National Media Museum makes space and time for Doctor Who exhibition (From Bradford Telegraph and Argus)
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National Media Museum makes space and time for Doctor Who exhibition
Toni Booth holds a wooden TARDIS, perhaps a foot or so tall, lovingly hand-crafted and painted. It is incredibly detailed, down to the notice on the door and the light on top – which once worked, though doesn’t any more.
“This was made in 1985, by a 15-year-old boy,” says Toni, who is curating the Doctor Who And Me exhibition, which opens at Bradford’s National Media Museum on November 23.
“He made one every summer holiday from the age of seven as a project – he did it because his family couldn’t afford to buy official Doctor Who toys. This is the only one he kept.”
The room is stuffed with similar items, each of them with its own story. In summer the Media Museum put out a call for fans of the long-running science fiction TV series to get in touch with their memorabilia. The fans didn’t disappoint. We are surrounded by boxes of merchandise, rare collectibles, and home-made toys, artwork and decorations, all being prepped for display when the exhibition opens (to co-incide with the broadcast of the 50th anniversary celebration show on BBC1).
Even if you are not a Doctor Who fan, says Toni, you’ll be familiar with the show. It’s seeped into the national consciousness. Everyone knows who the Doctor is – throughout the past half-century there have been 11 of them – and his arch-enemies The Daleks are instantly recognisable to anyone.
“Even estate agents describe houses as TARDIS-like,” says Toni, “and we know exactly what they mean, even if we haven’t seen the show.”
Rather than hold an exhibition of official props and costumes from the show, which has been done many times before, the National Media Museum wanted to delve deeper into what Doctor Who means to us.
“We were a bit nervous about what sort of response we’d get,” says Toni, “but it turned out perfectly. We’ve got more than 500 objects for the exhibition. The response was really enthusiastic.”
If you can say nothing else about fans of Doctor Who, they are properly engaged with their show. And they have to be. Before “New Who”, as fans term it, was brought back with Christopher Eccleston in 2005, Who fans had endured 16 years in the wilderness since the BBC pulled the plug on the TARDIS in 1989. That’s a long time to keep the flame alive.
Toni says: “When we sent out the call for objects, we wanted to reach the real fans. We asked them what they loved about Doctor Who and who was their favourite Doctor.”
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the history of the show will be unsurprised that the favourite incarnation of the character – at moments of mortal peril Time Lords such as the Doctor can regenerate, neatly paving the way for new actors to play the character without any break in continuity – is Tom Baker, who served in his floppy hat and impossibly long scarf from 1974-1981.
Tom Baker was certainly “my” Doctor, and sifting through the memorabilia lent to the museum I am suddenly brought up short by an action figure of Tom’s Doctor, complete with hat and scarf, which I owned as a child. Unlike mine, though, the figure is in mint condition and still in its original box.
There’s also a Cyberman, which I also had – I remember the silver fabric flaking off through repeated play – and a Dalek. David Howe, who has donated these items, also had the foresight to buy an action figure of Leela, the Doctor’s companion at that time. I remember I wouldn’t have one because Leela was a girl and therefore a doll, not an action figure.
My Doctor Who toys have long since gone to the great Space Graveyard in the Sky, but some kind of “collector gene” which pushes people to preserve merchandise and fripperies in their original glory for eternity must be present among some people who have offered their items for display.
There is a box of Doctor Who chocolates dating from 1963 (“We asked just for the box, not the chocolates,” says Toni) and numerous jigsaws with all the pieces intact.
The exhibition will be roughly divided between official merchandise – there are several VHS video box-sets, in themselves museum pieces now, technology wise – and the home-made, crafty, one-off items.
Toni says: “On the one hand we have things that anyone could buy, the action figures and the books. Then there are the rarer objects, which were still on sale to the public but really went to collectors and hardcore fans. Then we have the things people have made, which complement the official items and which are hugely important.”
It’s that desire to create among fans which truly marks out Doctor Who’s impact on the psyche of generations of TV watchers. Toni shows me a collection of sculptures of various Doctors created by student James O’Neill, who travelled up from London to drop off his treasures. There is a professional-level book created by Nathaniel Fay, also an art college project. Neil Palfrey’s stunning painted portraits run through every Doctor, up to and including the new, as-yet unseen incarnation in the shape of Peter Capaldi.
Ex-patriate New Zealander, author Adam Christopher, has brought in a pile of fanzines he was involved with in his younger days. Toni says: “We had a few calls from New Zealand. Apparently the show was absolutely massive over there.”
Toni also unpacks a beautiful cross-stitch made by Sarah Lissaman, a series of huge portraits painted by Emma Cariss, and a knitted David Tennant, made for 43-year-old Joanne Woodman by her mum, who now accompanies Joanne everywhere she goes.
Toni says: “One thing we found was that a lot of female fans came forward. People might think Doctor Who is a boys’ thing, but that’s just not the case.”
Toni holds up a crocheted Dalek – “This was sent to us from The Bronx, New York” – and a wonderful Cyberman head made by Michael Gilroy-Sinclair of Brighouse. She points to a table full of knitted figures. “Here’s an Ice Warrior… K-9… there’s an Ood…”
Toni seems incredibly knowledgeable about the show. Presumably she’s always been a big fan?
“Actually, I’ve never been that big of a fan,” she says. “But since we started preparing for this exhibition, I seem to have picked up an awful lot about Doctor Who.” She pauses. “It’s all in my head now, and I’m just a bit worried about what it’s pushed out to make room!”
Like some creeping, telepathic entity from the show itself, the phenomenon that is Doctor Who has claimed another victim in Toni Booth. And she’s hoping that it will do the same to you, whether you count yourself as a fan or not.
She says: “The exhibition is aimed at everyone, not just the fans. Doctor Who’s been going for 50 years and this is a celebration of not just the show, but the people who watch it.”
The Media Museum is hosting a series of half-term activities based around Doctor Who this week, until Sunday, and Doctor Who And Me will run from November 23 to February 9.
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