A fixed point in time, a date with destiny on the shores of Cardiff Bay….
For our family, a trip long planned and now carried out. As we entered England, the customs agent inquired where we intended to go during our stay in the U.K. When we said, “Cardiff”, his reply was: “Cardiff?… Why would anyone want to go to Cardiff?” Why, indeed, Cardiff?
As Whovians of varying degrees, a visit to the Doctor Who Experience landed near the top of everyone’s must-do list for the U.K. It was made more special that we were able to see the Experience during the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary year. The ridged, curved building where the attraction is located has a wavy appearance and is a bright TARDIS blue. The warehouse-sized building was specially designed to house the Doctor Who Experience. From the outside, one can tell it is big on the inside. Anticipation builds for the adventure that awaits as you view the exhibits in the lobby including a Dalek of LEGOs and Bessie, the third Doctor’s car.
Admittance is by a pre-assigned time. Turned out, we were the first group of the day. The Doctor Who Experience utilizes visual and practical effects to create the illusion of sharing an adventure as a companion of the Doctor.
You enter a theater to hear a special message from the Doctor. You notice the screen has a crack and think it’s a nice, authentic touch. The Doctor appears. He’s trapped in the Pandorica. Saving the universe is mostly his job, but sometimes he needs help from other people. This time, he needs help from you. The Doctor invites you to come along and share his adventure.
The crack in the screen slides open to reveal a doorway. You step through, and you’re in the museum storeroom of the Starship UK. A library guide directs you to notable artifacts from the Doctor’s past and future adventures. Something goes wrong, but there’s the Doctor again to help.
He asks if you see a big blue Police box and instructs you to get inside as soon as you see it. In a great special effect that I will not spoil, a larger-than-life TARDIS materializes. You are invited to do the one thing every Whovian dreams about: walk through the doors of the TARDIS. Yes, it is bigger on the inside — or smaller on the outside, if you prefer.
Since the Doctor is locked inside the Pandorica, it’s up to you and your fellow companions to fly the TARDIS. The simulation is mild, suitable for all ages, but loads of fun. My station was Diagnostics. I had my own set of “working” controls, but I prefer the Doctor’s method. If a problem arises with the controls, hit it with the hammer.
Emergency! The TARDIS is crashing! Everyone must evacuate!
Everyone is safe, but wait! Oh no! You’ve been captured by Daleks and sentenced to be exterminated. You are surrounded by Daleks. There’s no way out! Yes, surrounded by actual moving, speaking Daleks. Up close, they are quite terrifying and terrific. Yes, they shout, “Exterminate!”
Other Dalek ships fly in. They attack. You’re caught in the middle of a Dalek battle! The Doctor forms a plan of escape, but the only path is through the Forest. It’s the Forest of the Angels! The Doctor urges you to keep moving, and whatever you do, Don’t Blink!
Barely, you make it out of the forest. But the good news is you’ve reached the Pandorica. With your help, the Doctor breaks free, but the crack opens, too! It’s a well-crafted 3-D segment of attacking monsters. Just when the Weeping Angels are about to drag you through the crack, the Doctor acts and saves Earth once again!
The Doctor Who Experience is as well-crafted and planned as any major amusement park attraction. The BBC put much time and effort to create an experience that is worth the trip to Cardiff, Wales. The segments with the Doctor were written by current Doctor Who head writer and showrunner, Steven Moffat, alongside a brilliant performance by the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith. While the scenes were shot, Smith was literally handcuffed to a chair, yet manages an energetic and exciting delivery of the dialogue. The attraction is designed for and invested in giving visitors the feeling they have truly journeyed through Time and Space with the Doctor. The Doctor Who Experience doesn’t disappoint. It’s suitable for fans of all ages and degrees of fandom.
The Experience exits into a museum portion. The exhibits on display are the original props and costumes used in the making of Doctor Who, including items from the series’s earlier years. Some of the museum’s great features include a complete collection of outfits of all the Doctors and their companions, the TARDIS from several different eras, and collections of Sonic Screwdrivers and TARDIS keys. One of the main attractions is a complete reconstruction of the TARDIS inside set including the control panel from the time of Doctor 10, David Tennant.
The two-level space offers up a smorgasbord of all things “Who” from the past 50 years, since the show’s premiere to the current version, in grand style. When we visited in late June 2013, exhibits from the just-aired season were already displayed. Some of the exhibits are interactive. We were green-screened into the TARDIS and other planets, and we got to be inside a Dalek and work the controls.
The Doctor Who Experience is a labor of love for the makers of Doctor Who and a gift for the fans to create a lasting legacy for the series. If you have the chance to travel to the U.K., I highly recommend a stop in Cardiff to see the Experience. Cardiff is the home city to the Doctor Who series. Besides the Experience, the Cardiff Bay area is dotted with places that have served as filming locations for the series. The area is very proud to be the home base of Doctor Who.