Stepped though a crack in time, piloted the TARDIS, captured by Daleks, hunted by Weeping Angels and shot at by Cybermen – that was my quiet Saturday morning at the Doctor Who Experience, which opened on Friday in Cardiff, Wales. Having played host to our favourite Time Lord since 2005 (with a long association with the Doctor in his previous iterations), the BBC has finally given fans what they’ve dearly wanted – a chance to get up close and very personal with Doctor Who.
Due to that pesky business called employment I couldn’t make it on the opening day, so I did the next best thing and was fourth in the queue behind the guy on Saturday morning, who had also been in the first batch through on Friday. Yes, he was wearing his Tenth Doctor’s outfit, and yes, it was the second day in a row he’d worn it. I wasn’t that dedicated, my tweed jacket, bowtie and fez are safely in storage back in New Zealand.
The Doctor Who Experience is broken into two parts. The first is the actual experience of taking part in your own Doctor Who adventure. They’ve filmed new content with Matt Smith especially for this section and it really pays off. From the moment you sit down and they take you on a five minute montage of the Eleventh Doctor’s time on screen to when you exit into the actual exhibition itself you feel truly immersed in the world of Doctor Who. As I walked into each new room I’d have a light bulb moment as I realised where I was.
The experience section is well suited for all ages, and it has nice little touches thrown in for children to keep a broad appeal. They suggest it takes around half an hour, but in reality it was more like 20 minutes once you head on in. There’s all the precursory moving floors, strobe lights and smoke machines, with a cinema experience to close it off. By the time you walk out you’re well warmed up for the actual exhibition itself.
The exhibition itself is a survey of everything Doctor Who right from the 1960s through to the modern series. Due to the ravages of time, it mostly lends itself towards the modern reincarnation of the show, but there’s still enough pieces from yesteryear to keep long-time fans such as myself captivated.
There’s also plenty to keep children entertained too including the chance to have your photo taken in a CGI scene next to (or inside) the TARDIS, a lesson on how to walk like a Cyberman, or you can step inside an actual Dalek. The original costumes and props are lovingly presented, most of them not inside glass boxes so you can actually get reasonably close to them and get good photos, provided you have a good flash. I even struggled despite having my flash gun on my camera. Remember though, most of the props aren’t to be touched, except for the hands on Dalek they have!
It’s recommended to take around 90 minutes in the Exhibition, but you can get through it much faster if you’re there earlier in the day as you don’t have to compete to view things. We managed it in around 50 minutes and that still allowed for a genuinely good look at everything, but that was because we were in the first group through meaning there was no competition for space in the exhibition.
A shop and café come as standard. While the gift shop had a reasonable range of goods, I was disappointed that they didn’t have more of the toy range – though if you wanted to buy a Pandorica Roman soldier you’d have been in luck. I walked out with a Dalek mug, Dalek cufflinks and a set of postcards so I can brag to my family back home. We didn’t sample the café, yet it seemed to offer a good variety of food, including a “Blue Box Lunch” to go with the theme. Unfortunately it didn’t have Fish Fingers and Custard, which I thought would have been the first thing on their menu – this is why I don’t run my own business.
The Doctor Who Experience is a fantastic excuse to visit Cardiff, which itself is a city that felt to me to be buzzing with a lot of energy – though that could have been the ode to Torchwood and Ianto Jones on the waterfront. Once you’ve sated your Doctor Who hunger, you’re in Cardiff Bay, giving you access to Mermaid Quay for shopping, eating and bay cruises (“Best £3 you’ll spend today” we were told – and we agreed), the Millennium Centre, the Welsh National Assembly and BBC Wales. Then it’s only a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to the city centre for the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Castle. Only 20 minutes outside of town is the National Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagan’s, where the Doctor Who episodes ‘Human Nature’ and ‘Family of blood’ were filmed.
So what are you waiting for, find your nearest crack in time and run, run as fast as you can to Cardiff.