Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Doctor Who Story 015: The Space Museum


Museum Piece...

It could have been far more than it ultimately turned out to be. The four-part story collectively known as The Space Museum (episodes being The Space Museum, The Dimensions of Time, The Search, and The Final Phase) starts out all right, but then goes down familiar paths and has some rather curious moments. It may be my Twenty-First Century eyes, but I detected an undertone of commentary in Glyn Jones' script on the evils of colonialism. As it stands, The Space Museum has some good moments to it, but not enough to hold much interest beyond Episode One.

We begin with strange goings-on aboard the TARDIS. The Doctor (William Hartnell) along with his Companions Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Vicki (Maureen O'Sullivan) find themselves frozen in moment briefly, and when they are free to move about, they find themselves in their own clothes rather than in the medieval wardrobe they had in The Crusade they were just wearing. The Doctor is curiously unconcerned about how they got back to their regular clothes or how Vicki managed to break a glass of water and see it restored almost right away. He IS interested in the building on the planet they've landed on. It is a Space Museum with artifacts of all types, including the remains of a Dalek. There, more strange things are going on: the guards and 'visitors' do not see them, the exhibits are visible to them but if they try to touch them they appear to be like shadows, and at the end of Episode One, they make a shocking discovery: the newest exhibits are of themselves!

From this point, the travelers attempt to discover how they got to be part of the Space Museum and to avoid it. The curators of the museum are the Moroks, headed up by Governor/Curator Lobos (Richard Shaw) He is bored on the planet Xeros which the Moroks occupy, much to the displeasure of the native Xerons, who all appear to be college-age men. (Curiously, no women apart from Barbara and Vicki are seen in The Space Museum, not unlike Lawrence of Arabia). The Xerons, led by Sita (Peter Sanders) and Dako (Peter Craze), attempt to foster a revolution, but can't get at the armory, which is guarded by a computer who asks questions that must be answered correctly to open. The travellers become separated: the Doctor captured first by the Xerons, then by Lobos, who starts to turn him into the exhibit. Barbara, Vicki, and Ian at first are together but then the Xerons take Vicki, who promptly begins fostering revolution and gets them the weapons by rejigging the computer to accept the truthful answer regardless of whether it's the logical one. Ian attempts to rescue the Doctor and almost succeeds but is taken by Lobos and the Moroks, and Barbara is gassed and captured. Just before they all succumb to their fate, the Xerons retake the museum and rescue the travellers. The Doctor takes a souvenir of the now dismantled museum (a Time & Space Visualizer) and discovers that a mechanical issue on the TARDIS is what caused the time track jump. We end with them leaving, but they have been the Daleks!

I think that The Space Museum could have been far better if Jones had not opted for a 'revolution' story. In other words, once Episode One ends, we get bogged down in another story where the Doctor and his Companions find themselves aiding in overthrowing the occupation force. In short, it was a good opportunity wasted with a second-tier story. Once we see the Moroks looking bored while holding Xeros and the Xerons planning revolution, we realize that whatever mystery of how they got to be made exhibits gets thrown out the window (curiously, there are no windows in the actuall museum). The Moroks do appear as if they'd rather be somewhere else and have no enthusiasm or interest in holding Xeros other than they are already there. The Xerons themselves aren't too enthusiastic about overthrowing the Moroks. Instead, they appear to just talk revolution because they truly have nothing else to do. Neither group has any sense of superiority of the conqueror or fury of the conquered.

In short, they all look rather bored to be in the museum (which happens more often than not). If they are bored, imagine the viewer. Jones' script would have worked better if he had opted not to put in this type of story. He could have created a villain who just enjoyed collecting exotic creatures (The Space Zoo would have been a better story), and have them lead a mass escape. A stronger villain or more enthusiastic allies would have done great service to The Space Museum, and the fact that neither are there does the story great damage.

There are also many points of logic in The Space Museum that aren't answered. For example, if this was suppose to be a museum dedicated to the glory of the Morok Empire, why are there no signs to state what a visitor would be looking at or to tell them what room they are in? Much of The Space Museum is built around the fact that the travellers are forever wandering within it, with no idea where they are in this massive complex. If this were to be a real place, any Morok who ventured to the museum would soon become hopelessly lost, and for some reason the Moroks never seem to think this, more than a lack of interest in Morok history, would keep visitors from venturing to what I take it is a remote and distant planet to see a bunch of space junk.

Another oddity involves the Xerons themselves. We're suppose to believe they are the native population, but we never get a full explanation as to why the native population are all young men (and their odd eyebrows are the only things that make them appear alien, but the effect is more humorous than serious). By making them all so young (and remarkably unenthusiastic) The Space Museum gives them very little to do. You'd think they would want to throw the shackles of oppression against the bored Moroks, and thus would try to take the weapons by any way necessary. However, their leaders are either lazy or extremely dumb, and it takes Vicki's need to do something in The Space Museum to lead, or at least instigate, the actual rebellion.

Director Mervyn Pinfield did himself no favors by having some pretty weak effects. His decision to have no original music score made the fight sequences sound odd. The mind-reading effect in Episode Two was a great idea, but it was executed badly with obvious use of photos that didn't seem to mesh well within the story, either here and especially at the end of Episode One. Granted, the effects in 1965 may look weak today, but even then they could have done better. His decision to build up the Doctor's reappearance throughout Episode Three could have been a strong moment, but the final revealing in Episode Four was such a disappointment and remarkably undramatic.

The biggest issue in The Space Museum is just how bored and disinterested everyone looks. No one can muster any enthusiasm or interest: either to stop the revolution or begin the revolution or just to escape the Space Museum. Few stories in Doctor Who appear to have people just going through the motions as this one does. The second biggest issue is in the costumes. The Moroks are all in white and the Xerons all in black. Here, we could have had some subtext about the British Empire and the effects of colonization on the native population. However, when it looks like the Xerons just appear to have come out of a beatnik coffee bar (and I think one of them was wearing Converse shoes) it made it look all so cheap. A side note on the costumes: it strikes me as typical that Ian makes Barbara ruin HER cardigan sweater--far be it for him to sacrifice his jacket threads.

Perhaps the best moment in The Space Museum may also be one of the worse. It is when the Doctor emerges from a Dalek shell, delighted to have found such an excellent hiding place. Granted, it IS clever, but it does run the risk of making the Daleks into a bit of a joke, and from time to time in the future, they do become objects of ridicule as opposed to terror. There are a couple of good ideas: such as when the Doctor is interrogated, but they are few and not enough to life the story.

The Space Museum is not held in high esteem by fans, and I can see why. Overall, the story itself isn't very good, but what pushes it down is the fact that it appears to have wasted a great opportunity. Like An Unearthly Child, it has a good first episode and then wanders away from a strong premise to present a rather boring story of rebellious youth (pun intended). It could have been one of the better First Doctor stories if the villains had been more intent on capturing the travellers and the focus had been on them escaping, not on them leading a revolution. In conclusion, it is clear why people don't visit The Space Museum.


Next Story: The Chase

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