Monday, 8 December 2014

Back to Cardiff: Regenerated Doctor Who Experience Review and TARDIS Set Tour

After the disappointment of last month’s last-minute cancellation, the TARDIS set tour went to plan this weekend, as well as the opportunity to visit the newly-regenerated Doctor Who Experience.

Immediately when entering the reception area of the Experience in Cardiff Bay, it’s apparent that things are a bit different. A selection of Daleks, a Weeping Angel, Ice Warrior and TARDIS all make for a more impactful first impression, as well as great photo opportunities and things to look at while waiting to go in.

Gallifrey Guard costumes also flank the box office desk and there are four Galiffreyan Robes on mannequins in the waiting area. Yes, Gallifrey is the theme here, which is apparent when you enter the Gallifreyan Museum as your first port of call on the interactive experience. A robed curator welcomes you and leads you into the adventure... which I won’t spoil for you here. Story details you can discover yourself...

Top 5 observations about the regenerated Doctor Who Experience

1.    It’s more interactive – From the moment the curator welcomes you to Gallifrey and you hear the voice-over from a familiar companion, it’s clear that this isn’t a passive event. Children are immediately led on a quest, on the lookout for glowing crystals. We even have our own crystals on lanyards round our necks, glowing different colours as we move between environments.

2.    It’s more exciting – The TARDIS flight section feels more kinetic. The sense of tumbling through space is more exhilarating, helped by rumbling audio.

3.    It’s more scary – I jumped noticeably (and said a bad word) in the Weeping Angels section, which always seemed like a wasted opportunity in the previous version. The Dalek section was also very tense, with the guide helping to ramp up the tension. Some of the very young children didn't like it – parents need to take a call as to whether their young Timelords can handle it.

4.    The exhibition area feels better designed – While a lot of the content is the same as before, it’s presented in more photo-friendly displays. There’s less a sense of  items just being lined-up in rows and more that they are clustered in relevant collections (see Davros flanked by his Daleks below and the shiny Cybermen section). The exhibition with props from An Adventure in Space and Time was great too - the Menoptera are a hoot! 

5.    There's no main Peter Capaldi TARDIS – I can perfectly understand why the impressive Matt Smith TARDIS was re-used – it’s a great set, but unless you went on the TARDIS set tour (read on for more) the current console is missing, which is a shame. No doubt when it’s eventually 'retired' it will find a home in these hallowed halls.

The TARDIS Set Tour

Only available at certain times of the year when there’s no filming taking place, fans can enhance their Doctor Who experience by going in to Studio 4 of the BBC Roath Lock studios and walking onto the actual, current, working set. For a fan, it doesn't get better than this.

After meeting up in the Experience reception and being given a temporary lanyard, it’s a five-minute walk across into Studio 4 where you are confronted by a huge wooden structure supported by scaffolding, with trails of cables and wires snaking around it. Groups are separated into 6 or 7 members and in turn visit the main console...

1.    The magic begins when you see the iconic blue doors – they are surrounded by a green screen frame. Get your first photo opportunity here – you can take pictures/video of anything in this studio.  

2.    When the doors open you’ll go ‘wow’ – It might look smaller than you expected and the set is running on lower lighting than normal to be eco-friendly, but ‘Wow’, this is the real deal. This is a 360-degree realistic set with no sense of artifice or the ‘fourth wall’. From the blackboards, to where Clara plunges her hands into the console, this is all recognisable.

3.    Be quick – With lots of groups to get through you regrettably only get about ten minutes on the set itself, so make sure your camera is charged up and you’re clear about what you want to photograph or film. Try photos with or without flash to get the best results.

4.    It’s different to before – Even if you went on the same set last year before Capaldi took over, it’s worth doing again. The lighting is different, the bookcases and blackboards add a new charm and there is always something new to look at.  

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