Sunday, 22 May 2011

My Doctor Who Experience

Do not read on if you don't like spoilers! 

Doctor Who has been on our screens since 1963 and the Doctor Who Experience proudly marks how successful the show has been. The closest many of us will come to the Doctor and his TARDIS is by watching the television show. That was until now. The Doctor Who Experience is a place where all fans of Doctor Who can enjoy the thrill of the show and even help the Doctor escape from the bad guys once more. Steven Moffat, writer and Executive Producer of the show says, The Doctor Who Experience is a fan’s dream come true - a fully interactive adventure that will allow viewers of the show to get as close as possible to some of the scariest monsters from the series. And I was one of first people fortunate enough to go to its opening week.

The Doctor Who Experience was two years in the making with exhibits including monsters ranging from the Absorbalof to the Zygon; costumes of every Doctor and each recent companion; and sets from the whole 50 years of the show and most amazingly the authentic interiors of the TARDIS. However, its main attraction is the 20 minute interactive walk-through with the Doctor guiding you through a whole new Doctor Who adventure; with you as his trusted companion.

But before you read on, remember Sweeties: Spoilers!

Upon arriving at London’s Olympia Two, where the Experience is being held, you are greeted and directed to an elevator. Now, this was all very exciting for me especially as I did not know what to expect; I had been purposefully avoiding any reviews as I did not want it to spoil any of the surprises.  The elevator doors open and the sound of the iconic Doctor Who theme tune surrounds you; instantly you know it is going to be good. After your ticket has been checked you then have your photo taken in front of the time vortex, but do not worry you won’t get sucked in!

Inside the first section of the exhibit are a few costumes and sets from the latest series with Matt Smith, with focus on the Vampires of Venice and Vincent and the Doctor episodes. Again the Doctor Who music plays loudly in the background; it is timed well with a countdown to the next walk-through experience. While queuing up I felt just as excited as any of the little children around me, although I was disappointed that I did not dress up like they had. Around the Experience there were many mini Doctors; all with bowties and sonic screwdrivers, and some even with fezzes! I want to wear a fez now, fezzes are cool!

Once the countdown reaches zero the doors open and you are sent into a small room with a screen and some benches. I have to admit that I was a tiny bit upset; I thought it would be more than this, and I did not even get a place on the benches, which were taken up by all the young children. But still I got goose bumps as the Doctor Who theme played again and the Doctor appeared on the screen in a trailer of the most epic scenes from the first series. You can imagine my surprise and thrill when the screen then cracked in two – much like the crack in Amy’s wall – and parted revealing a huge set of a futuristic museum. For a moment I thought this room was a work of 3D but there was an actual room behind the screen; it was like real science fiction!

Here another video was playing on big screen and a Node (an information drone from the Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead episodes) with a very realistic face starts talking about the artefacts in the museum; items from previous episodes. These artefacts include the giant telescope from Tooth and Claw, Van Gogh’s painting of the TARDIS exploding from The Pandorica Opens, and one of The Beast Below’s creepy Smilers. The use of projection of the Node’s face is very clever and just shows how much effort people have gone through for the Experience. However, the video is interrupted and suddenly the Doctor is on the screen! He has been locked in the Pandorica once more and he needs help; he had been looking for Amy Pond he says but decides that ‘shoppers’, as he calls us, will have to do. He then uses his sonic screwdriver to make the TARDIS appear; and its appearance is truly amazing. A wall disappears and out of the smoke the TARDIS materialises. It’s accomplishments like this that show how much effort and technology has been used in the making of this experience. Creative Director, Simon Clarke, spent three months creating these breath-taking scenes; ‘”Our goal was to achieve a seamless integration of the animated elements with the set design, painted backdrops and the glass screens that would house our graphics and VFX sequences, we wanted to create, in the same way an illusionist would, an indistinguishable line between what's reality and make believe.”’

The TARDIS doors swing open and it is definitely bigger on the inside! Everyone hurries inside - I’m practically running - and we are all delighted as we gather around the TARDIS console. It looks exactly like it does in the show, except this one has rails around it with a range of control sticks on them. The Doctor appears yet again on another screen and says we have to drive the TARDIS using the control sticks. He says that the younger you are the better, as adults aren’t very fun. There were no children near the control stick I was closest to so I did instead. This experience really brings out the nine-year-old in you whether you are nineteen or ninety. The Doctor tells each person when to pull their control stick and the floor rises and falls like we’re really moving; I couldn’t believe it, I was actually flying the TARDIS!

