It may be somewhat embarrassing to admit, but as per usual, I’m going to do it anyway. When I found out I was going to the UK for two weeks, leaving the country for the first time, the first place I thought to visit – before Big Ben, before Tower Bridge, before Stonehenge, for crying out loud – was the Doctor Who Experience. I barely knew what it was – I’d only seen the odd pic and heard about it in passing – but supposedly it really was the ultimate experience for a Who fan. And I wanted in.
Once I’d bought my ticket, I deliberately stayed spoiler-free – so if that’s your plan, too, you might not want to read on. Because I know that for most of us, to get over to London (or Wales, when it moves back) is next to impossible, so I’m going to share as much as I can. You’ve been warned.
When you first enter the Experience, you find yourself in sort of a holding pen/antechamber that, as I joked at the time, has most of the new fifth series stuff that you’d care the least about. Think about some of the most memorable bits of the fifth series – the Pandorica, Vincent, Amy’s Choice, the Lodger… yeah, none of that here. But you do get: Liz 10! The creepy Smilers! The Silurians! You get the idea.
Once inside the first main set of doors, you’re in a no-photography zone for the next 20 minutes, so you’ll have to do with my powers of description: a room with benches for the little kids (and there are many) to sit upon and watch a video. The movie is basically an extended trailer for the fifth series (there might have been some other stuff thrown in there) but one of the first things you notice is that the wall that the movie is projected upon has a crack in it – not the crack, though. This one is long and vertical and not as curved.
As the movie first began, I thought it might be intentional, but as the movie played on and on I began to think it was just a fault of the Olympia venue – so far the whole thing had seemed rather, well, low-budget, after all. Then, at the end of the movie, they start talking about the cracks in time and space… and a vertical crack begins to glow, and align with the one on the wall and then holy crap the wall is opening. I totally didn’t see that coming.
You walk into a “museum” of artifacts crammed higgeldy-piggeldy into one room that looks straight from a Doctor Who set. It’s apparently a museum from the far future, and your docent is a Node from “Silence in the Library” (You remember: “If my face winds up on one of those… things!” statues). Objects around the room are illuminated: the TARDIS painting that Vincent created, the giant telescope from the series Two werewolf episode “Tooth and Claw” – and others remain unmentioned but are there just the same, like part of a dismantled Clockwork from “The Girl in the Fireplace.”
However, your tour is soon interrupted by a transmission from Matt Smith’s Doctor. He’s found himself trapped in a secondary Pandorica and he’s looking for Amy… but “You’re not Amy! You’re not even Rory!” he says. We’ll just have to do. The TARDIS must be close by – that’s why we’ve intercepted the call for help – and soon, with some fancy scrim work, the TARDIS appears right in the room. And the scrim lifts, and the doors open, and I’m walking into a TARDIS what the what.
Inside is a replica of the 11th Doctor’s TARDIS interior (no pictures allowed! Sob!) and a cute interactive bit where the children get to help navigate the TARDIS (the TARDIS doesn’t like adults as much, we’re told). But soon there’s trouble, and we have to flee, leaving through TARDIS corridors (not as scary as in Neil Gaiman’s episode).
We’re not out of trouble, though – we’re soon in the middle of a Dalek skirmish. This part is actually pretty cute and funny – the various, recent iterations of Daleks (Cult of Skaro and New Crayola Daleks) each think they’re the “superior” version, and start to fight each other! Most of the little kids were staring at the Daleks themselves – at least three of them were moving around in the room – but I was personally more entertained when a section of the darkened room is revealed to be the windshield of the Dalek ship, with several more flying saucers fighting it out just beyond. It honestly did feel like I was “inside” an episode. With the Daleks distracted, we slip away…
…Through a “time corridor” of Weeping Angels. Uhoh. I was toward the front of the line at that point, so I pretty much went full-speed through that section – but at various points lights would illuminate yet another Angel, including some that looked less than friendly and certainly weren’t weeping.
We’re given 3D glasses for the final room: all of the Doctor’s enemies are coming to get him! He manages to suck them back out through a Time Vortex, but not before they all give a 3D stretch out to try to take you with them – the Weeping Angels were particularly creepy there. We’ve helped the Doctor save the day! As a reward, we get to step out into a giant museum of Doctor Who props and costumes, past and present – and our cameras are allowed out again!
The museum is seriously awesome. I consider myself more of a casual fan of the classic series – I’ve seen at least a few episodes with each Doctor, but I’m certainly no expert. This museum had just about everything I could think of – both from the old series and the new. And here’s where I basically stop the narration and share with you some of the many, many pictures I took.
One of the first things you see when you exit is a giant, glowing TARDIS, with the 11th Doctor standing in front of it. Well, okay, it’s a wax figure – but still, wax figures are cool.
All of the Doctor’s outfits up til Ten were on display – yes, even the Eighth Doctor. It was fascinating to get that close – I never realized the Sixth Doctor’s vest had bear-shaped buttons.
The Doctor wasn’t the only person with clothes on display – there were also clothes for every modern Companion, plus Sarah Jane, Captain Jack, little Amelia Pond, and River Song.
The evolution of the Cybermen and the Daleks are traced, from the very beginning all the way up to the most recent versions.
Most of the villains from the new series make an appearance, so of course I had to take pictures of some of my favorites, including the gas mask zombies and the Vashta Nerada.
Oh, and some other guys whose name, strangely, I can’t remember, some of whom were hanging from the ceiling.
I know we all probably have at least one at home, but it was pretty cool getting to see all of the Doctor’s “real” Sonic Screwdrivers. Another neat, more recent prop was the giant console from the lastest Christmas special.
And finally, there were the TARDISes. Yes, there was the one with the Matt Smith doll, which was just plain awesome, but wait, there’s more! There was also an old-school version some of you may remember – the TARDIS exterior that was used throughout the whole of the 80s (pretty big difference, side-by-side):
Bigger on the Inside
I’ve saved the best for last: the TARDIS interiors. Too bad I’ve already done a post on TARDIS interiors, because now I’ve got a much better pic of the 80s console, which lights up, moves up and down, the whole shebang.
The Crown Jewel for many was the Coral TARDIS, which was sitting in the BBC Wales studio until they used it one last time (in the Neil Gaiman episode), packed it up, and rebuilt most of it here. This was not just a tiny corner of the room, folks:
And that was essentially the Doctor Who Experience! If you do find yourself in the UK in the near future, I highly recommend it – even though much of it is geared for children, there’s more than enough to entertain adults. And who knows – maybe we can encourage BBCAmerica to bring a touring version to the US!