The next story on the list is one that gets an awful lot of criticism from Dr Who fans. Overall, people consider this to be crap, though the common belief is that Episode One is great and it is let down badly by the three episodes that follow.
Going into watching The Space Museum, I probably shared that viewpoint. I think Doctor Who Magazine wrote an article years ago about how it has one of the best ‘first episodes’ of any Dr Who story, but what follows is complete and utter horse-shit. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s not.
What I’ve discovered about watching Dr Who stories from the point of view of a reviewer is that I often find my perceptions challenged. It certainly happened with Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror and The Crusade, and maybe it’ll happen with this one too.
We shall see…
Doctor Who – The Space Museum Review: What’s This One About?
Well it can easily be split into two parts.
The TARDIS has landed outside a Space Museum, but there’s lots of peculiar stuff is going on. For a start, the travellers find themselves back in their normal clothes – instead of their Crusader outfits – without having consciously changed into them.
Then Vicki drops and smashes a glass of water but it reforms in her hands before her very eyes.
When they exit the TARDIS they don’t leave any footprints in the dust on the ground outside and there is not a sound to be heard in the air.
People are walking about, but they don’t see/hear the travellers, and in turn the travellers can’t hear them, even though they are talking mere feet away.
Furthermore, they are able to pass their hands through solid objects as if they aren’t there.
And then the clincher; they stumble upon themselves, dead, frozen and on display in glass cases in the museum.
As it turns out, they aren’t really there yet, but when the display cases vanish into thin air, the Doctor realises that time has caught up with them and from that point on they can be seen by other people…and those people want to turn them into museum artefacts.
The TARDIS crew deliberate about how not to end up in the cases. They question their every potential move and wonder if this will take them away from – or further towards – their fate.
Meanwhile, the episodes are dominated by the ongoing war between the weary owners of the museum – The Moroks – and the young male rebels who are native to the planet, The Xerons.
The Doctor gets caught by Lobos – Leader of the Moroks – while Vicki starts a Xeron revolution, Ian turns into a gun-toting bad-ass with nothing to lose and Barbara does almost nothing.
Eventually they all end up captured and look set to be frozen, but they are saved by the Xeron revolution that Vicki started. Ultimately there was nothing they could do to stop themselves falling into Morok hands, but by influencing the actions of the Xerons, they managed to save themselves.
As you can see, there is a lot more plot in Episode 1 than the subsequent three. The mistake I think people make is that eps 2-4 are terrible, but I wouldn’t go that far at all. It’s just that Episode 1 is so good that anything that follows it would be a disappointment.
So let’s start with that…
The Good – Episode One
Episode One is terrific – possibly the best self contained individual episode of the entire classic series. Sure, we look at stories like The Talons of Weng Chiang, Caves of Androzani etc as the classics they undoubtedly are, but we look at them as the overall sum of their parts rather than on an episode-by-episode basis. I can tell you that I really enjoy The Seeds of Doom for example, but I certainly couldn’t say that episode 4 was better than the rest or anything like that.
With the Space Museum, everyone knows Episode One is right up there.
But what’s so good about it?
Well it approaches the concept of time travel from a completely different angle than anything in the 18 months previous to it or the 45 years that followed. There’s a genuine mystery to it all. It asks so many questions.
- Why aren’t the leaving footprints?
- Why can’t anyone see them?
- How did the glass reform in Vickie’s hands?
- How are they back in their normal clothes?
- Why can’t they hear the Xerons in conversation?
- Why can’t they touch anything?
- How are they standing there and yet also frozen in the display cases?
Then the question is answered. They weren’t really there yet. Towards the end of the episode we then see events quickly catching up. The glass breaks and stays shattered. The footprints they didn’t leave before have now appeared. The Moroks know they are there!
How the hell are the going to get out of this one?
And if that doesn’t make you want to tune back in the next week, then nothing will.
Brilliant from start to finish.
The Bad – Episode 2 and The Great Exposition
So how do you follow that?
