The Space Museum/The Chase

DVDHah! Well there’s a tiny bit of a story to tell with this one, from DWM #420…

And it begins with this,  photographic evidence. I really did spot – and then push myself upon – William Russell in Wagamama one lunch time, an incident I wrote about in my review.That's really William Russell in Wagamama, Camden

It was a happy coincidence. I was about to start work on this thing, and aside from helping me view the episodes more kindly than perhaps I might, it gave me an additional bit of business for the piece which, for a change, actually seemed worthwhile.

It also highlighted for me a truism. If your review ends up somehow as a sort of valediction for Doctor Who as a TV legend per se, then folk mostly like that.  

DWM #420 - one versionDWM# 420 - another versionShortly before Christmas your reviewer was having lunch in a North London branch of Wagamama. Looking up from my ebi raisukaree (I paint a vivid picture, no?), I noticed a solitary, silver-haired gent steaming his way through a chicken katsu curry and studying a free newspaper. This was Ian Chesterton, or more properly, actor William Russell.

Waiting until he’d finished his meal (some commitment on my part, he’d opted for pudding), I did something the thought of which now makes my skin fall off. I went over and offered to pay for it. The insanity! Why did I do this? He wondered too. “Because you were Ian Chesterton,” I told him. “You were there at the beginning.” He clasped my hand and chuckled: “You don’t have to be grateful after all these years!”

He’s wrong, and even the most hopeless of his Doctor Who stories proves that. Which, ahem, brings us to…

The Space Museum and The Chase aired between 24 April and 26 June 1965. Nearing the end of the programme’s second series, these 10 episodes suggest a sense of fatigue setting in. Carole Ann Ford (Susan) had departed the show at Christmas, now William Russell and Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), plus producer Verity Lambert, were eyeing up the exit.

Of the two stories, the exhaustion is most obvious in The Space Museum. It’s a tale so hopeless 2|entertain has inured itself from criticism by providing a DVD extra in which Rob ‘Dalek’ Shearman gets in a pre-emptive bitch. “No-one really likes it,” he says of the four-parter, “[and] it hasn’t had the decency to be wiped”.

He continues: “There are three problems with it – episodes two, three and four, principally”. And, although he’s rather gazumped us when it comes to reviewing the thing, he’s right.

The opening instalment is impressively imaginative. Having jumped a ‘time-track’, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki find they’ve simultaneously arrived too early for the story and right at the moment to catch what could be a classic cliff-hanger (they witness their future selves as frozen exhibits in the eponymous establishment). Time itself is the protagonist, stepping the gang towards their formaldehyde High Noon. It’s the kind of concept Sapphire and Steel would pad around for six episodes, but here the Doctor doesn’t want a piece of it. “It’s over and done with, forget it!” he exclaims, as Ian fusses about their 12th century clobber (a hangover from previous story The Crusade) miraculously transforming into their regular slacks and sweaters. “It’s all time and relativity,” sniffs the Doctor. Or maybe Marks and Spencer.

This is great, baffling stuff – the crew as phantoms at their own funeral. As we reach the 25-minute mark, time-tracks converge and the effigies vanish, leaving the travellers destined to step into their place. “We’ve arrived”, says the Doctor and the credits fade up. What a wonderfully outré outro, seemingly setting us up for three more weeks of high-concept plotting.

Of course what we actually get is low-rent plodding, all but resembling a Crackerjack skit (in a tragic casting cock-up, Peter Craze, not Peter Glaze, plays rebel Dako). It’s horribly thin. A science-fiction tale where baddies wield ‘ray guns’ is one badly lacking in craftsmanship, and this same desultory attitude bleeds into everything else. The sets are spartan, while the enmity between Moroks and Xerons is just an extended sulk by the latter, whose plans for rebellion haven’t extended further than “making a nuisance of yourself” (Vicki’s summation).

Even the TARDIS crew are listless. “Why don’t we do something?” wails Barbara. The only high point has been her protest at Ian’s plan to unpick her knitwear and make a Theseus-inspired trail home. “You might ask!” she snorts. “I mean, that’s a good cardigan!” Coo, look – a yarn, unravelling fast.

It’s not all dreary. A snapshot of William Hartnell in his bathers is just one saving grace, the Doctor’s general naughtiness another. When scrobbled by the Xerons, he feigns unconsciousness then makes his escape off-camera. We’re left with Dako’s report: “One minute it was silence, the next minute a whirlwind hit me!” The First Doctor? A whirlwind? That’s hilarious. Hopeless museum administrator Lobos is also fun. He’s perhaps the only Doctor Who baddy who doesn’t want the gig and mopes around groaning about the “meagre pittance of extra pay” his role merits.

But it’s not enough. At one point Ian muses: “Exhibits in a forgotten museum, eh? Is that how we’re all going to end up?” Well, as a DVD languishing unwatched on most fans’ shelves, actually, but you’re impressively close.

And then… The Chase is on! Make no mistake, the idea of the Daleks putting together an “assassination group” (as if their day-to-day was anything but murder) to hunt the Doctor through time is very exciting, and an explicit development in their relationship. From herein, the Doctor is public enemy no.1 on Skaro, while the pepper pots are now embracing their popular image as his arch foes.

