I know – as if Doctor Who fans need reasons to celebrate their favourite show!
But getting to Cardiff, Wales, can be a bit of a trek. You might be asking yourself whether it’s worth it, particularly if you’ve been before. Let me assure you: it really is.
1. Piloting the TARDIS
Of course, it’s a dream to actually pilot the TARDIS, and while you don’t get to jump around the console and whack it with a hammer, that’s only because humans can’t deal with the complex quantum physics calculations needed to reason with the Time-Space Ship.
Instead, the Doctor’s kindly filtered the controls so it’s easy for kids of all ages to fly it through the vortex. Youngsters should take priority, naturally, but most groups are surprisingly shy about navigation, so eager time-travellers can typically find some way to steer the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS.
In the exhibition afterwards, you’ll see many other TARDISes, including the Silence’s attempt; the recreation from An Adventure in Space and Time; the actual console used throughout the late 1980s; and the real TARDIS used by the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh (in The Doctor’s Wife) Doctors – that’s also where they filmed portions of The Day of the Doctor!
As you’re welcomed into the Doctor Who Experience, you’ll be introduced to the Doctor: all his faces, from the First to the Twelfth, and soon locate the TARDIS in space-time.
The showcase of clips is narrated by Romana herself – Lalla Ward!
Ward’s used to delivering lovely readings of various texts, but fans who remember seeing the Time Lady back in 1981 will get an added thrill from hearing her fresh and reprising her role for “NuWho“.
If you went during the Matt Smith era, the storyline has been refreshed for Peter Capaldi’s tenure. This one initially finds you in the Museum of Gallifrey, and soon plants you at the heart of the TARDIS.
3. Face-to-Face with Monsters
The array of creatures from the Doctor’s 50+ years on TV is startling, and you can come face-to-face with loads of them in the exhibition.
There’s a higher concentration on serials from the 2005- present show, but rest assured that Classic Who still takes a considerable proportion of the available space. You’ll have heard about the newly-restored Yeti, and Varga the Ice Warrior, originally worn by Bernard Bresslaw in 1967 and found in the back of a cupboard at the BBC.
But there’s also the K1 robot from, uh, Robot; a Tetrap from Time and the Rani; a disassembled Vervoid from Terror of the Vervoids; the Special Weapons Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks; a Silurian, seemingly on its last legs, from Warriors of the Deep – and plenty more.
That means, no matter your favourite era of the show, the Doctor Who Experience has you catered for!
4. BBC Shop
After the closure of the online BBC Shop – at least the site serving the UK – the corporation’s official store has been without a home… save a site at the Experience.
You’ll find all manner of goodness here, including prints of Target covers signed by Chris Achilleos; a colourful selection of t-shirts, mostly ones you can’t buy anywhere else, alongside hoodies and the like; DVDs and CDs, including Big Finish; postcards, notably of the costumes worn by the Doctors and their companions (as seen in the exhibition); stationery; products by Rubbertoe Replicas; books; magnets, badges, and patches; and more besides.
And in case you’ve forgotten your cosplay gear, there’s a nice display of Lovarzi items. Bear in mind, you’re in Wales, so you might be advised to pick up a Lovarzi umbrella while you’re there…
You don’t need to go through the Experience itself to buy stuff from the shop – just go to the staircase to the far right, and you can gain free admittance to the store. So if you’re nearby, pop in!
5. Target Covers
It’s easy to miss, so worth pointing out that the gallery of Target covers can be seen in all its glory just past the tills at the shop.
This is all original art, so while it’s not got all the Target covers, you’re likely to see one of your favourites there. For me, it was Death to the Daleks, followed by Doctor Who and the Ark in Space.
The collection (presented opposite a gallery of Doctor Who Magazine fronts) was originally compiled for the Cartoon Museum, and in his review, Jonathan Appleton said:
“These paintings, with their bold images of classic Doctors, monsters, robots and spaceships really benefit from being displayed gallery-style where you can appreciate the full impact of the movie poster-like collages which were so crucial in telling readers what they could expect if they parted with their pocket money.”
6. Nearby Locations
The benefit of being in Cardiff is, of course, seeing filming locations. Admittedly, the Doctor Who Experience is pretty far out from the city centre (not bad at all if you’re driving, however), but it’s worth exploring the place. You can see where the Autons broke out in Rose and went to attack Jackie Tyler, or find yourself by the Torchwood hub at Roald Dahl Plass. Then there’s Cardiff Castle, the Millennium Centre (also by the hub), and the National Museum of Wales.
And don’t miss Ianto’s Shrine, just off the Plass.
Arguably the two coolest places are: Eddie’s Diner, which doubled in The Impossible Astronaut and Hell Bent, which you can find relatively close to the exhibition, at Cardiff Bay; and BBC Wales Studios – right next to the Doctor Who Experience!
Yep, the odd-looking building next door homes the actual TARDIS.
One thing that’s especially nice about the Doctor Who Experience is the feeling of being around like-minded people. Sure, we all disagree about favourites and worsts and the future and the past, and we all express ourselves differently – but what it all boils down to is a love for one show.
That’s pretty awesome, right?
Aside from conventions, this is one of the only places in the world where people are as passionate about Doctor Who as you are. Talk to staff and they’ll enthuse too. They all get it. You’re not surrounded by Not-We’s. You’re surrounded by folk who know what a Not We is.
It just goes to show: You. Are. Not. Alone.
8. It’s Closing
Which makes it even more of a shame that it’s closing.
Seriously, if you can get there, do not miss the Doctor Who Experience. It’s a great accompaniment for the 2010- 17 era of Doctor Who.
The Doctor Who Experience shuts on 9th September 2017; you can get tickets from the official website.