Aired 24 April – 15 May 1965
There are few who would consider ‘The Space Museum’ to be a classic Doctor Who story, but as a concept it is incredibly interesting and certainly pivotal to the programme as a whole. The idea of interfering with and changing time is certainly not a novel one, having been referenced in almost every historical tale to date, but here it is the TARDIS team’s own future and fate which hangs in the balance.
Harkening back to the events of ‘The Edge of Destruction,’ eerie noises and direction that give a sense of disorientation dominate the beginning of ‘The Space Museum.’ The crew soon discovers that they have somehow jumped a time track, leaving them unable to interact with their environment in any meaningful way. The Space Museum itself is brought to life by some incredible model work, but it should be noted that the actors’ shadows do detract from the sense of scope the sets are aiming to achieve. Regardless, as the Doctor and his companions wander through the Museum while trying to avoid the patrolling the Moroks, the sense of unease is only heightened as each room seems to be identical, the individual displays being the only difference. Seeing them unable to interact with the TARDIS itself is particularly jarring, but the scene in which they find frozen models of themselves is simply spectacular. Even if the inability to interact with the museum seems a bit inconsistent as Barbara inadvertently manages to cause a mannequin to sway, the Doctor’s realization that they have arrived as their models fade away and footprints appear more than makes up for any slight discrepancies on the path to that point.
Following these rather fascinating developments, though, the story begins to lose its focus and intrigue as the Moroks and Xerons are more overtly introduced. Both races are quite ineffective, the former sitting on the success of past victories and the latter unwilling to really do anything about it despite being labelled as rebels. There is something to be said about what can happen once a regime forces its way to power, but the proceedings are simply too dull and slow to suggest any sort of tension. There are also some odd scenes in which the Xerons capture the Doctor before promptly losing him as well as the Doctor hiding away gleefully in a Dalek’s casing after some lengthy and forced exposition regarding the two races’ conflict, just small samples of the uneven ground the story treads as it progresses.
Fortunately, the discussions of the repercussions of time travel really help to elevate the latter three episodes. While the crew members have previously discussed changing the past, here they discuss potentially changing their own future and whether that feat is even possible. There’s a strange question of destiny and predetermined fate about events, though clues are laid from the beginning with Ian’s button and Barbara’s cardigan that this cannot be the case. Likewise, while all of the leads certainly get key moments, ‘The Space Museum’ is really the first time that Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki really takes command of events. She is directly responsible for the majority of what happens through the serial, especially in taking leading the rebel Xerons into true action for their cause.
Although some direction decision actively detract from any potential for tension, ‘The Space Museum’ is still a rather unique and enjoyable tale. Despite the prospect of predestination bubbling underneath the TARDIS team’s actions in which they try to avoid their known fate while actually playing into it, the fascinating core concept that anchored the first episode as well as the discussions about the consequences of time travel are incredible and certainly merit discussion as some of the more important in early Doctor Who.