It’s broad brush stuff, the kind of thing you could imagine originally outlined in a schoolboy’s rough book as Doctor and Daleks zip around the universe, meet sea creatures, empty the Marie Celeste, visit a haunted house and end up in a tremendous ruck with a new, potentially Dalek-beating, robot. Thing is, it’s generally a lot more fun as a plot synopsis than six episodes of (again) barely thought-through telly.

It’s the Daleks themselves who suffer most. As one emerges from the sands of Aridius, it groans away – “Ack! Ack! Ack!” – evoking the image of some old duffer rising painfully from his armchair. Then there’s the mentally-challenged meanie who umms and ahhs when instructed to make calculations about ‘time-lag’. You can understand the motivation in developing the creatures’ personalities, giving them a bit of a refresh for their third TV outing. But to humanise the biggest, baddest most unknowable monsters in the whole universe is a horrible misstep. Dalek army becomes Dad’s Army, trundling around the Marie Celeste impotently pleading for the crew to “wait!”

The nadir comes in part four. Facing down Frankenstein’s monster, one of them immortally declares: “I am a Dalek!” It’s a line of dialogue you’d swear had never actually been uttered in the show, instead being the preserve of kids playing at being Daleks. But here it is.

The story suffers from structural oddities too. The sequence in part one, where the TARDIS crew mess with the Time Space Visualiser goes on for an age. And if TV puts pounds on you, the TSV adds tons – the Abraham Lincoln glimpsed here is the size of his namesake county. Meanwhile, episodes barrel by (I’m looking at you parts two and three), contributing nothing to the tale, while logic is leapt in daredevil fashion. The Doctor rationalising the haunted house must be situated in a dreaming “human mind”, leaves you gasping. In exasperation.

That’s not the worst of it. Witness the robot Doctor duplicate, endorsed by the Daleks as “impossible to distinguish from the original”. In totters Edmund Warwick, lip-synching to a William Hartnell soundtrack. Shame the DVD boffins didn’t get round to CGI-ing a Hartnell face onto him. And maybe a whole new story around about while they were at it.

As ever, even this unholy nonsense has its redeeming moments. You’ve got to love the Mechanoids, who dervish-ly whirl and chitter away. Incoming companion Steven (hello, Peter Purves) refers to them as “My fat little darlings”, while Vicki mocks their speech (“Th-th-thank you-ou-ou!”). Their fight with the Daleks in the final episode is terrific – full of crazy crash zooms and Batman bangs.

Better still, the TARDIS crew are superb. Inevitably we reference Ian’s Dad-dancing to The Beatles on the TSV, and his ace admonishment: “Get with it, Barbara! Style’s change, style’s change!” In fact, he gets a lot of good bits; yakking happily to Vicki as they disappear into a Camber Sands sunset on Aridius, referring to Barbara’s roll-neck sweater as her “battle dress”, or claiming the series’ first gag at a certain Dalek design flaw: “[They] don’t like stairs.”

It’s in The Chase’s final minutes, though, we get a pay-off that doesn’t only justify, it positively negates the preceding six episodes of tom-guffery.

Ian and Barbara’s departure from the series is beautiful, and all the more so because we never see the Doctor’s final goodbye to them. That exchange is left off-camera, it would be too painful and too personal to witness. But before that, Ian rails he wants to “sit in a pub and drink a pint of beer again” and it’s the most real thing he’s ever said.

When the Doctor finally lets them go they’re left to a joyous photo finish in Trafalgar Square. Hartnell is in bits: “I shall miss them. Silly old fusspots.” It’s these performances that reach across the decades and remain affecting today. And this, reader, is the reason I – and I’m sure you too – remain grateful after all these years.

Extras

Working hard to justify the box-set’s existence is a cavalcade of extras.

I’ve already mentioned Rob Shearman’s witty ‘defence’ of The Space Museum, but there’s also Cusick in Cardiff, in which original Dalek designer Ray Cusick pops by the modern day Doctor Who studios to appraise their work (of the TARDIS console he concludes: “Looks like a dog’s breakfast”).

The excellent work of sixties special effects outfit Shawcraft Models – who fulfilled the same function Millennium FX do nowadays, albeit from two sheds in Uxbridge – is profiled in The Original Monster Makers, while, in documentary The Thrill of the Chase, director Richard Martin ruefully confesses, “We were all not giving it 100 percent”.

A prepped to-the-gills Peter Purves chairs the commentary for both stories and he’s in strident form. Of The Space Museum’s second episode he groans: “An abysmal start. Glyn [Jones], tell me you didn’t write this!” But he’s value for money, is Peter. As the conversation drifts into Paul McGann’s time in the TARDIS, he clarifies: “It wasn’t really part of what we understand as the whole Doctor Who spread.” Mmm. Doctor Who spread…

Of most interest to fans, though, is Maureen O’Brien’s debut in the sound booth. She’s scornful of the way Mervyn Pinfield helmed The Space Museum – “You are watching actors who are totally without direction”, she rails at one point – but proves, at least, to have found some perspective on her time in the programme. “It was wasted on me,” she says, recalling her callow eagerness to get out there and do ‘proper’ acting.

And then there’s Last Stop White City, a tribute to Ian and Barbara. Star of the show is – of course – our hero, William Russell. Remembering how fearful he was telling Doctor Who’s leading man he and Jacqueline Hill were quitting, he laughs: “I thought Bill would be upset and cross.” A beat. “He was!”

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