Doctor Who: The Space Museum / The Chase three disk DVD set, from BBC Video
Two serials first broadcast in 1965 starring William Hartnell as the First Doctor, The Space Museum and The Chase come to DVD in a three disk set loaded with extras.
The Space Museum, written by Glyn Jones, is sometimes perceived to be as a rather mediocre affair by fans. However, I’ve always regarded it as an interesting story. The Space Museum was the first Doctor Who serial to really explore the idea that time travel is a lot more complicated and dangerous than simply bopping back and forth from one era to another in the TARDIS.
The Doctor and his companions, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki, land on Xeros, a conquered world transformed into a vast museum celebrating the history of the once-mighty Morok Empire. However, the TARDIS has “jumped a time track,” and the travelers arrive out of sync with the timestream. The first episode ends as they see their own personal future: they have been turned into museum exhibits, freeze-dried and placed in glass display cases for the rest of eternity.
Then time re-aligns itself, and the Doctor and friends “arrive” in the present on Xeros. They spend the next three episodes desperately attempting to avert the dire future fate they have glimpsed.
There’s an interesting philosophical debate running through the story. Is the future set in stone, or can it be altered? By attempting to change the future, are the Doctor and his companions actually initiating the events that will lead them to become museum exhibits?
Admittedly, episodes two to four are somewhat padded out. The Space Museum may have worked better as a three-parter. But, honestly, you could say that about many Doctor Who stories which were written to fill out the then-standard four or six part 25 minute episode structure.
The supporting characters are also a bit unmemorable. The Moroks are a rather bumbling alien occupation force. But, when you take into account that this is a civilization in decline, and these troops are garrisoned at an all-but-forgotten museum and probably haven’t seen any action in years, their incompetence can be explained.
The Xeron rebels also come across ineffectual. But it is explained that for generations all the Xerons, upon becoming adults, are either killed by the Moroks or shipped off-world to serve as slave labor. So you have a bunch of totally green, unarmed teenagers unable to overcome even a group of out-of-practice guards.
That said, the leaders of the Moroks and Xerons do stand out a bit. Governor Lobos is portrayed by Richard Shaw as a frustrated administrator who laments that the Morok civilization has become decadent & insular, and that the great museum he volunteered to head is now forgotten, bereft of visitors. Tor the Xeron rebel is played by Jeremy Bulloch, and comes across as an eager agent of change who unfortunately lacks any of the experience and resources necessary to overthrow the Moroks.
Mind you, regarding Lobos, he despairs at how the museum has faded into obscurity. But, when the TARDIS crew arrives, the first visitors in quite some time, instead of welcoming them with open arms, Lobos attempts to turn them into exhibits. With a hostile admission policy like that, it’s no wonder attendance is down!
Both the Moroks and Xerons suffer from something more often seen on Star Trek, namely the tendency of a sci-fi series with a low budget, realizing they are unable to create convincing aliens, resorting to just giving them pointy ears or bumpy foreheads. In the case of the Moroks, they have funny hairdos. And the Xerons are given these large, bizarre eyebrows.
Vicki, played by Maureen O’Brien, is given a chance to shine here, as she is finally the one to rally the Xerons to action. She also rewires the computer that allows them access to the Morok armory, something I honestly didn’t think was in her capability. Coming from 500 years in the Earth’s future, presumably she has much more advanced knowledge of programming than most teenagers do. At least, that’s the excuse I would use!
In what is one of Doctor Who‘s earliest nods to past continuity, one of the exhibits in the museum is a Dalek. I thought that was actually a nice touch, as it stands out from all the generic stock props occupying the rest of the museum. If this story had been made a decade or so later, I expect there’d also have been a Cyberman on display, and perhaps one of those golfball-shaped Sontaran scoutships.
The Space Museum ends with two direct lead-ins to The Chase. The Doctor procures a Time/Space Visualiser from the museum and brings it aboard the TARDIS. And elsewhere, we learn that the Daleks are tracking the Doctor’s travels, ready to set out in pursuit in their own time machine.
The Chase, as the title indicates, has the Daleks following the TARDIS all through time and space to exterminate their old foe the Doctor. The Chase is a rather odd story, in that it is the closest Doctor Who has ever gotten to doing a Dalek comedy. The majority of the Dalek stories are grim bloodbaths. In contrast, in The Chase the Daleks, despite possessing an advanced time craft on par with the TARDIS, come across as pretty incompetent. They also end up killing very few people. The Chase must have the lowest body count of any Dalek story.
