Doctor Who Experience Review
I’m always a big believer in there being magic and energy in places, like really old castles or stonehenge or avebury circle. I’m a huge believer that through going somewhere like that you can have a magical experience, or at least an inspirational one. Now usually, these places are old, ancient places, where the normal world seems so very, very far away. However, on the second floor of Kensington Olympia, in busy and bustling west London, in an exhibit that opened only a few weeks ago, there is a real and definate kind of magic – every bit as real and important as seeing strange lights over the dome of the rock in Jerusalem, or feeling ancient forces at work on glastonbury Tor. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m speaking of the Doctor Who Experience.
I’m serious. Magical is the word. Or as the Doctor would say – a different kind of science. I won’t be too spoiler-ish here, but I’ll give you a few teasers. First, price. It’s £20 on the door, £18 in advance for weekends and £15 in advance for weekdays. Oh, and with that £15 there’s a booking fee, so it all gets bumped up. You’re basically having to part with £20. Is it worth it? Oh yes. Now don’t get all funny and start saying that £20’s a lot of money just to see a bunch of props etc etc etc. It’s worth it. And today £20 isn’t that much. It’s a trip to the cinema, or probably a weeks worth of little visits to starbucks or costa. That’s it, cut out costa for a week, you can go – sorted. Now we went hoping to not get lumped with a load of kids. On the website it says that the “shows” run at half hour intervals. This is a lie – when we went they were running every ten minutes. There were hoardes of schoolkids, but thankfully the nice people who worked there arranged it so that us adults who were also there got to go in separately from the kids – cue relieved faces all round! One woman in her 30s came over and started gushing to us how happy she was we weren’t having to go in with the kids – and I have to admit I felt very much the said. A countdown comes up on screen and then that’s it – it’s your turn to go in!
I’m told the experience part is designed to take up to 60 folks at a time. Whilst this is probably true, I can’t imagine it being nearly as good as when we went round. There were about ten of us (five couples,) and that was perfect. After an intro bit you’re whisked through into the adventure, and the various spaces and rooms you’re led through are all exceptionally well designed, and I really got into it. Like I said, it was good there were only ten of us, and that probably helped, a lot, because you didn’t feel like you were on a cramped ride – you really felt like you were on a sudden and unexpected adventure with a little group of strangers, just like the kinds of adventures the Doctor frequently finds himself on (eg Midnight and Planet of the Dead to name but a few.) The highlight of course is the flight in the TARDIS. You can’t actually touch the console, but to be honest when you go through those blue doors and find yourself in that huge metallic space, all shiney and exciting looking, you don’t care. You believe it. And when it takes off and the console starts fizzing and smoking, and the floor starts moving (yes, the floor moves!) then you’re truly in who heaven. Had a genuine, genuine grin on my face standing there wobbling about, hearing that oh-so familiar engine noise. Wonderful. Make the most of that bit though, as it doesn’t last long. Later on, the Doctor (yes, should have mentioned, the whole point of the adventure is to rescue the Doctor from the Pandorica II – how original – and he communicates with you the whole way through,) says something about going back to the TARDIS, but as far as I could tell we didn’t, so you do only get one flight. There’s an encounter with the Daleks that was just as breathtaking and exciting as the TARDIS ride for me, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like Daleks that much. Yes I think the Dalek bit is when you really feel like you’re on a proper action packed adventure, and my disbelief was well and truly suspended the whole time. Then there’s a weeping angels encounter which perhaps could have been better or could have been made more of, although I suspect the producers were acutely aware of the fact that these things really do scare the pants off of kids, so it shouldn’t be too OTT. Then there’s a 3D goggles bit, the finale, where all manner of strange, strange creatures come flying out the screen at you – weeping angels included. Infact, forget what I said about them being sensitive to kids – the 3D with the angels made me jump plenty, so I’m sure it will properly terrify little ones. The whole thing is beautifully accompanied by Murray Golds familiar score (again, in the Dalek bit the addition of the music really makes it come alive,) and by the time you step out the other side you really do feel that you’ve been on a proper adventure with the Doctor. Absolutely amazing, really and truly.
Then there’s the exhibition itself. Fans of the classic series will have plenty to wet themselves over here, with all eleven outfits on display and props and monsters from right across the whole fifty odd years. There’s the evolution of the Dalek, the cyberman and the sontaran, which was very interesting, not t0 mention other classic monsters like zygons, ice warriors and K1. There’s the 80s TARDIS set (inc. Tom Bakers scarf,) although you can’t get that close to it at all, and the 80s TARDIS exterior. Of course, if you look at it on balance, there is a lot more new series stuff on display. There’s the costume of every companion from series 1 – 5, with the exception of Wilf and Adam, although I’m not sure if they count having been in only a few eps. There’s timelord and master outfits, K9 and Sarah Jane – the lot. The highlight for me was the recreation of the 9th/10th Doctors TARDIS set. It’s the proper thing, properly re-created. Like the TARDIS in the experience, you can’t touch the controls, but you can get very close. Let’s put it this way – you can walk on the grating around the console, and to be honest feeling that under your feet was, as my friend put it – “like an orgasm for your toes.” It was exciting, dare I say even a little emotional for a huge ten fan like me – it didn’t help that his regeneration (“I don’t want to go!”) was being played on a loop in the background. We kept going back to that bit, must have annoyed everyone else because we were taking that many photos, but it was worth it. Could have stayed there leaning on the railings and bouncing about on the grating all day.
There’s interactive bits too – learn how to walk like a cyberman and remix the theme tune, and enter the rear end of a Dalek and twiddle his whisk and plunger – all thrilling good fun. If you’re an adult who’s worried about looking a knob in front of billions of schoolkids then just let it all go and don’t care. You’ll never see anyone ther again, why not enjoy yourself whilst there? Ooh and green screen photos – £12 a pop or two for £15. It’s only really worth it if you get two. And don’t be afraid to ask for re-shoots if you’re not happy, the guy there was very accomodating and knew that it was a lot of money to pay for something you might not be happy with.
Finally, the little shop. I love a little shop I do! And this one was great. DVDs, books, toys, stationary, masks, cardboard cut outs, t-shirts………….anything you could want really. Prices weren’t cheap, but to be honest I was quite happy parting with £9.99 for a cardboard cut out of a weeping angel. The only thing I really saw a rip off was the official guidebook for the exhibition. £10! No way!