Certain corners of the Doctor Who fan community haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory across the last few years. The casting of Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth screen incarnation of the Doctor and the arrival of Chris Chibnall as showrunner has brought out the absolute worst in otherwise normal, rational people – some of them with grown families of their own – as they vented their fanboy fury in torrents of bile and appalling verbal abuse that flew completely in the face of the show’s inclusive, tolerant, and largely benign narrative values. They have been, in short, a disgrace and Doctor Who fandom doesn’t need them. It does, however, need more people like Neil Cole, creator and curator of The Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, tucked away in the picturesque village of Allendale in Northumberland. Over the last few years Neil – a lover of all things sci-fi, not just our indestructible Time Lord – has devoted his time, energy and undoubtedly a hell of a lot of hard cash, to converting the basement cellar of his Georgian home into a living museum of original and restored props, costumes and associated ephemera from all eras of Doctor Who alongside items culled from other classic film and TV franchises. This delightful new DVD from Reeltime Pictures, hosted by the inimitable Sophie Aldred (Ace from the ‘classic’ series and, it now appears, an upcoming special episode of the 21st-century series), celebrates Neil’s extraordinary work ethic and his tireless determination to create an ongoing memorial to Doctor Who in particular and the genre in general – he and his work are a reminder that there’s still a lot of big-hearted, good-natured Doctor Who fans out there once we scrape aside the rancid top layer that has festered over the past four or five years.
Doctor Who has been 'on display' since the early 1970s courtesy of BBC Exhibitions at Longleat House in Wiltshire, Blackpool and in later years at Llangollen in North Wales. But since the closure of the huge Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff a few years back, there has been no permanent display of the show’s lavish and imaginative costumes and props (although there are rumours of a planned touring display arriving in the next few years) so Neil is currently providing a vital fan service with his growing museum and its cache of goodies rescued from long-gone exhibitions or exhumed from storage where they had been slowly disintegrating. Neil has lovingly restored many of these unique pieces, most of which, remember, were cheaply made and intended only to survive the length of the filming schedule of the serial they were created for. Not only has Neil cleverly utilised the available space in the cellar to maximum effect, he's travelled (and still travels) the length and breadth of the country to collect slowly-crumbling chunks of plastic and cardboard which he then delicately returns to pretty much the condition they were in when they slid/slithered/marched into the studios at Television centre decades ago. Luckily Neil’s a practical type - he designed the layout of the museum and built it from scratch; those of us who struggle to change a lightbulb can only marvel at his skillset and his tireless determination to bring his vision to life.
Doctor on Display is a delightful little film that celebrates the best of Doctor Who fandom, taking us back to the Museum’s original opening a few years ago, its forced closure during the pandemic and its recent triumphant reopening after extensive restoration work. We’re reminded frequently during the film that the Museum is “off the beaten track” (and something of a boon to the local economy) but in many ways that alone makes it a must-visit port of call for true Doctor Who fans craving the chance to take a little wander through the show’s rich history, a history preserved and brought back to the life by the sheer force of nature that is Neil Cole.