I’ve loved Doctor Who since I was a child. I was gripped by the stories, terrified by the Daleks (while at the same time enjoying every moment of being terrified!) and couldn’t wait to tune in to the following week’s edition.
As I was growing up you had one story spread over several parts and it seemed an age before I was to find out if Tom Baker, “my Doctor”, was going to pull the leads apart that would lead to the destruction of the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks.
Since the series returned, with usually one story per week, sometimes a two-parter, I have been as gripped by the stories as I was when I was a child. The Daleks are still frightening and the special effects are amazing. Having said that all credit must go to those in the 1960s and 70s who did not have modern special effects, computer animation and so on to produce their work.
The return of the series has also given my family the chance to revisit old eras of the show. These include those episodes my husband and I grew up with and have happy memories of and those, such as the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras, which we were too young to enjoy when they were first broadcast in the mid to late 1960s. (Those who know us, please don’t scoff – we were too young to enjoy those shows at that point – okay not by much I admit).
As a fantasy writer, one of my most common themes, as it is in the genre as a whole, is that of good versus evil, a timeless classic, and an inspiration to so many stories and in other genres too. This is the basic underlying theme of Doctor Who, which is probably why I love the show.
You know somehow justice will be done, monsters will be defeated (or turn out not to be quite the monsters you expected and become allies). That can’t always be said for real life. These stories can be marvellous escapism from the reality good does not always overcome evil, sadly, as the average nightly news bulletin reveals only too well.
The Doctor Who Experience, based in Cardiff Bay, gives the fans a chance to look behind the scenes and at the exhibits which come from the show and makes for a great day out. Though in Wales, it is surprisingly easy to get to from Romsey station (which, in turn, is straight up the line from our own station). I’ll give more details on travelling from here at the end of the post.
Why visit the Doctor Who Experience?
Visiting the Doctor Who Experience makes for a fantastic day out for the Doctor Who fan(s) in your life.The Doctor Who Experience was updated to include artefacts from the most recent series involving the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, including the 2014 Christmas Special which also starred Nick Frost from Hot Fuzz.
The Doctor Who Experience is unique amongst my travels in that it will be the only place where I was confronted by a Dalek on the walls of the Ladies! Not an everyday experience and it gave me a start on first seeing them there.
By the end of our visit, I was blase about the whole thing – as if seeing Daleks in the Ladies was a normal occurrence. Well it is in Cardiff Bay! My son assured me there was something similar in the Gents so there is no gender discrimination either!
The experience itself contains two elements: the Adventure and the Exhibition.
I can’t talk much about the Adventure as it would give far too much away for Doctor Who fans who have not yet visited Cardiff but I will say my son and I thought it was incredibly well done. The special effects are very good. There’s no danger of missing the Adventure as it is the first thing you go to after getting tickets (though these can be purchased in advance online and you do get a small discount this way), unless you are busy being startled by the Daleks in the loos first!
Once you have experienced your own Adventure, you then go through to the Exhibition. The photos from the Exhibition were taken by me. I’ve used only a few to give a general idea of what to expect.
It is made clear you can take as many photos as you like in the Exhibition side (none at all in the Adventure section, again to prevent spoiling this for others). I have deliberately not included all I took. It is far better to give you a taster so you will want to visit!
(I’m not on commission incidentally – whether I should be is a different matter!).
The Doctor Who Experience: the Exhibition
The range of exhibits is very good. There were displays showing the development of the Cybermen, desks showing where Delia Derbyshire, creator of the iconic Doctor Who theme along with the Radiophonic Workshop, would have worked and original BBC memos.
With the latter there was also a TV documentary playing which went into more detail about Delia Derbyshire’s creation, presented by Mark Radcliffe. This was on mainstream TV a while ago and is well worth a look.
Delia and the Radiophonic Workshop (the latter also renowned for their work with The Goon Show) were the first creators of electronic music in this country (as we understand the term now).There was no description for the work Delia and the Radiophonic Workshop were producing in the early 1960s so they were well ahead of their time.
It is also a testament to their work the theme tune has never changed. It has been adapted, usually with the introduction of a new Doctor, but the tune is still Delia’s. It is probably one of the most famous TV themes ever, especially in the UK.
Then there are the sets of the Tardis shown from internal and external perspectives. How many of you remember Bessie, Jon Pertwee’s favoured means of transport other than the Tardis itself?
I was also struck with the display showing the Doctor’s costumes. The picture below shows Peter Capaldi’s outfit.
I did take pictures of the most famous outfits of the other Doctors but have deliberately not included them all here. They are grouped in threes and I was pleased to see they included John Hurt’s Doctor costume and that of Paul McGann too.
The latter starred in the 1996 TV Movie which had mixed reviews but my family liked it and have re-watched it many times.
