Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Space Museum

The Space Museum 1:

Like the Web Planet, we all know what we're supposed to think about this story. Classy first episode, pants for the rest.I remember that for a long time the first episode of this story was the only one I'd seen - isolated at a convention. It was wonderful, it has to be said - including one of the all time great lines of the series 'Doctor, we've got our clothes on'. I couldn't wait to see the rest of the story. I don't recall exactly disliking it, but the first episode was so different, weird and wonderful, that the rest couldn't live up to it.It seems a bit less impressive in context. Why? Well, oddball opening episodes seem a bit ten-a-penny in the early years of the show. What we see here, lots of unexplained weirdness, is roughly the same as the openings of Edge of Destruction, Planet of Giants and the Web Planet, the latter very recently of course. And to my mind, it suffers a little in comparison. Whereas in those stories, the travellers are terrified, here they seem less bothered. The Doctor couldn't care less that they've had their clothes magically changed, and Vicki takes real prompting to tell everyone about the self-repairing glass. Then, when they do at least begin to acknowledge that things are weird - Ian with the footprints, Barbara with the sound - they then forget about it completely, preferring instead to have fun around the museum - playing with Daleks, trying to touch stuff. I'm sorry, but it beggars belief.Incidentally, the Dalek's appearance is quite a jump in its way. Obviously, I know it isn't the focus of the episode, but one suddenly appearing out of nowhere midway through an episode does make you start, especially as it is one of the few things given dramatic weight. This is not to blame the actors - they do their best given the material (watch William Russel asking about the footprints - he plays it for all its worth, mainly cos it's his only real chance to express any sort of fear).A couple of minor points -where the hell does Vicki's sneezing fit come from? Hell, where does it go for that matter? Lazy lazy writing. And whilst I may be trying to avoid making references to later episodes - it's okay that those people in black we see strolling about are doing so in this episode, but when we discover they are rebels it's again ridiculous. They're ambling about casually, what the hell's that? Where's the context?When they finally find the TARDIS and themselves, the episode finds it's way back on track. There's some realisation of the genuinely scary implications (Hartnell's delivery of the final line 'And we've arrived' has weight and conviction absent from the rest of the episode). It's hard to figure out the science of what's happened, but that's good to my eyes - a lot of this stuff should be hard to comprehend, maybe even impossible. Time travel shouldn't be as understandable as switching on a light bulb. It's good that the series is probing into the mysteries inherent in the premise. And the sequence with time fixing itself is wonderfully melodramatic, loud bombastic music coming out of nowhere infusing it with real menace.Overall, however, it's too little, too late. Set aside from the rest of the series it's a fun, strange, disconcertingly odd episode, really probing into the unknowables at the core of the show. But in context it's just a bit weak.


The Space Museum 2:
Well, we're really in Star Trek territory here. You think that the Next Gen has a monopoly on making crap looking aliens by just adding tiny bits of rubber? Well look again. The Moroks are aliens - you can tell, cos they all have widow's peaks. And the Xeron's are all aliens - cos they've all got ludicrous eyebrows. Really does look pathetic, I'm sorry but it does.Why are those rebels so irritatingly posh anyway? They look like a bunch of public schoolboys. They seem well fed, healthy. The Resistance in DIOE, now those are rebels. Dirty, unkempt, unwell, desperate. The Xerons all seem like they're just being a bit naughty. Rebelling against a moderately strict teacher - it's like William Brown and the Outlaws, you half think they're going to go off scrumping next. And what the hell are they doing hiding around in the museum anyway. They're distinctly rubbish, and the fact that the rather fey prat leading them ends up being Boba Fett is amazing.Once again, the weight of the situation is ignored. Ian can't resist playing with a toy gun, Barbara's more concerned about her cardigan than her life or death. And the regulars seem to be getting unreasonably cross with each other - ok, the Doctor's occassionally crotchety (to use the big cliche of Hartnell description), but there was at least plenty of warmth between Ian and Barbara. Even when he realises that she was the one who smashed the pot over his head in the Roman's he isn't as cross as he is here.Lobos is one of the worst performances in the show to date. This is the performance of an actor who hates the script he's performing. He's going through the motions, delivering the lines flatly and without care or conviction. Mind you, you can hardly blame him: when he's given the atrocious info-dump of exposition at the start, dialogue of no naturalism whatsoever, it seems like a fair response.The story goes nowhere quickly. The regulars talk in endless circles about the situation, without even trying to do anything about it. It's all tell, no show. When three of them have their entire plotline for the episode be describable as 'they get lost' you can see how directionless and contrived this episode is. And how little respect it has for the intelligence of it's central figures. These people have crossed alien planets, Italy and England looking for each other, and they can't find their way out of a sodding museum? They're completely useless this week.In amongst the appalling exposition, padded circular plotting and wooden acting, there is a ray of hope. Hartnell. This is a fine episode for him. OK, he does get caught up in a contrved capture/escape subplot to seperate him from the others, but he does show some life. We have the serious Hartnell of the beginning trying to understand the situation, but mainly the real Doctor starting to come out strongly, always out-thinking and outwitting his opponents, with a sly humour. The hiding inside the Dalek is very funny, and his interrogation scene is sublime (the victorian bathing costume is one of the funniest moments in the show so far). This is the character we love in full effect, smart, witty and quicker than everyone else.Shame it's in such a poor story, really. I can't quite figure out why the Moroks are so bothered by these strangers, and why they feel that they would make great exhibits seeing as they look broadly similar. The whole thing smacks of a great concept - and the story is rooted, undeniably, in a terrific concept - without a plot. Great central idea but where the author cannot think of anywhere to take the story beyond that (rather like I found a lot of the NAs to be). The whole museum aspect seems staggeringly contrived, and the characters out of stock. It's a premise, not a story.

