Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder Exhibition

Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder
Location: National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh
Duration: runs until 1st May 2023

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Having grown up in an era where childhood summer holidays on the Lancashire coastline always included a visit to the famous Doctor Who Exhibition on Blackpool’s Golden Mile, I was delighted to learn that the National Museum of Scotland would be hosting a Doctor Who exhibition right on my doorstep in the heart of Edinburgh. It opened just before Christmas, and I took myself along for a visit just before going back to work after the New Year break, as a little treat to myself. No jelly babies were harmed in the making of this report…

You can buy tickets at the desk on the day, but you can also book in advance, with a time slot (this is also slightly cheaper, and given how popular the museum is with locals and tourists – of which Edinburgh has a great many! – I’d advise booking so you know you are sorted). I had booked a mid-afternoon slot, midweek, which was still actually pretty busy (although to be fair the schools hadn’t gone back after the festive break at this point), and all I had to do was show my e-ticket on my phone, wrap my long scarf around my neck securely, and stroll in through a familiar set of beckoning blue doors.

One of the first sights to greet you on entering is the original 1960s style TARDIS console, although from the look of it, I suspect this is the one which was recreated for use in some of the more recent episodes of the show. It’s still a lovely, retro piece though – all sliding levers, knobs and big, analogue dials, no monitor screen with BBC Model B graphics here! And yes, I do like later iterations of the console, but I really do have a soft spot for this older design. Ah, the good, old Type 40… The sight of this also brought back memories of those summer childhoods getting to explore the long-running Blackpool exhibition, which had the console room at the heart of it – you can imagine to an eight year old how magical that was, the sound effects playing, the lights, the Time Rotor moving; it was very easy to lose your young self in it and imagine for a wonderful moment that it was all real.

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Mark Gatiss, another life-long fan of the show, not to mention one who has appeared and contributed to it over the years, introduces the exhibition on a screen near the console, and there are many screens throughout the various rooms of the exhibition. Many are like that one, pre-recorded “talking heads”, such as scientists discussing physics and the possibility or otherwise of time travel and other elements of the series. There’s a strong educational theme woven into this, looking at the science fiction and trying to relate real-world science to some of it, which seems most appropriate, given that Who, like Star Trek, while fantastical science fiction, has encouraged more than a few young fans to grow up and take on the mantle of real-world scientific research and development.

Other screens, including some designed like coffee tables to stand around, are also educational, but far more interactive, allowing the visitors to examine lifeforms from our own world’s ecosphere, then relate them to imaginary species seen in the show over the years, showing that, although those aliens and others are works of imagination, that imagination is often inspired by real, terrestrial lifeforms, or to see how they would approach attempting to terraform Mars, among other activities to try. While most of this I only looked briefly at as it was clearly aimed at the younger visitors, I strongly approved of them – apart from hands-on activities for youngsters, it’s also no bad thing to be using SF to implant an interest in real science in their young minds. On a related note, if you’ve never been before, the hall between the original Victorian part of the NMS and the modern extension is filled with hands-on items from technology and history that actively encourages young minds to explore, making it a terrific place for family outings (and that part is free!).

Of course it is the items from the show that I imagine many of us will be most interested in, and these range from the large – such as the console or a life-size TARDIS (perfect for taking selfies in front of!) – to the small, such as an array of different Sonic Screwdrivers, arranged chronologically by incarnation, or Captain Jack’s Vortex Manipulator wrist device, from models (including one re-created from original designs from the famously unfinished “Shada” story in the Tom Baker era) to costumes, to full-sized Daleks. One space is the Monster Room because, as Gatiss notes in his introductory video at the very beginning of the exhibition, what is Doctor Who without the monsters? And he’s right, we love them, even when they scared us into hiding behind the sofa and watching with one eye closed, we loved them.

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The Monster Room boasted some wonderful creations from the show, including a full-sized Dalek and the Dalek’s twisted creator, Davros (one nearby video, I noticed showed a clip from that first story appearance of Davros, Genesis of the Daleks, with Tom Baker’s Doctor holding up two ignition wires for an explosive and asking if he had the right to wipe out a whole species, even one so evil, a moral dilemma that impressed itself into my young brain back on the original screening in the mid 70s, where it still remains). We also had Silurians and Sea Devils, Cybermats, Weeping Angels, Ice Warriors, Sontarans, Cybermen, and a nice array of Cyber Heads from the different designs of those iconic villains from across the six decades of the show’s existence.

