Dimensions in Time
The Space Museum
|Dates||Apr. 24, 1965 -
May 15, 1965
With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien.
Written by Glyn Jones. Script-edited by Dennis Spooner.
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
A Review by Ari Lipsey 16/2/98
The Space Museum is not generally regarded as one of the better Hartnell stories. This surprises me because I really enjoyed this story the first time I saw it. I recently saw it again, and though it lacked the full effect of the first showing, I still found it a rather enjoyable story.
The first episode is one of the best of the Hartnell era. I always found it quite amazing that an episode where only the regulars had any lines could sustain my interest. I found this idea the main flaw in The Edge of Destruction. But here it works.
The first scene brings you into the action. The time travelers are seen in their Crusade clothes, and then they suddenly switch into their normal, everyday clothes. Then Vicki drops a glass, and it reforms back in her hand with all the water in it. They arrive at the Space Museum, and notice they don't leave any footprints, then finding that they cannot be heard or seen and cannot touch anything. I was hooked.
The criticism usually lies in the other three episodes. After the classic line: "They've disappeared, and we've arrived", people tend to find that the episode doesn't live up to the expectations created by the first stellar episode. It's true the rest of the story is not as intriguing as the first episode, but there's still some fun left.
One of my favorite aspects of this episode is that there is almost no violence in the first two episodes, but they don't bore. There's also a neat scene in episode where William Hartnell's head pops out of a Dalek after he has said a few words in a Dalek voice. The interrogation scene is great with The Doctor and Governor Lobos having a fun battle of wills. The Doctor's comparison of the Roman Empire to the Morok's Empire was a very neat idea.
The other complaint was the "revolution" or "fascist-rebels" idea had been done to death. This story actually has some depth, the message is some evil must be fought with violence. Even though the Doctor gets the better half of his battle of wits with the Governor, it is only when Ian marches in with a gun that the Doctor is revived and freed. Vicki also comments about the pathetic attempts by the Xerons and nothing really happens till they get some weapons.
Of course the best aspect of the story is the "time catching up with you" idea. It makes the situations that the travelers are in even more suspenseful, as one keeps wondering if they will be caught and killed. This idea is explored in depth through the use of dialogue, but the dialogue dfoesn't seem labored. One of the better scenes is where Ian is debating with Barbara what they should do about the guard who has caught them. Ian remarks if he dies, he won't wind up in the museum case, but Barbara comments he'll still be just as dead.
All this and some comical scenes adds up to one of the best Hartnell stories. It's not perfect, but The Space Museum is lots of fun.
A Review by Tom May 7/11/98
"Have any arms fallen into Xeron Hands?"
Many have said that this oddly constructed tale rapidly goes downhill after a strange first episode. Much as I like to disagree with long-held opinions, I can't help but agree with the oft-made assertion.
The opening episode, while not exactly the most entertaining of episodes, manages to establish an effective ambience, and a curiously pedestrian one at that. The whole episode does work well at presenting a bizarre threat, yet and downbeat subtlty is laudable. The somewhat pointless inclusion of a Dalek in the Museum may've briefly excited children in 1965, but now the sequence is merely a rare, early example of excess continuity.
There's lots and lots of rather silly technobabble terms in use throughout the adventure, and this trend really dosen't work in any sense. As the story unfolds, things steadily deteriorate, and great numbers of bland nobodies appear -- all of the Moroks and the Xerons, basically. Even a decent actor such as Richard Shaw lapses into tedious mediocrity, and frankly, I can barely recall any real characterisation for any of the guest gast.
By this time, it's clear that William Hartnell's character, while still endearingly played, was becoming somewhat lax. He fails to rise sufficiently above the proceedings. The same cannot strictly be said for Ian, very assuredly performed by William Russell. The mellowing of Ian's character, by this time, can't go any further, but still, Russell does a good job. Jacqueline Hill's often excellent Barbara is usually at her best with Hartnell's Doctor, and is rather vapid when with Vicki, who is very unexceptional here. It can be said though that Hill's Barbara is the most impressive character on show. One nice touch in the plot was Ian's use of one of Barbara's ever-present cardigans to track their route (a la Thesseus and The Minotaur) -- this sort of thing was far more interesting to watch than any of the rest of the plot in the last three episodes.
