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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doctor Who: The Space Museum

Serial Title: The Space Museum
Series: 2
Episodes: 4
The Space Museum
The Dimensions of Time
The Search
The Final Phase

Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Vicki Pallister (Maureen O'Brien)

After a weird blackout, the TARDIS materializes on a planet of utter silence, where the group leaves no footprints- a planet covered by an enormous world-wide museum, in which no one can see or hear them- nor be heard, in which their hands pass through solid objects... and in which the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki come face to face with themselves, embalmed and enshrined as museum exhibits alongside the TARDIS.

The Doctor determines that they've jumped a time-track in the arrival process- arriving here before they've truly arrived, as it were- which is why everything is wraith-like and full of phantoms. Soon, the time tracks re-synch, and they actually arrive, a matter of days before the phantom-time they were exploring. Now the planet is solid, the people real... and the race is on to prevent the possible future they've witnessed from becoming reality!

The Doctor is captured by Lobos, head of the
space museum on Xeros. Lobos and his fellow Moroks hail from an empire of conquest- this captured world a monument and museum to trophies of their many victories. The native Xerons put up a passive and weak resistance fueled mainly by their youth, but haven't the strength or resources to put up any kind of significant opposition. After proving himself easily capable of outwitting his interrogators, the Doctor is taken away to be embalmed and made into an exhibit. (NFS: That sentence kind of made me laugh inside just now)
Meanwhile, the rest of the group is split up- Barbara is forced into hiding, Ian captures a guard at gunpoint, and Vicki is found by the resistance (NFS: In other words...everyone does exactly what they usually always end up doing.). She works with them to outwit the master computer controlling the impenetrable armory, and the now-armed Xerons begin a revolt in earnest.
Meanwhile, Ian locates and rescues the Doctor by holding first his guard and then Lobos hostage- but his victory is short-lived as guards arrive. Barbara is rescued from deadly paralysis gas, but is soon captured as well- alongside Vicki (NFS: In OTHER words...everyone's doing what they usually do!). The whole group now captive, their terrifying glimpse of the future seems to be on the verge of becoming a very real present-tense.

However, the revolution is an unprecedented success, as the over-confident, complacent Moroks are easily overtaken by the armed Xerons, who capture them, kill Lobos, and free their planet- dismantling and destroying the museum that heralded the triumphs of their one-time captors, and reclaiming their world. The Doctor receives a requested souvenir from the museum, a space-time visualizer, and the entire group receives the gratitude of the Xeron people as they depart.

Whoooo! What a ride! This had one of the best openings, bar none, of the Old Who series. The first episode, dealing with the jumped time-track, was almost like a stand-alone prequel or prologue to the trilogy of museum episodes, and it was brilliant- eerie, shrouded in a sense of mystery, creepy, enigmatic, thought-provoking, with a brilliant "When I think about it hard, that almost makes sense" premise. After that, the story becomes a good deal more insubstantial... but still, worth it all for the first episode.

The episode also did well with humor; for example, the Doctor hiding from patrols within an empty Dalek casing, echoing Ian's gambit from "The Daleks."

Or the exchange between Ian and Lobos- "Killing me will accomplish nothing." "True- but it might be very satisfying!" And the best... well, see "Crowning Moment"below.

The armory bit was a little... silly, to me- but Vicki's enthusiasm for the revolution was an interesting twist to her character. The Doctor shone but was absent for the middle episodes, unfortunately. Barbara likewise had a minimal presence, leaving Ian and Vicki to do most of the heavy lifting for the story- which they accomplished admirably. (NFS: It's understandable really because Vicki is somewhat new so they want you to keep on getting to know her character and Ian...well's just his job to be awesome isn't it?)
I also liked the ending- setting up an element for the next story without being a direct lead-in cliffhanger. All in all, a very satisfying, fun romp... with an exceedingly excellent and atmospheric mystery to kick it off.

Great moments:
The whole first episode, especially its climax as the time-tracks stabilize and the race against time begins!

Crowning moment of hilarity:
The Doctor is hooked up to a machine that can visualize thoughts, and is interrogated for his companions' location, seemingly betraying them...
however, it is simply the last location he saw them, hours ago, leading security on a
wild goose chase... something we realize the smirking Doctor allowed to be seen on purpose when the frustrated interrogator asks his next question, trying to pin down the nature of the TARDIS- "How did you arrive here?" The screen lights up with an image of a Victorian-era bicycle- the kind with a man-sized front wheel- as the Doctor cackles smugly. Maybe it was a 'you had to be there' moment, but it was hilarious- the funniest thing I've seen on Old Who.

Overall rating - 3 out of 5 Shrunken TARDISes, due to the meandering pace and weak-ish story for the last three episodes- which not even the excellent humor of the Doctor's interrogation can quite smooth. But judged alone, the first episode is, quite possibly, a 6 out of 5- brilliant beyond words!

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