This past weekend I thought it was about time I got myself over to Cardiff to check out The Doctor Who Experience. Was it all I hoped for? Yes and no.
The experience part 1
I’ve been to Cardiff a couple of times already, both times I’ve really wanted to go to TDWE but I haven’t been able to due to time. I simply haven’t been in Cardiff long enought to do it. That all changed however when I came to Cardiff this weekend with the family with the sole reason of doing it.
I was mega excited before the trip and intentionally stayed clear of reading reviews so I could experience it fresh without thinking “as, this must be the bit I read in that review…”. I’m glad I did that too, there were a couple of great little moments that would have been potentially spoilt if I’d gone review hunting. Unfortunately there were a couple of moments that weren’t so great about the experience that I’m also glad I didn’t know about before hand. Let’s get into the details a bit further.
Overall I really enjoyed the visit. It’s difficult not to for true Who fans. The setup is well done; you wait in the cafe and listen to some Who music with great artwork on the walls plus some props littered around as you’re waiting for your group to go in. Seeing Bessie full size was a treat along with the full size Triceratops model from “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”. We were then greeted by a very nice chap who gave us the run down on what to expect, rules on photography and the safety stuff, then we were in.
For the first 20 minutes or so it’s all interactive. You’re essentially thrown into an episode and Matt Smith is guiding you through what to do as you move through a few rooms. The first room was a small cinema setup where you were showed what was basically an extended trailer for Who over the years. Then it’s a room filled with recognisable and a Tardis with Matt Smith giving you the story of what’s happened to him, then you’re straight into an actual Tardis console with moving floors where the kids could grab a console joystick and they got to feel like they were actually controlling the Tardis, that was a nice touch. After that it was another couple of rooms with Daleks, Weeping Angels then a final cinematic video before letting you into the free roam section to check out the props and costumes.
This first part of the tour was really good. The room with the Daleks advancing and the video of the Dalek fleet battle was well done and the kids loved it. The walk through the forest with the Weeping Angels was well done too, quite creepy. The narrative approach to get you through those sections was well done and hats off to the Experience team, it made the first part of the visit really enjoyable.
The Experience part 2
After the more interactive part was done we were left on our own to look around the various props, costumes and other stuff. It was this part of the experience that disappointed me the most. Don’t get me wrong, initially I loved the costumes on display and the actual Tardis set interior from the 9th and 10th Doctors era, but after finishing up and heading upstairs it left me wanting more.
I’m not sure what I was expecting really. I just thought there would be a lot more on display and a lot more of an “experience”. Not in a way that compared to the first part with moving floors, Matt Smith booming over the speakers or Dalek’s advancing on you but just for these areas to “feel” more Doctor Who. It’s very dark which is fine but there’s not a great deal going on other than the props and sets. It’s also very sparse and seeing as they only let a set number of people through at a time it’s never going to get too bust while looking around. Maybe they should have saved some money and constructed a smaller building? It would have been cool to have made use of the building some more and have a lot more design related stuff on the walls and make use of the ceiling, get people looking up and feeling like there’s Who stuff all around them.
The actual costumes and props them selves were very good. The numerous outfits of the Doctor’s were great as well as the companions. The actual Tardis interior set from Eccleston/Tennant was amazing and I spent a bit of time looking at it in detail. Upstairs the Dalek’s though out the years were awesome along with the Silence lair. Some other bits dotted around were cool such as the other Tardis’, chained up Weeping Angel and the miniature sets. What they did have on display was very good, I was just hoping for more. Perhaps going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour had built my expectations up too much and was hoping to see something of a slightly similar scale, after all, Doctor Who has been around for a lot longer. Yes, I’m aware a lot of stuff is either lost or destroyed so I’m not too down about it.
Predictably on your way to the exit is the gift shop and I actually found this to have some pretty good stuff and I spent more than I intended. Apart from the usual stuff you can pick up online at the BBC Shop there was some cool t shirts I hadn’t seen before plus some other swag that I noticed.
So that’s my visit to the Experience. Overall I was impressed with it and I loved a lot of the items that had on display. The interactive part with Matt Smith was great and set the tour up nicely. The second part where you’re free to look around was slightly disappointing as I was expecting more Who stuff to get stuck into but left wanting more. I would say for fans of Doctor Who it will be great but for partners or friends who aren’t into Who that much will probably be quite bored.
It’s worth the trip though and like I say if you’re a fan you will like it. However, don’t go in expecting too much.