Paul McGann’s main involvement now with the Doctor stories is via audio, some of which have been broadcast on Radio 4 Extra, where his assistant is usually Sheridan Smith. The audio adventures work very well.
And then there are the sonic screwdrivers… there have been many of those.
The Cybermen, the most famous (or should that be infamous?) of the Doctor’s other enemies, have their own display.
I also had fun looking at the wall displays with pictures from all eras of the Doctor dotted around the Exhibition. Those who watched the most recent series will recognize the blackboards with the messages to Clara.
The Clockwork Man display is taken from the most recent Doctor Who series.
Matt Smith and Vincent Van Gogh
It was also nice to see a mini separate section dedicated to Matt Smith’s Doctor, given his recent departure from the role. My favourite episodes from his era were Vincent (which is a sympathetic portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh) and A Town Called Mercy (which is a gunslinger type story. I’ve always had a soft spot for these).
This clip is from Vincent and the Doctor where Vincent visits the gallery where his paintings are shown and admired
Vincent encouraged my family to look into the art of Van Gogh as a result of watching this story. We don’t know whether it’s an age thing but we could suddenly see why Van Gogh is such a wonderful artist. All those colours, the pictures “live” and you could see this was the way the artist saw things. I highly recommend the song Vincent by Don McLean as well. It is the perfect tribute to a troubled artist.
Vincent (Starry Starry Night) by Don McLean
You can go around the Exhibition and take as long as you wish here (but you only go through the Adventure once). As with many other tourist attractions, once you go out a certain way you can’t return again and, naturally, you will find yourself in the gift shop. Be warned! It is easy to spend a fortune here.
Having said that, we found the gift shop offered many DVDs from the older Who eras so we could top up our collection nicely. There were collector magazines, the usual mugs, pencils and so on. The dedicated fan will find something they like. There were audio Doctor Who stories and some of the older novels, brought back into print, available as well. There was also Doctor Who clothing available – mainly sweatshirts and tee-shirts.
Whenever I’m out and about, especially on a long day trip such as this, the other thing I look for in a tourist attraction is its facilities.
Is its cafe reasonably well priced and does it carry a nice range of things to eat and drink? Are its loos kept cleaned and well ventilated? I’m glad to say a definite yes applies to these.
By the time you’ve experienced your own Adventure and gone around the Exhibition, you are glad of sustenance. As we were out all day, we had lunch before going into the Adventure and Exhibition, plumping for the jacket potatoes with cheese and salad. These were lovely (and a good size).
After our tour around we went back to the cafe for a much needed cup of tea and slice of cake, which also went down well. Prices were not bad for a tourist attraction and were in line with what I expected.
What did I get out of visiting the Doctor Who Experience?
It was a wonderful chance to immerse myself in the Doctor Who world. It was great seeing older Tardis sets as I remember seeing these on first broadcast and the range of exhibits is stunning.
My son and I visited the earlier version of the Experience a couple of years ago and that was good but they have developed and expanded this and it is much better. I enjoyed peering at some of the original BBC Memos to Delia Derbyshire in particular as I enjoy seeing details like that.
It was wonderful being able to recognize which shows/Doctor the exhibits came from. For the dedicated Who fan, there is nothing to dislike.
How to get to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff from Chandler’s Ford?
Wales is surprisingly easy to reach by rail from Chandler’s Ford and Romsey and at a rough journey time of 2 hours 45 minutes is far better than anything that could be achieved by road.
My son and I set out fairly early to make the most of the day, catching the 7.55 a.m. Chandlers Ford to Romsey service and then picking up the First Great Western train to Cardiff from there at 8.21 a.m.
There were one or two relatively minor delays on the journey but we were in Cardiff for about 10.50 a.m.
This First Great Western service calls at Salisbury, Bath and Bristol on its way up to Cardiff and in the height of the tourist season this train can get packed so I have found it pays to go early (perhaps another time we might even go an hour previously).
We caught the 5.30 p.m. train back from Cardiff, stopped at Romsey at about 7.55 p.m, and then used the local shuttle to get back to Chandler’s Ford for 8.14 p.m.
Word of warning! There is the Baycar 6 bus which runs from Cardiff Central directly to the Doctor Who Experience and this runs roughly every 10 to 15 minutes. This was excellent but it is not well signposted from the station.
- Do not go to the bus depot which is front of the railway station (Central Square).
- You need to go to the back of the station and its car park to find the bus stops here (Penarth Road).
I do feel this could be much better signposted. Having said that the bus service is useful, gives you a tour around Cardiff Bay before getting to your destination and passes the BBC Studios.
Doctor Who and You
My son and I loved our visit here and hope that any of you deciding to visit will also enjoy it. Now over to you:
- Who is “your Doctor” – past or present?
- What is your favourite episode?
- Who is your favourite villain?
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 17th April 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
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