Considering that the BBC were quite willing to kill off their beloved sci-fi franchise in the late-80s (for what else was scheduling the show against Coronation Street but an attempt to kill it off?) Doctor Who has been doing quite well for itself. While the mid-90s Paul McGann starring TV Movie got something of a lukewarm reception, Russell T Davies took his enthusiasm, love for the show and fondness for Deus Ex Machinas and rebooted the show with aplomb. The modern era of the show has managed to get through three of the titular Time Lords, with current Doctor Matt Smith being annoyingly young yet massively brilliant at the same time and – all in all – the show officially cool once again. There’s a generation of children running round the playground going ‘Exterminate’ and a generation of adults (like me) going “Where were you when it was uncool all you late-coming bastards!?”
With the show being a huge money-spinner (earning BBC Worldwide a TARDISload of money from merchandise, books and DVDs) it’s unsurprising that The Doctor Who Experience is proving popular amongst the various generations of Doctor Who fans. While exhibitions have been part of the show’s history (with Longleat and Blackpool hosting displays of props and merchandise) it’s appropriate that – after a run in London - the show’s spiritual home of Cardiff is hosting perhaps the biggest one ever. Located in Cardiff Bay (familiar to many fans as the place where Torchwood was located before it and Ianto got blown to smithereens, leaving a swathe of fans to build a – frankly disturbing – shrine to the show and character), the DWE is pitched between a traditional exhibition and ‘interactive episode’ and aimed firmly towards children but adults/nerds will also find plenty to enjoy.
The experience kicks off with the interactive episode which – given that in the world of Doctor Who fandom spoilers are as heinous a crime as puppy drowning – I shall refrain from revealing too much about. But suffice to say there’s an opportunity to walk round various sets, dodge various monsters and walk into the control room of a certain spaceship that’s bigger on the inside (which, I have to admit, sent a little shiver of joy down my spine). This portion of the DWE also contains specially filmed excerpts of Matt Smith and proves just why he is so good as the current incarnation of the Gallifreyan. He manages to embody the silly yet the commanding, the carefree yet the tortured and – even when pre-recorded – can be an utterly captivating presence and buoys everything along nicely.
There’s a generation of children running round the playground going ‘Exterminate’ and a generation of adults (like me) going “Where were you when it was uncool all you late-coming bastards!?”
After that there’s the chance to enjoy a more traditional exhibition. While there are big signs imploring you not to touch (which I suspect is less to do with the fragility of exhibits and more to do with the possibility of someone opening the doors of the numerous TARDISes on display and discovering that there’s no console room inside) there’s lots to look at. Highlights are a display of all the costumes of the 11 Doctors to date (yes, Tom Baker’s scarf is there), a look at how the Daleks have evolved throughout the shows history (including – fanwank alert – the rock-hard Special Weapons Dalek from the McCoy era) and two TARDIS console rooms (from the 80s and the David Tennant Era).
While fans of the classic series while enjoy some of the props on offer, it’s fair to say that much of the DWE is weighted to the modern version of the show. One suspects that is partly due to practicality (the DWE is about 10 minutes from Roath Lock, the new BBC studios in Cardiff where the show is now shot, and thus new props must be pretty easy to get hold of) and partly due to the target audience. Still, whilst it’s nice to see all the costumes and old baddies such as the Giant Robot, it would have been cool to see a bit more from the show’s formative years. But let’s not complain too much: there’s Cybermen, costumes for companions such as Rose, Amy and Rory, Judoon and Ood all accompanied by a throng of delighted youngsters. And a Dalek you can control by yourself. It was also great to see a stand dedicated to the music of the show that talked about just how ground-breaking the theme tune was and how important it – and more specifically the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – was in the development of electronic music.
Of course, being a fan meant that I got quite a lot out of the DWE but even non-fans should still find it intriguing. My other half (who has watched show mainly because of me, but wouldn’t count herself as the world’s biggest Doctor Who fan) still managed to have fun even when subjected to an interminable speech by myself about who each Doctor was and how they regenerated. I think she’s finally forgiven me and even let me loose in the gift shop….
If the kids/nieces/nephews are massive Doctor Who fans, then this will certainly keep them entertained (though tickets aren’t the cheapest in the world, there’s enough here to make it worth it) and is more than worth making a trek to Cardiff. And even the most hard hearted of adults will find it difficult to stop themselves breaking into a big grin when they come face to face with the TARDIS. Because maybe – just maybe – they could open the door and find that the world behind them is a lot smaller than they first thought.
Thanks to Lottie, Flo, Emma Finlay and Chris Hicks for their help with this article.
For opening times, ticket prices and information about the Doctor Who Experience go to http://www.doctorwhoexperience.com
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