Doctor Who: The Space Museum/The Chase DVD review

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Review Cliff Chapman 24 Feb 2010 - 21:51

A pair of bumpy William Hartnell Doctor Who adventures are treated to a terrific DVD release...

The Space Museum: in which The Doctor and his friends experience bizarre twists in time, wandering around a museum, resulting in coming face to face with themselves as stuffed exhibits...

The Chase: The Daleks can time travel! It's a Chase! (Obviously.) Through Time and Space! (Obviously.)

Considering the scale of losses in Doctor Who's third, fourth and fifth years, it's a minor miracle that Season Two is near complete, bar two parts of The Crusade. And this reviewer is grateful for that survival rate and every extant frame. And yet, I can't help listening to that daemon that says "The Myth Makers... or The Massacre... even The Smugglers... are completely missing, and yet we still have The Space Museum. Why, Goddess, why?"

For it is a largely a misfire. Even the first episode, commonly lauded as a fascinating 'sideways in time' Twilight Zone diversion before the plot settles down into a tedious 'rebels v oppressors' amble, is slow and never really paid-off. Rob Shearman in one of the special features, Defending The Space Museum, has a jolly good go at challenging this not uncommon perception, with a lovely, enthusiastic, eloquent analysis, and almost had me going. But no.

Glyn Jones on the commentary points out that the original drafts contained plenty of humour, stripped out by Dennis Spooner at the script editing stage (much of it reinstated for the novelisation). They clearly wanted to make Space Museum dangerous and serious, to perhaps counterbalance the comic overtones of the next two stories. Unfortunately, it's less dangerous, and just dull.

The positives: Mervyn Pinfield's camera direction and effects work is very accomplished for the time, some of the lighting is exceptional, and there even a couple of briefly dynamic fights. But the performances of the guest stars leave an awful lot to be desired, ranging from competent but forgettable (the Xerons, led by Jeremy Bulloch - yup, Boba Fett) to the plain awful (Richard Shaw as Lobos, treading a fine line between playing a character disinterested in his job and an actor of the same opinion.)

The TARDIS crew, in contrast, are superb, with as usual Russell and Hill working their cardies off to sell the drama. Hartnell fluffs here and there, but he's in fine fettle in the second episode, hiding in a Dalek casing and running rings around Lobos in the interrogation scene. Vicki, too, has a moment to shine - postively Doctor-ish in stirring up revolution and tricking the armory security system. So there are good things here. It's just a shame things happen so slowly, and lines like "How have arms fallen into Morok hands?" read like great jokes mangled through rewrites and humourlessly directed performances.

To the disc itself, the episodes are the usual Vidfired telerecordings. Warping evident on the video has been corrected and overall the picture quality is excellent. There are just a few irritating phosphor dots in the third episode which gives Dako an unfortunate case of blackheads in one scene with Barbara.

We're treated to the commentary debut of Maureen O'Brien, who has appeared in documentary material and, while she doesn't remember a great deal, she's more complimentary than expected, even if it does come across as polite rather than enthusiastic at times.

As one of only three surviving writers from the Hartnell era, having Glyn Jones is a bit of a treat. Peter Purves, who was (nearly) there at the time, makes an effective moderator.

Other extras include a sweet piece presented by Jessica Carney, the real life granddaughter of William Hartnell, on old Bill, the Man, and... A Holiday For The Doctor. Now, a throwaway piece about individ­ual episodes that don't feature a member of the regular cast makes a sort of sense, and one with a Hinge-and-Bracket/Armstrong and Miller-style framing device  makes the sort of sense a great deal of vodka might reasonably achieve. But this is bizarre Easter egg stuff, at best. I didn't hate it. Indeed, I made occasional 'that's quite funny' noises approaching laughter, but I can imagine a portion of fandom will be baffled and seething at the misfiring campery.

Onto The Chase, and things become more entertaining, although frequently unintentionally. Your appreciation will depend on how you view budget squeezed, shambolicly directed, Terry Nation scripted romps.

This is a production in which nothing goes particularly well for the most part. Nation repeats his Keys Of Marinus trick of splitting the six parter into several individual stories. What we essentially have is a two parter on Aridius featuring a menacing giant testicle and Hywell Bennett slumming it in a swimsuit fish costume that's a bit carp; a Marie Celeste one parter (Dennis 'Gharman' Chinnery's in that, never noticed before), a bizarre Universal Horror wannabe standalone with robot monsters in the '1996 Festival of Ghana' diffusing speculation from the Doctor that they've entered the realm of imagination...'; and then there's a two-part finale on Mechanus, with a robot double of 'Doctor Who' that's not so much ‘completely indistinguishable from the individual' as ‘vaguely similar if you squint a lot'.

