The Ultimate Experience
Soon the Doctor will face one of his greatest challenges. A landscape like no other in which he will be lucky to survive but it’s one in which he has ultimately found a new home. Wales.
This is why I decided to finally visit The Doctor Who Experience at Kensington Olympia before it heads over the Severn Bridge after February 22nd. The first stop is a small room containing costumes from The Vampires of Venice, the new Silurian garb and the Dalek Ironsides plus a screen playing stills from the fifth series. It gave me the feeling of watching some of the missing episodes with only a soundtrack and a set of telesnaps to go on. The main event was the interactive walkthrough which felt like an actual adventure from starry sky prologue to bombastic conclusion. You start by stepping through the crack in time into Starship UK and piloting a recreation of the Eleventh Doctor's TARDIS, the first of three ‘desktop themes’ here. The Doctor, who has become trapped in the Pandorica 2 and needs to be freed, guides your journey every step of the way via video link. Of course it has all the wisecracks and humour you expect from Steven Moffat and delivered well by Matt Smith. I won't spoil the various twists and turns except to say that even though kids will get the most out of it there’s a thrill for everyone here even if there are only six of you.
After that we have the main exhibition which takes care of fans from all eras with many classic series props including a range of each Doctor's costumes, although I had to question whether a couple of the earlier ones were genuine but, like the Yale key set out as the first TARDIS key and probably knocked up at a shop down the road, isn’t it worth it for completion's sake? There were also recreated classic Cybermen heads and the giant K1 robot that was the first monster to lock horns with Tom Baker's Time Lord. I have to say that my favourite was the Ninth and Tenth Doctor's TARDIS set, which I could have happily spent hours wandering around. It's not my favourite interior design from the blue box but it was such a fully explorable set that it really made you feel like you had broken into the Upper Boat studios in the dead of night to have a play around. The screen playing the Tenth Doctor's regeneration over and over in the background probably gets on the nerves of the staff though and, as enchanting as Murray Gold's music is, the same few pieces must get grating after a while. They had also advertised the wooden king and queen from The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe but they appeared to be absent when I went which was a shame. Perhaps they were in the pub round the corner knocking back a few pints of Cuprinol.
It was nice to see the 1980s TARDIS console again, still accompanied by those battered roundels which I first saw at an exhibition back in 2002. The coach my family had been travelling in stopped for an hour in Llangollen, Wales and I knew that there was an exhibition on nearby - and not just because of the fun Dalek roadsign. The only other exhibits I recall seeing are a 1970s Davros and a Yeti costume, and now that I'm a fan of the show I still think it a shame that I could not have enjoyed it with those eyes. A little internet research has revealed that this exhibition was also called The Doctor Who Experience and that in its time it was the largest display of Doctor Who props and costumes and the largest permanent sci-fi exhibition ever. It opened its doors in 1994 and closed in 2003. Back at the modern exhibition, the classic series was also represented by some clips from the 1980s and a documentary on composer Delia Derbyshire in an exhibit dedicated to sound and special effects.
As the older fans start tearing up at the sight of the Melkur, there’s still plenty for the kids to do as you can play around with sound design by remixing the space spitfire sequence from Victory of the Daleks, and a room full of funhouse mirrors in which a video teaches you how to walk like various monsters. A green screen photo experience also lets you place your mush in various scenes, most notably being imprisoned inside the Pandorica, which uses the actual prop chair from the fifth series finale. The result of my own photo session is shortly to be buried under Stonehenge too. It must also be odd for an actor to see their costume on display, but the range of current companions' clothing does remind you how iconic some things are becoming, like Martha's oxblood jacket and Rose's blue coat from the series 4 finale. Who knows, Rory may make bodywarmers cool again although he has stiff competition from icons of the garment like Marty McFly and Bobby Singer. One exhibit I have to question though is the recreation of the design team's office at BBC Wales. As a former art and design student, it intrigued me if only to remind me of the road not travelled and I'm sure that it will inspire some future careers. However it just seems a little too “look at us, aren't we awesome!” for my tastes. Finally we come to the little shop; well you have to have a little shop don't you? This one is a sea of dark blue from the packaging designs of the latest series, plus a lovely range of exclusive t-shirts.
Children will of course get the most out of it, but there’s enough here for fans of different ages and the show's various eras, whether you get your kicks from exploring the Tenth Doctor’s domain or getting misty eyed at a recreation head from a Tenth Planet-era Cyberman. Anyone not overly familiar with the show, who is only accompanying an excited sprog dressed in a bow tie, may feel as lost as I did in that dusty museum in Llangollen nearly ten years ago, but hopefully they will get a thrill from the walkthrough experience. After February 22nd the exhibition closes and moves from London to a new and permanent home in Cardiff and it’s a trip I would recommend taking at least once if you’re a fan. My adventure was not yet over however as I had yet to suffer the Invasion of the Teenage American Girls in Starbucks…