Doctor Who exhibitions are nothing new. The first one was set up in 1973 at Longleat in Wiltshire, and for most of the past 40 years there's been a display somewhere of props, sets and monsters from the show, delighting children and making adults feel like kids again. All marvelous, of course, but here's something new: never before in Doctor Who's 50-year history has it been possible for fans to visit not only a brilliant exhibition, but also to step through the actual doors of the "real" TARDIS - as seen on TV!
BBC Worldwide have now revealed the masterplan they had in mind when the Doctor Who Experience was set up in Cardiff Bay last year, next to the BBC Roath Lock Studios where the show is filmed. From the big blue DWE building, it's just a leisurely 5 minute stroll to the security gate that allows backstage access to the studio complex. Accompanied by a BBC guide, tour groups will be able to pass through the gate and find themselves in Studio 4, home of the TARDIS.
As always with the TARDIS, there are monsters outside. Currently, the set is guarded by a bronze Dalek and Weeping Angel. Incongruously, there's a seating area of comfy chairs borrowed from various BBC living room sets, where visitors can wait their turn to enter the TARDIS. There's also a TV showing (what else?) Doctor Who. Guests enter the TARDIS in small groups, not because the set is small (it's huge!) but because keeping the set uncrowded offers the best viewing and photo experience.
The moment when the BBC guide opens those blue doors has to be one of the biggest thrills a Who fan could ever have.
And then you're there: on the high platform next to the central console, with the time rotor and domed ceiling high above you, and the floor way below in shadow. As we know from TV, this is a 360-degree set - there's no "missing" wall where the camera peeks in. You're completely in the TARDIS. Lights flash, screens flicker their timey-wimey patterns. The clever boys and girls of the BBC crew can even play the dematerialisation sound effects over hidden speakers, as they did when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited recently. Fantastic!
Honestly, I wasn't sure about this new TARDIS when I saw it on TV. Too grey, I thought, and that side console looks more Star Wars than Doctor Who... But, standing on the set, I love it. It's kept many of the best elements of the "coral" and "steampunk" TARDISes, and has loads of nods to the "classic" era too. Most importantly, it's the TARDIS. Like the Doctor is the Doctor. And anyway, if you prefer one of the other sets, they're all next door in the Doctor Who Experience.
The BBC's current plan is to keep Roath Lock Studio 4 open to DWE visitors through Aug 25. The studio tours will be available as another add-on to the regular DWE package, like the recently-introduced walking tour of Doctor Who locations in Cardiff Bay. The Doctor Who Experience really is the ultimate day out for fans in the show's anniversary year. Come to Cardiff Bay for your adventure in space and time!
Thanks to BBC Worldwide