For Whovians, Cardiff in Wales offers countless amazing sights and experiences. Along with a tour of the Torchwood and Doctor Who location sites and the film studio, there’s the astonishing Doctor Who Experience – located along TARDIS Walk on a small island oucrop near the Queen Alexandra Dock. You can tell that you’re in the right place from the crash-landed TARDIS, looking the worse for wear, which is parked above a pier on the waterfront.
Even walking around the foyer offers up some jaw-dropping moments. Costumes and props from the show are lined up behind indented hand-prints of various stars from the show, from Doctors over the years to their companions. It’s amazing to realise just how huge John Barrowman’s hands are. A sentient library node from the episode Silence In The Library greets visitors, while a variety of Daleks – including a giant one made from Lego – and a framed portrait of the Brigadier, make everyone feel welcome.
The first part of the experience is an interactive tour through time and space, where watching a short film suddenly leads to entering it before you’re even aware it’s happening. Suddenly whisked aboard the rocking TARDIS and taking the controls, visitors soon land on the planet Skaro where they need to retrieve an energy crystal from attacking Daleks. With all of space and time merging, a quick escape from the Daleks leads to a graveyard full of Weeping Angels – and yes, it’s best to not blink. However, when the lights fail it’s trouble. A grand finale sees the Doctor dropping everyone off in 1963 to where it all began…
While the interactive experience is entertaining enough, the real experience is the next part. A combination of museum, sets, and props and wardrobe department, it begins exactly where you would expect: the original TARDIS console, all dials and levers and amazingly ahead of its time. Along with the I.M. Foreman scrap merchant sign, an original 1963 TARDIS, newspapers, a Menoptra costume, notes and more, it’s Delia Derbyshire’s Electronic Workshop display of instruments and equipment used to create the iconic theme tune is fascinating.
Years of the show’s evolution pass by, with each regeneration’s TARDIS’s, consoles and gadgets being represented. K-9, the Fourth Doctor’s robotic dog, may not have aged well but he’s still a fan favourite. Even more of a favourite is the entire interior of the Ninth Doctor’s console room, which is awe-inspiring in its size. It really is bigger on the inside.
On the upper level, the giant Face of Boe gazes on unnervingly as rows of Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and more from various generations stand at attention threateningly. The aliens of Doctor Who, so many costumes and models on display that it’s hard to know where to look next, are an intimidating sight. For some, they’re wondrous, for others the stuff of nightmare, and up close you can see the attention to detail paid to them by the BBC’s effects team.
Of course, things haven’t always looked this good. Some of the older aliens, made back during the BBC’s cheaper budget days of yesteryear, can’t help but generate amusement in various ways. The original Robot (from the Fourth Doctor’s debut story) is clunky and large; the original Sontaran warrior’s suit, adorned with cheap plastic buttons nailed on and a dial which looks curiously like a decorated cocoa tin lid; the Melkur, a gorgeous statue creature with moss growing in its assorted crevasses.
Back amongst the more recent highs of the show, the original costumes worn and props used which are on display are impressive. Again you can see the intricate detail paid to them, in everything from River Song’s TARDIS diary and outfits to Amy Pond’s kissagram policewoman uniform. As for much-loved companion Clara, her various outfits flank the floral tribute TARDIS – a genuine work of art.
At the head of the room, every Doctor’s original outfits stand together while a video in the background shows footage of all of the Doctor’s regenerations. While some of them may seem simple designs, it’s impossible to miss the little touches which make them so special. The Sixth Doctor’s hideous patchwork coat has small teddybear-shaped buttons, for instance, while the Fourth Doctor’s scarf has a very small patch sewn on to it.
Some of the props featured included original sonic screwdrivers, confession dials, the Truth Or Consequences boxes, Davros’s chamber, vortex manipulators, the teleportation chamber which helped the Doctor to create a personal time loop in Heaven Sent, and many items from Torchwood including costumes and Captain Jack’s beloved severed Doctor hand.
After having taken in more Doctor Who than the brain can logically handle, you might think that it’s over but it isn’t. The gift shop offered up a huge variety of books, T-shirts, posters, mugs, toys, badges, CDs, postcards, bags and more. Beyond that was the gallery, featuring the Guinness world-record holding collection of artwork from the longest-running TV tie-in magazine in history… all able to be absorbed from the comfort of leather armchairs in the Doctor’s study.
It’s impossible to describe the scope and scale of the Doctor Who Experience. It’s bigger on the inside than you could ever imagine, a feat not of transdimensional engineering but of living up to its name. It really is an experience for fans, one made possible by the work of countless people over the course of 53 years. It’s an adventure in time and space, right here and now.