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Dr Who exhibition at Newcastle’s “Life” Centre

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you might, possibly, have picked up the subtle signs that I’m a fan of the BBC science fiction series “Dr Who”. I know, I know, I’ve hidden it pretty well, but surely some of you have picked up on it by now… 🙂

Well, last week, we went through to Newcastle to visit the “Dr Who” touring exhibition, which is currently on display at the sprawling “Life Centre”, in the busy town centre. Admittedly we were a little bleary-eyed, after being woken in our tent at 7am that morning by the kids of the Geordie Family From Hell, who – after their inconsiderate ********* parents had finally gone to bed at 2am, laughing at the camp rule of “No noise after 11pm” – got up and started setting up a *(^&*&^*)&^P*(^O&*%*O barbeque for breakfast, (if you’re reading this, thanks a LOT you inconsiderate, selfish ***s) but we still really enjoyed it! 🙂

The Life Centre – or “Centre for Life” as it’s actually called – is big, very big, with lots of different galleries and an upstairs level too, plus the obligatory shop and cafe. It’s basically a “Science Outreach” centre, telling the story of, surprise surprise, life and its development. There’s also a great domed theatre area, for demonstrations etc, and one of the best planetariums I’ve ever been in, and I do mean ever – but more of that later…

The Dr Who exhibition is being hosted at the Centre until October, and with series 5 just having finished we thought we’d go along and take a look before the school summer holidays swamped the place with screaming, running, shrieking, sticky-pawed kids. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but thought it was a pretty safe bet that there’d be costumes, props, things like that. I was hoping, I’ll admit it, to see daleks – old and new style – and some “Amy Pond” stuff, being something of a fan of that character.

So, in we went, paid our £9ish each, and weaved our way through “everything else” and headed straight for the exhibition. Getting to it meant following a tortuous route around corner after corner, through several groups of visiting schoolkids, then up a walkway, until finally we saw this huge banner dropping down from the ceiling…

Woo-hoo!! So, through the entrance and into the room… wow…!

That’s the TARDIS, after it had crashed onto Amy Pond’s shed! 🙂 Very atmospheric, with smoke coming out of it and lights flickering and flashing within… a good start! 🙂

We made our way on through the exhibition, and it soon became clear that our predictions and expectations had been pretty much spot-on: the exhibition consisted of lots and lots of costumes, and props, from the “new era” of Dr Who, i.e. everything post Paul McCann’s 8th Doctor, plus some things from Chris Ecclestone’s lone (and now often under-rated) series, lots of things from David Tennant’s stay in the TARDIS, and some things from the new, Matt Smith series – but  not as much as I’d been expecting tho, to be honest; and my hopes of seeing some Amy Pond costumes or memorabilia were to be cruelly dashed, because there just weren’t any, just the odd picture of here here and there. Very disappointing.

But daleks there were. One of the highlights of the exhibition was the “Ironside” dalek from the episode set in WW2, where Winston Churchill thinks the daleks are the answer to defeating the Germans. Of course, the daleks were in it for themselves, and regenerated into those monstrous, multi-coloured, crime-against-design Mini Cooper daleks at the end of the episode, but the star of the episode, for myself and for many people, was the military green dalek, complete with webbing and a Union Jack on its head. Genius, and a fantastic, fantastic design that many Who fans fell in love with that evening…

And suddenly there I was, staring up into the eyestalk of a genuine tea-serving Ironside dalek…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Moving on… we passed (not necessarily in this order, mind; there was a fair bit of going to and fro, we were a bit like kids in an aquarium) a Weeping Angel, complete with a dummy wearing River Song’s floaty black ballgown from that two parter… a big-bellied Slitheen… a Sycorax… the Absorbalof…

And then we encountered the Cybermen…!

I must put my cards on the table here: the Cybermen don’t do much for me, they never have done. They’re just big thunky clunky robot men that stamp and stomp about trying to act hard. I don’t find them menacing or threatening – or, my real test of a Who baddie, “epic” – at all. But they were shown very well in the display, complete with a set-piece with flashing lights and vocal track, which was good fun. But, hmmm, yeah, Cybermen, I can take them or leave them. I was actually much more excited to see this dapper fellow tucked away in one corner…

Recognise him? That’s one of the clockwork robots from the episode where the tenth Doctor travels back in time to pre-revolutionary France and falls in love with a beautiful aristocrat… Those clockwork robots were fantastic in that episode, a real design classic I thought at the time, so I was very happy to see one at the exhibition.

Moving on…

Costumes. lots of costumes… Kylie Minogue’s costume from the Christmas Special she was in (and yes, she is absolutely tiny in real life, as her Astrid Peth costume showed!)… Michelle Ryan’s leather and boots costume from her appearance in “The Planet of The Dead” as Lady Christina, who is surely, along with Sally Sparrow, one of the Best Companions The Doctor Never Had… one of the costumes worn by the beautiful and scene-stealing “vampire girls” from “Vampires of Venice”… and many, many more.