There were even some other Time Lords in the mix, although of the more villainous stripe, including Omega, the engineer who basically allowed Time Lord culture to exist, and good, old “chop suey” himself, The Brain of Morbius. Also included was a “half Dalek” – those of you of a certain vintage (including myself and our redoubtable editor, John Freeman), will doubtless recall that often tucked away in old amusement arcades in the 1960s and 70s were half-Daleks, essentially a replica but with much of the back of the casing missing, to allow you to get in and sit inside, working the exterminator and sucker arms while screeching “EXTERMINATE!”, which when you are a young child is simply fabulous. Well yes, they had a version of one of those too (oh, the nostalgia!). No, I didn’t have a go, as there were too many younger visitors eager to try being a Dalek, and I got to do that when I was their age so I wasn’t going to hold them up from their shot at it now.

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I must also tip my hat to whoever penned the text accompanying many of the exhibits, which, while doing what they are meant to do, be informative about the item before you, also had a delightful playfulness to them, which I appreciated. The text on the Weeping Angel, for example, explains what they are, how they work, and then concludes with “I hope you didn’t blink while reading this description”. A nearby Cybermat simply has “please do not feed the Cybermat” attached to it, which made me giggle.

I would have liked to see more items from the original era of the series, but I can also understand that many of those items are lost, or too rare and fragile for a travelling exhibition now, and items from the resurrected show are simply more accessible (and also probably more familiar to many visiting, who aren’t even old enough to have gone through their first regeneration yet, unlike us oldies!). The exhibition has its own gift shop stuffed with merchandise from the series, and also some pertaining particularly to the exhibition itself, separate from the regular museum shop. Photography is allowed, as long as you take care not to have any flash activated, understandably, as it can damage delicate exhibits (one a related note, I apologise for some pics not being super-sharp here, but shooting inside an exhibition space with no flash means some pics just don’t come out!).

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The Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder exhibition runs until the 1st of May, 2023, at the National Museum of Scotland; details and booking information are all on the website here. If making your first visit to the museum, in addition to some of their other excellent exhibits (including a floor by floor tour through Scottish history that takes you from Pictish standing stones to full-sized steam engines), may I also suggest taking the elevator to the Roof Terrace Garden. This is free and offers quite remarkable views across the heart of Edinburgh, to nearby historic Greyfriars kirkyard to the Castle and the roofscape of the Old Town and the mighty Firth of Forth, the volcanic peaks of Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills – it’s one of the finest vantage points to take in the city.

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This piece was originally penned for Down The Tubes.

Night-time at the Museum

Normally I like visiting the main hall of the original part of the National Museum of Scotland during the day, as the Victorian glass and steel roof means this large space is flooded with natural light, even on an overcast, cloudy day (several galleries along the railings are well served by this light, especially a row of sculptures). Still, it has a certain charm after nightfall too:

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I was zooming in on this handsome old wrought-iron drinking fountain with its elaborate surround. I had the camera on a tripod and used a (fairly short!) long exposure, the result was this very clear image of the fountain while the visitors around it were all motion blurred ghosts. It wasn’t a deliberate plan but I quite like the sort of quality it brought to this pic:

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Looking straight cross the main hall to the stairs ascending and descending at the opposite end:

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Meanwhile, a little earlier I had been on the roof terrace of the modern part of the museum, a free to visit spot that many seem to miss, but which offers splendid views out across Edinburgh’s Old Town in all directions, including eastwards to Athur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which sits in the Royal Park of Holyrood (by the palace) and gives us a chance for a country hill walk without leaving the town. Here is Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags catching the final half hour of golden light on a winter’s afternoon:

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Flocks of birds swooping around in tight formation over the rooftops of the Old Town as dusk falls on the short winter day:

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Spires and minarets of Heriot’s School silhoutted by the setting winter sun:

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Looking north from the roof terrace across the Old Town:

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And of course you get a terrific view of the Castle:

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And Outlook Tower, part of the Camera Obscura, which has been a visitor attraction in the city since the 19th century and still draws them in, sitting right in front of the entrance to the Castle Esplanade, again catching the last few minutes of winter daylight:

