We dispatched James, who happens to be the most cynical of us all about Doctor Who, down to Cardiff to see what he thought of the Doctor Who Experience, if this anti-Whovian can enjoy it, it is a must for all fans.
I have to admit, I am not a Doctor Who fan. Sure, I watched Peter Davidson, Tom Baker and Peter Cushing as a boy, liked Christopher Eccleston a lot, David Tennant was fine too, but I am no fan.
Cardiff Bay, which is Who central, is not a far distance at all from Cardiff City Centre, and there is a bus that brings one directly to the doorstep of the Experience. This is a vast building. I was stunned by its sheer size. A long grey building with blue ribs that possess a wave shape along its length; despite its modernity, it is aesthetically not at all unpleasant.
The tickets in are £13 and it is recommended that the visit will take two hours; as it was, I spent nearly three hours at the venue. As one walks in, there is a Cafe and a number of static exhibits: Bessie, the much-loved Jon Pertwee car, is near a ‘Primary Colour’ life size Dalek made from plastic bricks, while a number of interesting items are in glass cases. The coffee shop was not only reasonable, but the quality of coffee got me to laughing, thinking about the ubiquitous gags about the BBC canteen.
The operation at the experience is very structured. You select a time you want to visit, and they then control access, allowing in groups of a medium size, ensuring that everyone has a good time. The first part, is an interactive Dr Who adventure, and is indeed very slick. Matt Smith plays the part of the Doctor, and the audience are essentially guided through a series of situations. They are indeed quite fun.
It would be wrong to spoil the adventure, but some old foes turn up, there is smart use of walls and lights to create a number of very nice tricks, the sets are really well dressed, feeling spot on, the interiors of various places giving the right impression, and video screens and view ports having very realistic video images, and the special effects all assisting to convince one that it is all happening. It’s very smart theatre. All the time Matt Smith is with you, and he is The Doctor.
There are a number of modern elements, a quite serious moving floor simulator, which is interactive and participative for children, a very nice 3D movie, where the various elements are indeed coming out of the screen and many references to the modern series.
After this series of adventures, which I have to admit, had the children present in twists of pleasure, one enters an exhibition of Doctor Who items that are really world class. There are three TARDIS (TARDISES? TARDI?) and three different consoles, including the huge David Tennant one. An amazing display to take in.
All the Doctor Who costumes are on display, next to details of each Doctor. There are cabinets with Sonic screwdrivers, TARDIS keys and devices. The layout is spacious, a dark feeling giving a suitable atmosphere, but all the props being sensibly displayed to allow a close proximity and ability to get good photos. The exhibition is on two floors, and upstairs, one moves away from the Doctor and onto his foes, friends and companions.
Villains, for there are many, are on display. I really liked the display that showed the development of the Cybermen. There was also a display with all the different varieties of the Daleks, including their original creator on Skaro, Davros, and the most recent ‘Primary Colour’ Dalek. Although I was a little disappointed that there was no ‘Ironsides’ Dalek.
I imagine that getting hold of costumes of older companions must be difficult; who would have thought we’d what these type of things preserved, but many of the modern companions costumes are on display, as well as Sarah Jane Adventures and some Torchwood items, in Captain Jack and a replica of K9 and I was impressed with various ‘Timelord’ costumes
Props such as a presidential carpet, blue prints, 3D paper models of sets, and a wall of design images completed the exhibition. There was then a well stocked shop, full of Gallifreyan delights. The experience is a good job, overall. The interactive part is better than similar attractions I have been at, in Disney and Alton Towers, but then its created by the creators, and is authentic and genuine, while being longer than I had expected.
The exhibition was just the finest example of how a TV series could be displayed through its history and props. It was well laid out and some serious thought has gone into the displays. I was impressed with how close one felt to this science fictional television artefacts. I wish many franchises could do a similar job. After three good hours, I departed by foot.
What I soon realised is that Cardiff Bay is literally a Mecca for Doctor Who and Torchwood Fans. Cardiff Bay is essentially an old Dock area, rejuvenated and redeveloped over the last twenty-five years, and it has a series of very modern developments. Most importantly to me, were the shopping and eating areas; I counted over twenty restaurants, and nearby modern apartments, a conference centre, various facilities and public spaces have sprung up.
The walk from the Experience takes one past a Norwegian church, where Roald Dahl was christened, and around the bay I went, to a boardwalk, which has two levels. I found that the Doctor Who locations website, with a very helpful map, was an instant guide to the locations used in Doctor Who and Torchwood, with helpful screen and photographs.
Further along is the massive Roald Dahl Plass, where the Torchwood entrance to the Hub exists, and where the TARDIS arrived, identified by the tall steel water tower. Nearby to the Plass is Mount Stuart Square, where a number of locations exist, especially The Coal exchange.
I was feeling hungry, and I was confronted with the difficult decision of deciding which set, I would visit. The BBC crew have used five of the restaurants. Bellinis from Boom Town, Eddies Diner from The Impossible Astronaut, Ba Orient from Cyberwoman and New Earth, Pearl of the Orient from Out of Time. What a selection of choices.
The Bosphurus is a Turkish restaurant, which featured in Boom town, and had a stunningly good lunch priced lunch for £6, full plates of flavoursome lamb and fresh vegetables for a hungry time-traveller. Surprisingly tasty and authentic, the building sitting on a pier jutting out into the bay, it gave a good view of both the experience, making me realise just how big it was, as well as the vista of the bay.
Nearby was the back way into Torchwood. This is now a Shrine after Ianto Jones, who died in Children of Earth. This wide gridded doorway is covered in mementos, letters, artefacts, trinkets, drawings, flowers, notes, you name it, and is lovely. It is maintained by the council and local shopkeepers, who appreciate that fans wanted a place that was interactive in a different way.
Cardiff people are obviously clever, I could never see that happening in London. Most would be derisory of such a common practice, but not here. Cardiff has obviously embraced the inner Who. The BBC have vast studio facilities on the bay, the experience is known by everyone, the bus driver only too willing to let us know when we got there, and this shrine a fine example of smart decisions taking place. I was told that Doctor Who drives a lot of visitors to Cardiff and I think that any Who fan, would have a fantastic day out, as I did.
Some notes: the return ticket from London Paddington on a high speed train cost £27 return, booked ahead, a big saving – pays to plan ahead and book in advance for your day out! The number 6 bendy bus goes from 300 yards from the train station, on Penarh road, the driver primed and ready to confirm that the bus indeed stops outside the Doctor Who experience. Lloyd George Avenue is adorned with longitudinal banners with Daleks, only heightening the impending excitement.
Enjoyed James’ report? Has he fired you up for a visit? Well don’t forget that FPI has teamed up with the lovely folk at the Doctor Who Experience and right now we are running a competition for two tickets to the Experience – and the folks at the Park Plaza in Cardiff are generously throwing in a luxury weekend stay while you visit! The competition is running right now and ends on the 30th of November.
Enter by picking up an entry form at your local Forbidden Planet International store or send your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, and write ‘FPI Doctor Who Experience’ in the subject line.
Competition tickets are valid until 3 February 2013, excluding Tuesdays. Subject to availability. The hotel stay includes a double room for a maximum of 2 people and includes breakfast. The prize is strictly subject to availability. Competition closes 30th November 2012.