As you start reading this review of the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, please note that it contains spoilers, and may ruin your experience. When the spoiler comes along I will once again make you aware to stop reading before you get to the big surprise.
Doctor Who, come on, who doesn’t love Doctor Who. If you are reading this, I presume a few things, one, you like Doctor Who, and two, you are planning a visit to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.
Although Doctor Who ran all through my childhood, with the likes of Peter Davison and Colin Baker, it was Jon Pertwee that captured me, playing the Doctor some 10 years before I decided to make an appearance on this piece of rock on which we make a living.
I caught up with Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy, just in time for the end of 26 years of monsters, Daleks and Cyber Men.
I am sorry, so very very sorry, but the TV movie in 1996 was just dreadful, however, the big comeback in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston was brilliant. It had Christopher Eccleston who I never really took to before Doctor Who, or since as a matter of note, and Billy Piper who for me held the show together.
It went to another level for us with David Tennant, who, no arguments please, I am usually right on most matters, and won’t have any disagreements over this, was the best Doctor ever.
In 2007 Doctor Who took on another level completely with the episode Blink. I watched and was terrified, absolutely taken in, and had never experienced anything like it since I had been scared by a certain Mr Tooms in an X Files episode, Squeeze.
So, enough of this rubbish, if you are still reading, well done for getting through my reminiscing. We were heading to Cornwall for a week away and, with a 6 year old in tow, we said we would stop off somewhere about half way to break up the journey.
We went through many attractions, and then remembered, Cardiff, we went through Cardiff last time we went to Cornwall for a reason I can’t really recall, and now, they have the Doctor Who Experience – what better excuse to visit, it’s a little off the way, however was close enough to say, screw it, lets do it!
Arriving in Cardiff, car parking is heavily pushed towards Mermaid Quay, a large shopping, restaurant and night scene. All roads seem to lead to Mermaid Quay car park, which is fine, however, I had a hot tip off that it was cheaper in Pierhead Street car park, which was a little further out, but not really that far away that you would mind.
Finding the entrance to Pierhead Street car park was horrendous, the Sat Nav seemingly getting itself lost and us finally having to pull over and consult Google Maps.
We finally parked up and headed out into Cardiff, immediately spotting a sign with a Dalek on it, so, well sign posted, we started to follow the Daleks. Pretty soon, the large blue and grey building came into sight. We had an hour or so before our time slot which we had booked online came around, so headed to Mermaid Quay, visited Ianto Jones’ shrine – yes, it’s a real thing! – and got the obligatory photos at the Cardiff Millennium Centre as we played around at being Torchwood agents.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, our time slot came around and excitedly we made our way to the Doctor Who Experience entrance.
Inside the foyer, a welcome desk, a short queue line, a small café and a handful of Doctor Who monsters, including a Weeping Angel, collection of Daleks and other props.
The short queue line was closed off, with the reception staff explaining that the next tour was full so we should hang around and would be on the next tour. We did so, and within 5 minutes, we were taking the place of the departing people in front of us.
15 minutes passed and a member of staff joined our tour to welcome us and go through some of the rules. The usual stuff of no photos in the first part, no touching, just shout out if you need assistance, nothing too out of the ordinary.
Finally, we passed through a set of doors, and into the Gallifrey Museum. Here, we were met by a staff member in robes, handing out visitor cards, on each one a time crystal.
Now, from here there are multiple spoilers, and as such, if you don’t wish to spoil the surprise, look away now, the rest of this review is not for you, except to say that we had a fantastic time and would really look to go back, it is a must for any Doctor Who fan!
OK, we lost a few readers now, however, here are the gory details, the spoilers, the bits that people will shout at me for writing about, but you have been warned.
When everybody was settled into the small room, around 30 of us in total, the Gallifrey Museum staff member activated the short movie, a short history of Doctor Who, showing clips from many different doctors, from the original William Hartnell to the more up to date David Tennant, Matt Smith and finally, the glaring eyes of Peter Capaldi.