A rather disappointing story, with good concepts, but a very poor, cliched plot. It has a few plus points, but I should say that it is one of the weaker entries in the first Doctor's era. 4/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 18/1/99
The Space Museum isn`t generally remembered for being a classic tale; in fact it isn`t rated very highly by the majority of fandom at all. The opening episode is regarded as the best and it isn`t hard to see why. Here time travel is used as a concept, rather than a device; in that it is actually central to the plot (at least to begin with), instead of a means of transporting the TARDIS to various locations.
The four regulars get a chance to steal the limelight in the opening episode, but it is Maureen O`Brien as Vicki, who deserves top marks here. For once, Vicki is put to good use here, rising above the title of "Susan Clone", showing that she does have some independance and intelligence. The remaining characters (both Moroks and Xerons) are faceless and utterly forgettable. From the third episode onwards, however, things become a standard runaround and you get the feeling that writer Glyn Jones has run out of ideas and is resorting to the dreaded cliche.
It is also hard to believe that such a small group of Moroks could indeed gain control over Xeros; indeed, the spartan setting and small cast belies the fact that the story was made on a standard budget, which would`ve been allocated to any other story from this period. The lack of action only reinforces the lack of sets, as seen in the televised episodes; this of course results in one thing -- boredom.
And this is probably why The Space Museum has gained its "overlooked" status as a Doctor Who tale. In fairness, The Space Museum, like The Web Planet, was an experiment which largely failed, though not for want of trying.
A Review by Keith Bennett 31/1/01
Basically a piece of B-grade science fiction, this story works for me better than one might expect, because, partly at least, I happen to like B-grade science fiction. Call me simple, but I can't deny the liking I have of people running up and down a lot of corridors waving "ray guns" at each other. I think the Xerons are quite a likeable bunch, and the whole story has a bit of humble appeal. The first episode in particular is quite intriguing.
But, of course, one must say this is still... er... not really very good. For a start, the whole premise is a bit much. A planet taken over by a bunch of art exhibitionists?? And then we have the TARDIS crew finding themselves as part of the museum, and trying to stop that particular future from coming true. It's a great idea, but not only do the Doctor and friends not seem to know how to solve the problem, but neither does the writer himself, Glyn Jones, leading to a lot of circular, nonsense dialogue which goes nowhere. Also, Ian seems to be in a particular crothety and snappy mood, almost as if he's had enough of wandering through time and space. If only he was to know he only had one adventure to get through... On the other hand, Vicki shows some wonderful pluckiness, after being generally subdued in the last couple of stories. The concluding battle has to be one of the most mild revolutions every filmed
Overall, The Space Museum IS watchable - for all we B-grade science fiction lovers out in cyberspace.
Not the Best of Season Two, But Certainly Not the Worst by Peter Niemeyer 3/7/01
In my opinion, The Space Museum actually has a fair amount going for it. The premise is an interesting one, that of knowing your future and wondering what you can do to prevent it. The notion has been explored in other shows, but this was probably one of the first televised uses of the notion.
It was good to see some effort put into providing background stories for the supporting cast. I'll admit that Lobos's complaints of being stuck on Xeros, and the Xeron youths' plan for rebellion wasn't as compelling as back stories from The Crusades or The Rescue, but it was better than some of what we saw in The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites.
I was glad to see that Vicki was given something of substance to do. She was really just a supporting character for the Doctor in The Romans and The Crusade, and was a bit of an idiot in The Web Planet, but here she demonstrates an intelligence and conviction that saves the day.
The primary thing I disliked was the way in which the notion of preventing the future wasn't fully explored. There was an awful lot of talk about 'Should we do X or should we not do X?' This is interesting for a minute or two, but not scene after scene. I like the notion that the best way to change your future is to change the futures of those around you, and although this was discussed in part four, it was a bit muddied. Of course, the Doctor offers no explanation as to why it's okay to change the future in this episode and not in their adventures in pre-1960 Earth, but I know in this capacity I expect too much.
