang for your buck" because the plots were so thickly layered. But we didn't see much of this in older Who, thus making Space Museum seem almost ahead of its time, in this sense.
It was also the first story to really explore the nature of time rather than just use time travel as a device for the show's premise. Another nice layer of sophistication for the story. And though some of the conversations regarding destiny and free will do get a bit tedious, it's still neat to see the show become so philosophical during a time when it tried, more oftentimes than not, to just give us bug-eyed monsters and black and white morals.
The other compliment that should go to Mister Jones for his script is the way he structures the societies he's created. Particularly the Moroks. As someone else remarked in their review, it was nice to get something a little different out of the millitant alien race. Rather than just being nasty intergalactic conquerors, they're intergalactic conquerors on a social decline. Thus giving a very different "flavour" to the whole story that, again, wouldn't normally be seen in the series for many years to come.
We also get, in amongst all the cheesiness, some very strong moments in the storyline too. I loved how useful Vicki was in this adventure. Her and Susan were usually just meant to scream and trip over things but it's, pretty well her that saves the day this time by getting the Xerons to revolt. And, thankyou Mister Jones, for actually remembering she's from a future Earth society and might, therefore, have some technical skills. Rather than just use her for a few lame jokes about how the future might view life in the 60s like so many other authors did when they wrote Vicki.
The confrontation between the Doctor and Lobos during the interrogation was also a really memorable moment. Again, something that makes the story a bit ahead of its time. The Doctor usually took these sort of situations quite seriously during this era rather than have fun with his tormentor like he did. And I rather enjoyed the sequence because it was played up a bit for laughs.
In the final analysis, this story almost seems a bit "bi-polar". Jumping very suddenly from really bad to really good over and over. But, unlike some of the other stories the show has made over the years that went incredibly cheesy in places, there's enough sophistication to this tale to save it from being considered total trash. Even enough sophistication, for me, at least, to make it a story I rather enjoy.
Crap. Rubbish. Caca de toro. A lot in “The Space Museum” is—yep, I’m gonna give into the cliché—cringeworthy. I don’t mean the another-base-under-seige-please, a-good-companion-is-one-with-big-breasts, CSO-backgrounds-are-cool, Cartmel-is-a-genius crap. I mean the real, even-for-an-episode-of-Doctor-Who, deal.
The guest stars almost uniformly make poor acting choices. Nerve gas described as dangerous is survived for the better part of a whole episode with the use of a flimsy, not to mention shared, handkerchief. The music from about the first half of episode two forward is questionably appropriate, at best. Vicki reprograms a security computer despite never having displayed the slightest inclination for such work before. Worse, how is she’s clever enough to reprogram a computer she’s never seen before, but too damn stupid to realize that the easiest, best hope for overcoming the time paradox was just to send one person back to the TARDIS to wait inside while the other three made their ways back separately? As if that weren’t enough, there’s the unbelievable gall of the final moments of episode four: the Dalek teaser at the end makes “The Chase” look like we’re gonna be in for a freakin’ epic. And don’t get me started on the explanation of the time loop that causes the central plot issue in the first place.
So, yeah, I get why many don’t like this thing. Still.
I love this story.
Its subtle good far outweighs the obvious flaws. Taken as a whole, the very best thing about “Museum” is that it’s a direct answer to “The Aztecs”, a story I feel is massively overrated. Both stories are directly centered on the notion of “changing history”, but only this one gives an answer that would make Christopher Eccleston proud. Here the TARDIS crew is, in the Tenth Doctor’s words, “part of events". There’s no hypocrisy here: there’s a Doctor and his companion proud of influencing others to seize control of their lives. Vicki might as well be Rose. The Doctor and his TARDIS crew are here in full, unapologetic rebellion of the Time Lords. History damn well can and should be altered if helps some kids be better people and it saves our heroes’ hides.
And what better hides they are. “Museum” gives us strong performances by all the regulars. JNT should have been watching this episode before he blamed some of the problem of season 19 on a “crowded TARDIS”. Sorry, no, but a four-person crew works, in the right hands. The companion interaction, along with the solo journeys, are fair, equitable and what’s more, meaningful. I may not have liked the details of the time loop plot, but I certainly enjoyed its effects. A seemingly insoluble problem tends to take people to places they’ve not traveled, and for all its technobabble, the time loop certainly gives us an interesting Barbara, Ian and Vicki.
