When I was a child, my family used to holiday in Weston Super Mare, on the Somerset coast – year after year.
Occasionally, we would make the run out to Longleat Zoo to marvel at the animals and the big house. But one year, probably about 1985, I noticed that a Doctor Who exhibition was on at Longleat.
I made my way to it and gazed in wonder as the entrance to the exhibition was the Tardis Blue box. It was as if you were actually stepping into the Tardis itself and the exhibit was contained within in. Ok, so the Tardis had a huge room attached to the back, but I was 6 years old – so I bought into it!
So you walked through room-after-room as if you were in a Tardis zoo, which housed dangerous monsters in enclosure-after-enclosure, behind plexi glass .
Each room was accompanied by sounds from the programme and ominous music, which made the experience a bit scary for young kids. I vaguely remember a warning present on the door (that young kids should be accompanied by adults).
My personal highlight was seeing the Cybermen, who I always liked the most and Davros who was just as ugly in the flesh as on TV.
Some of the attractions had levers and buttons which made things move/bleep/ or blink, although some of these were broken; it didn’t detract from the excitement much.
The attraction moved to a central room which had a working Tardis console going up and down. There was also a big screen, which showed clips from the programme. When I was there they were always showing the Doctor’s regenerations, back-to-back.
Sometimes, there would even be a tour guide who took groups of people through the exhibition; explaining who the monsters were and which episodes they appeared in.
Longleat staff would even wander around Longleat grounds, dressed as Cybermen, Daleks and Doctors of their era; always appeared at the exhibition to publicise a new monster or event – going on.
The Longleat exhibition ran for 30 years from 1973 until 2003, closing its doors forever. (It nearly closed in 1996 after the exhibit burnt down). It was probably due to a tail-off of popularity at that time, as Doctor Who had been off the air for over 10 years, at that point.
Last year, I visited the Doctor Who experience in Newcastle at the Center For Life. It was mostly based around the then 10th Matt Smith series 5 which was on TV, at that time.
Whilst it was all authentic BBC props and had interactive elements, such as being exterminated by Daleks or “deleted” by Cybermen – it didn’t quite have the magic, scaryness or closeness of the Longleat event.
So, it would have been consigned to the mists of subconsciousness had it not been for me coming across an interesting website which is dedicated to the memory of the Longleat Doctor Who exhibition: www.drwhoexhibitions.co.uk
If you are interested in seeing some of the attractions which populated the exhibition over the years, then this is the place for you.
Photo’s of the Exhibition can be found here http://www.drwhoexhibitions.co.uk/longleatgallery.htm.
The history of the exhibiton can be found here on http://www.drwhoexhibitions.co.uk/longleat.htm
Check out my own classic Doctor Who site, olddoctorwho.com.