After we land the Doctor says we are in enemy territory and that we need to take the back door despite there not really being one, but you never know what you could find inside the TARDIS. You walk down a corridor, something that hasn’t been seen in the TARDIS for many, many years until The Doctor’s Wife, wondering what’s going on, when you hear the scariest thing possible in the Doctor Who universe: EXTERMINATE! At this point my heart’s beating with trepidation and I am little bit scared, though I know I’m old enough not to be. But I can hear all the little children give yelps of fright; I don’t think there has been a generation since the beginning of Doctor Who that isn’t scared of the Daleks.  Terrifyingly, we have ended up in the cockpit of the Dalek’s spaceship and the Supreme Dalek declares that you must be EXTERMINATED! A Dalek chorus begins: EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! But before they can they become distracted as another Dalek ship attacks as part of a civil war. Once the Daleks are distracted by gunfire the Doctor comes on the screen and tells you to run. Word of advice: if you’re not up for running do not become the Doctor’s companion.

This time you’re in a spooky graveyard and I can’t help but think of the Weeping Angels from Blink, The Time of Angels, and Flesh and Stone. This eerie graveyard is the perfect hiding place for them. I keep my eyes open the whole time, never daring to blink just in case the Angels take advantage and send me back to the past; letting me live to death.

Luckily, you make it out unscratched and there are people handing out 3D glasses, which does somewhat ruin the spooky atmosphere. Again we’re in a room with a large screen, and as I put my 3D glasses on I’m eager about what I’m going to see. The Doctor has managed to escape and is now safely in his TARDIS but the Pandorica explodes and all the evil creatures are out in the vortex, which is on the big 3D screen. First the Cybermen, fatal and precise, fly out at you, shooting lasers, more horrifying than ever in 3D.  Then the Daleks back again, ready to EXTERMINATE for the last time; it is impossible not to move out of the way of their deadly plungers despite knowing it is only 3D. Then lastly, but the most terrifying, the Weeping Angels leap out at you. You strain to keep your eyes open, but it doesn’t matter, the lights start to flash on and off. With every flash they get closer and closer until they’re about to grab you; this time I’m not the only one ducking and diving, I can hear the girl next to me letting out startled screams and the children whimpering.  Fortunately, the Doctor presses buttons, pulls leavers, twists knob, and uses his sonic screwdriver to finish the whole thing off and the Cybermen, Daleks, and Weeping Angels are all sucked back into the vortex once more. You can breathe a sigh of relief; the Doctor has saved the day yet again.

In an interview Simon Clarke said that this was the best bit of the Experience; ‘"This was an opportunity for us to have fun and an example was when we maximised the 3D effect for the 'Vortex sequence' in the Pandorica chamber. Of course, the ultimate test of our work is to see and hear the reaction from the audience as the images appear to pop out of the screen and grab you."’ And believe me; I think this was very effective!

That’s the end of the walk-through, but the Doctor Who Experience is by no means finished. Once you leave the room there is an opportunity to have a photo taken with Matt Smith’s Doctor; it’s only a picture on the wall but people were still queuing for it, and I was one of them. From here on there are rooms filled with extraordinary Doctor Who things; anything you could wish to see, touch, learn, wear, hear, do, and know about Doctor Who is under this one roof. Olympia Two is surely like the TARDIS; much bigger on the inside and filled with wondrous stuff!

One of the best things to do is to have your photo taken using a green screen. This means that you can have your photo taken with a range of backgrounds. I had mine taken with the TARDIS, but there are other possibilities to have it inside the TARDIS, or even being trapped inside the Pandorica. While these photos may be expensive at £12 a photo, they are well worth buying; how many times will you be flying in the TARDIS?

Another great opportunity is learning how to walk like a monster. This is exactly what it sounds like and a great amount of fun; even as an adult I couldn’t resist learning how to walk like a Scarecrow, a Cyberman, or a Clockwork Person. This was brilliant fun; I didn’t even feel embarrassed when people stood around to watch, they even applauded us at the end!

The Doctor Who Experience is always adding new and relevant things to its exhibition, keeping it up to date. Only this makes me want to go back again and again! Since the opening date they have added the Vashta Nerada, who live in shadows; the Sycorax, the aliens who attacked on Christmas Day in David Tennant’s first episode; and the Silence… Sorry, what was I saying? I’ve forgotten.
After all these exciting things there is even a little shop; the Doctor would love it! This shop sells everything Doctor Who, from the old series and the new. It also sells things exclusive to the Doctor Who Experience, so buy it while you’re there or you’ll regret it later!

Overall, I would say if you were a fan of Doctor Who you should visit this exhibition; no matter what age you are, this will transform you into an excited child. And if you’re not a fan you should visit it anyway; I guarantee you’ll be a fan by the end. And a little tip: definitely dress up!

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