When I was a child, my family used to regularly holiday in Weston Super Mare, on the Somerset coast. Occasionally, we would make the short run to Longleat Zoo – to marvel at the animals and the big stately house. Our first visit was in 1985, it was here that I noticed, for the fiest time; the Doctor Who exhibition.
As I made my way over to the exhibition, I gazed in wonder at the Tardis Blue box entrance. It was as if, you were actually stepping into a huge exhibit bit contained magically with the Tardis police box itself. Ok, so the Tardis had a huge room attached to the back, but I was 6 years old – so I bought into the magic!
The visitor would walked past enclosure after enclosure of different Doctor Who monsters. It was, as if you were in a zoo; which housed dangerous monsters, behind plexi-glass screens.
Each room was accompanied by animatronic movements, sounds – and loud ominous music; which heightened the experience – and made it abit scary for young kids. I vaguely remember a warning present on the entrance (that young kids should be accompanied by adults).
My personal highlights, were seeing the Cybermen; who I always liked the most – and Davros. Davros was just as ugly in the flesh – as on TV. Seeing the actual ‘official’ Doctor costumes on display also, used to create a pang of excitement.
The attraction moved on, to a central room which had a working Tardis console (going up and down). There was a big screen, which showed clips from the programmes history. When I was there, they were always showing the Doctors regenerations – back to back.
Sometimes, there would even be a tour-guide present, who would take groups of people through the exhibition; explaining who the monsters were and which episodes they appeared in.
Longleat staff would even wander around the grounds, dressed as Cybermen, Daleks (to to publicise the attraction). Also, the actual Doctor Who actors of their era – sometimes appeared at the exhibition; to publicize a new monster – or event.
The Longleat exhibition ran for 30 years – from 1973, regularly redressing it’s attractions, as new eras came and went. A devastating fire in 1996, nearly destroyed the entire exhibit but it was luckily saved and back open – quickly.
It sadly finally closed its doors, forever in 2003. Which was probably (at the time) due to a tail-off of popularity, as Doctor Who had been off-air, for over 14 years; at that point.
Ironic, given that only 2 years later, it would be back on the BBC and as popular, as ever. Now the Doctor Who Experience regularly tours the country, so it is unlikely thatthe Longleat attraction, will ever return.
In 2010, I visited the Doctor Who experience in Newcastle – at the ‘Center For Life’. It was mostly based around the (then) Tenth (or Eleventh) Doctor; 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 Dalek’s or “deleted” by Cybermen. It didn’t quite have the magic, scaryness or uncomfortable closeness – of the original Longleat event.
Doctor Who Longleat, would have been consigned to the mists of time, had it not been for me coming across an interesting website; which is dedicated to preserving the memory of the Longleat Doctor Who exhibition (maybe it’s revival too!): 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. The images in this article are all my own photographs, taken sometime around the late 1980’s. The above featured youtube video – recorded in 1991; is pretty good too!
Dave Armitage – Classic Doctor Who fan
More Photos of the Exhibition can be found here http://www.drwhoexhibitions.co.uk/longleatgallery.htm.
The full-history of the exhibition, can be found here on http://www.drwhoexhibitions.co.uk/longleat.htm