The Doctor Who Experience is Regenerating
Times change, and so must Cardiff’s tourist attractions.
Opened in 2011 at London’s Olympia, the Doctor Who Experience invited visitors of all ages to step inside an interactive Doctor Who episode — complete with dialogue from Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith — followed by a nicely curated collection of Classic and New Who memorabilia. After its London run, the Experience was moved to its own installation at Cardiff Bay, a brisk college student’s walk from the BBC Cymru Wales studios where the show itself is made.
I was fortunate enough to have two gos at it — once at Olympia, and once at its permanent installation. And I’m very pleased I did: much like the Doctor himself, the Experience will have a full overhaul in the next few months to ring in a new era of the show.
The Experience is right at home at Cardiff Bay, also near the infamous Rift (a.k.a. Roald Dahl Plass, should you need to recharge your TARDIS or your phone). There’s a bus stop literally right at the doors, and a friendly bus driver (like mine) will likely talk you happily through local points of interest before telling you right where to hop off… Though the TARDIS out front and the massive blue awning are both dead giveaways.
The doors are flanked by larger props — the Third Doctor’s roadster Bessie and the front half of Tricey, when I went — and to your left coming in is a smallish cafe. The walls are painted with New series imagery around the ticket desk, where you pick up a ticket for a specific time to move through.
As it stands, the Experience focuses on Series 5 plot points — specifically, the crack in Amy’s wall and the Pandorica. You view a montage of Series 5 footage on a suspiciously bare, cracked wall … and the crack opens to let you into a museum on Starship UK, littered with a few items of New Who memorabilia and some screens and monitors. It isn’t long ’til the Doctor pops up on the screens, informing you that he’s been lured into the Pandorica II and you need to help him escape.
Then, it’s on to the TARDIS. No, really.
With a bit of SFX trickery, the TARDIS vworp-vworps into the room, and you hop in to help steer her to her destination. (Note: be a dear and let the kiddies at the controls first — it’s for them, after all.) Out the “back exit,” and you move through rooms where you’re confronted by Daleks and Weeping Angels, guided by the Doctor on screens and speakers. End Game is a look inside the Pandorica aided by 3D glasses as a variety of Who monsters get teleported away, and then it’s on to the exhibit afterwards.
Make no mistake, the Experience is not the pinnacle of practical effects achievement, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not meant to be technically innovative so much as exciting and fun. The mini-plot is penned by Steven Moffat and acted cleverly by Matt Smith, and “interacting” with the Doctor is delightful.
The bad news is you’ve only got a few more months to fly with the Eleventh Doctor. The good news? After the Experience gets an overhaul, the Twelfth Doctor will be on hand to walk you through a new adventure, based on story elements in the upcoming series. Which makes for a very meta way to watch the new series: attempting to spot what will make it into the Experience.
Cardiff’s a trot for some of you, I know. But if you’re going to make it, make it now before our adventures with Chinny are archived for posterity (we hope). Then go again later to see what the 100% Rebel Time Lord has in store for us.