Sussex Heritage: Whovians’ delight as TV icon is celebrated in Horsham

Whovian Emma Toovey with Jeremy Knight, Head of Museums & Heritage, and a Dalek.

Whovian Emma Toovey with Jeremy Knight, Head of Museums & Heritage, and a Dalek.

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Excitement is building among Whovians as the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who approaches. Fans of Doctor Who will know that in the stories it was the evil Davros who created the deadly Dalek race.

In reality, it was the well-known writer Terry Nation who dreamt up the Daleks but few will be aware that the man who gave the Daleks form was prop-designer and artist Raymond Cusick, who lived in Horsham, securing the town a place in the Doctor Who story.

Dalek artwork, circa 1960, from the exhibition.

Dalek artwork, circa 1960, from the exhibition.

This important connection is being marked by an exhibition of Doctor Who memorabilia at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, which includes an actual Dalek! The exhibition, ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’, is the perfect half-term treat; entry is free and it runs until 1st January 2014.

We all know what a Dalek is but what sort of Doctor Who creature is a Whovian? In recent years a teenage generation has grouped itself into fandoms, so if you can’t resist Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, you are a ‘Sherlockian’. If the debate in your household is whether you are most looking forward to seeing Matt Smith, David Tennant or John Hurt as the Doctor in the 50th Anniversary Special, to be screened on 23rd November, then you are ‘Whovians’.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Horsham Museum Curator Jason Semmens, who has been a fan of the show since he was three years old. “Doctor Who was the hero of a range of cartoon strips published in various comics and annuals from the mid-1960s onwards,” Jason explains. “The artwork for the comics is much larger than the comic books and has real visual impact.” I ask him what his particular favourites are and he responds, “The TV21 magazine Dalek cartoon strip from the 1960s is vibrant and fun and the weekly cartoon strips from 1980 with Tom Baker in them are also really good.”

For me, the highlight of the exhibition is the Dalek, shown here with Horsham District Council’s Head of Museums & Heritage, Jeremy Knight, and an avid Whovian, Emma Toovey. I still find Daleks menacing; an episode of Doctor Who is guaranteed to make me jump out of my skin in fright. Laughing, Emma says, “You’re as frightening as the Doctor Who monsters when you do that, dad!” She has a point.

Jason Semmens’ favourite Doctors are Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker. Each generation will have its own favourite but what unites us is our delight in the stories and our shared experience of hiding behind the sofa.

I have found the latest batch of Doctors exceptional: Christopher Eccleston for his alien quality, David Tennant for his emotion, passion and energy and Matt Smith for his compassion, courage, determination and humour, not to mention his Harris Tweed jacket and catchphrase, “Bowties are cool.” I could not agree with him more.

You don’t need a Tardis to travel back in time, just a trip to Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, as witnessed by Emma Toovey and K9, transported back to late Victorian Horsham’s P. Williams & Co. Pharmacy from West Street.

Many of us now come from generations where our shared memories are often caught up with television programmes and films. ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’ captures something of our own childhood stories brilliantly. Toys also reflect childhood memories. Model railways, for example, speak to a generation whose childhoods were defined by a passion for steam engines and an ambition to drive them.

For the TV and film generation, toys as iconic as a James Bond 007 Corgi Aston Martin DB5 or a Corgi Batmobile capture their imaginations in a similar way. Indeed, Toovey’s toy sales are a boom market!

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, according to published information, is the third most visited heritage attraction in Sussex.

This is an extraordinary achievement, which speaks of the importance all of us place on our common history and heritage. The economic impact of these visitors is profoundly important to Horsham and the broader Horsham District’s businesses and economy. Councillors like Jonathan Chowen understand this. Thanks to them, Horsham District Council continues its important involvement in supporting the museum and the hard work and dedication of its Curator, Jason Semmens, and Head of Museums & Heritage, Jeremy Knight. All involved deserve to be applauded. Be transported back in time this half-term at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery and delight in ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’. Don’t miss that marvellous Dalek - entry is free! For more information go to www.horshammuseum.org or telephone the museum on 01403 254959.

Rupert Toovey is a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington - www.tooveys.com - and a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Chichester.