The original remit of Doctor Who when it was conceived and developed in the early sixties to have been to present stories both entertaining and educational, the twin pillars of science and history represented by the two teachers who taught at the Coal Hill School, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright whose specialities were those subjects, with the sixtieth anniversary of first broadcast in November 1963 fast approaching that central theme is still evident in the show and how it is brought to the audience.
The “purely historical” stories where the adventure was entirely based around events of whatever past era was visited by the TARDIS without alien involvement largely abandoned after The Highlanders with the sole exception of Black Orchid, where the travellers later met feuding warlords or Shakespeare they had enlisted the aid of Sontarans or were under the influence of extra-terrestrials, but science has remained core and accessible, from nail polish remover disabling Cybermen to vinegar disposing of the family Slitheen.
The National Museum of Scotland a renowned establishment of science, history and culture, it is science which is celebrated and explored as Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder exhibition arrives in Edinburgh, transferring from its debut in Liverpool and taking over the flexible upstairs gallery of the Chambers Street site, a space previously held by Vikings and early photography and most recently occupied by Anatomy: A Matter of Life and Death.
The doors of the TARDIS illuminated by a swirling vortex, visitors first encounter a “classic” version of the control console while wall panels introduce some of those responsible for shaping the show, creatively and artistically, with original design papers of the console room displayed alongside its later versions inspired by coral, the Large Hadron Collidor and geological formations, and further in are illustrations of the many iterations of the Doctor.
The costume worn by David Bradley during his time recreating the First Doctor stands guard at the next section of mechanisms and gadgets displayed in glass cases, protected from those who would seek to obtain such advanced technology for their own ends, a plethora of sonic devices including screwdrivers, umbrellas and sunglasses as well as various models of the more traditional screwdrivers through the eras, and the ultimate Time Lord artifact, the Confession Dial.
Technology on the macro scale is also in evidence with larger robotics presented under a backdrop of the most recent manifestation of the “roundels” of the TARDIS interior: the K-9 unit of Professor Marius, the K1 unit of Professor Kettlewell, and masks representing the Hosts of the Titanic, the “Dum” robots of Storm Mine 4, the Clockwork Robots of the SS Madame de Pompadour and Handles, the Doctor’s friendly decapitated Cyberman.
The walls of the entrance vestibule carrying quotes from notable thinkers and scientists such as Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, the latter in fact misattributed according to his family, there are more interactive elements such as video interviews with luminaries such as physicist Professor Clifford Johnson and astronomer Doctor Maggie Aderin-Pockock as well as those associated with the show more directly, visual effects designer Mat Irvine and writer Mark Gatiss, though intended for an audience broad in both age and comprehension of the topics discussed the information is largely of an introductory level.
Diverse topics explored in Worlds of Wonder including robotics, hyperspace and astrobiology, the possibility of life existing elsewhere in our own solar system, possibly in the deserts of Mars or the oceans of Europa, there are representations of wormholes and tesseracts and tabletop simulations allowing visitors to direct planetary terraforming processes, balancing atmosphere and radiation, and cexploring the variety of terrestrial life and how it is reflected in the alien species the Doctor has encountered, in form, locomotion and feeding habits.
The final galleries showcasing a menagerie of aliens from throughout the solar system and far beyond, the Ice Warriors of Mars, the Cybermen of Mondas and their descendants, the Daleks of Skaro and their creator Davros, understandably there is an emphasis on the monstrous stars of Doctor Who since its revival, Cassandra and the Fisher King more familiar to the younger visitors towards whom the exhibition is aimed, engaging their love of the show and their intellectual curiosity, but there are scattered inclusions from the original run hiding among the spacesuits in the unfortunately limited space.
With Omega’s costume from Arc of Infinity when the show was a mere two decades old now showing its age as much as the odds and ends body constructed by Doctor Solon to house the brain of renegade Time Lord Morbius, nothing can be so ancient as the oldest living being in the galaxy by the exit, the mysterious Face of Boe, bidding farewell to his many visitors, friends of long standing and those who have come to seeking enlightenment, Doctor Who: Worlds of Wonder perhaps not quite fulfilling the promise of the publicity but certainly an entertaining and worthwhile afternoon.