Well it’s difficult. But what has damaged the Space Museum’s reputation beyond repair is the terrible scene that starts Episode 2. Episode 1 finished at 120 miles an hour, and yet Episode 2 starts as if the writer has slammed on the proverbial brakes to do an emergency stop.
It’s a slow, poorly acted and poorly written scene where exposition (or ‘info dumping’) is on the agenda. I remember seeing an interview with Russell T. Davies where he said he hates exposition with a passion and recalled an Afternoon Play on TV that opened with the line ‘Happy Wedding Day, Sis’. As he pointed out, nobody would say that in a real life conversation. The line purely exists to let the viewer know that it was the girl’s wedding that day and she’s speaking to her sister.
Well that is world class writing compared to what the ironically named second episode – Dimensions in Time (there’s a little Dr Who reference for you) – starts with, in the scene with Lobos and a couple of guards.
Indulge me because I have to write it out. Join in as we find the exposition points…
Guard 1(having fixed an artefact): Best I could do sir. Should be good for another hundred years or so.
Lobos: What was wrong with it?
G1: Well the clasps had broken. Rotted.
Lobos: Like everything else on this planet…including us (This is the first one to an extent). I’ve got two more milliums before I can go home (Two). Yes, I say it often enough but it’s still 2000 Xeron days (Three). And it sounds more in days. Yeah, I know, I volunteered; you were ordered (Four). If the truth were known, I was just as bored on Morok (Five). Still, it was home, and youth never appreciates what it has. Oh, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Still…let’s get on with it shall we? I have to make these reports. I don’t know.
Another Guard Walks In and salutes Lobos.
Lobos: I’m the Governor of this Planet (Six). You’re supposed to show some respect and knock.
Guard 2: I’m sorry sir, but the matter’s urgent.
Lobos: Nothing’s so urgent that you can’t knock on my door.
G2: A ship has landed.
Lobos: From home? There was no advance notification.
G2: Not from the Planet Morok (Seven). Alien.
Lobos: Alien? Well this will indeed be a red letter day for the Xeros calendar. Have the crew been detained?
G2: No sir, they’ve left the ship. We’ve found footprints but no trace of them. We were unable to enter the craft but it appears to be uninhabited at the moment.
Lobos (using his phone): Commander B Division, we have uninvited visitors. (to Guard 2) How many?
G2: Unknown, but at least three.
Lobos (to phone): Three or more. Organise a search then detain them for questioning.
Lobos (talking to guards again): Visitors? Well we won’t be the only ones looking for them.
G1: The rebels? (Eight)
Lobos: Rebels? This local rabble? They’re children. (Nine)
G1: Hmm, the ‘Children’ as you call them are growing up. (Ten)
Lobos: When they pose a danger, we will destroy them. Until then, the problem will keep. Nevertheless, they’ll try and contact our visitors for help. I must remember to notify the commanders to keep watch. As for the aliens who have just landed…we may even be able to add to the museum.
So there you have it. 10 different pieces of info dumping that just wouldn’t happen in a real conversation. None of it needs said. It’s like me entering the kitchen in my house and saying to my own brother. “Well brother, here I am in our kitchen. Yes, I know what you’re thinking; I’m hungry because I teach exercise classes and doing exercise can leave you needing food. Well I’ll tell you one thing; I won’t be making mushroom soup. I like soup but I’ve never liked mushrooms. And I never will. But we’ve both got meal coming up for our friend Kevin’s return to the city of Dundee from his work as a lecturer in Scarborough, and when we go to have dinner at the Invercarse Hotel – a hotel near the university we all went to – I’m concerned Mushroom Soup will be the only soup on the menu”.
That conversation just wouldn’t happen. Everything I said, my brother would know. So why would I say it? Well it’s the same with that scene above. It’s incredible and it makes the whole thing so comically bad.
There’s a scene as well in episode 3 where a guard finds Ian, Barbara & Vicki, points a gun at them and tells them not to move. What follows is literally 58 seconds of casual conversation between the three of them as they ponder whether or not the guard is able to kill them or not since they know they end up in the cases, or if going with him will get them closer or further away from their fate.
