The Space Museum is a prime example of a story that needs to be watched in proper context. In the context of the long and glorious history of the series, it is of course going to be a pale shadow. There are stories to come in later series that deal with many of the issues and themes of this story, and handle them so much better. But when this story was produced, those stories were as yet undreamt, much less produced or viewed. In that context, we can appreciate The Space Museum as a bold experiment, and one that set the scene for many themes Doctor Who would go on to revisit in subsequent seasons.
We must begin with the first credit – episode one is genuinely unnerving and spooky, as the travellers arrive on the planet but appear to be invisible to the inhabitants. The cliffhanger is the most shocking – to discover their future selves imprisoned in the Space Museum, and that the reason they are seemingly invisible is that they have slipped into a different time stream. It sets the scene to lift the story beyond a simple tale of an underclass rising up against their decadent masters, to address the theme of whether one can change the future – with the TARDIS team striving with great might to avoid the fate they have foreseen, all the while conscious that in trying to avoid that fate, they may very well carry out the actions that result in it taking place!
Episodes 2 to 4 are somewhat pedestrian, but when viewing the DVD I was struck by the themes of the episode and drawn into the dialogue. It is rather like revisiting any of my creative writing from primary school; while you would cringe at the relative gap in quality compared to how I would now write, you see the unmistakable first signs of how my writing style would develop. And for that we need to recognise that The Space Museum is certainly not the best of its type, but it was the first. The theme of overlords and the oppressed would be revisited many many times, whether in The Ark, The Dominators, The Mutants, or The Happiness Patrol – to name but a few from countless examples. The capacity to change the future was revisited as recently as The Waters of Mars or The Wedding of River Song – and The Space Museum was one foundation stone for this rich heritage. While it is hardly a classic, this story is significant.