Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder (till the 1st of May 2023)

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Since its inception in 1963, Doctor Who has been a science fiction icon, a show that has transported audiences through time and space. However, what many fans might not realize is that the show has a history of featuring science and technology that has later become fact. As the exhibition notes say, “Doctor Who has always celebrated the creative, limitless possibilities of technology. And in some areas of research, the real world is catching up fast. Ideas that were once pure sci-fi dreams are the focus of real science, right now.”

The exhibition is a treasure trove of creative ideas and associations. It is very good at linking Doctor Who themes and plots with scientific developments. For example, human cloning is featured in the 1965 episode “Galaxy Four”, and cyborgs with high-tech prosthetic limbs and bionic eyes are a regular occurrence.

The exhibition makes clear that Doctor Who was ahead of its time in dealing with environmental issues. For instance, the 1964 episode “Planet of the Giants” deals with a callous industrialist named Forester (Alan Tilvern) and his ecologically damaging insecticide called DN6. In more recent episodes like “The Waters of Mars” (2009) and “Thin Ice,” (2017) the show has continued to explore climate change and environmental destruction head-on.

Doctor Who has also tackled pandemics and infectious diseases in episodes like “The End of the World” (2005) and “The Girl Who Died” (2015). The show’s writers have always had a knack for using science fiction to explore real-world problems, and this has continued throughout the show’s long history.

But Doctor Who hasn’t just been ahead of its time in terms of technology and issues. The show has also featured robots who are both friendly, such as Kamelion from 1983, and unfriendly, such as the organic/robotic Daleks, which were introduced in 1963 and the robotic posties in “Kerblam!” in 2018. In fact, the exhibition notes state that “in more than 860 episodes (and counting), Doctor Who has asked again and again ‘What if?’ and fed our imagination.”

The Drahvins, female clones from the Galaxy Four episode. Dr Who has always drawn on scientific developments and possibilities.

One example of the show’s prescience is the sonic screwdriver, which was invented by the Doctor in the show’s fourth season in 1968. The tool quickly became a staple of the show, allowing the Doctor to unlock doors, disarm enemies, and even perform medical procedures. Today, we have devices that work in a similar way, such as ultrasonic scalpels and other non-invasive medical tools.

It’s clear that Doctor Who has been a cultural touchstone for decades, inspiring generations of scientists, engineers, and writers. By featuring technology and concepts that have later become a reality, the show has played a small but important role in advancing science and technology. And by addressing important issues like pandemics and environmentalism, the show continues to remind us of the power of science fiction to inspire change in the real world. As the exhibition notes state, “Doctor Who has always celebrated the creative, limitless possibilities of technology.”

Not only that but the props and pictures displayed in this exhibition are sometimes beautiful. I loved the coral based Console room of the Tardis designed by Ed Thomas in 2005 to give one example.

Adult tickets from £12, National Museums Scotland Members free.

10% off when you book as a family

Book here


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