Doctor Who: The Space Museum and The Chase review, The Space Museum and The Chase DVD
Starring
William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O’Brien
Director
Mervyn Pinfield and Richard Martin
Doctor Who: The Space
Museum and The Chase

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

()

B

efore moving on to the stories themselves, let’s go ahead and get the ugliness out of the way, because there’s no point in dancing around the septic tank with a bouquet of flowers. For perhaps the first time on DVD, a “Doctor Who” story is being presented in an edited form, and it’s got nothing to do with anything other than copyright issues. The edit occurs in the first episode of “The Chase.” The Doctor (William Hartnell) has acquired a device called the Time Space Visualizer, and as its name suggests, it’s basically a TV that can tune into any event in time and space. First the TARDIS crew checks out Abraham Lincoln, then Queen Elizabeth chatting up William Shakespeare, and finally they watch the Beatles perform “Ticket to Ride.” Or rather they used to, because the Beatles segment has been edited completely from this disc. This isn’t the first time the Fab Four have caused problems for the “Who” DVD range, but the last time, in “Remembrance of the Daleks,” it was only their sounds that had to be edited out, or replaced as it were. No such luck here – two minutes of story is just plain gone.

Now admittedly, if you’ve never seen the episode before, it’s highly unlikely that you’d even notice something was missing. But for those of us who have seen it? The pain! “The Chase” isn’t all that great of a story to begin with, and now it’s got one less item to add to the list of positives. For years, I’ve always thought of this story as “the one with the Beatles.” Now it’ll be known as “the one that they edited.” It’s hardly an important scene, and it doesn’t affect the story, but it was rather charming and had a couple nice lines of dialogue, particularly when Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), the girl from the future says, “They’re marvelous, but I didn’t know they played classical music.” To add insult to injury, as I understand it, it’s entirely possible this could’ve been avoided altogether if certain fans hadn’t gotten into a tizz when this disc was announced and made a stink that pretty much amounted to “Are they going to cut the Beatles scene?” According to a post Steve Roberts of the Restoration Team made some time ago on a message board, if they’d simply kept their mouths shut, it probably would’ve slipped through the cracks and nobody would’ve been any the wiser. Sometimes it actually pays to keep quiet. On to the stories themselves…

First up is “The Space Museum,” a tale which actually features one of the single greatest first episodes in the history of the series. It’s almost like an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and it could easily be mistaken for an entry from that series if you tuned into the middle of it, without knowing what you were seeing. The Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Vicki end up at a museum on the planet Xeros – only they soon begin to notice they’re out of step with everyone around them. People walk by and don’t notice them; they’re unable to hear the conversations going on in their immediate vicinity. Soon enough, the Doctor deduces that the TARDIS has skipped a time track, and that they must wait to “catch up.” But the corker is when they come across themselves in the museum, bottled up and on display. They must stay on Xeros and find out what is happening in order to make sure they don’t end up permanent residents in the Space Museum.

Unfortunately, the remaining three episodes never follow through entirely on the brilliant premise, although it’s unfair to say that there’s absolutely no follow through whatsoever. The threat of the TARDIS crew ending up in the museum hangs over the entire story, and yet the story is not terribly engaging, and it’s one that we’ve seen time and again on “Doctor Who,” usually handled with more flair than here: the native Xerons have been overtaken by the vicious yet bumbling Moroks, and, in a nutshell, the crew must help them take back what rightfully belongs to them. Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) has an early role as one of the high-browed (literally) Xerons. Still, one cannot discount the power of that first episode, which is strange, creepy, and as unsettling as the darkest children’s TV you’ve ever seen.

“The Chase” is nothing more than a wacky Dalek story – it is, in fact, the first wacky Dalek story. The two Dalek entries before it – “The Daleks” and “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – are both sturdy, reliable science fiction and parable. This is nothing of the sort, and if you enjoyed those other tales, you’ll be severely disappointed by this one. It has more in common with “The Keys of Marinus” than it does with “The Daleks.” The Daleks have built a time machine and they chase the TARDIS around the universe for six episodes. They visit the planet Aridius, the top of the Empire State building (a sequence that appears to have a fair amount of contempt for Americans, or maybe I’m just oversensitive), the Marie Celeste, a weird haunted house replete with Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, and finally there’s all out war on the planet Mechanus, where the Daleks take on the Mechanoids, in what’s actually a pretty decent sequence. This is pure bubblegum “Doctor Who” that doesn’t even appear to be taking itself seriously, and nor should you. Although it must be said, the Fungoids on Mechanus are straight out of an “H.R. Pufnstuff” episode, provided you’ve dosed on acid before watching.

On the plus side, in addition to introducing Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), this is the final story for Ian and Barbara, who use the Daleks’ time machine to return to their own time, which results in a lovely, unforgettable sequence that’s almost reminiscent of the final scene of “The Graduate.” It’s an important moment for the series, as the show will find itself shifting into an entirely new dynamic with the exit of the two schoolteachers – two people who changed the Doctor as much as he changed them. So while there’s clearly a great deal of garbage to sift through on this set, not to mention the dreaded Beatles edit, between the first episode of “Museum” and the last episode of “The Chase,” it’s not entirely a waste of time, although your pocketbook may tell you otherwise as it’s hardly an inexpensive set.

Special Features: This thing’s crammed with stuff. Commentaries for both stories; “Museum” features Russell, O’Brien, writer Glyn Jones, and is moderated by Peter Purves, while “The Chase” features the same group, with director Richard Martin in place of Jones. “Defending the Museum” is writer Robert Shearman’s attempt to justify the story. It’s a brave attempt that at times goes too far. “My Grandfather, The Doctor” is a sweet look back at Hartnell by his granddaughter, Jessica Carney. “A Holiday for The Doctor” is an utterly useless comedy bit with some guy in drag. It’s never funny, not even once, and goes on for 14 minutes but seems like an hour. There are at least a half a dozen other featurettes and one vintage documentary on a factory that made many of the props for the series back in the day. And of course there are all the other usual bits and bobs like photo galleries, PDF materials, and production note subtitles. All in all, the comedy bit aside, a grand selection of extras that in some ways makes up for the weak stories.

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