Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Space Museum - COMPUTER: "For what purpose are the arms needed?" VICKI: "Revolution."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Space Museum - Details

Season 2, Story 7 (Overall Series Story # 15) | Previous - Next | Index

Can the future be changed? The Doctor told us in "The Aztecs" that history couldn't. Not one line. But for a time traveler, what is history and what is the future? Is it history once you've seen it? If nothing can be changed, what's the point of doing anything? And just like that "The Space Museum," has us engaged in questions of free will and determinism (philosophy's most enduring false dichotomy?) and whether there's anything anybody can do to make society better. Can the TARDIS crew change the future they've been shown, where they're embalmed and on display in a podunk space museum nobody visits? Can the Xerons (defeatist sulkers) overthrow the Moroks (the Empire of Morons) and make some sort of social progress?

The importance of the questions is obscured by what losers the Moroks are, and how the Xerons are even bigger losers, not to mention how klunky this story is across about three quarters of its run time, but the questions are raised and, for at least one episode and tiny bits of the others, are intriguingly presented. Of course, this being early Doctor Who, it's distractingly cheap looking -- is that painted backdrop of mountains in the distance supposed to be convincing? did the actors have to stand so close to it so their shadows draw attention to how unrealistic it looks on screen? -- and features knock-the-wind-out-of-you-awful expository dialogue delivered by guys in ludicrous wigs among its multiple failures. (Dig the Converse sneakers on the Xeron revolutionaries.)

If all this story did, if all Doctor Who ever did, was raise interesting questions and then trip all over itself trying to shoehorn them into produced-on-a-couple-of-quid-stories where the characters are captured, escape, are re-captured, then get lucky and stumble off to their next adventure, then we wouldn't be watching it today. For all "The Space Museum" gets wrong, it gets just enough right to keep us watching and to justify the show's existence for another week. The first episode is the highlight, and you could be forgive for wanting to fast forward to the last few minutes of the fourth episode to see how it turns out, but then you'd miss Vicki spurring the hapless Xerons on to revolution and outwitting the Moroks rubbish security computer at the armory. You'd miss the Doctor having a bit of fun with the Governor by showing the him mental image of himself in Victorian-era men's one-piece bathing suit. (Think Newman in that Seinfeld episode where Jerry runs afoul of the pool cleaner at his gym.) "The Space Museum" has a twinkle in its eye that no amount of flimsy sets dubiously acted aliens with dodgy eyebrows can suppress.

Better still, beyond sneaky charm, it's got the right answer to the question of whether the future can be changed. Are the Xerons doomed to subjugation under the heel of the hapless Moroks? No. Is progress possible if the disaffected youth can ever bring themselves to do more than get together in coffeehouses and whinge about what a hash of things the current leadership is making? Yes. And it's not a powerful alien wizard with a magic box that makes it possible (which doesn't say much for the Doctor), it's a plucky young girl with her head together and the desire to change things that makes it possible. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I like that Vicki.

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