Jim Smith's Production Notes finally gives the reason why they didn't just have Hartnell for every shot and kept Edmund Warwick for shooting round. And the decision leads to an interesting bit of meta misdirection, whereby Warwick appears in scenes where he's meant to be the real Doctor. I've been wondering about that since I was twelve.

The fiercely protective Hancock estate, the one that for a while insisted the Dalek cake Blue Peter excerpt be truncated on the DVDs for fear of the Daleks looking silly, seem to have forgotten the lengths to which an already bored Nation sent them up here. The stupid Dalek that goes "er, um" when asked for co-ordinates; the reaction to Morton Dill, Peter Purves' early cameo before taking on Steven; being chucked about by Frankenstein; facing off Gubbage Cones (wonderful name, but another testicular design) limply and eventually being bested by absolutely massive chuntering balls. And, once again, fuzzy old video gives way to sharp, clean pictures, even down to replaced New York stock footage, so now you get a really good look at the video camera that gets into shot and all the static, fenderless Peter Cushing Daleks in the background, bumping up numbers.

Where The Chase really comes into its own is the final episode, Planet of Decision. Daleks vs Mechonoids! Steven Taylor! The departure of Ian and Barbara! And it's here that you realise that sacrificing all six episodes to have Power Of The Daleks, Fury From The Deep or lots more Dalek Master Plan wouldn't be quite fair, as it's a cracker of a finale, certainly in comparison to what goes before.

The two schoolteachers, and the performances and ensemble contributions of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill cannot be underestimated in Doctor Who's early and continuing success. Their happy coda in 1965 is charming; Hartnell's performance, beyond the 'floating around in Spain!' fluff, is powerful ("Come along, my dear. It's time we were off.") compliments it, amongst, if not the best of companion exits for, arguably, the best companions. So, it's a struggle, but it comes good in the end.

The Chase is a two disc set with commentary with Richard Martin, Maureen O'Brien, Peter Purves (again moderating) and William Russell. There's a good two hours' worth of features on the second disc. In lieu of a single ‘making of' feature, Richard Martin covers the bulk of development and production in an on-camera interview and, like O'Brien, he's clearly keener on Doctor Who these days than in previous interviews.

There is a pair of Dalek documentaries with gorgeous CGI titles. Daleks Conquer And Destroy is another take on the appeal of the Daleks from a fan/crew perspective, whilst Daleks Beyond The Screen, covering merchandise, the stage plays, Private Eye cartoons and various other media mentions is a delight.

Last Stop, White City is an affectionate tribute to Ian and Barbara, but the stars of the disc are Shawcraft: The Original Monster Makers and Follow That Dalek, 8mm film footage of the Shawcraft workshop. This features, amongst other things, a great look at various models and costumes including a 60s Dalek, the plane from The Faceless Ones, and The Macra in glorious colour, so close you can feel their claws.

What else? There's more. Give-A-Show slides from the Chad Valley projector toy of the 60s, gaudy and hilarious, innocent fun for kiddiwinks of the day and chock full of choice sniggerworthy dialogue for the modern, corrupted viewer, viz "Earthmen! Your strange coming has saved us!", the usual photo galleries, and a trailer for the Myths and Legends set (The Time Monster, Underworld and the Horns Of Nimon.)

Finally, there's Cusick in Cardiff wherein Ray Cusick takes a set visit to the new series and it's an interesting collision of the old and new. It's rather sweet, and he graciously accepts a framed bit of 'Dalek text' at the end, Ed Thomas and crew wisely deciding that giving him an eighteen-inch voice-activated Dalek toy might be rubbing salt into the royalties wounds.

So, not my favourite stories, I have to say, but the presentation is grand. A wonderful TARDIS crew and the extras on The Chase make it essential. And, as Dr Who And The Daleks was in production shortly before, just imagine a big screen remake with Peter Cushing, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey...

Episodes:
Space Museum 1 stars
The Chase3 stars
Discs:
4 starsDoctor Who: The Space Museum/The Chase will be released on March 1 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.

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