Doctor Who exhibition review

Mark pays a visit to Newcastle's Doctor Who Exhibition, and finds a gathering of props and costumes that should please old and young fans alike…

Even though I live in the North East of England, I don’t often find myself in Newcastle. On my way to and from my recent Edinburgh Film Festival trip, however, I had some time to kill in the city while waiting to get back on the coach.

Thankfully, the Life Science Centre was just around the corner from the coach station, and so I decided to give the Doctor Who Exhibition a look.

You know the deal with this kind of thing, this particular exhibition showcases many of the props and costumes from Doctor Who since 2005. Most interesting to younger fans will be the variety of exhibits from Matt Smith’s first series as the Doctor.

Understandably, this is the first part of the exhibition you see when you enter, with raggedy Doctor and policewoman costumes on mannequins beside a crashed TARDIS with smoke billowing from the doors.

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From there, you can follow the series around in chronological order at least as far as The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood, the most recent episodes transmitted before this exhibition opened to the public. The stuff on display from the newest series ranges from Smiler booths to Silurian costumes. Each episode is accompanied by video montages on screens or projected against walls, and a look at the story of each episode.

Once you get past Alaya and Restac, you’re into the Russell T Davies era as you walk around a corner into some shop dummy Autons, and it’s here that the exhibition is at its most comprehensive.

There are great displays of monster costumes and props from the series. I was particularly surprised to see the telescope from Tooth And Claw and the Empress of the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride, both taking up massive amounts of floorspace without distracting from anything else.

The whole exhibition is abuzz with a cacophony of sounds and music from the assorted monitors and exhibits, some louder than others. Most likely the first thing you’ll hear, even if you’re a good ten minutes from The Next Doctor when you enter, is Miss Hartigan’s piercing scream from the end of that episode. Wherever you’re up to, you’ll be able to hear that shriek, and it’s occasionally very distracting.

If I had a complaint, it would be the curious lack of Time Lord-y coverage. As far as I could see, there wasn’t a single thing on show from the final three episodes of series three, except for a Professor Yana costume that was curiously supplemented with a long black overcoat.

Similarly, The End Of Time isn’t covered like the other specials are. Perhaps the Master is just a topic non grata, but I did find myself looking around for more costumes, like the Ninth Doctor’s or that Time Lord get-up. Maybe the tweed jacketed and bow-tied mannequin by the entrance built my hopes up, but I would have liked to see more humanoid costumes alongside the likes of the Ood and the Sycorax.

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A nice touch in amongst all the kid-pleasing props and costumes was the installation of the show’s production office, a mocked-up room of desks filled with script pages and toys, the walls plastered with concept art and schedules. You’ve caught glimpses of offices like these in the first four series of Doctor Who Confidential, but it was nice to see some behind-the-scenes stuff too.

It all builds up to a flight of stairs at the end of the line, leading into what seems to be an area for Daleks In Manhattan, replete with gun props and showgirl costumes. Through a tunnel to the right, however, “lifeforms” are encouraged to enter. Go in and you find yourself in a dark room where a terrifying encounter awaits. You know, terrifying for kids. I didn’t jump, or anything…

I won’t spoil how the Dalek trap pans out for exhibition patrons, but I will say that it ends very cleverly, and the families who went in just before I did seemed very excited by the whole thing. Such a conclusion with the Doctor’s oldest foes was perhaps inevitable, but it’s technically very well put together.

The worst I could say about this exhibition is that it was a diverting way to kill half an hour on the way home from Edinburgh, but I know I’d probably spot even more on a second visit. The truth is that it’s also a must-see for any fans of the show within travelling distance of the Life Science Centre in Newcastle.

The price of admission also covers the rest of the exhibits on show at Life, and you get value for money alone in the Doctor Who Exhibition. On the way out, the little shop that the Tenth Doctor was so fond of is stocking a fairly broad range of merchandise from the new series and the classic series.

Without having seen the similar exhibitions about the show in Blackpool and across the nation, I can’t tell you how this latest one measures up. What I can say is that I enjoyed it as a fan and still found there was enough to divert kids.

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There were some disappointing omissions, but this show is all things to all fans. While I’d have liked to see a couple of classic series props creep into the mix, kids might well be all about the Abzorbaloff instead.

It covers enough of the new series to keep most satisfied, and is certainly worth a look for fans in the North East, especially as the announced live stage show won’t be materialising anywhere near us later in the year. This exhibition, on the other hand, lasts right through to Halloween.

Take the kids, take your friends, take yourself.

The Doctor Who Exhibitions are open now in Newcastle, Cardiff and Land’s End, and run until October 31.