Mention the word ‘museum’, and the temptation is to think back to the days of school trips trudging around dusty, fusty old reliquaries, chock full of dead things and disputed items plundered from overseas in some less noteworthy moments of national history.
However, you can actually find museums devoted to all kinds of wonderful, arcane, obscure or unlikely subjects. Amongst their number are facilities which are wholly dedicated to dog collars, pencils, cuckoo clocks, genitalia, toilet seat art, David Hasselhoff, and noodles, to cite but a few such examples. You name it, they probably have a museum or exhibition about it somewhere in the world.
For fans of science fiction, there are an increasing number of opportunities to go and study up close things related to the films and TV shows they love. One of the original models of the USS Enterprise is on show at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the restored bridge set from the Enterprise-D will be a centrepiece at the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum, which is due to open this year.
Much closer to home, we have The Time Machine Museum of Science Fiction, in rural Herefordshire. Right at the other end of the scale is a new kid on the block, in the National Film and Sci-Fi Museum, located in Milton Keynes. Nerdvanas of this type provide the chance to see props, costumes, and all kinds of ephemera from television and movie productions, giving a valuable glimpse at what went into putting all your favourite productions together.
Doctor Who fans have been rather spoiled in this respect, as over the last 50 years there have been numerous exhibitions and museums around the UK, where fans could go and check out things that they had seen on screen. From Longleat, Blackpool (twice), Llangollen, and – most recently – Cardiff, pilgrimages have been made to these official exhibits, often with long-suffering but very patient families, to come face-to-face with the Time Lord’s most fearsome foes from across all eras of the show’s history.
Since the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff finally closed its doors in 2017, however, there has been an obvious gap in the market for a fixed, standing tribute to the programme. Step forward, Neil Cole: longtime fan, artist and collector. After a whole lot of hard work and diligence on his part, in 2018 The Museum Of Classic Sci-Fi made its debut, nestled away in a small village in Northumberland, around 20 or so miles away from Hadrian’s Wall.
The story of this new permanent exhibit in the unlikeliest of places is told in the latest release from Reeltime Pictures. It shows how much of a genuine labour of love the whole thing has been for Cole, starting with a pipe dream of sharing his personal collection with people, which – with the support of his family – led to such a mammoth undertaking, spanning several years, and culminating in the complete renovation of a derelict property which is now a home that just happens to have a museum in its basement.
Hosted by former Doctor Who companion Sophie Aldred, we get to hear Cole’s story first hand in this documentary, and it becomes clear just what an uphill struggle the endeavour has been at times, not least because of the pandemic causing the Museum to shut down temporarily. However, with life giving him lemons, Cole used the lockdown to make lemonade, by using the enforced closure to do some remodelling works on the Museum, and making sure that it was ready to come back even stronger for its 2021 reopening.
Cole’s dedication and passion really shines through, and in a bonus featurette, we get to see just how much toil and hard graft has gone into the preservation and restoration of some of his exhibits, with several being in a parlous state when he took possession of them. Considering the age of some of the props and costumes on display, and given the fact they were only meant to be used for a few weeks’ work, it is remarkable they have survived for so long, so you see all the painstaking effort by Cole to return them to an ‘as-new’ state.
While a lot of Cole’s collection is focused on Doctor Who, he also has plenty of exhibits relating to other sci-fi properties, and this documentary acts as a great incentive for anybody with even a passing interest in the genre to want to go visit The Museum Of Classic Sci-Fi for themselves. Enterprise (no pun intended) and dedication of this magnitude does require recognition, so if this DVD should encourage more people to make the trek all the way up to Allendale to see the Museum for themselves, then Reeltime can consider it to be a job well done.
The Doctor On Display series promises to take us back to the long gone Doctor Who exhibitions of yore as well, so there is plenty of potential in this new range from Reeltime. Aldred is such a perfect host, using all of her presenting experience to have the subject matter feel engaging, while also managing to make the viewer feel rather like an old chum, so hopefully she will be on hand to take us on many more of these guided tours of Who paraphernalia.
Doctor On Display: The Museum Of Classic Sci-Fi is out now on DVD from Reeltime Pictures.