The recently opened Doctor Who exhibition on Brighton Pier celebrates the show’s successful return to our television screens after an absence of 16 years.
Located in a dome shaped structure that’s been designed to look like the inside of the TARDIS control room, the exhibition, much like the show, is a mixture of the old and a healthy dose of the new.
On entry, six foot high models of Trinny and Susannah (they of BBC’s What Not To Wear fame) loom above you from the podiums of a well lit corridor. But these are no ordinary fashion consultants. They are robots from the penultimate episode of the series, Bad Wolf. With chainsaws for arms and scalpels for fingers, one can’t help but think that sometimes the human body is best left to its own devices.
Passing by these intimidating ‘ladies’ we find ourselves in the first main room. Vacuum formed TARDIS walls surround the structure while the famous police box slowly rotates in the centre, its transparent front and sides revealing the costumes worn by the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and his assistant Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). A widescreen television shows her first time inside, and shocked reactions to, the TARDIS. An original art department model of the interior and design sketches of its console also offer a thrilling insight into its creation process. Similar sketches and notes for Rose and the Doctor’s costumes, as well as the design of his Sonic Screwdriver (an ingenious device which can perform multiple functions from opening locked doors to fixing broken wire) are also on display. However, for new fans or those just feeling nostalgic, several light up consoles provide information on the previous eight Doctors and their assistants.
The first six episodes of the series are represented in their own individual rooms. From Rose there are models of the Autons, Mickey’s plastic head, the wheelie bin that ‘swallowed’ him, a phial of anti-plastic and the bomb used by the Doctor to blow up a clothes shop. Most impressive are the Auton Brides, plastic mannequins that tower menacingly from behind a reproduced shop window, while a screen directly behind plays their finest moments in a loop.
The End of the World is represented by a podium of life-size models depicting the key alien figures of that episode, the Moxx of Balhoon, the Tree People, Jabe, the Binding Lights and the Ambassadors. Nearby cabinets contain such props as the tiny robot spiders and the assortment of gifts presented to the Doctor on Platform One, as well as prosthetics models for the head of the Moxx of Balhoon.
Two vast Slitheen models and the Space Pig represent the two part episode Aliens of London and World War III alongside Mike Tucker’s astonishing model of a ruined Big Ben. Equally impressive is a sculpted head of the ‘human’ character Margaret, a design so realistic one can’t help but suspect its eyes could flick open at any moment.
However, the greatest spectacle and the reason highlight for many fans has to be the title star of episode six, Dalek. Perched at the top of a flight of stairs, the Dalek towers above all who enter its chamber. A small button at the base of the steps reads, “Warning: Do Not Press!”, tempting nearly everyone to disobey. Doing so causes the Dalek’s head to turn, it‘s lights to flash and the figure to shout words like “Exterminate!” and “The Doctor!”. Surrounding it are original Dalek models from their 1966 invasion of Earth, props of its mutant self and a smaller version of the Dalek Emperor from the final episode, The Parting of the Ways.
As with every other room, a large screen reminds us of how the Dalek looked in motion, while its commands and own unique theme tune create a sensation of mingled excitement and disorientation.
The exhibition is bright, colourful and a joy to fans both old and new. However, there are two displays that highlight the problems of showcasing this new series. All episode ten, The Doctor Dances, has to show for itself is an old WWII bomb and a gas mask. Episode three, The Unquiet Dead, is represented by a body lying on a mortuary table covered in a sheet. Although air conditioning makes the fabric billow and swirl in a ghostly manner, this exhibit in particular reminds us how many of the Doctor’s enemies are now produced by CGI. Though effective on television, here it seems like a missed opportunity to educate the public on the process and potential of Computer-Generated Imagery.
Even so the exhibition is entertaining and rewarding, providing a rare insight into the production of one of Britain’s best loved shows. New fans will be enthralled by the whole experience while older fans will no doubt fall in love with Doctor Who all over again.