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The Great Curator; A Tour of the Art in Doctor Who: Part One – Portraits

Welcome, welcome, welcome! So few people find their way down here to the Under Gallery – and even fewer are allowed in! But you are a very discerning audience, probably.

There’s so much to see and so little time; art from the ancient beginnings of civilisation, art drawn on walls and floors, art carved in stone or hanging by a thread. There are children’s drawings and masterpieces of sophisticated science and technology. We have a charming little exhibit of everyday art – pub signs, posters and pin-ups, and the map room is a personal favourite. There’s a fine selection of Van Gogh; and the Leonardo da Vinci collection, quite frankly, borders on the obsessive. But let’s begin with the Portrait gallery – I do so love to revisit old faces, but just the favourites…

Follow me, and don’t wander off; who knows what dangers lurk behind some of these exhibits, and the shadows between – who knows?

The Portrait Gallery

You know, I’ve always been a bit of an art collector; I like to have some special pieces around me whenever I am. Take this Rembrandt, for example, pride of place above the mantelpiece (between Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Emma Hart and George Romney’s Lady Hamilton in a Straw Hat). One of many Rembrandt painted as an old man. Well; he thought he was old. Age is relative, don’t you think? I remember telling Sarah: “I was never much of a hand with a paint brush myself. Nor a palette knife for that matter. But I’d like to study under one of the masters one day. Rembrandt, preferably.”*

And while we’re on self-portraits, here’s dear Vincent; I should have accepted it, but the timelines around him were so fragile. A bit like Vincent himself. I wonder if we were a bit over the top, a bit too much. But then, as an old flame once said, ‘too much of a good thing can be wonderful.’**

I wonder if one can be said to collect friends and companions as one does art?

That’s odd; here’s a sketch by one of the greats, the head of a woman by Leonardo da Vinci, from Grace’s apartment. Should really be in the room dedicated to him – I must ask McGillop to have it moved. Some think it’s a sketch for a later painting of St Anne or the Madonna, both believed by some to be virgin mothers, their children human on one side only. Those first few hours after a regeneration are crucial; one can be very impressionable, leads to all sorts of nonsense.

From the very delicate, we move to the brash – what is it about megalomaniacs that they need giant pictures of themselves to remind them who they are when there’s no one looking? But then, Van Statten was rather forgettable without it. Mind you, Henry VIII wasn’t as dominating as his picture either. Surprisingly good at the shot-put as I remember.

The less said about this one the better; at least he wasn’t a giant cactus!

Ah, Max Capricorn: do you know his tooth really did that ‘ting’ thing? Some people cause only sadness around them; their pictures should be a warning.

You know, there was a rather curious portrait in No. 10 that time the Slitheen moved in; it kept moving about. Or perhaps they had multiple copies of it. All those pictures of previous Prime Ministers on the walls of No. 10 staircase are a warning too, but nobody listens. Ah well; each generation must be allowed to make its own mistakes. Unless there are children crying.

That reminds me of Liz 10 – quite the character. We have a few pictures of her predecessors.

Unlike her male colleagues, Elizabeth I made rather less of herself in portraits, though this one of and her groom was done in rather a hurry. From memory. Brief memory. Sometimes, one has to make a swift exit, I find.

Victoria was a rather more indomitable woman – she would have got on well with Iraxxa. Elizabeth II is rather less severe; she popped in here the day after her Diamond Jubilee, to keep an eye on everything, take tea and scones. She makes marvellous raspberry jam. The Brigadier’s portrait of her commemorates one of her earlier jubilee celebrations. That was quite an experience for him too, poor fellow. Still, it all worked out in the end.

Do keep up at the back there! Yes, young man, what were you asking, ‘do we have any kings’? Well, you might count this young fellow.

We do have a King’s mistress, who was quite enchanting in real life, unlike her portrait here from the ship Mme de Pompadour. Quite stopped my hearts for a while. What would the younger, stuffier me have said?

Ahh! Talk of the devil! Well, he only ever pretended to be gruff and irascible. Never could pull it off. Here he is guarding the Osgoods’ safe. As they guard their home planet.

What’s that you said – ‘what a magnificent head’? Well, I’m only a humble curator, who am I to say? It is a bit rough and primitive – like the young lady I met there, or so I thought. One should never underestimate savages; the ones I left Steven with were exceptional artists; evidence of the power their rulers had stolen from them.

Shall I tell you a secret? It was the TARDIS who gave me the idea to become a curator. She chose the artworks which disguised her auxiliary power centre. Here’s Castellan Spandrell observing her selection (dreadful little man, made ‘obsequious’ a high art) – do you know the painting? Often called the Arnolfini Wedding, as Van Eyck’s witness statement ‘I was here’ rather implies, though there are many interpretations. Do look it up. Just a few hours later, dear Leela was to go off to marry young Andred. The old girl was trying to tell me something.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the way people come and go; maybe some portraits have a purpose beyond memory, however. Take this one of Anne Waterfield; supposedly the spit and image of her daughter Victoria, bait to lure young Jamie to her rescue. Rather ‘Lucien Freud-ish’ for my taste, and totally inappropriate for 1866 of course.

While we’re thinking of Jamie, how can we resist the Jamie’s Face’ game? Can you pick out Hamish , Jamie, David and Dougie?

Zoe made a rather prettier subject; here she is having a wonderful time with a young friend Isabelle while Tobias Vaughn and the Cybermen were plotting to take over the earth. They never learn, do they? It looks fun on the surface, but captures that niggling longing for a normal life that most habitual travellers feel from time to time.

I’m sure you remember Amy did professional modelling for a while; in this one, I think she was trying to embody that wild freedom her daughter always managed. But there’s such sadness in her eyes, don’t you think? Travel, especially in the fourth dimension, has its costs. Ironic really, that the first time she learned the word petrichor (the name of the perfume she’s advertising) it was closely followed by the word ‘joy.’

Ace doesn’t look too joyful here either; probably hated being put in that dress and hat. Rather partial to a hat, myself, but perhaps not that one. I have absolutely no memory of how that painting came about – perhaps she travelled without me for a while. I was so terribly proud of her, you know. I wonder if she knew?

Here’s another companion who travelled without me – I rather think she might be travelling still, who knows? Some portraits’ eyes follow you round the room, but hers, it’s like they inflate, have you noticed that? Young Rigsy created a rather more romantic tribute to her; drifted off as the TARDIS dematerialised, as transient as a leaf on the wind.

Tempus fugit for us too, my friends; and I’m not as young as I was. You must come again; there are so many more rooms to explore.

Until next time then, bye bye!

* The Time Warrior

** Mae West

Bar Nash-Williams

The Great Curator; A Tour of the Art in Doctor Who: Part One – Portraits

by Bar Nash-Williams time to read: 6 min
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