I'd also have to admit that the whole Morok/Xeron struggle was rather dull and lifeless, but I think everything else was executed well enough that this wasn't a fatal flaw. And although the revolution had too few extras to be really believable, the museum itself was fairly well realized.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: I'd change the cliffhangers in parts 2 and 3. I think there would have been a greater sense of tension if part 2 had ended with the Doctor being made into a display, and part 3 had ended with Ian and Barbara being added to the display. This would have given the notion that with each passing episode, the future they were trying to avoid is coming closer and closer. It also might have helped to explain how Vicki, who had previously been more of a sidekick, rises to become the central hero.
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The cliffhangers in parts 1 and 4. Episode 1 does a wonderful (if slightly drawn out) job of setting up the premise, and the Doctor's final line of 'We've arrived,' really kicks the story off. And although the return of the Daleks may be no big deal now, I'm sure their cameo in part 4, complete with news that they have their own time machine and are in pursuit of the TARDIS, was a shocker back in 1966.
Would I Watch This Serial Again: Yes, but only if I was watching the entire season. I doubt I'd ever watch this serial in isolation.
A sci-fi cliché with a twist by Tim Roll-Pickering 16/10/01
It is always refreshing when a Doctor Who story attempts to do something different and imaginative and The Space Museum shows strong promise. The opening episode (also called The Space Museum) starts out well, right from the opening scenes in the TARDIS where the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki suddenly find their clothes have changed with no explanation at all. The successive scenes are each mysterious and intriguing as we see a glass of water shatter and then reform instantaneously, the travellers leaving no footprints in the dust or being seen by anyone else and eventually they find themselves all preserved in display cases. The idea of the TARDIS 'jumping a time track' and allowing its passengers to take a glimpse into their own future is novel and opens up possibilities for how to prevent that future coming about. Of course the idea of being able to change the course of time is slightly at odds with the notion that it is set in stone presented in earlier stories such as The Aztecs or The Reign of Terror, but this is ignored and references are to changing the future, not history.
The cliffhanger to the first episode is one of the most bizarre yet seen in the series, using static images to convey things returning to normal but after that the remaining three episodes do not live up to the promise of the first. There's nothing especially wrong about presenting a sci-fi cliché with a twist, and in this case it sets scope for greater tension as the four regulars ponder each move they are about to make in case it leads to their winding up in the cases, but the main story of the Xerons trying to overthrow the Moroks and liberate their planet is dull. There are few signs of just why the Morok rule should provoke an uprising now and so it is difficult to sympathise with the Xerons or despise the Moroks and both are equally unmemorable. Of all the guest characters, only Lobos receives any substantial time at all for exposure and Richard Shaw's portrayal takes the weariness of his position far too far. Most of the other actors seem to be following his cue, with the result that there is little tension in many of the confrontation scenes.
Visually the story contains some nice surprises though. The sight of a Dalek casing in the first two episodes is a nice touch (even though the Dalek design has changed slightly by the time of the final episode's cliffhanger for The Chase) and the sight of the Doctor emerging from it is a wonderful moment. Equally fun is the scene where Lobos uses a thought reading machine to interrogate the Doctor and the latter produces a whole series of bizarre images to bedevil his questioner. It is also good to see Vicki taking a leading role in a story for a change, where she shows determination and a refusal to give up by encouraging her fellow travellers to carry on and the also pushing the Xerons into forcing through their rebellion. The rebellion itself is highly clichéd, with a bunch of men running around firing ray guns all over the place.
By the end of the story the Moroks have been defeated and the Doctor and companions are now safe since the museum is no longer active but there's little sense of these events being of great weight. The Space Museum is not a particularly exciting adventure but does at least deserve credit for trying something novel even though the execution isn't the best. 5/10
First Episode Syndrome by David Massingham 7/2/04
Just to be original, I'm going to have to start out by mentioning that the first episode of The Space Museum is really rather good. This initial half-hour is terrific stuff, with a carefully constructed atmosphere slowly pulling the audience into believing in this new kind of menace. As other reviewers have already argued, the concept of time as the enemy is a wonderful tact to take, and additionally creates many intriguing questions which encourages the viewer to actually think about what is going on.
