Guest contributor Ian Kubiak offers us his “Personal View From A Punter” on the recently-reopened (and relocated) Doctor Who Experience…
I wanted to travel by TARDIS. Sadly, I couldn’t. This wasn’t because I couldn’t fly one, I’ll have you know. Just that my Girlfriend thought I was being ostentatious. I’m more of a table wine, you see. So, instead, we took the train.
Now, as soon as you set foot off the train at Cardiff Central, you are already in a Doctor Who location – which is nice. It was used for the story ‘Boom Town’, in 2005, but we won’t hold that against it as it is rather lovely. From there, you have a few choices in order to get to the exhibition. You can get a taxi for roughly a fiver (which we did), you can catch the bus down to the bay (a mere £1.70 per adult and £1.20 per child each way), or you can use your legs. Of course, the last option requires actual exercise and you’ll get that from wandering round the exhibition. So, why waste precious energy?! My personal preference would be the bus, as it drops you right outside the main entrance and picks up from the other side of the road as well. This is because I’m borderline sloth. However, if you are walking from the Millennium Centre, follow the Dalek signs instead…
As you get to the exhibition, you will see the TARDIS above a small pier. I guess you’ll be able to get there by boat one day, which would be a rather fantastic and grand way of entering. You are greeted by a huge blue building (metaphorically, not literally – that would freak some people out if a huge building suddenly started talking to you. Mind you, these are Doctor Who fans. So, they’d probably just take it in their stride); there are a few tables and chairs to sit on, which are part of the coffee shop, and it isn’t that badly priced for a good selection of goodies to eat. If you’re eating goodies, remember you’ll be seen as more Oddie than Ood-y. Ahem. I can see the tables being popular on days when the weather is nice, like today.
Before we are let in, I spot a couple of familiar faces with not a hint of regeneration about them. There’s Andrew Beech, who has bought and maintained a shedload of the classic props and costumes from the series over the years (including the 80’s TARDIS set, which was shown at ‘PanoptiCon 40’ in 2003). And there’s Edward Russell, who is the brand manager for Doctor Who and ran a marathon in the memory of Elisabeth Sladen. I decide not to approach them, as they don’t appear to be exhibits. They were certainly more lifelike than Tom Baker’s press photo-call in ‘The Five Doctors’.
We entered though a side route and again saw the TARDIS on top of the small pier. At this point, I turn to my Girlfriend and say…
“How long before someone tries to steal it?”
“Who would want it?” she replies, haughtily; which makes you wonder if a Slitheen is hiding inside of her. I check for a zip on her forehead but it’s just a bad hair day.
“I would want it!” I cry, a little desperately but still with a boyish charm. She gives me a very disapproving look.
This confirms it.
She is a Slitheen.
We walked into the reception area and there was Bessie, the Third Doctor’s vintage ride (no Jo Grant jokes, please), all parked up with nowhere to go. I could actually picture Matt Smith driving around in her with his hair blowing all over the place but then I am on prescription drugs.
I’m not going to give too much away about the interactive part, as it is really somewhere you need to experience for yourself. However, if you went to the London version of this, then there are some close similarities. However, there’s one added extra which is worth the price of admission alone…
… In the first section, the TARDIS dematerializes right in front of you! At least I think it did. As I said, I’m on a lot of prescription drugs.
However, seeing my Niece and Nephew find their way around the TARDIS controls, and try to reach out and touch the Daleks and Cybermen in the 3D section, made me smile from ear to ear (very much like the Ninth Doctor). Yes, I did tinker with the TARDIS controls myself too. I couldn’t resist. Unlike my girlfriend. She smells of Slitheen to me. However, she looks more impressed with the Daleks battling it out with each other, for no other reason than to prove the ‘new style’ Daleks look anything but silly. They’re still the mean, old, ruthless pepperpots they always have been.
So, the interactive part is over and the Doctor himself thanks us all for our help. Well, he’s not there personally. I mean, he’s somewhere else, just in time to save the universe. But, he’s kindly left in his place an incredibly life-like and eerily still plastic replica (thank goodness the Nestene Consciousness have been defeated, in two different incarnations). My Nephew says that the Matt Smith dummy looks ‘freaky’. My girlfriend says that the Matt Smith freak looks ‘dumb’. I say it’s time we wander around the exhibit part before I steal the Eleventh Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and exterminate the significant others I’ve brought with me. Here’s a handy tip, though. Make sure you spare enough time to look round the exhibit, as there is so much to see and marvel at.
