Doctor Who (Classic): S02E07 “The Space Museum”

Season 2
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield
Written by Glyn Jones

I’ve given Doctor Who a lot of crap for its very similar and frequently awkward openings before, but this week just shows how much better they can do. The typical TARDIS set introduction sets a mystery up right away and features a number of weird instances right away with the Tardis, The Doctor, and his Companions all waking up from last week’s cliffhanger freeze with everyone’s clothes changed. Things only get stranger from their as Vicki drops a glass which reconstitutes itself in her hand water included, the planet seems simultaneously seems dead yet feels hospitable, the planet is covered with a thick layer of dust in which they fail to leave any footprints, and the group is not noticed by the other humans on the planet who are also silent to them. These mysteries act as a quick and interesting way to start the episode but in a more natural way than last week’s technique or barreling forward and sorting things out later. The first episode is just about a perfect first episode and a highlight of the First Doctor’s era.

As it turns out this is the first serial to play around with the concept of time instead of just space (or in the case of “Planet of Giants” relative dimensions). By jumping a “time track”, not only does the series open itself up significantly from its normal self, but it also leaves The Doctor, who is loath to admit he doesn’t know something, admittedly confused and out of his element. It also for the first time allows the Doctor to change history which he had been understandably unwilling to do before. While it might be cynical to say that his opinion changes because it directly affects him, the show thus far has always felt more willing to change things in its sci-fi stories. Despite The Doctor’s status as a time traveler from an indeterminate era, there’s so real sense of history, or at least none the Doctor seems familiar with, of anything that happened past “present day” on Earth. In fact, Vicki’s knowledge of a previous Dalek invasion of Earth (which she was the only one not there for) is the first occasion of anyone acknowledging such a history. Whether intended to or not, this clearly shows the First Doctor as someone without much knowledge of the universe.

After this great start however, the story quickly degenerates into a typical Doctor Who story of one villainous race (The Moroks) and one subjugated (The Xerons). There’s a real theme of the subjugated race being one who planned for peace not only in this serial but throughout the show thus far. Being filmed in a nation that not 20 years ago had just wrapped a war that started with a similar situation left an impact. Even with this history in mind, there’s only so many times this story can be told before you start thinking of all the races that planned for peace are idiots and from getting bored of the same story. They don’t even go for an original take on the subject as it becomes a case of just watching as it ticks off all the usual story beats. The Moroks aren’t very intimidating even when they have the upper hand and just look like regular humans with particularly stupid hair. Barbara spends far too much time being menaced by gas for it to still be effective and The Doctor spends much of the plot simply out of commission.

The first episode of the story set up so much promise, but the rest just couldn’t live up to it. There is some rumination in the final episode about fate but it’s too little too late. It’s not a bad serial with some interesting moments scattered about and carried by its great set up, it’s just disappointing based on what could have been.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations

– The Doctor just casually dismisses that they were in different clothes only a moment ago and refuses to even bother to explain why this wouldn’t be a problem which is such a Doctor thing to do.
– While not the first serial to do so, the first episode here offers a rare glimpse into another room of the TARDIS when Vicki goes to retrieve the water.
– “This one looks quite friendly”. The Dalek shell in the space museum provides our leads with an opportunity to awkwardly shoehorn in talk about their last Dalek adventure (and more egregiously no mention of a certain crew member they left behind at the end of that story). I get that the Daleks were extremely popular but this is just pandering.
– There’s also a groan worthy moment where The Doctor emerges from the Dalek shell with a stupid grin that screams “Ain’t I a stinker?”
– That being said, Ian gets a chance to quickly and deftly foreshadow next week’s serial by saying that they are unlikely to see the Daleks again.
– “How did you get here” *Picture shows of a penny-farthing*. Despite his reputation, the First Doctor can have quite a sense of humor also later mentally projecting a picture of himself in a body suit.
– I just can’t take the Xerons seriously with their hilariously arched eyebrows, the only thing separating either race in appearance from ordinary humans.
– Vicki makes for a heck of an aspiring revolutionary eagerly coming up with the idea of storming the armory and hacking into the armory which ultimately saves the day.
– The action scenes have returned to their usual lackluster self.
– Despite an introductory moment of The Doctor saying they should all stay together, almost the entire plot has all four of them separated from each other.
– There’s a bit of a side romantic plot formed between Vicki and Tor (one of the Moroks), but Vicki seems pretty oblivious to it as she is more concerned with not winding up a human corpsicle and Tor is too much of a nonentity.
– The Doctor loots the Space Museum at the end of its “Time and Space Visualizer” for yet another foreshadowing moment of the next serial.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: Continuing the trend of great cliffhangers and the many teases of the Daleks in this serial, it is revealed that not only do the Daleks know where The Doctor and his Companions are, but they have their own time machine and prepared to give chase.

Next Up: “The Chase” on Friday