AAt first glance, the village of Allendale in Northumberland, with its pub, post office and random parking lot, looks like hundreds of charming sleepy villages across the UK. It’s the Dalek suggesting something out of the ordinary.
Behind the Dalek is a four-story Georgian townhouse. In the home’s basement is a remarkable and unlikely collection of over 200 costumes, props, and artwork telling classic sci-fi stories from Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, Marvel and more. ‘others.
Together they form the collection of one of Britain’s most eccentric small museums, one of many to be effectively forced into hibernation due to the pandemic.
Most operate on a shoestring budget. Not all will reopen. But Neil Cole, teacher and creator of the Museum of Classic Sci-Fi, is happily optimistic about the future.
“The closure allowed me to restructure the museum and create more space,” he says. “In a way, it was helpful because it gave me time that I don’t normally have.
“I got the most out of it. I don’t have a lot of money but I have a lot of energy and I do everything myself.
Cole’s determination to create a museum in his home dates back to his childhood. “I remember being five and going to Blackpool and there up front there was a Tardis,” he said. “It was the official BBC exhibit.”
Inside were the monsters he had seen on TV, and it was fabulous. “It was like a mixture of fact and fiction. From that point on, I just wanted to do something like this. It was the kickoff and it never left.
Like many, Cole’s entry into sci-fi looked to Doctor Who. For him it was Jon Pertwee (fair) and Tom Baker. Some of his earliest memories are “sitting down to Saturday tea time, waiting for the titles to end in the gallery.” Then there was Basil Brush, which was cool, but it was Doctor Who I was expecting.
He learned to read Marvel comics, he said, and would go through the local newspaper’s TV listings for all the old sci-fi movies in the dead of night. “My father was very good with it, he let me watch.
It took Cole about five years to convert a rotten, flooded cellar into a suitable space for a museum.
Every costume, accessory or keepsake he has collected over the years has its own story. What looks like a drab, uninspiring cheesecloth dress is actually extremely exciting and meaningful, Cole insisted, because it’s a costume from the 1976 Doctor Who story The Brain of Morbius.
It was worn by one of the main characters, Ohica, and was the first costume Cole bought. “I had a motorcycle I was going to college on and sold it to have it. I finished [up] having to take the bus but it was worth it… for me it was a bit of history, it has a bit of magic.
It has many benefactors and supporters, pointing fingers at the head of a robotic mummy from the 1975 Doctor Who series, Pyramids of Mars, which in the highly specialized world of the Doctor Who collection is kind of spiky. It is the only surviving head and it was given to him because he was exhibiting it and would not sell it. “I got it from the milkman’s son who received it when the BBC threw it in a dumpster in the 1970s.”
Each object comes with detailed information that geek visitors tend to appreciate. A Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season four costume for Ambassador Rasiinian Runepp was designed by a fan as a prize in the contest.
“They made his design and the fan ended up on set in his own costume,” Cole said. “How cool is that?”
The museum has become part of village life and survived an altercation with county council planners who in 2019 objected to Cole’s homemade Dalek standing proudly outside the museum .
The dispute arose after Cole figured he won everyone over. He had restored a dilapidated wreckage of a building and was creating something different. “I said, ‘Look, I know this sounds crazy, but you’re going to attract new tourists. You have your walkers, you have your history buffs, you have your cyclists. Now you will have your moviegoers, your comic book readers.
History has traveled the world and the advice has receded.
The museum recently had a grand reopening whose guests included Sophie Aldred, who played Dr Ace’s companion in the 1980s, and is filming a documentary about the museum. The whole weekend has been a great opportunity, said Cole. “The museum has brought so much to the village. We have had [the Daleks’ fictional creator] Davros in the cooperative.