Other highlights… it was nice to see The Lady Cassandra in all her tautly-stretched glory…

… and Matt Smith’s “raggedy Doctor” and “Bow ties are cool” costumes from the opening episode…

As I absolutely hate, Hate, HATE spiders, I really wasn’t a huge fan of the big Racnoss model that I almost walked into as I went around a corner… It was very impressive, but…


One thing I found very puzzling was why one of the best designs from the whole of the last series, a Vashta Nerrada-infected spacesuit – was almost hidden from view, stuffed away in a dark corner of the exhibition…

But coming – ahem – face to face with “The Face of Boe” made up for that…

But what about those daleks?

Well, they were hiding upstairs, in a special part of the exhibition – a circular gallery, initially in darkness, which soon after you enter fills with light as daleks.. several of them… emerge from the shadows and really start being the intergalactic bullies we all know, fear and love. Lots more happens in there too, but, as River Song would say, “Spoilers, sweetie!”… 😉 And at the end, if you time it just right, you can get a photo like this

But there were none of the new daleks on show, which was very disappointing. “Why?” I hear many of you cry, “I thought you HATED those new daleks?!” Well, yes, I do, I think they’re a very fundemantal design mistake, but it would have been interesting to see new and old side by side, just to see the differences for myself. Maybe new daleks will appear later in the year, when all the props from series 5 are packed away, I don’t know. If they do, I’ll have to go back and have a look, because when I saw them in the season finale, “The Big Bang”, I had to admit they looked pretty impressive amidst all the other show baddies and monsters, but only because of their size, not because of their Teletubby colours.

And that was about it, really. Obviously there’s a LOT more to the exhibition than I’ve described and shown here, but if I showed you and told you about everything there’d be no point in going to see it for yourself, would there? And if you’re a Who fan you really MUST go, because the exhibition is a real treasure trove, with gems of Whodom (is that a word? It is now!) around every corner.

You also really should go visit the Life Centre itself, just because it’s a very, very cool place. Not only does it have lots of fascinating exhibits, it has some of the friendliest and most helpful museum staff I’ve ever come across, and has a BRILLIANT planetarium, too, with a small dome but clearly state-of-the-art projection gear.

We watched two shows in the Planetarium. The first was called just “The Planets”, and was a pretty straightforward beginner’s guide to the solar system. Some nice graphics, decent enough narration, yeah, ok.

(NOTE: the first ten minutes were absolutely ruined by  museum staff repeatedly opening and shutting the entrance door after the show had started, each time flooding the inside of the dome with light and so obliterating any hope of creating a suitably peaceful, dark-adapted atmosphere until the show was almost over… Numpties, whoever they were.)

But the second show, ah, well, that was something special – and we’d have missed it if it hadn’t been for one of the Life Centre staff who came up to us, just as we were about to leave, and very helpfully intercepted us to tell us that the second planetarium show of the day was different to the earlier one! Phew! We almost missed it!

And “it” was the absolutely wonderful, narrated by David Tennant, graphics tour-de-force “We Are Astronomers”, one of the best planetarium shows EVER. Real tear-in-the-eye stuff. There were some quite noisy kids in the audience, and I feared that they might disrupt the show, but they were absolutely hypnotised by the whole thing, and clearly enjoyed it from their comments afterwards. And the door stayed shut too, which really helped maintain the classic planetarium atmosphere of peaceful hushness…

So, there you go, that was our visit to the Dr Who exhibition at the Life Centre in Newcastle. Very enjoyable, very enjoyable, though, to be totally honest, I was disappointed that I didn’t see at least a one of the following:

* A Sea Devil (these put the fear of god into me as a kid, they really creeped me out, even though I can now see they were just slouchy frogs with legs, draped in cheap netting and carrying irons…ah, we live and learn, eh?!)

* Some mention – ANY mention – of Martha Jones. Maybe I missed something, but I don’t remember seeing anything belonging to my favourite ever companion. I was hoping for a glimpse of that classic red leather jacket, but naah…

* One of the new-look daleks: I’m not a fan, no, but as I said earlier, I’m interested to see how they stand-up – literally – to the daleks from the RTD era. And, if I’m honest, when I saw the “New Paradigm” daleks in the season finale I couldn’t prevent myself from thinking that they did, actually, look kind of impressive, surrounded by all the other monsters and baddies, real scene-stealers. But I’m NOT going over to the Dark Side, I’m just curious to see one close up.

* Something belonging to Amy Pond… or even Karen Gillan herself, maybe visiting the Centre, standing in the entrance to the exhibition in those cowboy boots and mini-skirt with her hair blowing behind her in the wind –

Ok, that last one was never going to happen, but it’s my blog so I can put down any fantasy I want! 😉

Seriously tho, if you’re a Who fan, and can get to Newcastle, then you absolutely must go see the Dr Who exhibition. You won’t be disappointed. Full details can be found here:



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