When I was a child, my family used to holiday every 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 the exhibition 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 walking around the exhibit but all contained within the Tardis. 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 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).
My personal highlights were 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. Their was a big screen which showed clips from the programme. When I was their they were always showing the Doctors 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 episode they appeared in.
People would even wander around Longleat grounds dressed as Cybermen or Dalek’s and Doctor’s of their era always appeared at the exhibition to publicise a new monster or event, which was going on.
The Longleat exhibition ran for 30 years from 1973 until 2003, closing its doors forever. 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.
Ironic that only 2 years later, it would be back on the BBC and as popular as ever. Now, the Doctor Who Experience tours the country regularly so its unlikely the Longleat one will ever come back.
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 which was on TV, at that time. Whilst it was all authentic BBC props and had interactive elements such as being exterminated by Dalek’s 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, classicdoctorwho.co.uk.