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2x07. The Space Museum
Writer: Glyn Jones
Director: Mervyn Pinfield
Script Editor: Dennis Spooner
Producer: Verity Lambert

Synopsis: A spacetime distortion on the TARDIS results in the Doctor and his companions journeying briefly into the future, where they are unable to interact with their surroundings but discover their future selves frozen as sculptures in an alien museum run by the Moroks. Restored to normal time, they aid the native Xerons in their revolution against the Moroks while trying to change their own futures.

Review: "The Space Museum" seems to take a lot of criticism for reasons I don't quite understand. While it's not going to make my list of all-time favorite Doctor Who serials, I think it shows the second season continuing to find its footing after the success of "The Crusade," and it boasts a creative sci-fi twist that keeps the story from getting too formulaic.

I am referring, of course, to the fact that the TARDIS crew spend the first episode walking around in their own future, at first confused by the numerous anomalies (especially when they find that they can't hear anyone speak or touch anything), then finally making the horrific discovery of their future selves as museum exhibits. Granted, the Doctor's pseudoscience doesn't really make any sense (what the hell is a "time track"?), and there are obvious logical problems like the fact that somehow they can't hear or touch anything but can see perfectly well and don't just sink into the ground. Still, this is the first Doctor Who serial to make the very concept of time travel essential to the plot, and the setup adds an extra element of suspense to what follows. The protagonists, instead of just taking their roles in a straightforward "help the oppressed alien rebels" story (as they did in "The Web Planet"), are forced to ask themselves at every turn, "Is this the decision that could lead to our being captured and turned into museum pieces? Or is this the very choice we must make to *avoid* that outcome?"

It also helps that the Morok oppressors are not presented as a powerful and efficient juggernaut (like the Daleks or the Animus, for example), but rather as a bored occupation force doing the bidding of a declining, decadent civilization. The Morok governor Lobos, even though he eventually orders lethal force to stop the Xeron uprising, initially seems to see the Doctor's presence and his scientific knowledge as a respite from the monotony of his job, and it's correctly observed that at least one of his soldiers doesn't really seem to care about the outcome of the rebellion. The initial kidnapping of the Doctor by the Xerons in order to get the companions' attention also shows how people with good intentions can be pushed into aggression by desperate circumstances: they only kidnapped him because they didn't know whether they could trust the TARDIS crew and feared that the time travelers might otherwise kill them at sight. Like "The Aztecs," this serial seems heavily informed by the harsh lessons that Britain and other European countries had recently learned about imperialism, a theme that the Doctor indirectly references at one point by mentioning the precedent of the Roman Empire.

Writer Glyn Jones also gives Maureen O'Brien the most engaging material she's had to work with thus far. In previous episodes, Vicki has been a rather bland presence with no particularly distinctive characteristics other than a tendency to give pet names to large alien creatures. Here, she's actually instrumental in aiding the Xeron revolution, winning their trust and helping them to break into the Morok armory by reprogramming the computer-controlled locking mechanism (though the way she accomplishes this does seem a little too easy). Jones also generally does a nice job of keeping the story moving at a good pace, even in the moments when it does fall back on "alien rebellion" formula. While I can't say that I found every single minute of "The Space Museum" grippingly original, I was never particularly bored or impatient either.

If there's one area in which "The Space Museum" falls short, it's that the idea of knowing one's own future demise is never quite utilized to full effect. This is a concept that turns up from time to time in sci-fi, and when done really well (as in, for example, Star Trek: TNG's "Time Squared"), it creates not only suspense but a sort of existential dread at the possibility that the future is already written and that nothing we do can change it. When Ian discovers that the Doctor has indeed been captured and frozen at the end of Episode 3, I'd have expected him to react with horror at the notion that the inevitable really is closing in on them all, but instead he just launches into his action-hero insistence that the process be reversed. The script comes closest to touching upon this theme when Ian smashes one of the machines needed to freeze them despite the fact that there are plenty of others just like it, as if clinging to even the most inconsequential exercise of his free will, but at that point it's too little and too late.

Still, this is an enjoyable and entertaining serial that benefits from some clever plotting and solid characterization. I'd been feeling a little less optimistic about the Hartnell era after the second season's largely mediocre beginnings ("Dalek Invasion" excepted), but after "The Crusade" and now "The Space Museum," I'd say things are back on track.

Other notes:

- The serial's funniest moment has to be the Doctor squaring off against Lobos' mind-reading apparatus: when asked how he got to Xeros and where he's from, he projects the images of a bicycle and then of a small island inhabited by seals.

- Speaking of which, this is the first serial in a while to reference the mystery of the Doctor's origins. Although he's initially cooperative in his interrogation, that's the one question he refuses to answer even before Lobos starts asking about his companions.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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