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20 July 2012

The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff opened its doors today, and DWO's Will Brooks was there to report on the event.

This reporter visited the Doctor Who Experience - billed as an ‘interactive journey’ and a ‘spectacular adventure through time and space’ - during its stay in London last year, but I’ve been chomping at the bit to take a look inside its brand new home at Porth Teigr in Cardiff; right next door to the Doctor Who Studios. 

Housed in a specially constructed building - TARDIS blue, of course - the experience is set to stay in Cardiff for the next five years, meaning you’ve got plenty of chances to come down and meet the monsters. 

While outside, the waiting crowds are kept entertained by Daleks, Cybermen and Silents, Doctor Who Online has been given special access to all the exhibits - a real chance to get ‘up close’ to some of The Doctor’s greatest foes. 

The Experience, much like it’s previous incarnation at the Olympia in London, is comprised of two separate sections. The first is an interactive walk-through, which puts you at the heart of a Doctor Who adventure. Featuring specially filmed material of Matt Smith as The Doctor (who’s managed to get himself locked up in the Pandorica… again!), the half-hour journey sees you pilot the TARDIS, a fantastic replica of the TV series’ current console room, battle with Daleks, avoid the clutches of the Weeping Angels (absolutely no blinking allowed…) and more - which I’ll leave for you to find out! 

Obviously tailored toward it’s younger visitors, the interactive journey aspect of the Experience manages to walk that very specific line that the show itself pulls off - the kids will be enthralled, while us ‘older children’ will be loving the ride, too.

It was a bit of a shame too see that the walk-through hasn’t been changed since it’s London debut, as it’s very much written for a post-series 5 audience. That’s a minor quibble, though, and for people who didn’t visit the London version, it’s still going to be amazing. 

Where the Experience does cater for those of us who’ve been before is in the exhibition hall. Those who have visited the Experience before will recall a smallish section toward the end that housed several costumes and props from across the years. Now in its own purpose-built space, these items have real room to breathe.

The starting point being a display of all the eleven Doctor’s costumes should be a hint that you’re in for a real treat; the Experience makes no distinction between ‘classic’ and ‘new’ - it’s all just a part of Doctor Who. Given more space to breathe than was possible in London, the exhibits fill a huge space, and cover a real vast selection of things.  

Obvious ‘key’ areas are the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS console room - the original one - and also a console room for the Fifth Doctor, featuring the Five Doctors version of the console. You can get up close with the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS exterior, and they also have the Police Boxes from Tom Baker’s last season, and David Tennant’s run, too. While I was there, a screen above the 80s console was playing Timelash – say what you want, but I love that a whole audience are queuing up to see Colin’s Doctor! 

Upstairs is a whole new area of magic. You’ll find something to fascinate any fan of the show in here, from recent creations like Series 6’s Peg Dolls and Silents to The Giant Robot from Tom Baker’s debut, an Ice Warrior, a Zygon, the Empty Child and more. For a child discovering the classic series for the first time - this place is an absolute gold mine. It’s completely up to date, with the wooden king and queen from last year’s Christmas special happily throned in the centre of the large hall.

There’s plenty here that wasn’t on display in London - or at least wasn’t when I visited last July - which makes it possible to come back for a second visit if you’ve been before. Speaking with one of the – extremely friendly! – members of staff, they described it as ‘Doctor Who coming home’, and there really is a sense of that here.

After the Exhibition section, of course you’ve got a little shop! Filled to the rafters with Doctor Who goodies; this is the perfect chance to pick up DVD’s you’ve not seen, grab hold of the latest action figure, or get a commemorative T-Shirt.

So after all that, we’re just in time to head back outside - into sunshine! It’s a perfect day to open. The crowds are in high spirits - many in costume or waving sonic screwdrivers! There are people here who’ve come from all across the world – there’s fans from Australia, Canada, Scotland… and more than one or two from Wales!

Undaunted by looming Cybermen and Daleks, spirits really couldn’t be higher within the crowds. Anna (an English visitor!) said she’d been to the London version, "but there’s no way I was going to miss the opening of this one!"

11:30am, and it’s opening time. To cut the ribbon, three children have been selected from the waiting masses. All in costume, the ribbon is cut by a miniature Doctor (complete with fez!), and assisted by Amy Pond and a Blue Dalek!

I’ll leave them to it as the first group of ticket holders make their way into the big blue building - they’re off on the adventure of a lifetime, and they won’t be disappointed!  

The Doctor Who Experience really is a place any fan of the show has to visit. The perfect blending of the show’s current status with its rich and varied history alone makes it the best exhibition of its type ever held. Throw into that the interactive experience, the great atmosphere and the knowledge that just about a hundred feet away, they’re making actual, real Doctor Who for us to enjoy on TV next year… absolutely magical!

+ Get your tickets to the Doctor Who Experience via the official website.

** With thanks to BBC Worldwide for arranging everything for us.

[Sources: DWO; Will Brooks]

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