West London has been invaded by Daleks, Tripods, Cybermen and Blake’s 7, as a new exhibition looks at the many small companies that made props for the BBC’s science fiction shows and films.
With several film and TV studios in the area, it’s not a huge surprise that Ealing’s quiet domestic suburbs would be the birthplace of Stormtroopers, Doctor Who androids, and oh, so very many designs of laser guns.
Now, the Gunnersbury Park Museum has brought together a wide range of these science fiction props to show off their craftsmanship and candidly, to trigger a lot of nostalgia in the visitors.
The exhibition is scattered around the museum, with maps collected from reception, and you really should start in the small room next to reception as an early Doctor Who set designer has created a unique display for one of the Voc androids from The Robots of Death. If it helps to make them less scary, read the caption, which tells you their uniforms are made from old shower curtains.
You might not get too far into the room before stopping, as you’ll doubtless have spotted Starbug from Red Dwarf and had flashbacks to the early years of that sci-fi comedy.
There’s a Dalek in a side corridor because these days, no science-fiction show is complete without one. This one is a local though, and was used when filming Remembrance of the Daleks in a school in nearby Hammersmith.
Another room looks at prosthetic makeup that turns humans into aliens, and another looks at how toy Daleks made for sale became suitable props for later Doctor Who shows – usually as cheap sacrificial models for being destroyed. No one looks too closely at the Dalek when it explodes to see how big it is.
You can escape the Daleks by going upstairs, but woe for you, the museum has a lift, and Davos has made his way up here — or at least, his head has, next to a head sized miniature Tardis. And there’s a very 1970s living room filled with the sorts of things sold in toy shops in the 1970s, but watch out, there’s a cyberman lurking in the shadows.
This is also the laser gun repository. Do spend time pulling open the weapons draws, as they have some impressive bits of armoury.
There are guns from Blake 7, Star Cops (for the 5 people who ever watched it), Cybermen lasers, guns made from a Rolls Royce engine component cast, Queen Katryca’s rifle, the Tesh Gun from The Face of Evil, and that’s just to name just a few of the weapons they’ve collected.
Your correspondent just about managed to avoid letting out a squeak when he saw the Tripod, which is in a display case with the same CSO Blue background colour used when filming the stop-motion effects so the model could be cut out and placed into landscapes.
Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is upstairs, and the caption card explains how part of the costume was recycled from the movie Alien, then resued in Blake’s 7, before ending up on a miserable android.
Overall, there are eight displays dotted around the museum to explore and swoon over.
When arriving, there’s a laminated guide you can collect to guide you around, and I very nearly thought the first room was all there was until I picked up the guide and realised this was just one small part of a much larger exhibition.
Arguably, much of the display will appeal to people of a certain age as there’s nothing here from the relaunch of Doctor Who or the more recent science fiction shows. But that also makes it exceptionally nostalgic for those of us who remember the shows fondly.
The exhibition, Set to Stun: Designing & Filming Sci-Fi in West London is at the Gunnersbury Park Museum until June 2024 and is free to visit.
It’s open daily (except Monday) from 10am to 4:30pm, and the museum is about a 10-minute walk from Acton Town tube station.
Oh, and do look at the glass case next to reception — for the knitted Dalek.