I’m not too surprised at the tone of The Chase. Although Terry Nation is the only credited writer, an interview with director Richard Martin on the DVD indicates that Nation’s draft scripts were finished by story editor Dennis Spooner. Certainly Spooner is known for producing content of a rather humorous vein in his credited work on Doctor Who, so I can easily see his hand in the finished serial.
The strongest episode of The Chase is the final one. The Daleks at last catch up with the time travelers, only to come into conflict with the Mechanoids, and army of spherical robots equipped with flame-throwers. While the Daleks and Mechanoids clash, the Doctor sets off a weapon he has been cobbling together for most of the story. The combination of the fierce battle and the Doctor’s explosive device results in the Daleks and Mechanoids getting totally wiped out.
The battle scene is extremely well done. Richard Martin probably realized it would have been impossible to stage a straightforward fight between the Daleks and Mechanoids in a small studio with a miniscule budget. So he relies upon a series of rapid cuts, close-ups, superimposed images, models, smoke, and explosions to create an exciting and memorable sequence.
(The final episode also sees the introduction of Steven Taylor, a marooned astronaut held captive by the Mechanoids. He escapes with the Doctor’s party, and officially joins the TARDIS crew in the next serial.)
In the aftermath of the battle, Barbara and Ian realize the Daleks’ now-abandoned, fully-functioning time machine can finally return them home to London in the 1960s, something the Doctor has been unsuccessfully attempting for two years with his faulty TARDIS. The Doctor is absolutely furious at the idea, shouting that attempting to pilot the Dalek ship is reckless & suicidal. You are left wondering if he genuinely believes this, or if he actually doesn’t want them to leave.
In the end, the Doctor relents, and shows the couple how to work the Dalek craft. Ian and Barbara arrive in London, 1965, and we see their joy at finally returning home, depicted by a series of still photos of the couple running through Trafalgar Square and along the bank of the Thames before having a humorous bus ride. All this is witnessed by the Doctor and Vicki on the Time/Space Visualiser. And the Doctor, who originally regarded Ian and Barbara as a nuisance he’d been saddled with, sadly admits to Vicki “I shall miss them.”
It is a marvelous departure for Jacqueline Hill and William Russell, who had portrayed Barbara and Ian since the very first episode of Doctor Who two years earlier.
The DVDs have some nice extras. Among these are current series writer Robert Sherman offering a rather tongue-in-cheek re-evaluation of The Space Museum. “Cusick in Cardiff” shows Raymond Cusick, the original designer of the Daleks, visiting the Cardiff studios in 2008 where Doctor Who is now filmed. “Daleks Beyond the Screen” is an examination of the often-unusual merchandising of the series’ most popular villains, both 45 years ago and today.
On the back of the DVD package, in fine print, it reads “For clearance reasons, certain edits have been made.” I immediately took that to mean that the Beatles footage had been removed. In the first episode of The Chase, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki view different points in Earth history on the Time/Space Visualiser. Ian asks to see Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. Barbara has the Doctor tune in to the court of Queen Elizabeth, where we see both the monarch and Francis Bacon offering up suggestions for future plays to a rather put-upon William Shakespeare. Then Vicki asks to see a performance of the Beatles, and we view the Fab Four performing “Ticket to ride,” at which point Vicki, who comes from the 25th century, comments she never knew the Beatles played “classical music.”
Well, if you watched The Chase when it was aired here in the States on a PBS channel, you’d have seen the Beatles, and Vicki’s reaction to them. But for the DVD release, obviously the rights were too expensive for the BBC’s liking, and so that part of the sequence is cut. A pity, but not unexpected. I’m sure whoever owns the rights wanted a ridiculous amount of money.
In any case, while The Space Museum and The Chase have their problems, they are both entertaining installments of Doctor Who. I certainly enjoyed seeing them again. And the DVD extra features were interesting.
By the way, it’s also worth tracking down the novelisations of The Space Museum and The Chase. Glyn Jones used the prose format to get into the heads of his characters and develop them, particularly Governor Lobos. And with The Chase, writer John Peel went back to Terry Nation’s original scripts to include settings and events that were impossible to achieve on low-budget 1960s television. Both books serve as interesting companion pieces to the televised stories.