It builds up slowly and deliberately, but never gets boring or tired. And it culminates in what I believe to be the strongest cliffhanger in the entire Hartnell era -- the immortal lines of "They've disappeared!" "Yes, my dear... and we've arrived!" Glorious.
Now, let me continue to be incredibly original by stating that the next three episodes simply fail to live up to the promise set up in part one. It's a combination of done-to-death cliches, bland forgettable characters and tensionless scripting which undoes the first quarter of The Space Museum, and boy is it a shame. It's not atrociously bad, but it is terribly average.
For starters, the guest cast is uniformly faceless. The acting isn't much better, ranging from plain old dull (most of the Morok guards) to earnest yet amateur (most of the Xeron rebels). Richard Shaw, in particular, seems to have phoned in his performance as Governor Lobos, and that eager young pup Dako (Peter Craze) just comes across as a wet fish. One suspects that writer Glyn Jones was attempting to create some humour by making the two opposing forces completely incompetent, but the unfortunate result is that a lot of the tension is drained from the script.
Another significant flaw with this adventure lies in the often crass and unsubtle dialogue. In an attempt to give his characters some sort of motivation, Jones spells out their internal thoughts in ill-conceived monologues -- witness the introductions for both Lobos and the Morok Commander. Furthermore, we get horrible exchanges between the regulars discussing the hopelessness of their predicament. Of particular note is the scene in part four where Barbara blandly observes that they had each had four separate adventures that all led to their being captured. This is followed by each of the characters reminding the audience of what they did; but it fails to actually address the interesting premise brought up in part one.
To be fair, there are some dialogue-based scenes which come out quite well. The interrogation scene between Lobos and the Doctor is quite nice, with some gentle humour woven into the script, undercut nicely by a solid cliffhanger. Vicki is also given some strong lines to work with in this story, resulting in this being her best outing to date. Maureen O'Brien fairly lights up the screen in this tale, ensuring that the audience has that little bit more to be entertained by. Likewise, William Hartnell is very good; unfortunately Barbara and Ian are barely adequate, with their short tempers and sniping grating on this viewers' nerves.
Fandom often makes a point of noting that An Unearthly Child is the major example of first episode syndrome -- that is, the initial part vastly overshadows its follow ups. I'd like to add The Space Museum as a close rival. The first part is near superb, and the rest of it barely forms a shadow to trail it. As I originally stated, it's not bad, but it is certainly a missed opportunity.
6 out of 10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 4/7/04
So what happened to convert a very promising and exciting Episode 1 into the dross that is Episodes 2-4? I think it's very much a case of an interesting build-up resulting a poor resolution. Which probably has to be the most disappointing aspect about a lot of DW stories. The pay-off does not match the build-up. Fact is though Episode 1 has to be considered one of the best opening episodes of the series in the 60s, and that deserves some credit.
When the TARDIS crew arrive on Xeros there is an air of supreme mystery about the place. Vicki drops a glass only to see it reform, with the water inside. Their footprints don't appear when they walk - something very strange is going on, and it really is quite creepy. The highlight of the episode, as the TARDIS crew find themselves in display cases, is also the end of this story as anything interesting at all.
NEVER has a story had a greater contrast between its first episode and its last. Once the Doctor has worked out that the crew hasn't arrived yet, and some strange time track has occurred, the rest of the show is spent wandering through corridors and around some of the most pathetic villains in the universe.
The 3 teenage revolutionists don't seem capable of engineering any kind of uprising, but then with the standard of the agressors - I don't suppose they needed to be up to much. Jeremy Bulloch as Tor fights valiantly for the cause, and becomes rather fond of Vicki too - but the other two are just stupid. I'm glad he got a another chance in DW, as Tor is about the only decent character in the whole thing (apart from the main cast). The alien aggressors are terrible - the Moroks could very well win the prize for Worst Alien Species of all. The thought of them conquering so many worlds is frankly ridiculous.
