With the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine focusing on features about the various Doctor Who exhibitions of yesteryear, I thought this might be a good opportunity to reprint this feature from Strange Skins #5 in which our crazed correspondent Claire ‘Moth’ White (as she was then) ‘reviewed’ the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition that briefly re-opened from 2004 to 2009. Her ‘review’ dates from the earlier end of that period and features, for the first time, all of the photos that she took before she was told to stop. Enjoy! ~ Paul
“Let’s go to Blackpool,” said I to Rachel, who is my flatmate and casual arch-nemesis. We usually go away for a long weekend sometime late in the year, and this time had left it quite late to organise anything.
“Why?” she asked. It’s a reasonable question. There is a certain irony in the idea of someone who lives a cough and a spit from Brighton dragging their arse the length and breadth of the country to a similarly tacky seaside locale.
But I had a hidden agenda for my planned trip North of the North / South divide; Blackpool once more had a Doctor Who exhibition. It had been opened, almost perversely, as all the other long-standing exhibits had been closing. Or perhaps there was method in this madness? For was Doctor Who not returning to our TV screens? And did the closure of Longleat, Llangollen etc. now mean that there were now Doctor Who props and costumes aplenty looking for a new home?
“You want to go to that Doctor Who thing, don’t you?” she asked. Dammit, I just can’t fool Rachel. She might seem like an idiot to the untrained eye, but she has an analytical mind that can spot the tiniest variation in lipstick shade or half an inch difference in the height of a stiletto heel. I was never going to fool her with such a flimsy ploy.
“OK, yes,” I replied, thinking that the game had escaped me, but Rachel smiled and said that she would love to go to Blackpool, as long as I didn’t expect her to go with me to the exhibit (which I didn’t). Rachel obviously also had an agenda equally as poorly hidden as mine. She must have heard that there were lots of nightclubs in Blackpool, where she could slap around in a short skirt picking up Northern blokes (note to self: remember to get separate rooms). I didn’t care though because this was the way things often went with Rachel and I. We follow parallel paths to completely different places – or vice versa, in this particular case.
I mentioned to Paul, the editor of this particular magazine, that I was planning on taking a trip to Blackpool to visit the exhibition and, much as I expected he would, he asked me to write a review of the event. Much as always, I explained to him that it would probably end up being a bitching session about Rachel, but he didn’t seem to care. He seldom does seem to care about such things. Sometimes I wonder if the man is quite right in the head.
And so the time rolled around for Rachel and I to take our trip to ‘the Riviera of the North’. I had agreed to arrange the transport, and so we were travelling by coach, which is infinitely longer and more tedious than travelling by train, but much cheaper, which is essential for the impoverished student. Rachel had been charged with arranging accommodation, which she had done with typically twisted aplomb. Even though Blackpool itself is awash with hotels and guesthouses we had ended up with accommodation in Lytham, a short bus ride away (even the trams don’t go there) but nonetheless removed from the heart of the action. Never mind, I was determined that nothing that Rach could do was going to spoil my good mood. Even the constant, misanthropic ramblings of our (possibly mentally ill) coach driver were not going to get me down, nor the long and uncomfortable journey in his demented presence.
Eventually we arrived in Blackpool. It’s not too much different from Brighton – a bit colder and breezier, with fewer gay couples, but other than that, fairly dissimilar. We wandered along the sea front on this particularly breezy day, being blasted by sand, blown up from the beach. The famous Blackpool lights seemed a lot less impressive than I had anticipated, many of them being little more than elaborate advertising for local businesses. Still, the Blackpool Tower looked impressive, and we both agreed with childlike glee that tomorrow we would pay our seven quid to go in, get the lift to the top and then spend the early evening at the famous Blackpool Tower Circus.
We toddled along to our lodgings in Lytham, where we seemed to be the only patrons under the age of sixty. This disappointed Rachel somewhat, as she had hoped to pick up some random bloke in the hotel bar (one track mind, that girl) although she contented herself with stalking some poor German waiter who had happened to be the only male in the vicinity still in possession of all his own teeth.
