Feared Science

I’d been meaning to visit Dundee Science Centre for some time, but my interests were piqued recently when it started running a Myths and Monsters exhibit.

Unsure just how young the exhibition — or indeed centre — might skew, I was reluctant to go on my own. It was embarrassing enough having to slip into animated films for review purposes, and I wasn’t sure I could justify a day out at a children’s attraction without a child in my party.

Luckily, I have a three-year-old cousin, and last week I took her with me into town for a few hours at the venue. Convinced that there would be something for her to play with while we looked around the exhibits, I was prepared for an afternoon of games and gimmickry, and to perhaps even learn something, too.

What I learnt is that the age of three is categorically too young to take someone to Dundee Science Centre. The centre, which opened in 2000 and was originally called Sensations, and the Myths and Monsters exhibition in particular, seem specially designed to traumatise children for life.

We had barely entered when my cousin burst into tears, having taken immediately against the animatronic alien waving insidiously from beside the cash desk and the decidedly eerie music playing across the sound system. Insisting that not only was it not real, but friendly, and reassured by the sight of other young children, we paid the entrance fee and pressed on until ET was out of sight.

Things deteriorated quickly as we were then met by a row of robots each more intimidating than the last. If she had been uneasy with the slender off-worlder, she actively rejected the hulking yeti, the blood-soaked cyclops, the roaring chimera and the razor-toothed dragon, erupting into fresh tears and begging even more vehemently to leave and never come back.

Dundee Science Centre

Not even the unicorn inspired much confidence. Reared on its hind legs and snorting aggressively, strewn with camouflage netting as though it had just single-handedly taken out a military convoy, it must have looked set to trample her to death. Or at least chase her into the play area, which was dressed to look like it had been decorated by cavemen having just been returned from an alien abduction.

Ushering her out of the Myth and Monsters exhibit and directing her away from the display cases containing such assorted horrors as “Devil’s toenails”, “Sinbad’s egg” and “a Jenny haniver” (essentially a mutilated stingray carcass), we headed for the permanent attractions: interactive displays with a focus towards sensory experience and other life sciences.

Even the regular attractions had a grotesqueness about them. Everywhere you looked there was some sensory organ blown up to almost monstrous proportions — be it an all-seeing eye, a gigantic nose or a climbing frame that invited you to play inside of an enormous face. It had an air of worn surreality about it, like a circus that had fallen into disrepair. A number of the attractions were broken, while others had you reaching for the antibacterial wipes.

We eventually found a quiet corner with a basketball hoop designed to test the effects of altered perception on aim. Out of sight of the more nightmarish displays she was happy to play with the ball and watch me miss while holding a pair of trick glasses in front of my eyes. From our little sanctuary — hidden from the unicorn by a TARDIS testing data retention and separated from the cyclops by a dividing wall and cafe — she soon started to cheer up.

We left a short time later, eventually having to drag her away from a reaction-time game and a hall of mirrors that resembled your average department store changing room. There wasn’t much to do at the best of times, and much less when over half of the building was out of bounds (included a second level guarded by a Chinese dragon).

Ultimately, older children might learn a thing or two about sight-loss or olfaction, but by and large the Dundee Science Centre isn’t accessible enough for youngsters and is far too basic for accompanying adults. You’re better off visiting the McManus Galleries instead. Unless you’re looking for something to do on Halloween.

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