The TARDIS crew go through the motions with this story. It's a bit of shame really that Ian and Barbara get a rough deal in their last two stories. Maybe their characters have reached their natural end by now, but the scripts don't help either. Vicki is actually quite endearing however. She definitely has a rapport with Tor, and this is actually one of Maureen O'Brien's best performances. William Hartnell starts well in the excellent opening episode, but diminishes like the story. It is Vicki who opens the weaponry, it is Ian who is seen to be the man of action. The Doctor is frozen!!! For a great deal of the second half he is incapacitated, his involvement could well have raised the standard - but it doesn't happen.
There is one highlight though that ranks as one of my favourite scenes in all Who. When William Hartnell shouts "Exterminate" and emerges from his hiding place in a Dalek and sniggers, I almost fell off my chair - it was so funny!
This is one of those stories when 4 parts is just too long. I have always been a fan of small stories - the 2/3 parters. DW had already shortened Planet of the Giants this season though, so I don't suppose they wanted another acknowledgement of a bad script. The fact remains though that Glyn Jones writes the most mindnumbing prose imaginable. How are we supposed to get interested in a group of people who are bored and talk about being bored? We'll just have to get bored ourselves, and that's exactly what happens over the last three quarters.
Oh, and another thing - that museum is pretty boring too, isn't it! Pity the poor Xerons being taken on a school trip there when they're 9 - maybe that's why they turned into such lifeless teenagers (Tor excepted). How can you take a alien aggressor seriously when they look like they've just come from a Elvis appreciation concert? Three parts of this story are just so bad I'm very tempted to just go to the BBC Vaults and wipe the episodes myself. This is awful Doctor Who, it is only Episode 1 that saves it from being the worst ever. 4/10
A Review by Brian May 3/4/06
The Space Museum has the reputation of being the cheap story of its season. Not just typically low-budget Doctor Who, but rock bottom, bargain basement, everything must go cheap.
So does it deserve this? Well, yes. Season two's money was spent elsewhere, so this adventure had to make do with the dregs. That explains the cheap sets and models. Sixties Who is always associated with the programme at its most ridiculous looking - although the CSO dominated 1970s and the ugly tackiness of the 1980s make this allegation debatable - but what the black and white era almost always got right were well-designed exteriors and interiors of alien worlds/buildings/spacecraft etc. The Daleks, parts of The Keys of Marinus, The Sensorites, The Rescue and The Web Planet are all examples of this. Despite its shortcomings, Planet of Giants featured some very imaginative design. But the few exterior shots of the eponymous museum look like the toys they virtually are - it's one of the few occasions where the 1960s stereotype applies. The interiors are bland, and the corridors are just so, well, corridor-ish.
Secondly, it seems the production team couldn't afford a composer. Okay, not usually a problem. Stock music has been used elsewhere in Doctor Who, often to good effect. But couldn't they have afforded the services of someone with a musical ear? Someone who could have selected better tunes? The few pieces we hear are incredibly irritating; that sequence of five synthesised notes, stabbed at various (and numerous) points throughout the story are jarring. The rest is bombastically B-grade - the music at the cliffhanger to episode one is such a poor man's Devil's Gallop!
Funds were also so short it seems decent guest actors were out of reach. There's one exception, a very young Jeremy Bulloch as Tor, but the rest are plain awful. Richard Shaw as Lobos is the worst; his delivery is so lifeless it's embarrassing. It's a pity, because he's got such a great voice; here's hoping he concentrated on radio drama, for he would have made an excellent villain and could keep the script in front of him! I don't really want to criticise Sonia Markham or Daphne Dare for their make-up and costume efforts - after all, they've done great work elsewhere in the series - but the Xeron eyebrows, the Morok wigs and the outfits prove they must have been desperately short of resources. And the direction!!! This was done by Mervyn Pinfield?!? The same Mervyn Pinfield who gave us a brilliant first four episodes of The Sensorites? Did he decide to put in a cheap effort or something, for this story has some of the most lacklustre, unimaginative "point and shoot" direction in the series. Thank goodness Howard King decided to be imaginative: his lighting work is excellent, perhaps the only technical aspect of the story worth noting. Look at the dark backdrop behind the headshots of William Hartnell in the second episode. It's incredibly striking, and in the episode's final image the Doctor looks ghostly.
