Doctor Who: The Space Museum

Doctor Who: The Space Museum December 4, 2011

The Doctor Who episode “The Space Museum” explores a temporal paradox of the sort that the show up until this point has largely sidestepped, but which has characterized the post-hiatus series. The Doctor and his companions arrive in a space museum, in which they find themselves and the TARDIS on display. The Doctor realizes that they are getting a glimpse of the future, and must work to prevent it from happening.

A key question, of course, is why they can rewrite the future, when it surely must be the past from the standpoint of later people.

Perhaps one could come up with a view that rendered this less puzzling – perhaps it is the attempt to change one’s own past, including the history that predates one’s birth, that is problematic, since then you risk changing things that contribute to your own existence and experience, creating the potential for a paradox. But as long as something is the future to you, then there is no risk of paradox, even though for a time traveler from the future, the situation might be different.

Or perhaps these paradoxes are simply reasons to think that time travel is not in fact possible.

The second, third and fourth episodes of the story reminded me of a time in my teens when I tried to live out the belief that God had a plan for everything. I found myself paralyzed when I wondered whether it was important that I take this street or that one on my ride to school. What if I was supposed to bump into someone? But wouldn’t God foreordain that whatever I choose be what he wills?

In these segments, the characters who have caught a glimpse of the future, and now are seeking to avoid it becoming reality, face similar dilemmas. They know what they hope to avoid, but will it be accomplished by pressing on or staying put? Whether one believes that one is part of a foreordained plan, or trying to avoid one possible outcome, the attempt to choose to participate in or avoid a certain destiny creates puzzles.

One of the most interesting aspects for both fans and detractors of the recent series is that this story from the very first Doctor is a story about the possibility of seeing the future and then acting in such a way as to change it. While I’ve had a conversation once with a fan of the classic series who objected to the temporal paradoxes that have become a common feature in recent episodes, “The Space Museum” shows that this is not at all something new.


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