Space Museum 3:
Maybe I'm going mad - but I actually quite liked this one. OK, mainly in a 'So bad it's good' sort of a way, but that counts, nonetheless. There's some gloriously poor stuff here - the Morok outside the TARDIS with his bizarre and woefully played rant about his responsibility (similar to Lobos' equally poor rant at the start of part two - seems that this is the limit of Glyn Jones' characterisation, have the character's exposit their feelings in a piss-poor monologue that comes out of nowhere, before ignoring this for the rest of the script). And the guard who captures the main cast, then let's them plot and scheme and discuss the plot for a couple of minutes before then saying 'enough talking' is hilarious. Less funny is the repetition of the central dilemma - these are smart people, but they're being desperately defeatist here. It seems every time someone suggests something to do one of the others says 'but we can't do that, cos it might lead us to the cases'. And then someone else says 'but if we don't do it, that might lead us to the cases' and so on ad infinitum. You just want to shake them and shout 'Just do something!'Of course, they finally do - well Ian to a degree, Vicki very much so, Barbara getting dropped a nd shut away from any story significance as soon as humanly possible (even with one regular on holiday, Jones can't find enough for them all to do) - but it seems unforgivable that it's taken them an episode and a half to think positively. Ian gets to do his typical action man subplot, again, but the revelation is Vicki. Having been on the fringes of the past three stories, just acting as Hartnell's sounding board, she pulls herself together more than the rest, prooving just as fed up with the Xeron's wetness as we are, and finally persuading them to take some action. You go girl! Ballsy and likeable, adding some real life and enthusiasm - something that virtually no-one else can do in this script. OK, so it's a shame that the security device on the armoury is monumentally rubbish and easy to disable, but at least she's doing something.There's something amusing about the crapness of the Moroks. These are, presumably, the dregs of a major intergalactic force, all given the rubbish job of guarding the museum (why are the people patrolling the museum trained soldiers anyway? Surely it can't be the hub of planetary control - unless it's a tiny planet and they combined the two). So their complete incompetence is fair enough, really. They've grown fat and lazy. This is the backwoods posting, the worst one to get. Shame the actors are all rubbish, frankly (I suppose this explains the disproportionate enthusiasm Lobos has when he discovers that new people have arrived - it gives him something to do, makes him feel useful).A very nice cliffhanger too - sort of a double as we have Barbara under threat of poisoning in the background, but mainly focused on the locating of the Doctor. This is a really good use of Hartnell's absence as a narrative trick, getting a clever and intriguing cliffhanger out of a drawback. Most of the other stories almost try to pretend that the regular is there in spirit but this is the only one that really doesn't - Web Planet 3 too, to a degree, but this is entirely about the Doctor's absence - the absence is a presence if you like.So overall, so far, flatly performed, directed and scripted, but with some interesting ideas that are going somewhere. If you can take some enjoyment out of its ineptness, then it genuinely is sort of entertaining. Just.


Blimey, less than a day since the last post and we're already on page two of the Forum. No wonder no bugger reads these...

Space Museum 4:
There are a few wonderfully bad lines in this episode - Lobos' 'There are no tricks in science, only logic' seems to come out of nowhere - a bizarre and meaningless bon mot. Obviously 'Have any arms fallen into Xeron hands' is a classic, and there's a wonderfully barking exchange of pure padding when the Doctor gets defroster - he talks a lot of guff about listening and asking himself questions and you find yourself desperately trying to figure out whether this madness is going somewhere, what point he's trying to make. It is of course one of the set problems that the episode has - people decide to stand around talking for ages until someone comes along and defeats them. And one does have to try and ignore the change of emphasis and direction of the cliffhanger...Despite all this, I do still sort of like the story. It's got a lot of bad stuff in it, but it's entertainingly bad. The performances of Lobos and the Commander, and in deed the Xerons are not so much bad as really really strange - not naturalistic, but not wooden either.And the plot itself, if a bit of a runaround that takes its time to kick off, and lacking in material for the Doctor and Barbara is kind of interesting (and considering that the Doctor and Barbara have all but single-handedly driven the last three stories it seems fair enough to have a change of emphasis). The way in which all the regulars have to face up to their possible fate and deal with it in their own way is great, and it's great to see that the one who makes the difference is the least powerful crewmember, Vicki. The last two episodes in particular have a dark nihilism and defeatist air that is quite rare in the show and very interesting. The regulars are defeated at the stories end and they have to rely on other people to save the day. Quite a brave thing for the show to do.And of course, the underlying message is quite uplifting and powerful - that we make our futures every day. That everything we do can change our lives.So, all in all, I kind of liked it. It's cheap and tacky, but it has admirable focus, with the main aim of the TARDIS crew being simply to stay alive, rather than make the world better - they do, but it's a side product. The foreknowledge of their potential fate gives the central characters a real drive. There's a lot of rubbish here, but it's all kind of fun.And on a final note - weird to see that the first proper use of 'Exterminate' as a Dalek catchphrase doesn't occur in a Dalek story proper, more in the cliffhanger lead in. It's been used before, in DIOE, but in context, and it's not until now it becomes their, let's be honest, slightly meaningless catchphrase. Still it's a fabulous cliffhanger - the Dalek coming out of nowhere right at the end of the story is quite a kicker, and there's no way anyone was missing the next week.

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