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And this one was an impulse shot – the east side of the roof terrace has a white wall, with a large section cut out. As the sun was rapidly reclining in the west it cast a gorgeous golden light, throwing shadows onto the white wall and that lovely, warm colour. Along with the cut-put viewing space in the wall acting like a picture frame with the dome of Old College (a distinctive landmark on the Old Town’s skyline) I thought I’d try a pic, quite pleased with how it came out, given it was a spur of the moment thing when I noticed how the light was hitting the wall:

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View from a roof

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(dome of Old College Building at Edinburgh University on Southbridge)

The roof terrace of the modern section of the National Museum of Scotland is one of Edinburgh’s best ‘secret’ spots to take in views across the roofs of the city’s Old Town. I say secret, it isn’t really a secret, it is free and open to the public like the rest of the museum, but I mean secret as in so many people – visitors and natives – simply don’t seem to know it is there and the remarkable panorama across the city it offers. Highly recommended for a visit.

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(above: looking down on historic Greyfriars Kirk, below: top of Edinburgh’s splendid Central Library)

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(view right across the Old Town to the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street, visible even over the tall buildings of the Old Town), below: fluttering flags on the roofs of the City Chambers and other buildings, bottom: dome of the Bank of Scotland HQ on the Mound)

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Prehistoric computing

I’ve been meaning to get into the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh since it re-opened in the middle of the summer – it was closed for several years for a huge revamp and I’m glad to have it open to everyone again.  I avoided going in during the height of the tourist season, but last week on a day off I was at my dentist, which is only a few minutes walk from the museum, so I thought why not walk down and spend the afternoon getting familiar with an old friend again? As well as the sorts of things you might expect in a large, Victorian museum – Egyptian mummies, T-Rex skeleton etc – the NMS has a nice line in engineering, science and technology history, part of which includes some now historic ‘hi-tech’ (well, it was at the time), from circuit boards from the massive 50s and 60s computers that filled rooms to this, one of the first of what we’d recognise as a modern home computer, the Commodore PET, from the late 70s.

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First computer I ever saw was one of these, my dad’s friend was an amateur meteorologist and had all sort of tech in his home, including a HAM radio and a printer that gave him direct feeds from a weather satellite (pretty nifty for late 70s). When he added this PET to his collection he had dad bring me round knowing I would find it interesting. Few years later I’d have my own home computer, a Texas Instruments 99/4a and I’ve had a computer of some sort since then (scary to think I have had a computer of some sort for 30 years now). A few years into high school I was given day release with some friends to go into a college in Glasgow one day a week to attend a computer training course, around 83 or maybe 84 – we were gobsmacked to see their computer labs was full of these PETs, because by then these were prehistoric, we expected BBC Model Bs! And their course was for people who had never used a computer, while we had all pretty much taught ourselves how to programme in BASIC several years before and so found what we thought would be an exciting ‘grown up’ course rather dull, but hey, got us a day out of school and into town… Anyway, I posted a shot of this Commodore behind glass in the NMS and shared it on the BoingBoing Flickr pool, noticed a few days later the views on it went crazy – 2, 500 views in about a day, which means a single pic was doing over twice my daily average for my whole Flickr… Turned out Xeni had reposted it on the main BoingBoing blog (one of my fave spots of online reading for many years, also shared the story of my doocing years back). Nice. Seems a lot of people had memories of this, ah, geek nostalgia…

That evil day

Sad to say but today marks the third anniversary of my wonderful mum being so suddenly ripped away from us, just like that. How can it be three years already? How can you have been gone three year, mum? I’ve been doing my best to try not to dwell on it all day, not helped by losing my lovely wee Dizzy cat earlier just this week and my gorgeous big Pandora puss a few weeks back – my furry girls have been a very important part in keeping me going and keeping my morale up since this vile day burned itself into my life and twisted the way I view the world ever after and losing them just makes it that bit harder to deal with it. If indeed you ever really do deal with this kind of thing, I don’t think most of us do, we get buried into the complexities of everyday life so it lies at the back of our minds rather than dominating it as it did when fresh, but we never really deal with, never really accept it.

