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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Penultimate Stop on our Dalek Adventure

The Prince Albert Memorial

I’ve been so caught up in all the great fiction that I’ve been reading and watching lately that I haven’t blogged about England in nearly two months.  Yet our trip there last year (our first international excursion together) afforded us some special memories, and I thought I’d share another of them with you.  It comes from our last day in London, after we had left Holland Park behind.  It was our visit to one of the most impressive monuments a person could ever visit.

Under a steel-gray sky, we arrived at the Prince Albert Memorial.  This monument, built by Queen Victoria after her husband died of typhoid, offers so much to take in that one could spend hours appreciating all the artistry that went into its design.  Yet it also serves as a gathering place and recreation area for tourists and locals alike.  As we walked around it, a father nervously watched his two young children as they sought to master their inline skates.  In a little hut just behind it, vendors sold all manner of refreshments, including ice cream, which people bought and enjoyed, despite the cool, breezy conditions and the threatening rain.  High school and college kids chatted on the steps as they waited for their friends, read books, or listened to music from their MP3 Players.  

A squirrel came out of the gardens to say, "Hello."

As an American, I know little about Queen Victoria’s reign, or her relationship with her husband.  In his travelogue “Europe Through the Back Door,” host Rick Steves suggests that the two were very much in love.  Not only did the Queen build the monument, and the nearby concert hall to honor Prince Albert, but she also ordered that all the wrought iron fences in London be painted black after he died, and she mourned him for the remaining fifty years of her life.  As the prince seems to have promoted the cultivation of arts and sciences in England, the monument commemorates his leadership in these areas.  The statues set at each corner represent different areas in the world, suggesting that the prince’s influence extended beyond the small country he ruled.  And in “Black Adder: A Christmas Carol,” Prince Albert is portrayed as a kind man who praised generosity in his populace.  Not a bad way to be remembered or celebrated in fiction.

A small sign advertised guided tours once a month.  On another visit, we’d love to walk past the fencing, up the inner steps, and learn more about this historic landmark.  For not only does it showcase great artistry, but Londoners work hard to preserve its beauty.  That afternoon, we watched as workmen painted the intricate fencing.  Whether they were applying a new coat of gold leaf, or merely painting it with more gold paint, I don’t know.  I should have asked.

One amazing fence.

What I do know is that the production team behind the Doctor Who story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” had to get up in the early hours of the morning to film such public places without lots of passers-by getting in the way.  Their efforts proved well worth it: the story proved immensely popular.  As the first story of the second season, and the second story involving Daleks, it helped feed English viewers’ fascination with this alien race.  Soon there were Dalek costumes and masks, games and puzzles, coloring books and annuals, plates and bowls and cups, candy, clothing, and of course Dalek toys for children to buy (or beg their parents for).  In those days when shows were rarely (if ever) repeated, this story was remade for the cinema in “Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD,” with Peter Cushing (who later played Grand Moff Tarkin in “Star Wars”) starring as Doctor Who.

As I lingered there, I wondered what it must have meant to the children of London nearly fifty years ago, to see on their TV sets the Daleks surrounding an area they visited and played beside.  It seems a strange juxtaposition, for the pitiless Daleks to survey a city they’ve destroyed from beside this monument.  For while the Daleks enslaved those they did not kill, turning some of them into mindless Robomen, Prince Albert promoted education and the abolition of slavery.  While the Daleks ravaged England, Prince Albert was a kind man who sought the betterment of his country through championing the application of science and art to the growing manufacturing processes of his time.

A statue celebrating Albert's love for
his favorite energy drink,
Red Bull.

Terry Nation’s most remembered creation, the Daleks, serve as a metaphor for individuals who use others without regard for their feelings or wellbeing.  Such people, whether human or alien, could learn much from Prince Albert.

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