What's the story like? Well, it's mixed. You can either look at it as a boring rebellion story spiced up by a fascinating time paradox subplot, or the fascinating idea of a time paradox that's dominated by the main plotline of a boring rebellion. Take your pick. The Xerons' planned insurgence against the Moroks is tedious. The script allows for some shades of grey to be explored: the Moroks aren't exactly evil; Lobos is bored, the others were sent there unwillingly and just want to return home. At worst they could merely be insensitive to the Xerons' plight, or just obeying orders. But none of this potential is tapped; it's a straight down the line goodies versus baddies scenario. Who's Next (Mark Clapham, Eddie Robson and Jim Smith) is one of the few officially published Doctor Who review works to be generous to this adventure, implying but never confirming it as an anti-apartheid tome, chiefly due to writer Glyn Jones's South African nationality. There's no problem in their surmising this, but they fail to note the total blandness of the story, the characters and the actors that makes it difficult to care about the situation at all. There's laziness in the scripting (Barbara experiencing no long-term effects from the zaphra gas) and the final battle, in which the rebels run around, shoot rayguns and uneventfully defeat their oppressors and take back their planet, is similarly dull.
So the "time track" idea certainly lifts the story. It's used to good effect as the TARDIS crew ponder the problem facing them: how to avoid a future they've glimpsed thanks to a temporal anomaly. Do we do this? Don't we do this? Do we do that? The predicament is intriguing and nightmarish. It even creates a smattering of interest as the Xerons question Vicki's motives for wanting the rebellion - but it's a smattering, that's all! The complexities of causality and predestination are well explored, but not substantially enough to alleviate the story's overall boredom factor. But it does save the first episode. It's undoubtedly the best, because the focus is on the main characters; the Xeron/Morok plot doesn't unfold until the second, so the adventure is allowed to start well. In spite of the dull direction there are some genuinely surreal moments. The time travellers unable to be seen by anyone, their coming face to face with their museum piece selves and the great cliffhanger are such examples.
William Russell and Maureen O'Brien are the regulars best served by this story. Ian gets to show some leadership in the Doctor's absence, and partakes in derring-do bravery that never gets macho, while Vicki gets some great moments with the Xerons. Jacqueline Hill has never given a bad performance as Barbara, but her character is underwritten here so she doesn't get to make much of an impact. William Hartnell is very erratic, almost distracted at times (the opening scenes in the control room) but at others is intensely focused and compelling ("Yes my dear - and we've arrived!") His emergence from the Dalek casing is hilarious and a memorably endearing image.
But overall The Space Museum is a disappointment. It's the budgetary runt of the season, but Doctor Who as its most shoestring is capable of better. After the fascinating first episode it turns into a boring runaround. It's infused with thought-provoking issues of cause and effect, but overall there's little to care about. 3.5/10
Have any arms fallen into Xeron hands? by Terrence Keenan 10/4/08
Hmm...... I am still in a bit of awe when it comes to Hartnell episodes. It's an era unlike any other in Who, where the production team and writers are still figuring out the rules and how things are supposed to work.
Which means you get odd bits like episode one, where the TARDIS jumps a track and we get a glimpse into an alternate future. Even though it feels like a Twilight Zone episode, the performances of the regulars makes it work. There's a sense of leisure, of allowing us the viewer to understand the world we've arrived in and what the problems may be. In a nice touch, we stay within the view of the regulars, only knowing what they know. The image of them as exhibits in the museum is striking, and just a bit creepy.
The remaining three episodes seem like standard fare though, to your 21st Century Who fan, because we've seen this fascist/rebel throwdown before, many, many times. But there are some fun moments, like Big Bill Hartnell having fun with the Morok Governor's mind probe -- the amphibious joke made me howl --, his escape from the rebels/Dalek immitation, and Vicki leading the revolution. Jackie Hill is awesome as usual as Barbara. No matter what she does, I'm along for the ride whenever she's on screen. William Russell handles the action bits with his usual aplomb. Only the guest cast and the final episodes are letdowns; they seem to be taking it a bit too seriously. Then again, it is a different era, before irony, camp and post-modernism invaded every TV sci-fi/fantasy series.