As for those guest stars, yeah, the script was there for them and the actors—not to mention the costume and make-up departments—blew it. But what we get is nevertheless intriguing to me. See, I guess I read the two groups—the Xerons and the Moroks as equally impotent, both needin’ a good, Doctorly kick up the backside. I like the idea that the status quo is being maintained on inertia more than reasoned action. This is a disused part of the stale, old Morok empire, and the contingent here are very little more than the dregs of the Morok military. They really are about as competent as modern-day museum guards. For me, it’s extremely satisfying that there’s no explanation as to why the Morok Governor is so mean-spirited; it’s been like this for so long he’s actually got no explanation to be as he is.
In a story that is about predestination paradoxes for our heroes, it’s altogether appropriate that the featured characters should be trapped themselves. To get out of their time trap, the TARDIS crew must make the two groups on the planet break out of this feeble (or what some reviewers have called “boring”) stalemate.
The nature of that status quo appeals to me as an American. I read the whole situation as a loose metaphor for the American Revolution, with the Moroks being the kind of not-so-prime British officers serving in North America, the Xerons being Americans in the 1760s, Vicki being Sam Adams, and the rest of the TARDIS crew being the indecisive-but-ultimately-effective French. Maybe it’s a stretch, and I’m sure it’s not intentional, but that’s just what I saw in the story. Even if the writer didn’t intend that close a level of metaphor, I think the story deserves great credit for two key themes: a revolution ain’t a revolution until action has been taken, and an empire that forgets its history is doomed to fall.
Most importantly, though, the episode gives an early glimmer of the “modern” Doctor. Gone is the crusty old, “You can’t change history,” Time Lord of season one. In his place is the man who inspires change. “My dear Barbara,” he serenely says as he’s facing death, “You must try and remember that in the short time we’ve been on this planet, we’ve met people, spoken to them, and—who knows?—we might have even influenced them.”
This is the Doctor I adore, and I don’t mind having to wade through the crap to find him. Good thing Russell T. Davies apparently has a shovel, too.
"We must have changed the future... we must have done!"
The Space Museum is one of those adventures that has a nice set up, but what follows is rather less than expected. The opening episode sets things up nicely rather like an episode of 'The Twilight Zone'. The TARDIS materializes on the planet Xeros, but seem to have jumped a time track and have temporarily become out of synch with normal space-time. As they explore the museum itself, they make a shocking & startling discovery... future versions of themselves encased in glass, and set up as exhibits in the museum itself. Now it is a race against time to prevent the vision they witnessed from coming to pass.
Unfortunately, the episodes that follow don't exactly live up adequately to what the first episode sets up. The remainder of the adventure in itself is alright, but nothing too exciting or anything to give praise about. Not to say that it's bad, just average, and definitely could've been done better. How exactly, I really don't know. I will say that there are some good ideas.
The idea of a museum in space is definitely an idea worth exploring in science ficition, as a means of seeing what strange and unusual alien items would be put on display. It is something that fuels the imagination beyond the boundaries of what we know and are familiar with on Earth. Setting the story on a planet with a museum on it is still very much in keeping with why the Doctor travels in the first place... not to fight aliens, but to gain knowledge about the universe.
Anyway, I must say that the Moroks aren't all that convincing as villains and the army of young Xerons just didn't seem too convincing as an oppressed people hoping to start a revolution. Although I do theorize that the reason most of Xerons are shown as young men is some sort of allegory on teenage rebellion against the oppression of adult authority.
Each of the regular cast members do well with the material, but the person that really gets to shine the most is Maureen O'Brien as Vicki. She shows herself to be enthusiastic and a real go-getter. You can clearly see at certain points that she'd rather be doing something constructive and meaningful rather than stand around arguing and asking a whole stream of pointless questions (much like what Ian and Barbara were doing). Vicki simpathizes with the Xerons and it is she that helps to instigate the means by which future events are altered; by helping the Xerons with their revolution by reprogramming the computer system which allows access to the armory.
The overall running theme is the idea of whether or not fate or destiny can be changed. It is something they all grapple with in the course of events, always with a certain about of doubt hanging over them as to whether the actions they take are the ones that will change their future or lead them down the very path that takes them to the very vision they witnessed at the start of the 4-part serial.
All in all, there are some nice ideas, but they don't sustain themselves all that well. However, the adventure that would follow would be something that would start a chain reaction of changes that would ultimately ensure the show's longevity and ensure that nothing would ever be the same again.
