The Space Museum

Written by:
Glyn Jones
Directed by: Mervyn Pinfield
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1965
Video Availability: Try

The Space Museum kicks off ten weeks of derided Who, culminating with the Dalek Laugh-In that is The Chase. Personally I love The Chase to bits and I reckon this is okay, but they're both stories that have yet to be really reappraised. Or maybe the majority are right, they are crap, and I just like 'em in spite of themselves.

First of all, let me say that I can't stand the title, which is, like the next season's Galaxy 4, yet more of Who's parochial nonsense. It isn't a museum in space, or about space per se, so why call it a space museum? To the people who own it it would be a Xeron museum, and everything else external. This may seem like infantile quibbling, and I can understand the companions saying it, but a traveller like the Doctor? Anyway, I've observed before that characterisation can be inconsistent in the Hartnell era, most notably in The Daleks' Masterplan. It's no real problem, and is no worse than other eras (and least they bothered to have characterisation in this era of the programme), but is notable all the same. Yet here we get the worst of it, as slack-wearing, easy-going Liberal science teacher Ian Chesterton is transformed into a bouffanted karate-chopping hard case in a strop.

Billy, meanwhile, has a fluff field day, giving us in the first episode alone: "I expect child that they're hanging up where they're sit-supposed to be" and "oh, I think that might be just some fluoreps… fluore… fluorescent substance in the, er, walls." Episode two gives us "It's a pity my dear boy, you didn't discover it was missing in the cases, when we standing there stan, er, staring at each other."

On a technical level then it fails to impress, then and now. Then, because the two-dimensional backdrops hinder Pinfield's above-standard direction, and now because the picture is so shitty there's a layer of grime between us and the images, increasing the sense of artificiality. The special effects are reasonably impressive though, even if the stock sound effects and music are both appalling.

Yet say what you like about The Space Museum, it's one of the most innovative uses of the format. I've hesitated over using the cliché of comparing it to The Twilight Zone, though as I've seen every single episode of said series I think that's qualification enough for being able to say it. That's praise for this story, though, not implication that it derived its inspiration from another source. The Tardis has jumped a time track, causing the crew to see themselves as they will become… lifeless, trapped exhibits in a museum. Absolutely chilling.
* * * *

Sadly, after the superb episode one (which would have got at least an extra star did it not look so amateurish) things start to falter from hereon in. The "aliens" - blokes in cardigans and highbrows, vs. blokes with wigs and shoulder pads like Gary Glitter - are uninspired, and it all falls into "run and fight" territory. I'm not saying Billy's interpretation of the Doctor is a formulaic caricature of his usual rendition, but the silly old f***er says "Hmmm?" no less than 58 times throughout the whole story.

Richard Shaw gives his opening exposition with all the enthusiasm of following through in your own pants. My God, he's f***ing awful, an "actor" of Laird-like proportions. Did they really bother to contact Equity, or did they just pick a random bloke off the street outside Tesco's? To be honest, even though I'm an apologist for The Space Museum, I'm already bored shitless of it three minutes into episode two. The first part is great, but with a poor guest cast, poor technical achievement and dialogue that would only sound good on paper, it's dire. The central premise rocks like a daddy, but all the extraneous guff with collective aliens whose names are an anagram of Staid Rot Boloks* is a massive turn-off.
* Okay, so there's an "A" and an "O" left over from Lobos, Tor, Dako and Sita, but still…

Ian starts to get aggressive and manic from this episode on, and whips off Barbara's cardigan. Maybe he was just really dying for a shag. Meanwhile, while the episode is generally… well, crap… the scene where Billy conjures up daft images on Lobo's monitor is priceless.
* * ½

There's an interminable scene with some of the Moroks, one of which accuses the others of being a "feeble bunch of half-witted amateurs". Okay, everyone's a critic, but you can't say he's not on the money. "I've had enough of this!" says Ian, and again you have to think that maybe the dialogue is self-commentating. As a Billy-free zone then episode three is even more turgid than normal. Hartnell's on holiday and Russell, Hill and O'Brien can't hold an episode on their own, particularly one as badly written as this. The major fight scene with Ian and the Moroks was the biggest contributing factor towards this one's low score: not until the Karkus in The Mind Robber would Doctor Who produce something so openly embarrassing to watch. There is a subtext of 60s counterculture, with revolutions against war, but it's all so ineptly played and overstated that I won't even bother to mention it. Except just now when I mentioned it, obviously. Lastly, things move in to Saward territory as Ian Chesterton barks "Possibly, but it might be enjoyable" when told killing someone will achieve nothing. Just have a wank and have done with it, Ian, I can't bear to see you like this…
* ½

Those Xerons are so camp and listless you really can't care less about them or their flimsily-plotted plight. It's almost like having half a dozen Adrics in the series fifteen years too early. The sight of the Doctor walking around after his temperature being "several hundred degrees below freezing" is staggering to watch. And not in a good way. "My brain was working with the speed of a mechanical computer." Isn't that dialogue awful? And did I mention how cheap the whole thing looks?

Most of this one is just a dirge-like runaround, though we do have that small matter of the story's focal point to deal with. Just how will the travellers defy their destiny? Sadly it feels as if writer Glyn Jones has set himself a first-class conundrum and yet can't find a way out of it. So it turns out their future wasn't fixed and just didn't happen after all. Rarely has a cop-out disappointed so much. The Doctor's explanation of how it all happened, with Barbara's nod to the viewers of "Yes I have… I think most people have" is just too much to bear. Though Ian's sarcastic thanking of the Doctor for explaining it to them salvages some small credibility. Just as Galaxy 4 will later do, the end of the story is given over to a Dalek plug, with the final 50 seconds a direct lead-in to The Chase
* *

Quite an odd story in more ways than one, this is the worst season two tale despite having the potential to be the best. The premise is absolutely first rate, but the resolution and surrounding story are rock bottom for the series, and it really doesn't feel quite like Doctor Who at all. Following on from the ambitious The Crusade, this is a severe backwards step, a concoction of generic SF values and poor production that terminate any sense of adult integrity the series had ever built up and maintained. A wasted opportunity.
* *