So, The Space Museum is a bit slow, but the regulars make it worth investing time in.
A Review by Paul Williams 18/8/19
The Space Museum never delivers on a fascinating premise. For the first time, we realise that time can be altered, with the story following attempts to prevent the crew ending up as exhibits in the museum. An institution with a governor and many guards but never any visitors. Economic failures contributed to the fall of the Morok empire. The remnants of the once-great military power are overrun by a bunch of teenage boys, once when they steal weapons from the armoury. Vicki is the architect of the theft with another confident performance. Her Xeron collaborators are as unconvincing as their opponents.
It is a story that could have been told in three episodes, without losing anything relevant. Highlights are the intriguing first episode, the return of the Daleks at the end and the Doctor's first conversation with Lobos. The wider significance is the willingness to explore the fifth dimension, opening multiple opportunities for future storylines. Also, it is the first time that the crew have to intervene in events. Until now, the focus has been on escaping from a situation or making a conscious choice to change things. Here the choice is compulsory, changing them into influencers and confining their roles as mere observers to a museum.
One Quarter Brilliance, Three Quarters Runaround by Matthew Kresal 30/6/21
The more time I spend looking at it, the more I've come to realize how strange a beast Doctor Who's second season was. Instead of consolidating on the lessons learned from its first year, the show remained experimental, toying with its format in serial after serial. Or perhaps even experimenting within the space of a single story with story structure. That experimentation, and its effects, can be seen writ large on the mid-season four-parter The Space Museum.
Take the first episode. The opening installment is pretty high concept, with the TARDIS crew arriving at the titular space museum but realizing that something has gone wrong with time. The twenty-odd minutes that follow are atmospheric and tense, featuring them wandering around the museum until they discover a most troubling exhibit: themselves. Messing around with time isn't something that Classic Who often did, which makes how well this first part of the serial works all the more remarkable. It's also full of some great chemistry between the four leads, as together they try to figure out what they've gotten themselves into and then watching the realization dawn on them in a genre twist on the questions of predestination explored in The Aztecs. Finally, it all builds up to a classic cliffhanger ending, if ever there was one. It's a great example of 1960s Doctor Who at its best and one of the single strongest episodes made throughout Classic Who's entire quarter-century run.
Unfortunately, The Space Museum goes downhill from there at the speed of an Olympic skier. With time having caught up with the TARDIS crew, you might have expected the three episodes that followed to be a tension-filled exercise in escaping fate. Instead, to the shame of writer Glyn Jones and script editor Dennis Spooner, the whole thing turns into a runaround. One that, even by this early point in the show's history, already feels tired and old hat involving a rebellion that merely needs the Doctor and co to kick it into high gear. A serial that tries to use the opening episode as a thematic Sword of Damocles, but instead leaves the impression its opening episode came from another story altogether.
Worse, it's a runaround that feels almost like a parody. Jones' script feels like a parody of science fiction on the whole, with talk of ray guns and (for the 1960s) high technology and an older "oppressive" group of bureaucratic aliens facing off against a literal group of young rebels. Something which might have worked in a different context, as Douglas Adams would later prove, but which utterly failed to catch fire here. In part because everyone involved plays with the utmost seriousness, despite the absurdity of the lines. That is until it isn't, such as Ian trying to rip Barbara's cardigan with his teeth or a guard late in the serial trying to jump the travelers holding him at gunpoint, leading to a jarring change of tone even within single scenes. It's an example of how to take a good opening episode, with its promise of a science-fiction turn at the "You can't change history, not one line!" pronouncement of the previous season, and utterly let it down.
It's sometimes easy to call Classic Who stories a tale of two halves. In the case of The Space Museum, it's more one of a quarter followed by three lesser ones. Despite the dull, runaround nature of much of what follows in its wake, The Space Museum's opening installment remains a remarkable piece of work. If this story is worth seeing for any reason, it's for those twenty-minutes or so. And to mourn afterward for the serial that should have been.