I stated previously that there is only one Hartnell Doctor Who story that I really don't like. 'The Space Museum' is it. Before I lay into however, I'll consider its good points.
Episode One is suitably intriguing thanks to the gimmick of the TARDIS "jumping a time track". From the start it creates an air of mystery, with the TARDIS crew's clothes changing, the broken glass leaping back into Vicki's hand, and the lack of footprints. The discovery by the Doctor and his friends of their future selves preserved as exhibits is memorably creepy, and the surreal cliffhanger as they "arrive" for real is well executed. As usual, the regulars are excellent, with great banter between Ian and the Doctor in episode one, the Doctor's amusing interrogation by Lobos in episode two, and for the first time a decent role for Vicki as, separated from the Doctor for the first time since she joined the TARDIS, she leads a revolution by the Xerons. Oh, and I love the scene in which the Doctor hides in the Dalek casing. The fact that they are constantly trying to avoid their grim future fate makes Ian and Barbara in particular more anxious than they usually are, especially in contrast to the optimistic Vicki, and Russell plays Ian at his most resourceful, as he out-fights Moroks and saves the Doctor from the Museum. The Moroks themselves, while basically being Star Trek-like humanoids with silly hair, are an interesting idea, in that they represent an empire in decline – Lobos is clearly bored out of his mind, whereas his soldiers are utterly unenthusiastic about their work, and thus incompetent. This makes a change from a powerful enemy force in the midst of conquest, such as the Daleks or the forces of the Animus. Lobos isn't actually bored throughout – watch him when he is demonstrating the mind scanner, or applying himself to the task of reversing the Doctor's frozen condition. He becomes far more animated as he clearly takes delight in the application of science, almost like an immoral version of the Doctor. There's also a surprisingly realistic fight scene in which a Morok is knocked down hard and fast without the usual lengthy exchange of fisticuffs. Unfortunately, these good points do not outweigh the bad ones.
Whilst the gimmick of episode one makes for an interesting opening episode, the explanation is pure technobabble and doesn't stand up to scrutiny – I'm fairly sure that the way in which time catches up with the Doctor and his companions means that part of their past remains missing. Furthermore, the line about time being a dimension but having dimensions of its own is pure gibberish, which is unusual in a series that during this era still slips in the occasional science and history lessons. Then there is the supporting cast – the Moroks are all badly acted, constantly giving the impression (supported by the novelisation) that their lines are supposed to be a lot wittier than they actually are, but are badly delivered. Richards Shaw as Lobos is the sole Morok actor who gives a faint hint that he can actually act, but unfortunately he seems to have decided not to. His deputy is particularly bad, although with lines like "have an arms fallen into Xeron hands" he's probably fighting an uphill battle. The Xerons are even worse – despite the frantic acting of Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch as Tor, the Xerons succeed in taking the crown of most boring aliens to appear in Doctor Who from the Didonians. Showing that they are aliens by moving their eyebrows upwards probably seemed like a good money-saving idea at the time. As characters, they are immensely boring. Other lowlights include the zaphra gas, which is supposedly extremely harmful, but from the effects of which Barbara and Darko recover instantaneously on getting outside, despite having just been coughing themselves raw moments before. Then we have the universe's worst security system, which can be easily reprogrammed to allow entry to the armoury. Which of course is full of "ray guns", a phrase that sounds incredibly bad regardless of whoever says it. Even "phasers" would be better. The sets too are uninspired with the Museum interiors looking especially drab and being filled with "exhibits" that look suspiciously like any old leftovers from the BBC prop department. And the museum itself must be a TARDIS, since it is clearly bigger on the inside. The incidental music, recycled to great effect in 'Tomb of the Cybermen', seems melodramatic and over-the-top here, with sinister booming riffs accompanying tame fight sequences and footage of the regulars sneaking around the museum. It's almost impossible for a four-part Doctor Who story to feel padded, and yet 'The Space Museum' manages it.
So overall, whilst 'The Space Museum' has a few good points, it is disappointing overall. It picks up at the end with the appearance of a Dalek, strangely foreshadowed earlier on by Ian wondering if they will ever meet the Daleks again. The cliffhanger ending, in which the Daleks reveal that they have a time machine, is suitably gripping and promises an epic and deadly struggle between the Doctor and his most dangerous foes. Ironic really…