Doctor Who Reviews: The Space Museum

Whoever chose the Doctor Who DVD schedule was one shrewd customer. 2010’s range saw some interesting choices which ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. We had the prospects of The Creature From The Pit (which I actually like), Time And The Rani (which I don’t) and also a lavishly presented box of myth-related clangers. But at least the turkeys weren’t saved for last, since sales would probably plummet faster than an anvil thrown into the sea.

One notable exercise in turd-polishing was the double whammy of The Space Museum and The Chase, neither of which are stellar examples of Doctor Who’s fledgling season. If The Chase has the promise of the Daleks, The Space Museum can only boast a handful of avant-garde time jumping incidents and a gaggle of nasty old men that look like a cross between Mr Spock and Dusty Springfield. The prospect of seeing The Doctor in a bathing suit is one such image that I can do without, and ranks up there with Sil’s Marsh Minnows and the ancient croupier in Blake’s 7’s Gambit as unwelcome sci-fi sights to endure while you’re eating your tea.

Still, at least this incident is mildly amusing, when The Doctor tricks Lost Lobos (more on him in a minute) during an unsuccessful interrogation. This is a great example of The Doctor typically using brain rather than brawn to outwit his enemies, an instance that makes Doctor Who unique in television drama. The sight of The Doctor hiding in a Dalek is also a memorable one, even if it breaks the fourth wall with an almighty thud.

The concept of The Space Museum is an intriguing one. The idea that whatever you do here and now pre-ordains the future is one that has rarely been touched on before in Doctor Who. The Aztecs showed warnings of what could happen if you tried to rewrite history, but The Space Museum shows the physical effects. The scenes of The Doctor and company standing motionless in the museum are quite eerie, and hold out a lot of promise for the rest of the story. Sadly though, all that potential is thrown away in favour of clichéd power struggles between two forgettable races.

The only other saving grace of the story is that Vicki actually gets something substantial to do. Vicki is responsible for whipping up the native Xerons into revolution, and manages to outsmart the annoying dominant computer. Maureen O’Brien does well here, although that said, considering that the Xeron revolution turns into a bloodbath, with all the ruling Moroks coming to a sticky end, I wonder why The Doctor allows all this to happen. Considering that most of the time, he’s on the hunt for a peaceful solution, it’s surprising that he allows the Xeron rebellion to end in mass genocide. On the other hand the Moroks are so dull, I guess that even The Doctor can’t be bothered to save their scrawny necks.

The Morok leader in particular, must rank as one of the most useless characters in Who history: Lobos, played with little enthusiasm by Richard Shaw. Lobos isn’t so much a baddie, more a one-man info-dump machine, who’s reduced to explaining about his race’s history and plight. Trouble is, all this heavy-handed exposition is spoken in a dull monotone by Shaw, who sounds like he’s bored out of his wits. Understandable, given that the script is lazy in the extreme.

In fact, none of the supporting characters make much of an impression, although Star Wars fans can at least revel in the fact that a young Jeremy Bulloch makes an early appearance as Tor, one of the native Xerons. The Xerons, though, are such a dull bunch, that it’s hard to give a damn about their plight. And if it takes a young outsider milksop to actually get the ball rolling for their uprising, then what does that tell you?

Altogether, The Space Museum is a disaster. The ideas behind the story are quite good and do hold out a lot of promise, but the problem is, it turns into bland, clichéd soup. The whole revolution idea has been done to death already in Doctor Who (and far more effectively in the two Dalek stories so far), but here, it’s done with very little conviction, and at the end, seems rushed and inadequately thought out. The characters fail to come alive, primarily because of the weak script that, to be fair to the performers, allows them little room to move. Clunky speech-making and historical recitals aren’t exactly the stuff of actors’ dreams.

I feel sorry for Mervyn Pinfield. This is the second time this season that he’s had such poor material to work with, following on from two thirds of Planet Of Giants. Here, though, the results are half hearted at best, with a so-so guest cast, unmemorable designs and unimaginative shots. Surprising given that some of the ideas in the early stages of the story are quite surreal. There’s no urgency to The Space Museum, no drama or any real hook to keep you glued to the screen.

While some of 2010's DVD releases contained bad ideas, bad acting, or bad scripts, at least they still managed to entertain. The Space Museum’s cardinal sin is that it fails to entertain. Not even the prospect of the Daleks at the end of the story manages to boost such a slow and sluggish yawnathon.

Still, if purchasing pristine ennui on DVD is your cup of tea, fill your boots.

But if the 1970s tales are more your bag, then my comprehensive Doctor Who ebook guides are available at Amazon now:

Jon Pertwee Era 1970-1974:

Tom Baker Era Vol 1 1974-1978:

Tom Baker Era Vol 2 1978-1981: