The Doctor Who Experience: A Review
Guest contributor Tim Manion gives his verdict on the exhibition.
As everyone knows, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who is right around the corner. The 12th Doctor is on the way, we are getting more and more information and everyone is thinking about the possible changes that the show could face. That is why I chose to undergo a 4-hour drive down to Cardiff Bay recently to finally check out The Doctor Who Experience before we get taken in a new exciting direction.
For those concerned about spoilers (slight pun intended) I can assure you that the things I can talk about could not in any way truly sum up the experience as I shall not be going into detail of the adventure, but rather what you can expect from something so… unique.
Possible spoiler alert for the following…
If you go down into Cardiff Bay you’re sure of a big surprise. That’s right, from the moment you approach the building you can be sure this is a place for fans of old and new alike. One of the first things you will see is a small blue TARDIS perched over the dock to the right, Cardiff sure is proud of its DW heritage. As you enter the main reception you may be shocked to see Bessie just sat there establishing that fans of all eras are welcome. This is where it gets interesting. After entering the doors in a group of about 30 people you are taken into a dark room and shown a video. Now while it seems to just be a trailer for DW in general, I guess it gives uninterested parents who have been dragged along an idea of what is going on. In all fairness it was a beautiful sum up of Smith’s Doctor, using his best speeches and the sublime sounds of Murray Gold. During the whole video, the screen seems to be broken and scratched, but at the end of the video this lines up with the crack from Amy’s wall, and you literally step through a crack in time and space.
You step into a fairly messy room full of artefacts from the show going back to not only 2005, but also 1963. As a few are presented to you in a dull and lifeless fashion by a saved personality from the library’s moon database it is tame and pleasant… until he arrives. You a rudely interrupted by the Doctor by accident while he is looking to contact Amy. He annoyingly refers to you as “Shoppers” which may be true for some but most of us want to go there for the experience, not just be passing through. At this point all the hairs stood on end and my heart fluttered as that moment we all wish for at night happens, the sound fills the room and everybody is frantically looking around for answers, and there it is. As if from thin air the TARDIS materialises right in front of you and the Doctor insists we all cram into the strange blue box.
Now, I know this was harsh of me, and against the Doctor’s instructions (“Come on, children to the front, as few parents as possible”) I could not help but get straight to one of the eight control panels. While you can’t actually touch the main controls themselves, you are instructed to be on a small control stick pad as the Doctor guides you through flying. This was probably the best few minutes of my life -- I flew the TARDIS! It doesn’t matter if you’re 7 or 17, that is a joy that cannot be put into words. As the floor shakes underfoot, I’m not even sure if the fact that upon its arrival, the TARDIS control room shrunk down to less than half its original size. Anyhow, there is a problem and the TARDIS is forced to land, while this saddened me to have to leave, it meant we got to travel deeper into the halls of the TARDIS.
VIDEO -- the first Doctor’s TARDIS assembled for display at The DWE:
Around a few corners of magical halls, you find yourself landed on a different ship. I couldn’t tell you if I was scared or pleased about the next room, nor will I tell you what was in it, but I will say this: never have I felt more like I was in an episode of Doctor Who. Unlike the video guidance of the Doctor, you properly get the sense you are being addressed directly. This is when I knew I really want nothing more in life than to travel the stars with the Doctor. We witness intercepted transmissions, life size enemies, excellent technology to bring it all to life and the best part of all, a space battle. It really did blow my mind in a way no 50th 3D spectacular, nor exciting new direction could ever achieve. The next message from the Doctor comes from the TARDIS control room where we just were so he really does feel an arm’s length away. He saves us “Shoppers” again while running round trying to control the TARDIS, “I‘ve found a way out, you‘re not going to like it, but move fast, keep your eyes open and whatever you do, DON‘T BLINK!”
That’s right, you can guess what’s in the next room. Unlike the last, this is a simple walk through section. But honestly, you have not known fear of any DW monster ever until you witness this. I could hardly even bring myself to look, pitch black, strobe lights, shadows, noises, this is not something that should be attempted alone. The great thing about this room was that it really re-enforces that fact that your not just watching a TV show any more, the fear is genuine and it terrified the living daylights out of the children. I’m not afraid to admit that I had to cling to my girlfriend (companion) for I too was terrified, which I loved as you don’t always get that genuine fear from the safety of your sofa.
Finally, we come to the last room, where you are reunited with the Doctor as you travel through the Time Vortex. You are confronted by some of his greatest enemies who I can only describe as coming at you in a Disney Land-style 3D spectacular eyeball-on-stick type fashion. This, however, was highly entertaining if not a little cheesy. And that’s it.
After that you are thanked by the Doctor for your help and told to go safely now. This then opens out into the exhibit full of costumes, props and displays. These include Matt’s handprints in concrete, a surprisingly accurate wax work of Matt in his latest gear and 9 and 10th’s beautiful TARDIS set (that cruelly had Tennant’s “I don’t want to go” moment on loop in the background). As well as monsters upstairs, including the Silents, Daleks every Cyber-helmet going and The Face Of ‘Woe’ (due to his unfortunate face falling apart). There are a lot more surprises to be found in the exhibit than I can mention, but that’s just a small selection.
In conclusion, I absolutely loved every second of the experience. I would highly recommend it to fans old and new to the show, as well as families, groups of friends, heck, it’s hard to think of anyone who would not enjoy this?
So, maybe you’ll be encouraged to make a visit because I can assure you it’s totally worth it. Just know this, if you’re expecting to be going on an adventure during the experience, you’ll be disappointed. I’m still not even sure what the Doctor was doing, or why he needed us, or how we accomplished anything. There is no real story, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: an experience.
My only wishes were that both the experience itself and the exhibit were longer, it seemed to be over before it began. This is likely to be down to the fact that I never would want to give up travelling with the Doctor. Also I feel there is so much more that should be displayed, it almost felt like they had just run out of space, not really bigger on the inside at all. But you can always go visit the locations near by, mainly Torchwood’s iconic secret entrance and Ianto’s Shrine. All of that aside, if you want a genuinely enjoyable time, than you need to add this to your list of things to do before you die. It’s just fantastic, absolutely fantastic!