My room (for we had separate rooms – hoorah!) was above the hotel kitchens, so I was awakened to the smell of bacon and eggs. First thing in the morning this was quite pleasant, but by my return in the evening time, it had outstayed it’s welcome quite considerably. We proceeded as planned, scoffing down a hearty brekkie (well, I scoffed down a hearty brekkie, Rachael nibbled some toast and complained about her waist) before hopping onto a bus and scooting on into Blackpool. First we arsed around like schoolkids for a couple of hours in the Pleasure Beach, a sort of huge walled fairground with a truly terrifying rollercoaster called The Grand National. This marvellous piece of engineering was built in the 30s and is still predominantly made of wood. Riding it is truly the most terrifying experience imaginable and I started to regret having wolfed down so hearty a breakfast. The terrifying thing about The Grand National is that it looks so old and rickety that you’re constantly in terror of the rails collapsing beneath you, or having your head taken off by a concrete stanchion. For all her girliness, Rachael has nerves of steel when it comes to these things, though her shrieks of joy were staring to grate a little towards the end.
We slowed down the pace a bit in the Blackpool Tower. First we queued for hours to ride the lift to the very top and look out over the wilds of Lancashire. It’s quite an exciting experience, but bloody freezing. I was pleased to see Rachael refusing to cross the ‘walk of death’ – a reinforced glass panel that finds you standing hundreds of feet in the air with seemingly nothing to support you. Ahh, not so brave now, rollercoaster girl! In the Tower there’s lots of other stuff: a dinosaur ride narrated by Johnny Ball (I had to explain to Rachael who he is) and a museum dedicated to famous clown Charlie Caroli (I definitely had to explain to Rachael who he is). Not to mention the delightfully kitsch Tower Ballroom, where you can watch the old folks waltzing while a man in a white suit plays the organ. Bless ‘em.
We caught the afternoon performance of the circus, because Rachael didn’t want to waste any drinking time by going to see it in the evening. If you ever get the chance to see Blackpool Tower Circus, you should definitely do some. I’m not a big fan of the old circuses, with scraggy tigers and bored elephants, nor of the awful modern circuses, as typified by Canadian borefest Cirque du Soleil, but the Tower Circus is just a dream. It’s so classy and seamlessly professional. I felt like I was 9 years old all over again.
I clung onto the feeling of being 9 when we left the Tower. As agreed, Rachael was going shopping while I skipped with excitement down to the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition. I was still so filled with excitement when I skipped in through the brightly coloured façade that I completely missed the prominent notice saying ‘No Photographs or Videos From Here Onward’ and carried on happily snapping away with my digicam until tapped on the shoulder by a man in a suit. “Didn’t you see the sign?” he asked. “I did not see the sign,” I replied, and fluttered my eyelashes, a shameless trick I’d picked up from Rachael. The man went away.
Wandering round dark labyrinth of the exhibition, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Most of the monsters are set out in interesting dioramas, some of them with moving parts. The costumes are obviously very old, but most of them seem to have undergone some form of restoration and they’re far more lovingly displayed than the stuff I saw in Llangollen a few years ago (a tale for another time). Many of the props are less cared for, and there are even a few fire-damaged pieces from Longleat. It’s sad to see the proud Brontosaurus from Invasion of the Dinosaurs looking so old and knackered. However, for the fangirl in me, some of the greatest joys in the exhibition lay in the obscure pieces of costumery that are dotted around the place. I was delighted to see a cane once used by William Hartnell himself. And as for Patrick Troughton’s trousers – well, just don’t get me started. I’m welling up just thinking about them.
For those with an interest in Doctor Who, the display on offer in Blackpool is a must. My only complaint is that the time seemed to pass so quickly. It’s quite a sizeable collection and I was in there for nearly an hour, but the time seemed to whiz by.
That night, with a degree of reluctance, I went out on the drink with Rachael. Wandering round the heaving streets of Blackpool, I excitedly told her of some of the wonders I had seen today, but I could tell she wasn’t at all interested. In a bar down in a cellar, a very annoying Scouser in an Everton shirt tried to pull me. I pretended to listen to his inane patter for a while, but secretly I was thinking of Patrick Troughton’s trousers.
I sneaked away early and in the dim coolness of my hotel room, I wrote this account for Strange Skins. Tomorrow we set sail for Hove. I’m glad I talked Rach into this trip to Blackpool. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.