Archive for Exhibitions

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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Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser

Filmed at the V&A, London in July 2021 | Running Time 80 mins

I’ve seldom been hit by so many ideas in such a short space of time. This left me with so many thoughts and things I wanted to follow-up. It’s not just that there are so many ideas in the original two books but also the ways in which Alice has been interpreted since. Andi Oliver and V&A Curator Kate Bailey give us a guided tour through this highly theatrical and pretty comprehensive exhibition. We’re shown how Alice inspired creativity n fashion, film, photography and on the stage. So many artists have been inspired to create works that adapt the books by Carroll (the psuedonym for the author Charles L. Dodgson) or allude significantly to their language, themes, or characters.

The exhibition is ambitious. Take film for example. The V&A collaborated with The Australian Centre for the Moving Image – who mounted their own Wonderland exhibit a couple of years ago – to focus on Alice in film. The original ACMI exhibition featured more that 40 arthouse and blockbuster films, yet the V&A are presented even more.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more mention of music. The Alice books have served as the source for countless compositions both in the classical and pop traditions. I’m no expert on classical music but on pop know a little more. Even as I went into the film I was humming White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and I am the Walrus by the Beatles. Both are illustrations of how the counterculture of the 60’s embraced Alice. I would have liked to have seen that explored more. Perhaps it was in the exhibition and didn’t feature so prominently in the film.

There is something for everyone here. I loved the Mad Hatter outfits and learning about the ‘real’ Alice for whom the stories were originally created and later written down. I loved the enthusiasm of Andi Oliver who was clearly a big fan of the rebel Alice who wasn’t afraid to question authority or the basis for rules.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop

Blazing A TrailTill 25 November 2018
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is the first major exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, the first big exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, from influential indie pioneers to global superstars.

Featured artists and bands include Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Lulu, The Rezillos, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, The Skids, Big Country, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand, Young Fathers, and many more. The exhibition has been brought to life through original stage outfits and instruments, many loaned by the artists themselves, plus memorabilia, props, film and, of course, music.

Stephen Allen, Exhibition Curator said:
“Popular music is a shared experience, and a really important one in many people’s lives. We want the exhibition to capture people’s imagination and allow them to reflect on their own experiences of listening to and enjoying music. Between the objects, the AV and the music, people will be able to learn more about their favourite artists and see their treasured objects up close, but also to discover music that is new to them in a whistlestop tour of over six decades of Scottish pop.”

Everyone will have a different experience of this exhibition. It covers a broad time period and diverse types of music. There are over 300 items on display as well as film contributions and music. Some was familiar to me. Although sometimes I don’t know why and I didn’t know there was a Scottish connection at all when I first heard it. I always liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (particularly Faith Healer). I think it was how theatrical and unusual they were! Much later I was drawn to punk and politics. So I was interested to see the Rock Against Racism (RAR) poster from 5 August 1978 advertising the Scars, Valves and Josef K (among others) playing in Craigmillar Park. It’s interesting to note that the reasons for the foundation of RAR are somewhat glossed over. RAR was formed because of comments made by Eric Clapton at a Birmingham concert in 1976.Clapton had urged his audience to back former Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance. The guitarist, who has since said he is not a racist, suggested Britain was becoming “a black colony”. Inconvenient history.

Less so the Proclaimers poster for anti-apartheid gigs!

I was also interested to see that emphasis was given to independent Scottish record labels such as Postcard, Creation and Fast Product. These helped foster bands in Scotland. The media and production centre was always very much London of course but there was an attempt to do something different by creating local centres.

There was also a lot of material which provides you with further avenues of enquiry. I was really intrigued to listen to the excellent Needle of Death by Bert Jansch. As someone who has lost friends to heroin addiction it really moved me. I’ve since listened to many of his songs. All thanks to this exhibition. That’s just one of the things I took from the exhibition and followed up. As a big Bowie fan I was intrigued to see his connection to The Beatstalkers highlighted. They recorded a Bowie song called Silver Treetop School for Boys. A connection to another band Clouds wasn’t featured.

Pop quiz! Which Scottish artists did James Bond themes?

The exhibition had so much in it of interest that I couldn’t absorb it all in one viewing. I’m actually thinking of going again.

If you are interested in pop culture you would be foolish to miss this. I hope it tours other areas to make it easier for people to see who don’t live near Edinburgh! Go see it!

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Vikings at the British Museum!


Impressive longship at heart of the exhibition

Impressive longship at heart of the exhibition

There is an impressive longship at the heart of the British Museum’s new Viking exhibition. Roskilde 6 is the biggest Viking vessel ever found. It was excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord in Denmark during the course of work undertaken to develop the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in 1997. Since the excavation, the timbers have been painstakingly conserved and analysed by the National Museum of Denmark.

The construction of the ship has been dated to around AD 1025, the high point of the Viking Age when England, Denmark, Norway and possibly parts of Sweden were united under the rule of Cnut the Great. The size of the ship and the amount of resources required to build it suggest that it was almost certainly a royal warship, possibly connected with the wars fought by Cnut to assert his authority over this short-lived North Sea Empire.

The fragile oak lies within a metal skeleton which gives you a good idea of the shape and size of the original ship. Only about a fifth of the hull is from the surviving original timber. It has never been seen in the UK before and it can only be seen now because of the new temperature controlled large-scale facilities of the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.

The influence and cultural complexity of the Vikings has sometimes been underestimated. The Vale of York Hoard (displayed in full for the first time illustrates both). It contains coins and silver from places as far removed as Ireland and Uzbekistan! The Vale of York hoard includes objects from Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe. Represented in the hoard are three belief systems (Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor) and peoples who spoke at least seven languages. The Vikings had an extensive cultural and trade network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. The exhibition shows the myriad of influences on the Vikings and their influence on others.

There are many examples of fine Viking craftmanship in the exhibition: large brooches used to fasten women’s aprons, ivory figures and an exquisite gold horse’s bridle for example. The work is intricate and the designs merge abstract and animal forms with great skill and precision. If the Vikings were barbarians they were very cultured barbarians!

The exhibition does not try to whitewash the Vikings accepting their dual nature as traders and raiders, brutal yet cultured and complex, slavers and explorers.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said “The reach and cultural connections of the Viking Age make it a remarkable story shared by many countries, not least here in the British Isles. New discoveries and research have led to a wealth of new information about the Vikings so it is a perfect moment to look again at this critical era.”

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Vikings: Life and Legend
British Museum,
Until 22 June then at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 10 September 2014 – 4 January 2015.
Details: 020-7323 8181

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