Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Space Museum"

The Space Museum

Story 15
Aired: Apr 24 - May 15, 1965

Episode 1 – The Space Museum
Episode 2 – The Dimensions of Time
Episode 3 – The Search
Episode 4 – The Final Phase

Written by Glyn Jones
 
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis

The TARDIS lands in a way unlike any other landing, with the travelers frozen at the console and their clothes mysteriously changing from the 12th Century attire from their previous adventure. On the scanner, they see numerous space ships on display around a lone building. The travelers leave the TARDIS to explore. They are startled to find that they are leaving no footprints in the sandy surface. Once they begin exploring the museum, they find that that they cannot touch solid objects, but rather pass through them. They encounter humanoid beings as well, but the beings cannot see the travelers.

Having apparently reached a space museum on the barren planet Xeros, the four travelers discover that the TARDIS has in fact 'jumped a time track', giving them a glimpse into their own future: a future in which they end up as static exhibits in museum display cases.

As time catches up with them, the Doctor and his companions try to avert this possible future by altering events in the present, never sure whether the steps they are taking will lead to their demise or their salvation. They aid a group of youthful Xeron rebels to overthrow the warlike Morok invaders led by Governor Lobos, who have established the museum as a monument to their galactic conquests.

As the travelers prepare to leave Xeros, the Doctor is given a gift of one exhibit; a device called a time/space visualizer. The other items in the museum are set to be destroyed. As the TARDIS departs, it is not unnoticed. On the planet Skaro, the Daleks watch the TARDIS set off, and they are clearly planning something…


Analysis

The Space Museum has a dire reputation in fan circles, and it is not entirely unfounded. However, there are parts of the story that are nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests.

The first episode is particularly wonderful; the strange and novel dilemma of somehow being out of sync with time and the ensuing conundrum of trying to avoid a future you've already seen is intriguing and well-executed. The desire of the travelers to avoid becoming display items, and their uncertainty in their attempts to do so, is actually quite enjoyable to watch. Will the knowledge allow them to change their future? Or are they simply doing what they did in the first place? In short, are man's actions predestined? It's all intriguing stuff, and Mervyn Pinfield's technical prowess means that the first episode contains numerous little treats.

However the rest of the story is wrapped up in an insipid fascists vs. rebels story.  The idea behind the Moroks, that of depicting an empire in decline, is a solid one. But the story chooses to depict the Moroks as mostly incompetent and stupid thugs, which immediately brings into question how they were ever mighty in the first place. The Xerons are a little better, but their costume design is utterly awful; black shirt, black trousers, comedy eyebrows , Chuck Taylor All-Stars. The whole thing seems inconsequential, as it's all too clear that they didn't spend any money on the story at all.

The adventure is at least filmed well, with Pinfield's skill at quick cutting being used to great effect in battle scenes that otherwise would have felt even more pointless. Maureen O'Brien is great as the instigator of a planetary revolution, and she clearly is enjoying being given an active role. The first two episodes show Hartnell in fine form. Surprisingly, only the usually excellent William Russell and Jacqueline Hill disappoint, and that's only due to the material they're given. Ian does some fairly standard action man stuff, and gets a couple moments, but he's done it all before. Barbara spends most of the serial getting gassed.

Is The Space Museum the low point of the second season? Well, unfortunately, that may not be the case, as we'll see in the next story.

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