“Oh, what are you doing down there?”
It was a little after one o’clock, and we were on the outer rim of the Doctor’s bow tie. Bow ties are supposedly cool, but I was not. The sun had come out for only the second time that week, at least in our neck of the woods, and it seemed to want to make up for lost time. There was little shade to be found, and our water bottles were already empty. The maize towered above head height, stalks curving inwards in a not entirely friendly manner. It was like a scene from Signs, or something equally dreadful. (There’s always Children of the Corn, but apart from the finale that doesn’t feature an awful lot of actual corn, unless you count John Franklin’s acting. “QUESTION ME NOT, MALACHI!”)
The TARDIS was visible from the viewing platform, and hidden somewhere in the maze – inaccessible, we’d assumed, and there just for decoration. I’d snapped this because it looked like a pleasing image, but it was left to Gareth to point out that a) there’s someone else in the photo not far away from the TARDIS, and b) the image is not dissimilar to the opening of ‘The Power of Kroll’.
In case you were wondering what the actual maze looked like, here it is.
You can probably get through it without a map, but there was a lot to see, and even though Emily had already done her fair share of route-finding over the week, I paid the £1.50 for the sealed map-and-non-functional-compass set (well, she couldn’t get it to work, but then I always said she had a magnetic personality) that you can buy on the door. Returning an unopened envelope when you leave will get you your money back, but I’m not sure how many people actually do this – although the bloke who reputedly spent four hours lost amongst the rows is a likely suspect.
Besides, if you do go round without a map, you miss out on the questions. There are six numbered stations in different parts of the maze with pre-recorded questions (and the answers to the previous questions, to save you having to Google them). When you have all six answers you can use the code you’ve generated to open a safe where you can post your prize draw entry. Celebrity involvement in all this was inevitable. “Hello,” boomed a familiar voice when we pressed the first button. “I’m Colin Baker, better known as the Doctor…”
I posed the questions to Gareth. “That’s a bit obscure,” he said, when I asked him for the first letter of the name of the planet that the Doctor and Romana visit in ‘The Horns of Nimon’. (For those of you thinking that it’s not that obscure, I’d mention that Skonnos is not the answer.) Indeed, of the six questions, only one could be said to be explicitly about New Who, and there was none of the Stalinist revisionism and airbrushing of history that usually occurs in such exhibits – i.e. when everything pre-2005 is seen as irrelevant. Baker’s involvement is testament to this, although perhaps he was the only one available – certainly he seems to be up for anything these days. In any event he looks like he’s having fun here.
We’d gone to the York Maze on our way back from Hinderwell, North Yorkshire, where the five of us had spent a week exploring abbeys, castles and beaches, trying desperately to ignore the media hype that was the Royal Baby. (We’d had a family sweepstake on the name. I’d won, although that’s because Thomas thought it would be called Bungalow, while Daniel still thought they’d go with Mr Baby Head.) The maze is open for a mere seven weeks over the summer holiday, when the plants are fully grown and the path fully defined. They run a different theme every year – sometimes topical, sometimes not – but there were Whovian connections with previous mazes. Sort of. You know, if you really stretch it.
We’d originally planned to go to the nuclear bunker instead, but the flyer that Emily picked up gave details of a ‘special sci-fi themed day’, and it seemed like kismet. So on Saturday morning we cleaned out the holiday cottage and I drove us down through the National Park just in time for lunch, which we ate in a converted barn while the shower passed overhead. In the next room, a grey Dalek gazed impassively at the racks of refrigerated soft drinks and overpriced sandwiches. A sign read “PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE OR I WILL EXTERMINATE YOU”, but the café was full of children who were ignoring the sign, and parents who were ignoring their children.
“Are you all right?” I’d said to Emily earlier.
“Fine,” she said, with the smallest of shudders. “I just hate places like this. It’s fun for them,” she went on, indicating the boys, “but it’s full of horrible people and their children.”
“There are a lot of tattoos.”
“I don’t mean the chavs, at least not so much. It’s more the middle class ones…”
“It’s Josh,” he said, “but I can’t tell what he’s modelling. Maybe a puffin? The picture’s a bit small.”
“On the right – is that just a dustbin, or is it for children to climb in and pretend to be Davros?”
“It’s a dustbin. But whatever floats your boat, amigo.”
Rather disappointingly, the ‘sci-fi theme day’ turned out to consist of a fancy dress competition compered by a twenty-five-year-old youth who apparently knew nothing about the show or any of its characters, but there were a lot of costumed children floating around and I didn’t want to miss it, so we tackled the maze next. This involved travelling along Smith’s bow tie and across into Hartnell’s hair, before climbing the side of the Dalek, counting bumps along the way.
“Let me guess,” said Gareth when I told him about it. “There was a path through William Hartnell’s head which gradually developed and expanded into the whole maze, leaving you with a sense of satisfaction when you reached the middle. (Although in the bit of the maze designed by Terry Nation, there was an inexplicable terrifying jump over a three-foot-wide chasm at one point.) While the path through Matt Smith’s head was pointlessly tangled and had the maize gradually get taller in an attempt to give the impression that it’s actually deep, and then the centre of the maze just comes out of nowhere, leaving you feeling disappointed.”
It wasn’t quite like that, but it’s easy to get lost. All the corridors look the same, although you can make them look like different corridors if you photograph them from different angles. If it had been designed by Terry Nation, of course, there would have been a bomb in the middle, and someone would have twisted an ankle.
“What’s so funny?” asked Josh, as we strolled from one waypoint to the next.
“We’re wandering around inside the Doctor’s brain,” I said. “It’s very Invisible Enemy.”
At half past two, they judged the fancy dress competition, which featured a reasonably impressive Fourth Doctor (complete with voice impersonation), a family who’d come as half the cast of Star Wars, and two particularly cute-looking Daleks.
The clockwork robot came in second, right behind Madame Vastra. The prize was a hundred pounds, and the chance to operate the remote-controlled Dalek at the entrance and exit. We’d stopped there for a photo just before we left.
I asked the steward on the door whether the TARDIS inside the maze was actually hidden, or whether it was accessible.
“No, it’s on a path,” she said. “You can go right up to it.”
I glanced over at Emily.
“We’re not going back,” she said.
“We’re so not.”
That would have been a good place to end it, but there’s a postscript. It occurs two miles up the road, at possibly the best garage ever.
Josh looks very serious, but I wonder if it’s because he was trying to work out why his father was grinning like an idiot. I think this counts as a good day.