Throughout the entire film, a crack in the screen is rather annoying, a little off putting. All the way through I was thinking, a bit of polyfiller would sort that out a treat, I couldn’t concentrate, no matter how hard I tried, that crack was just there, looking at me, until, at the end of the movie, and I hadn’t noticed at this point that there was nowhere to move on to, the screen cracked in two and we were faced with a larger, smoke filled room.
The guide walked inside and exclaimed, this hadn’t happened before, well, at least not for 15 minutes with the last tour.
We all stepped into this new room, and into the bowls of the TARDIS we found ourselves. The Doctor, Peter Capaldi’s version, appears on a screen and in his own inimitable way decides to abandon us, before a split second decision changes his mind and he decides that we should be saved, and at the back of the room a TARDIS appears.
We are guided through into the TARDIS, and a clever trick imitates the real deal with you passing through a Police box and into the real TARDIS.
We all gathered around the centre console, children pushed towards the front and a small joystick, there are a handful dotted around, enough for everybody. Before long and after the Doctor makes another appearance, we are off, flying in the TARDIS, and now its time for the kids to fly the TARDIS with those joysticks. As they move the sticks around, lights come on and the floor starts moving, simulating the TARDIS flying.
Suddenly, we stop and we emerge from the TARDIS, and it soon become clear, we are now on a new planet, Skaro, the planet of the Daleks. We pass by busted Daleks, blown apart in battle. We emerge into an open space and Daleks rest all around us, they all look dead.
The guide says not to panic and says he will carry out a test to see if they are dead, he says it never fails, and as he stepped up to one of them, he reached out his arm and quickly and firmly, banged on the head of the Dalek. A very quick chuckle rippled through and nothing happened. The Dalek didn’t move, and neither did any of the others.
We now have a challenge, to find some time crystals, and soon one of the kids spots it, glowing away embedded into a Dalek, and he is invited up to remove it, being told to keep hold of it. As the child walks back to the crowd, the Dalek behind the guide slowly moves. The children start mumbling nervously, eventually, it starts to speak, and others around start coming to life, promising, as they do, to exterminate us – nasty habit they really must work on giving up!
We are rushed out of the room by the guide as more Daleks start to wake up and move towards us, through smoke filled corridors, it’s all quite unnerving.
Rushed out, we now find ourselves passing the dreaded Weeping Angels, getting increasingly angry as we go, before we find ourselves in a garden like scene with Weeping Angels completely surrounding us. Flashing lights, a well-placed piece of scrim and complete fear all went together to create a genuinely scary set. Before we set off to escape, we discover another time crystal and keep it for a little later.
We escape the angels, grabbing a pair of ‘protective glasses’ in the process. For those who are regular to certain attractions, these glasses are instantly recognisable as 3D glasses. We find ourselves again facing the Doctor and a short movie in 3D, soon finding the 3rd and final time crystal, all three are placed in what I can only describe as an upturned bucket. The TARDIS, which has been in the corner of the room, now leaves us behind having brought us back home, disappearing from view, again with the classic trick with scrim.
We hand back our VIP passes and we now found ourselves in the exhibition, met by a member of staff who asked us to gather around a TARDIS console.
She explained that this, although looking like the original console, is in fact a recreation made for the Drama Documentary, An Adventure in Space and Time, telling the story of how Doctor Who came about.
The exhibition spreads across two floors and contains many sets of the TARDIS, inside and outside, many screen used. Bessie, the yellow car driven by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, and a couple of others since, is on display as well as a TARDIS with green screen inside, and photos taken for a fiver with various backgrounds.
Moving upstairs, and a larger area, we see another screen used set complete with the Silence.
There are a number of screen used and recreation costumes from the Foretold, as seen in Mummy on the Orient Express, the Handbots, Peg Dolls, Silurians, Weeping Angels, Daleks, the Skovox Blitzer and Cyber Men among many others.
In addition, there are props such as Sonic Screw Drivers and costumes from the Doctor and his assistants.
It took us somewhere between an hour and half to two hours to get around the entire experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed every single part of it.
We have visited other Doctor Who exhibitions before, and the second part, although bigger than we had seen before, was more than on par, it was the first experience part which was the thing that we will remember for a long time to come, and will get us going back one day, maybe when the Doctor regenerates and they update it again as they have just done to replace Matt Smith.