Doctor Who has always been known for it’s ability to change from adventure to adventure in terms of tone and subject matter. Being able to do a western one moment and a space opera the next is surely one of the reasons we are now counting down to the programmes 50th anniversary.
The Space Museum is a good example of the shows ability to adapt. The episode plays out like a good Twilight Zone installment, bending reality in such a way that we are forced to look at the universe askew for awhile.
Oddly enough, this story was supposed to be more of a comedy then it turned out to be in the end, due to incoming script editor Dennis Spooner heavily rewriting Glyn Jones scripts and removing most of the more comedic content.
The Space Museum was also in production while major changes were taking place in the Doctor Who production office. Verity Lambert, the programme’s first producer, had already made her intentions clear to leave the helm of the show after the second production block for this season. Dennis Spooner also had plans to leave as soon as his contract was up, to be replaced as script editor by Donald Tosh.
Budget also played a role in the appearance of this episode, with expensive shots limited to the model shots seen on the TARDIS scanner in episode one. This would account for the sparse sets and typical “spacey” costumes that can be seen in the story.
However, despite all the chaos going on behind the scenes, The Space Museum stands out as a forgotten gem that does not get enough credit among fans. The travelers find themselves on an alien planet that appears at first to be a junkyard for a variety of spacecraft all from different points in time and different parts of the galaxy. They also find out the local inhabitants cannot seem to hear them.
Eventually the group discovers that this planet is home to a museum in space but are even more shocked when they find themselves as one of the exhibits on display. The Doctor surmises that the TARDIS jumped a time track and they had actually landed on the planet before they had arrived. As the cabinets containing their possible futures selves vanishes they become part of real time and from that moment on every move they make is a gamble. What will bring them closer to being permanently displayed in the museum and what will lead them out of this nightmare and back to the ship?
William Hartnell himself has many moments to shine here as the Doctor, from knocking out and tying up a young rebel to escape to climbing into a Dalek casing on display in the museum to escape his Morok pursuers. He also has what might be one of his bests scenes as the Doctor when he manipulates the Morok’s mind probe to show what he wants, from displaying his mode of transportation as a bike to showing himself in a bathing suit and a s a walrus!
Vicki even seems to break out of her shell a bit more as she leads the revolutionaries to stand up and fight, including using her knowledge of computers to get the rebels into the Morok armory. Although most of the story is a bunch of running around and being chased by guards, a lot of the dialogue concerning the issue of the jumped time track is smart, inventive and at the time, something Doctor Who had never really focused on prior to this adventure. There is even a cameo appearance by a Dalek that I am sure delighted the children of that era when it appeared, although how the Moroks managed to defeat a Dalek requires some thought and imagination (perhaps they just showed the Daleks their hair?).
Once you snap back into reality and switch off the television you come to find that The Space Museum is a fine example of early Doctor Who with a nice concept that is perhaps slightly hurt by the budget and the Morok’s choice of tailor and hairstylist.