Dad was through with my Uncle Evan today, they often make use of their free bus passes to go galavanting around Scotland each week so today they came through to Edinburgh and as it was windy and rainy we went off to go around the National Museum of Scotland – amazingly my uncle had never been to it. As luck would have it we caught the last few days of the Lighthouses exhibition they had on – I had been meaning to go along to it for ages and clean forgot about it with recent events, so it was good to catch it before it ended, fascinating history. Among the exhibits were several huge Fresnel lenses, which have always fascinated me since I was a boy (and indeed lighthouses too, always amazed me how they could build such things in the teeth of huge waves and storms), beautiful engineering in light and glass to pierce the dark night. I think it did dad and I both good to be out and about on this day, helped us a bit and hey, I even got an interesting photo out of it – if you look closely you can even see both me and dad reflected in this gigantic representation of the prism:

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The Flashing Blade

Admiring some beautiful, historic swords in the National Museum of Scotland, brings out the Flashing Blade in me, urge to swashbuckle rises… In truth that urge to swashbuckle is never far from the surface, which is probably one of the reason I fenced throughout school and then years later at college. Although not with these. Gorgeous basket-handled Scottish swords, including a very unusual curved blade. Beautiful work, although I prefer a sword with a less elaborate guard so it leaves the fingers and wrist more free to make light, quick movements, which is a better method of defence for the hand than a large guard, at least that’s how I was trained.

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An enormous Claymore – Claymore from this period are generally massive weapons, but I think this one was perhaps ceremonial

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Shadows cast by the Claymore:

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Looking across Edinburgh

I’ve uploaded a few more photos shot from the roof terrace garden on top of the National Museum of Scotland (see previous post); this one is Arthur’s Seat taken from the roof, with the shadows of clouds passing across the face of Salisbury Crags (best viewed in the large size on the Flickr page):

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The room just off the terrace where the lift is has large windows looking out towards Bristo Square and Edinburgh University, with the rotunda of McEwan Hall on the lower left (where my graduation ceremony took place a lifetime ago):

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This leads to the lift room but with the strong sun casting such lovely, clear shadows on the decking I had to take this:

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I also edited a few video segments into a 360 degree panoramic view of the city from this rather wonderful vantage point:

The roofs of Edinburgh

Recently I did something I hadn’t done before – in fact something I didn’t even know you could do: go onto the roof of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. I’ve been in many times but I had no idea there is a large roof terrace (with native plant garden) that you are free to visit too. I’ve wandered around the museum many times but the signs to the roof aren’t too obvious and most folks in Edinburgh I mentioned it too didn’t realise you could go up there either. Lovely spot offering pretty much 360 degree views over the roofs of the Old Town towards the Mile, over historic Greyfriars Kirk, nearby Edinburgh University, the Pentland Hills beyond the city, Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which rears out of the royal park right in the middle of Edinburgh, and, of course, the Castle. Again I find myself wishing I could afford to upgrade to the camera I have my eye on which has much more zoom power, but even so it was still a great and quiet spot to stand and take in the view and shoot a few pics:

Greyfriar's and Castle from Museum roof

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Behind the scenes at the museum

There must have been something on at the Museum of Scotland this evening – it was all floodlit like this on the way home from work and a gaggle of outside broadcast vehicles were parked outside. Incidentally, these snaps were taken around the same time of evening as I finished work as those rosy sunset photos of the Castle I posted a few weeks ago. What a difference a couple of weeks and the return to GMT make; it’s now pretty dark here by 4 in the afternoon and very chilly. You can feel the sharp, cold air tightening your cheeks as you step outside (who needs plastic surgery for a lift? Stand out in the Scottish winter air for ten minutes!); by the time you get home your cheeks are as rosy as a basket of fresh apples.

In the morning the sun is very low in the sky and seems to rise from behind Castle Ridge; very dramatic – the ever-changing play of sun and shadow every morning is like a combination of a Turner landscape and a Colourist painting. Tonight the sky was very clear and a huge full moon hung over the city; even Mars was clearly visible, twinkling a pinkish-red. I thought for a moment I saw a green flare from Mars; it may be an invasion of tripods or it may have been the green man on the pelican crossing on the edge of my peripheral vision. With nice timing I’m just finishing off Fool Moon by Jim Butcher in which Chicago PI/wizard Harry Dresden is investigating, yup, you guessed it, werewolves. “Werewolf? There wolf; there castle.” (name that film!).

You need the fire on now, you need to swap to your chunky boots and try and recall where you put your gloves several months ago, air out your big, heavy coat – yes, it is winter in Scotland. Tonight the full moon reflected in broken ice sheets on puddles and oh, how warm and welcoming every pub looks in the cold, dark night (which is of course why we have so many of them, it’s not just because we’re boozehounds).