With the Doctor Who Experience set to close this summer, we sent our Assistant Editor on a trip to Cardiff to visit the Experience.
Opened in July 2012, the Doctor Who Experience is located on Cardiff Bay, surrounded by countless Doctor Who and Torchwood filming locations and situated near the Roath Lock studios. For a Doctor Who fan, it’s the perfect location.
With a bit of time to kill before my allotted entrance time, my friends and I had a wander round the bay, pausing momentarily to witness Ianto’s Shrine – a fan-made tribute to the Torchwood character that died on screen in 2009’s Torchwood: Children Of Earth – is an impressive sight. With dozens of heart felt messages and drawings from the fans, it’s amazing to see just how much of an impact the character had.
Anyway, onto the Experience. The foyer itself was enough to get me excited; with Gallifreyan symbols everywhere, staff dressed in Time Lord robes, a life size Lego Dalek and handprints from several of the cast, I knew I would not be disappointed by what was to come.
We queued in the ‘Gallifreyan museum’ area – where there were several Gallifreyan robes and props – until it was time to start the tour. A woman in a red Gallifreyan robe greeted us and straight away we were into the interactive adventure. I cannot say too much about the adventure for fear of spoiling it for anyone who is yet to go, but for the children and overgrown children (or ‘adults’) in the room, it was great fun.
Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor appeared on screen to inform us his TARDIS was under attack and he needed our help. The woman in red held an impressively choreographed dialogue with the Doctor, making it feel like it was all taking place in real time. The Doctor was his usual brilliant self, spouting gibberish and cheekily insulting random people in our group. We were taken through a few rooms with surprises in each one. The impressive sets, combined with enthusiasm of the woman in red and the Doctor on screen, made the whole thing believable, to the point where I was actually scared of what was going to happen next – and I don’t scare easily! However, I must add that there were a few missed opportunities in the adventure that possibly could have heightened the experience – extra scares and thrills – but I think it was pitched just right for kids. I even got to fly the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS – or rather play with some controls on the fenced off control panel, but still, it was amazing just to be on the set.
After the interactive adventure, we were allowed to roam free in the museum. The first floor held three TARDIS sets (Ninth Doctor, Fifth Doctor and the one from An Adventure in Time And Space) which were amazing to see in real life. It was a shame we couldn’t get up close enough to touch them, but obviously they need to keep the props safe and clean. There was also a section on Delia Derbyshire and the work of the Radiophonic Workshop, which is always interesting to learn about. Finally, next to Bessie was parked was a green screen photoshoot area where you could have your photo taken on a number of backgrounds, with a variety of props and accessories to make the photo even more fun.
Upstairs was where the museum really came alive, with a huge room full of costumes and props from every era of the show’s long history. The Twelfth Doctor’s era in particular is well represented and the recently restored Mandrel and Morbius costumes were also great to see.
There were several variations of Cybermen and Daleks. In real life the classics look just as impressive as the modern versions. However, they didn’t seem quite as menacing off-screen.
Looking at the costumes close up allowed me to see details that I hadn’t seen on screen – such as the inside of the Dalek gun – and really proved how much effort goes into making the show. It also intrigued me to see how poorly constructed the classic costumes were in comparison. When you think of how slick and realistic the creatures look on the show today, it’s interesting to see the cobbled together lid of Davros’s dome or the flimsy material of the Sontaran’s outfit.
There was also great joy in listening to everybody wandering around, discussing their favourite monsters and quizzing each other on what each monster was called and what episode it was from. Obviously, I was doing the same, making a beeline for my favourites and regaling my friends with pointless trivia about whatever alien they were looking at – come on, it’s what we fans do!
You can always tell a good museum by its gift shop, and the Doctor Who Experience gift shop was a thing of beauty. With an impressive range of clothing, prints, toys, collectibles, DVDs and the obligatory self-branded stationery, I’m not ashamed to say that I lost a lot of money in that place.
But even then, after an exciting interactive adventure, an inspiring museum and a well stocked gift shop, there was more! Just before the exit was a room that held an exhibition of Target novel artwork and Doctor Who Magazine covers. I’d wanted to see this when I heard about it, but I’d forgotten it was there.
Overall, I think you can gather from this review that I really enjoyed my time at the Doctor Who Experience. It was a fan’s dream, with a great deal of nostalgia presented in a fun and exciting way. I highly recommend that you visit the Experience before it sadly closes.
For more information on the Doctor Who Experience, visit the website here.