A narrow escape for the Doctor Who Christmas special

Nothing much going on in London in 1851? Do us a favour...

I leave it to my esteemed colleague Simon (historically far kinder to the writing of Russell T. Davies than myself) to review The Next Doctor, this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, but I have one peeve that, as a great fan of both versions of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, I cannot leave unaired.

The Doctor (and here I mean Tennant) mentioned during the course of the show that ‘nothing much’ was going on in London in 1851. Dare I suggest that 1851 has resounded in history as a turning point both for the industrial revolution and Victorian design and aesthetics?

Though it finished on the 15th October, ten weeks before, the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park was one of the crowning moments of Victoria’s reign, as the artisans and industrialists of the empire sent their finest show-pieces to be displayed in Joseph Paxton’s amazing glass edifice in Hyde Park. Such an impression did it make that the ‘Crystal Palace’ was recreated in even greater magnificence in the then-undeveloped South Norwood suburb of London in 1853, lending its name to the area. There it stood as a centrepiece of Victorian architecture, courting-ground and musical and arts venue until being burnt to the ground in a mysterious fire in 1936. The fire was visible from France.

The advent of the great exhibition might have been at least worth a line of dialogue such as ‘Well, we’ve missed the great exhibition, I’m afraid’, if Davis was determined to set the special in that year.

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I can hardly blame the Beeb for not attempting to send the Doc back to the Great Exhibition or to the subsequent Crystal Palace, beautiful though it would be; it’s a project that would singlehandedly put £50 on the licence fee, and only the late Michael Crichton has made even a cursory attempt to render Paxton’s beautiful glass structure, in The First Great Train Robbery (1979).

I’ve been fascinated by these unbelievably ambitious glass buildings my whole life, and 1851 would be the first date I put into a flux capacitor, or the TARDIS…

Pictures from Life’s archive at Google. Click for full size original images…

nb: The final pic is from the 1851 exhibition.


Postcard reproduction of glass and iron framework exterior on of newly re-erected Crystal Palace at Sydenham from original by pioneering Victorian photographer Philip Henry Delamotte.
Detail of glass and iron framework of exterior section of Great Nave of the Crystal Palace at site of reconstruction at Sydenham.Detail of fountain and plants furbishing inside of the re-erected Great Nave of the Crystal Palace at site in Sydenham
Sepia tone of re-erected Crystal Palace on grounds at Sydenham.
Wide angle of re-erected Crystal Palace on grounds at Sydenham.
View of the Egyptian Court inside the Crystal Palace, an impressive structure built specifically for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and moved to the Norwood site in 1854.Queen Victoria (distant C) presiding at ceremony opening re-erected Crystal Palace at site in Sydenham recorded by pioneering Victorian photographer Philip Henry Delamotte
Illustration of the interior of the Crystal Palace showing (distant C) Queen Victoria attending the Great Industrial Exhibtion of 1851.


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Doctor Who: The Next Doctor review