I went to the second preview day on Friday 18th February and what follows is more of a walkthrough of the Experience than a review. I suppose it’ll be quite good for people who can’t get to the Experience themselves.
Please be warned, this contains spoilers for the Doctor Who Experience at Olympia, London. If you are going to the Experience and want to be surprised by it, I suggest you to stop reading now.
Entering the interactive part of the experience, we were led into a small screening room and sat down on some benches to be shown a bit of a compilation of series 5 on a screen which I instantly noticed had a crack down the centre. I was wondering if it was meant to be there or not when The Doctor began talking about the cracks in time that we saw throughout series 5 and it was brought up on the screen. It then rotated and fitted with the crack that I had spotted on the screen. I was just congratulating myself on anticipating what was going to happen when the crack opened up! The screen split down the centre and opened up onto a fantastically detailed set of the Starship UK. Ok, I wasn’t expecting that!
We were being welcomed to the Starship UK’s museum by one of those weird information points from The Library planet when we were rudely interrupted by The Doctor….trapped in the Pandorica…..well, the Pandorica 2 to be precise. Yes, they had a back up and The Doctor was not impressed, not least of all because they hadn’t even bothered to get one in a different colour!
The Doctor may have been trapped in the Pandorica 2, but fear not! He had a plan. Except, well, like most plans that The Doctor makes, it wasn’t exactly going the way it was expected to. Amy and Rory were nowhere to be seen and it was down to us, the “shoppers” to rescue the Doctor from his trap. To do so we were going to need the TARDIS. Cue her materialisation!
Understandably we weren’t allowed to touch the proper controls of the TARDIS (and probably a good job too, me being as clumsy as I am), and besides they don’t work for humans apparently (hmmm)! The Doctor had, however, put in some simpler controls for Amy a while back to keep her from moaning and we got to use those instead.
Materialising in a pretty standard sci-fi corridor, we were rushed out of the TARDIS via the newly created back door only to be greeted by, yes you’ve guessed it, those pesky Daleks! We were scanned and found to be friends of The Doctor…uh oh! With The Doctor unable to help, how were we going to make it out?
Now, this is a bit that really surprised me, and made me smile a lot. If you know me, you’ll know I’m not exactly a fan of the new Daleks/United Colours of Skaro/Duplo Daleks/iDaleks/Mighty Morphin’ Power Daleks, whatever you like to call them, so when the “proper” Daleks (namely Dalek Sec from reused Doomsday footage) turned up on the screen to destroy the new ones I gave a little bit of a “wooop”.
After surviving an encounter with the Daleks we then had to face the Weeping Angels in a cave type thing similar to that in the series. Having recently been to the real caves used as the Maze of the Dead I didn’t find this quite as creepy, but my mum seems to have blocked this bit out of her memory because she’s scared of the Angels! She says she must’ve had her eyes closed, which is the exact opposite of what you’re meant to do mum! Useless!
The final part of the interactive section required us to wear 3D glasses, something I was very reluctant of. I’ve never been a fan of 3D, it gives me a funny headache, but I went with it. I’m so glad I did!
Somehow we had rescued The Doctor (how that happened, I’m not really sure….maybe if I go again it’ll become clear?) causing the Pandorica to open up revealing the time vortex with Daleks and Weeping Angels flying through it. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen anything in 3D so I’m guessing the technology has moved on a lot. It was very surprising how far out of the screen the Weeping Angels and Daleks came. It really felt like they were about to touch us, it was pretty creepy! The TARDIS in flight was the best part. It didn’t even look like it was attached to the screen, but floating in mid-air!
After the interactive section came the exhibition of props and costumes from the show. If you’ve been to the (soon to close) exhibition in Cardiff Bay you’d know that it is quite small and the only nod to the classic series was a poster of the previous Doctors at the start. The Experience’s exhibition was very different. There was an excellent blend on new and old and props and costumes from every era of Doctor Who. I particularly liked the section that showed the evolution of the Daleks from the 1960s to the most recent series, and the same that was done for the Cybermen (be it just their heads) and Sontarans. It was nice to see an Ice Warrior and Zygon amongst Slitheen and Judoon too.
Seeing all of the Doctors’ costumes in the same room was brilliant. Was particularly nice to see the beautiful 8th Doctor’s costume and the shockingly bright 6th Doctor’s coat, but the best has got to be the 5th Doctor’s coat complete with real stick of celery!
We then got to the most exciting bit for me personally, and that was the real TARDIS sets from the 9th and 10th Doctors’ and the 5th to 7th Doctors’ reigns. I actually got to walk on the real grating of the TARDIS which was brilliant! I am informed, by one of the designers, that all of the piping, grating, and sponge on the Experience set is in fact 100% authentic.
As well as costumes and props from the show, there were also some backstage information including a booth on the sound effects/theme tune and the making of the monsters. There was also a mock up of the production office in Wales complete with various little props from the series including a Leadworth Library sign.
Even though the main interactive section of the experience was over, there were still opportunities to get involved. Green screens were available to have your photo taken inside the Pandorica and various other locations, there was a booth where you could learn to walk like a monster, and there was even a Dalek you could operate from behind!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of the Experience, but overall it was much better than I thought it would be. The interactive section was fantastic with wonderful scenes from Matt just being brilliant, really detailed designed sets, a TARDIS you can actually control, and a brilliant 3D section. The exhibition was full of great props, TARDIS sets and costumes, even if some were slightly random (Melkur? Wasn’t expecting that!). The only things that let the experience down were the shop and the organisation of the green screen/photo payment.
The shop was small and badly stocked. Not at all what was promised in the promotional information and press releases. There was noticeably a lack of Classic merchandise, the only items being the Tom Baker retro style bags and wallets that have been in Forbidden Planet for ages. Now, as this was only a preview day, they may have a more fully stocked shop by the time it opens properly. This doesn’t, however, excuse the prices of the merchandise available. I knew that there would be a certain mark-up on the stuff in the shop, there always will be at these sorts of places, but I was quite surprised at how much.
There was quite a large selection of DVDs making up an entire wall of the shop, but the mark-up on them was far too great. The Series 5 boxset for example was over £70, when you can get it on Amazon for £46. The Classic DVDs were selling for over £20 each, which for some of the serials is a mark-up of about £12 on their online prices.
This isn’t so much a problem for those of us who live in the UK as we can get this stuff much cheaper elsewhere, but for tourists I feel it really took advantage of the fact that it is difficult to get hold of Doctor Who Merchandise in their own country. Even more so when you consider how much money they have spent do get into the Experience.
Not wanting to end on a down note, because I really enjoyed my time at the Experience and I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it wasn’t worth the trip I give you my Top of the Pops style Top 5 Favourite things about the Doctor Who Experience:
5. The Fifth Doctor’s coat having real celery on the lapel. This made me chuckle. Nice and authentic, I thought!
4. The surprisingly brilliant and scary 3D section. The Weeping Angel nearly touched my face, I swear!
3. Dalek Sec telling the new multi-coloured Daleks that they weren’t real Daleks and that they should be destroyed. It was what everyone else has been thinking since Victory of the Daleks, no?
2. New scenes of Matt being fantastic as The Doctor. I can’t get enough of him as The Doctor and new scenes were very much appreciated and will hopefully keep me going until the next series.
1. Stepping onto both the Eleventh Doctor’s and the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s TARDISes (and seeing the Fifth Doctor’s). This was always going to be number one really, wasn’t it? It’s every Doctor Who fan’s dream to set foot on the TARDIS and it really was not disappointing.
For my photos of the Experience check out our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=282866&id=165311164935
If you’re in London or Cardiff why not take a Doctor Who Tour of Locations.