Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Time Museum written by James Goss and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: ‘This is the Chesterton exhibition. A series of breathtakingly faithful tableaux, painstakingly detailed to the nth degree. Dedicated to the life of that most extraordinary time traveller, Ian Chesterton!’ Ian finds himself in a shrine to his own past and on the run with man named Pendolin. From Coal Hill School to Jobis Station, from Totter’s Yard to the crusades, Ian’s history is unfolding. And a confrontation with a deadly enemy with a voracious appetite is waiting…

Schoolteachers in Love: ‘You’ve led a remarkable life, Mr Chesterton!’  Ian is shocked to wake up in Coal Hill School. His laboratory to be precise and it feels like he is still in the throngs of a nightmare. Imagination coming face to face with an exhibition in a museum that devoted entirely to you and your adventures. Everybody wants to be remembered, don’t they? So this must be a very flattering experience for Ian. That is until he realises that he has been taken out of time to be preserved here, the ultimate exhibit. He’s wonderfully true to himself – always being taken to remarkable places and demanding to be taken home. That’s all he ever wanted really. He still can’t believe he had the chance to stand on alien worlds, it still feels like it had happened to someone else. How fabulous that Ian can laugh his head of now at the ridiculous notion of an old man living in a police box! He visited so many alien planets that he cannot remember them all distinctly now. History was never his strong point and that was why they needed the Doctor. The idea of Ian losing his magical memories of a time when he wandered through time and space is heartbreaking. This is a story built around the same shock treatment that befell Jamie, Zoe and Donna Noble, losing your link to the Doctor and your adventures to him. Imagine the ignominy to discover that instead of being an important exhibit in the Time Museum Ian’s life is presented in an annex off the beaten path. He grew up during a war and would hear reports of hundreds of deaths abroad but he couldn’t visualise anything beyond the family at the end of the street suffering when a bomb fell on them. To be told about the deaths of entire races is one thing but to witness what is left of their mark on history is much more potent. Ian is a little disappointed that the only reason he was brought here was to lure the Doctor but he’s pragmatic enough to get over it quickly.

Hmm: It would appear that the Mercury fluid links overheated far more than we ever realised between stories and emergency landings were crucial. I love the image of him settling down on a rock to smoke his pipe, what a shame that his smoking habit was lost as the kids fell in love with Hartnell. Ian was frequently exasperated because the Doctor would constantly get them into scrapes which could be avoided by keeping a decent set of spares. What Ian didn’t realise was that obtaining these spares in life and death struggles was where all the best adventures took place…and I think the Doctor knew that. Not so much absent minded but looking for excitement. Before he met Ian and Barbara the Doctor was a selfish man, only getting involved if he had to save his own skin. They changed him, made him better than that. They made him noble and helped him save lives. Ian likes to think that after they met him that he continued in that vein, travelling, meddling and helping. ‘Our destiny is in the stars’ he once said, and he set out to find it. Ian is delighted to hear that the Doctor never stopped travelling. Pendolin tries to prey on Ian’s weaknesses and suggest that the Doctor never came for him…but Ian has faith that if he does come he will outwit him. In the Doctor’s head sometimes you have to do something brutal and unpleasant in order to survive and escape and Ian knew that when he picked up that rock in 100,000 BC he was planning on bashing that caveman’s head open. Ian challenged him and it was possibly the only time in his life he had been told he was wrong. A simple stupid human had pointed out his error. He couldn’t explain what he was trying to do because it was wrong, not just in Ian’s eyes but his own. He had changed all because of a rock.

An Unearthly Child: When he first met Susan Ian remembered her looking at him as though he were an exhibit under a microscope, something charming, quaint and puzzling. Ian always suspected that Susan could operate the console far more effectively than the Doctor could but he never let her near the console.

Standout Performance: William Russell, of course. Its become predictable to sing his praises so I will just say how marvelous it is that such a great actors is still involved with this show 50 years on. He's incredible. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Come on! We’re going to bury them under my past!’
‘Smell triggers memory. The sulphur of a match, the stink of an acid sea on a dead world, the tang of dodgem cars in a metal city, Marco Polo’s horses cooling down at a caravanserai after a hard days ride, smoke drifting from the Doctor’s pipe, Barbara’s perfume…’ – the sound of the rain that accompanies this scene helps to provoke vivid memories of these adventures.
‘In the early days it was you can’t change history, not one line but by the time we left him he was tearing out old pages.’
‘We broke our bread on forgotten worlds in distant times. He stopped trying to get us home and just started looking forward to where we’d land next. That became the adventure. And d’you know I don’t think we minded. Not one bit.’
‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Doctor its when not to interfere!’ says Ian as the creatures devour Pendolin. What a guy.

