26 April 2017

Golden Mile Years - The Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition #2

Blackpool’s Doctor Who Exhibition had a perfect entrance. Sitting just off the main road but visible from it, a TARDIS exterior even larger than the `real` thing sat enticingly open. Colourful signs on the wall to your left invited the eager fan- who really needed no encouragement - to “Defy the Daleks” while clips from the series wafted through the air like sirens attracting their next victims! Not even the warning metallic command “Humanoids will stand still for identification. The TARDIS is under Dalek control” could deter the eager fan. The only ordinary feature of any of this was a toll booth and the fact that the ticket was a generic one without any souvenir value at all as it doesn’t mention what you’ve paid for. However it did only cost 30p! Still that ticket is soon stuffed into a back pocket as you negotiate a descent into darkness. Quite a daring entrance for a public display- normally the sort of thing you’d expect from a ghost train. This long staircase and the fact that from the top you couldn’t see what was down there but you could hear all sorts of noises gave a sense that you really were descending into another world.

At the foot of the entrance steps was a long, twisting corridor in which several large glass fronted
display cases housed monsters, props and bits of set. Signs were written in futuristic black lettering on a silver background. Much care was taken to mount these items in ways that reflected the story from which they came. As you wandered past these strange creatures, lights and sound were used to enhance the effect including dialogue clips and random noises. Photographs were allowed yet there was a slight issue with the glass screens if you were under six feet tall as the camera flash would inevitably show from some angles.

The corridor wound around several bends before you faced a turn to come face to eye stalk with a Dalek and a No Smoking message. Then you walked into the centrepiece which was a large mock TARDIS control room dominated by a replica of the console in the centre. This version seemed slightly gaudier and larger than the TV version. Around the sides of the room behind panels that looked like screens were more ambitious tableaux comprising several monsters and props and often included moving elements. You could also play with a series of control panels that were packed with interactive levers and buttons that really did make noises or operate small banks of lights. 

At the end was a merchandise stall; it's odd that during the original series' most successful period the amount of stuff available was far less than at any time since and in those days this stall was like finding an oasis in the desert. Once they sold 500 ballpoint pens sporting the legend 'BBC Dr Who Exhibition' in less than a week! The way out- or `Egress` as the sign called it – was a flight of steps that in later years led directly into the café above.

Each year- and sometimes during the season- the exhibits would alter and there was naturally a leaning on the most recent series of adventures. It was a bit like going to a concert where the set list would include a lot of new songs and then some old favourites. Apart from the console and some of the Daleks most of the things featured were original props and costumes from the show some of which on close inspection were showing signs of wear and tear. During the close season from the end of October till Easter repairs were carried out. There was also some swapping of exhibits with the Longleat exhibition. 

In the opening year of 1974 we were in the throes of the third Doctor’s final season so this was heavily featured. There was Aggedor, some of Metebelis Three’s giant spiders (twitching a little) as well as several items from `Invasion of the Dinosaurs`. Giant maggots were also present as well as old favourites stretching back across the era. A Silurian display, those busy Daleks, an imposing looking Yeti. There were several Cybermen which were taken from the late Sixties stories as well as Draconians from `Frontier in Space` Perhaps the only slightly odd looking display involved the Ice Warriors who looked a little worse for wear and smaller than you’d expect.

Perhaps the biggest proof of the Exhibition’s success was the following year in 1975 when the Illuminations were switched on by Tom Baker, Lis Sladen and Ian Marter. They arrived in Bessie accompanied by Cybermen and Sontarans and huge crowds. The Doctor had definitely moved in up North!  

More photos in the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition Gallery- link above

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