You can get you photograph taken in front of a green screen too. This isn’t an ecologically friendly screen, just the colour that film and television use for special effects, when they need to black out something in a photo or a frame and replace it with something else. So, we had a choice of images to put in as our background. This is an extra cost, though, and the photo quality isn’t that bad. However, it’s a shame that you can’t have your photo taken on the actual TARDIS set that is used for the interactive part. Surely every child (and me!) wants their photo taken in the TARDIS?
There is also the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant TARDIS set, which my Niece, Nephew and Girlfriend love. My Girlfriend says: “It’s still sad to see David regenerate”. There’s hope for her yet. I’ll knock that Slitheen right out of her.
I see the 80’s TARDIS set and I’m instantly transported back to being a child again. That’s pure time travel right there! How I always wanted to see that version of the TARDIS in front of me and there it is, all lit up and with the time rotor moving up and down and the TARDIS hum surrounding me via cunningly concealed speakers. I could have stayed there all day, just watching and listening. But, the drool puddle on the floor was increasing in size, so I put my tongue away, shut my open mouth, and saved my amazement for when my Girlfriend tells me she has exorcised her inner Slitheen.
There is a display of the pictures of the Radio Times front covers, which allowed me to realise a dream of being on the cover and I couldn’t resist! I’m the one with the glasses, in case you think I’m just another incarnation of the Doctor. Glasses are cool.
There are also a selection of the Doctor’s costumes on display, all of which are very good but it does make you wonder what he’s wearing right now. I mean, does he have a wardrobe full of identical clothes or is he just wearing one set all the time and thereby probably angering everyone he meets simply because he smells so bad. Anyway, I digress. Although the costumes are really very good, there is a lack of real variety in the display. Even important things like the Seventh Doctor’s hat and umbrella have failed to materialize. I wonder if we will ever get to see some other variations of the Doctor’s costumes, like the Fourth Doctor’s season 18 burgundy number or another Third Doctor costume (or even the Second Doctor’s fur coat)?
We go upstairs. Yes, there is an upstairs! And, just to prove they can use the stairs, this is where a lot of the Daleks are housed. There are monsters and costumes and props of all eras and they all look impressively realistic. The Cyberman conversion unit from Closing Time is a particular favourite and I can’t help thinking how impressive it looks.
A personal highlight for me, and not least because I could see my reflection grinning back off it to me, was the impressive remains (all intact) of the K1 Robot from the first Fourth Doctor story, ‘Robot’. The titular character is over 35 years old and yet it looks brand new! Again, older moulds and character builds are the Ice Warrior and the Zygon, both of whom don’t look their age and give an impressive feel to the exhibition.
There are the Time Lord robes, standing elegantly next to a Dalek that you can have a go in (which my Niece did). In actuality, it’s half a Dalek and the voice changer sounds like you’re talking through a baked bean tin but, then again, we can’t all be Nick Briggs, can we? As I look again at the Time Lord robes, I notice something which excited me rather too much. For the first time ever on display there is the costume worn by Eric Roberts as the Master in the Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor) TV Movie. Well, it would be foolish not to recreate the bizarre pose the Master pulls when he makes his grand entrance in it and says “I always drezzz for the occasion!” – nobody knows why he ‘drezzzed’ rather than ‘dressed’. It must be an American thing. My Girlfriend was very amused by this posing, which I took to mean I was doing it right. After viewing the photo, I realized it was because I looked like a bad mime artist who’d just farted.
With time sadly running out (where is the TARDIS now, when I need to transfer me back to the start again?), we end up at the gift shop. Everywhere has gift shops these days. I’m sure they have gift shops in hospitals now, where you can buy novelty keyrings made of old appendix. Anyway, here in the Doctor Who gift shop there are lots of rather pricey merchandise for the avid collector and some reasonably-priced items for the youngsters. My Nephew and Niece, when paying for a Dalek pencil, TARDIS pen. key ring and small stationary set, are told that they are the very first customers in the shop and walk away with a free poster too!
As we leave, we see the queue of people waiting to get in. The first day had completely sold out, with people from all over the world wanting to have their own Doctor Who experience and – like any good Doctor Who episode – it will be one you will want to revisit time and time again.
Words: Ian Kubiak and Barnaby Eaton-Jones
Photos: Ian Kubiak
Girlfriend: Possible Slitheen
Nephew and Niece: Happy Little Bunnies