Great Ideas: Ian’s memories are being attacked and he cannot remember his wife’s name. Gathered in this museum are travellers who have wiped the dust of ages from their feet – a Time Museum. It would be harder to brew up a more potent snapshot of the first two seasons of Doctor Who than having Ian actually re-experience those memories and then have them slip from his fingers. He recalls meeting Susan, being ill on Skaro, being taught to fight by Alexander the Great, witnessing the Crusades, fighting against the forces of Kublai Khan, clashing swords in a Roman arena, visiting the temple of Yetaxa, being pursued by Robespierre’s men, Susan being sacrificed to the Master’s of Luxor, the Doctor getting married, from Vortis to Versailles, the Cave of Skulls, giant ants being enslaved by an evil creature, giant matchboxes, …but its getting all mixed up in his head and he can’t separate one adventure from another. Alarmingly as Ian’s memory shifts and alters the Museum becomes whatever he perceives it to be now…hundreds of adventures dovetailing into each other, cross pollinating each others exhibits. Which is why they can visit the Cave of Five Hundred Skulls utilised by the Aztecs. The exhibit isn’t entirely accurate because it has been built up from Ian’s memories but then is history ever really accurate when it is being passed down to people with their own take on what happened? The curators have obtained the services of a Time Scoop which can gobble up aspects of your past to be placed on exhibit. Creatures that can devour the Time Museum, capable of invading a complicated space time event and feasting on memories. If you are what you eat that makes them thoughts themselves. Memories of entire races have been consumed in the museum by creatures that feast on time travellers. The plan was to steal Ian out of time so the Doctor came to rescue him but he never came. The greatest exhibit the Time Museum never had. Its Pendolin who has been feeding off of Ian’s memories and he has been feeding of the reactions of those who have flocked to the museum for centuries. The memories of time travellers are the most nourishing of all. The other creatures have been attacking to kill Pendolin, to save Ian for themselves (he’s not much but he’s the only meal going).

Audio Landscape: Beautifully done. Can you imagine the difficulties in trying to recreate so many old adventures and trying to make it sounds both evocative of the era and fresh and exciting for this audio? Never fear though, its Fox and Yason on the case and the resulting drama is skilfully realised. A ticking, ringing clock going nuts, the echoey corridors of Coal Hill School and chattering students, writing on the blackboard, the hissing creatures reaching out for Ian’s memories, walking on metal grating, a horse screaming, sword fighting, we can actually hear the exhibits being broken down and put back together again as Ian’s memories shift, exotic birdsong, falling over the edge of a precipice and taken rocks and debris with them, footsteps on gravel, a humming police box, lightning crackling, the TARDIS door opening, lightning flashing, heavy rainfall, lighting a match, the Time Museum announcement, the creatures consuming Pendolin and his scream. 

Isn’t it Odd: After the reminiscent tone of The Reverants, the screaming voices of the past being anchored through Rasputin in The Wanderer, and this giddying skip through Ian’s memories the companion chronicles have pretty much exhausted the nostalgia card for the first Doctor’s early years. Let’s get back to some original storytelling (ala The Rocket Men) for the next William Russell-led adventure. The ambiguous, creepy ending didn’t add a great deal for me.

Standout Scene: In a cliffhanger that deserves a place up there with The Face of Evil episode three and The Mind Robber episode one, Ian not only loses his memories of the past but starts to lose who he is. In a deftly scripted and performed sequence Ian starts to transform into the Doctor himself, fingers at the console, waiting to explore a new alien world. To say I was confused at this point would be an understatement but to say I was gripped by these unusual developments was also true. You’ve got William Russell who has become quite adept at playing the First Doctor on audio playing Ian playing the Doctor! Recursive occlusion!

Notes: Gloriously as Ian’s memories go through the grinder he starts to recall meeting the Doctor in the way depicted in David Whitaker’s Dr Who and the Daleks novelisation. Also in the Time Museum can be found the Edwardian sailing ships of the Eternals (Enlightenment). Also two great battle fleets, the pride of Sontar and the arrogance of the Rutan cluster. Nekistani freighters (Neverland, The Apocalypse Element).

Result: I’ve had an excess of you, Ian Chesterton and you’ve still got fight left!’ A story that is based around the idea of how we are empowered by the memories we have experienced, The Time Museum is the ultimate walk through the most impossibly wonderful first two years of Doctor Who. In a bizarre way it feels like Beyond the Ultimate Adventure in that it is story that is constructed out elements of other stories but that is where the comparison ends because this is far more ingenious, evocative and agreeable. Plus its assembled out fantastic stories and not a trashy musical. As ever William Russell provides the best of readings and makes every line count. What’s so effective is that we don’t just get to see what an effect the Doctor had on Ian’s life but we also re-experience the profound effect that he and Barbara had on him. Its becoming increasingly clear to me that the initial line up of Doctor and companions was the best and The Time Museum provides another piece that assembles that argument. The ultimate nostalgia chronicle, this adventure is like slipping into a fever of warm, delicious kisses to the past and you may just come away longing to watch the first two seasons of Doctor Who again. It feels like the 50th anniversary is here already: 9/10

1 comment:

d486d67c-b73d-11e2-8519-000f20980440 said...

This one is just fantastic. The best part to me is that it was a companion chronicle that wasn't narrated or at least only parts of it were narrated when Ian was trying to remember things. Instead we were experiencing the adventure that Ian is having in the present and to me that lent it some immediacy and drama that a narrated story can't - since you know he'll make it out in the end.

I'd really love a story with Ian meeting the Doctor (any Doctor) now so that we could have some of the relationship alluded to here fleshed out. How have both men changed because of knowing each other?

My one complaint here is that I hate for time travel to be so pedestrian that there can actually be a museum for it that is apparently visited by lots of time traveling species. Of course the series already made time travel pedestrian with Delta and the Bannermen but we don't have to compound the mistake.

Still, all-in-all this one is a fantastic story.