Unfortunately not involving Malcolm Tucker on guitar with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. Playing The Wind Cries Missy, perhaps…
Rather, The Doctor Who Experience is an interactive tourist attraction and museum (many would separate those two concepts but, being a nerd, I don’t see them as mutually exclusive) in Cardiff Bay.
Approaching it, the hanger-like building is shaped like something the architects pulled out of the bin with a deadline looming. Not unlike the Heart of Gold from Hitchhiker’s Guide; a running shoe for clubfeet.
With a quarter of an hour or so to kill before the timed entrance on our pre-booked tickets we walk straight into the café. And straight out again. If I want coffee in a sauna I’d, well, have coffee in a sauna. So we head around the corner to the ‘World of Boats’ where we have lattes made with UHT milk. Better view, worse drinks. You choose; only after millennia of evolution can we cope with such first-world dilemmas.
One positive of the Experience is that only thirty-five may enter every quarter hour. This is the size of each party that goes through the ‘Experience’. Which means that you’re never craning over somebody’s shoulder in the museum.
They ask everybody not to say anything about the interactive bit, so I won’t. But suffice to say that it’s all a bit cheesy, but bearable if you act like a twelve year old, shaky-shaky, flashy-flashy and pointy-pointy through 3D glasses, all delivered with enthusiasm set to medium.
I don’t think I’ve broken any embargos there.
Once you’re experienced, you get spat out into the museum bit. About which I can say more. For example, I can tell you that you can dwell, and take photos.
The museum begins, unsurprisingly, in 1963 with newspaper headlines announcing the Kennedy assassination and a display on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This includes a Stuart Maconie’s documentary about queen of all things that sound like the Aphex Twin before the Aphex Twin was a gleam in Mr Aphex Snr’s eye, Delia Derbyshire.
We would have lingered to watch the whole documentary but for two things: firstly, it wasn’t really set up for watching in its entirety, no seats to encourage you to linger awhile (it’s only ten minutes, but we didn’t realize this at the time); secondly, we expected there’d be more of the same, more interviews on the making-of and other diversions. But from there on in the museum becomes little more than a collection of sets, props and costumes.
On the lower level there are a couple of Tardis (is that the plural?), a K9, and a green screen where you can be exploited for cash. On the upper level, mainly costumes, mainly from the modern era, but also a smattering from the old. An interactive learn-to-walk-like-a-monster thing that occupied the kids for five minutes. But no clips. With half a century of archive you’d think we’d get to see some old footage. But no. I suspect it’s a question of rights (did I see a BBC logo anywhere other than in old photos? Whose museum is this?). Which may also explain why Peter Cushing has been airbrushed completely out of this version of Whovian history.
But here’s the thing, somewhere on the stairs between levels, between Bessie at the bottom and Cybermen suits above, a conceit kicks in. And this conceit is that Doctor Who is real. The signage is all about when and where the Doctor encountered this foe or that, as if this were some offshoot of the Imperial War Museum. There are a number of Daleks with explanation of when and where they fit into the story, but no acknowledgement that one arm ends in a sink plunger.
Unlike, say, the Harry Potter-themed Warner Brothers Studio Tour, which knows that the whole thing is a fiction and balances the making-of with the magic (pun intended) of the story. With Doctor Who, unless you’re twelve or into cos-play, the insistence that we suspend our disbelief for a museum as we would for a tale gets to be ever so slightly very embarrassingly silly.
It also means that, if they don’t have a prop or costume (which, to be fair, are credited with having been worn by actors and actresses), there’s very little acknowledgement of, say, the Doctor’s assistants. Yes, there’s a police-procedural-type board with photos, but I would have liked to see a complete list of characters and actors and the years they appeared. More of an adult overview and less an adolescent showing off his collection.
And then it’s all over very quickly and you’re exiting through the giftshop, as is traditional.
One last nugget, and that is that the translation into Welsh of ‘Half-Faced Man’s balloon’ is covered in one word. When I see this I feel a wave of paranoia advance. What does this say about the ancient Welsh language, their culture, their shared history? Is a half-faced man nothing out of the ordinary in the valleys? But I soon realise that it was only the word ‘balloon’ that they had translated. As if summing up the overall approach of only dealing with half the issue, the easy half, the playful, pretend half. The half that raises the fewest tricky issues…