They discuss this openly, right in front of the guard but with no acknowledgement he’s there. Then, once they’ve exhausted the conversation the guard wakes up again and says “Right, that’s enough talking”.
So yes. it’s fair to say that dialogue and exposition from episode 2 onwards is shit.
The Bad – Xerons and Moroks
And the bad stuff doesn’t just end there. The acting extremely ropey. Episode 1 works so well because the only speaking roles go to the four lead actors and they are on top form. But once the Moroks and the Xerons get their awful lines…well, what can you say.
The Xerons aren’t exactly a fearsome bunch of rebels. They are what Lobos says they are – a group of hip 60s kids who stand around deliberating about what they should do and ultimately end up doing nothing. The fact that it took Vicki about 25 minutes to overthrow the Moroks on their behalf (seemingly out of boredom on her part) really called into question their competence and leadership.
But then their leader – Tor – is played by Jeremy Bulloch. Bulloch is best known for his performance (where, let’s not forget he didn’t speak) as Boba Fett in the Star Wars films. Here though he has lots of lines, sadly. And he spends his time standing with his hands on his hips in practically every scene. It doesn’t surprise me that with him in charge nothing got done.
Then there are the Moroks…
We’re supposed to believe that these guys have conquered the universe (including the Daleks it would seem, since a Dalek is an exhibit there) yet the sum total of their power on Xeros is an arms locker which the Xerons haven’t been able to get into. Pathetic.
And the acting isn’t up to much from them either. You’ve got Lobos (played by some Australian bloke who displays all the charisma of a carrot), a few guards (the main one played by Peter Diamond, the stunt arranger who also played Ian’s mate Delos in The Romans – i.e. Jobs for the Boys) and the guard captain (played by Ivor Salter, a man who didn’t really bother to learn his lines).
On the plus side the main cast are good, and Maureen O’Brien seems to relish finally getting to do some stuff on her own, and not attached at the hip to the Doctor.
The Good – The Premise
Despite those problems though, Episodes 2-4 are still interesting. The idea that you can’t escape your own destiny but you can change the future by altering the destiny of others is a bit like the Butterfly effect. It’s a good way to explore a show like Doctor Who, and it’s not something that they’ve done enough of.
- We’re supposed to believe that they have got lost in the Museum, which is believable if we’re supposed to think it’s big enough. But their sense of direction must be terrible since the Doctor hides inside the Dalek at one point, and the Dalek is – according to what we saw in Episode 1 – only one room away from the entrance to the building.
- The music used in this seems incongruous. They use the same soundtrack as was used a couple of years later in The Tomb of the Cybermen. It suits Tomb, but here it just seems weird.
- The DVD contains some interesting things worth checking out. There’s a 10 minute documentary with writer Robert Shearman where he defends the Space Museum even stronger than I have. Also, there’s a good commentary track chaired by Peter Purves. The only problem with that is that he rips into the direction a lot (as the director is presumably dead) but isn’t so cutting about the writing, because the writer (Glyn Jones) is with them. Jones blames all the story’s shortcomings on the script editor, who isn’t there to defend himself.
- Throughout the story, Ian really is written as the gun-toting badass I discussed above. He’s so pissed off with the situation that he comes across like he’s ready to pistol whip Barbara just for looking at him the wrong way. Time travel must have hardened him.
- I love the whole ‘1960s vision of future technology’ thing going on here.
Doctor Who – The Space Museum Review: Should You Watch The Space Museum?
Well you should certainly watch Episode 1 – it’s fantastic. The rest isn’t that good, but while the acting and dialogue leave a lot to be desired, it isn’t as bad as the general consensus would have you believe.
And the exposition is almost literally unbelievable.
If you compare this story to the Crusade you’ll find that the latter story has far better acting, design and sets but it just isn’t that interesting. This has bland sets, ropey acting, basic direction and ridiculous design/costumes, but as a premise it’s far more interesting.
And therefore far more worthy of your time.