Doctor Who Experience – Review

It’s time for a new kind of Doctor Who exhibition, where you can take part in the adventure (if you can find the nine-year old inside you)

There’s something I don’t understand. I had a Dalek plunger thrust in my face twice yesterday – once for real, and once as part of a 3D voyage through the time vortex – and the “virtual” plunger was by the far the freakier experience of the two. I would say scarier, but at my age, in my job, admitting to being scared by Daleks isn’t something to go public with. But staring into that 3D plunder was certainly, well, intimidating. Let’s just say that for the first time since I was a kid I could recall exactly why the ranting pepperpots seemed so scary.

Both the above plunger incidents took place at the new Doctor Who Experience which officially opens at Olympia 2 on Sunday. It’s a Doctor Who exhibition the like of which we’ve never seen before – bigger, shinier, more interactive – but at £20 a pop for adults it needs to be something special.

The big crowdpleaser, and reason to part with your money, will clearly be the walkthrough, a kind of mini-Doctor Who adventure with filmed snippets of Matt Smith ingeniously inserted along the way. From beginning to end it takes about 20 minutes, including a visit to a space museum, a daring step through the Crack (which opens up in front of you) a Dalek war, a flight in the TARDIS (with a moving floor bouncing you up and down – though not quite as violently as in the show), the previously mentioned 3D flight through the vortex and a few Stone Angels lurking in the shadows.

It’s unashamedly aimed at the kids (the Eleventh Doctor urges grown ups to let the kids take the controls of the TARDIS) but if you can go with the flow it’s a good laugh. And because it uses props from the actual series, even the most “grown-up” fans can treat it like an animated museum if pretending to fight Daleks is all a little too silly.

The “live” visual effects, lighting and sound design are all impressive and atmospheric, especially the “trick” used to make the TARDIS materialise (part misdirection, part screens and lighting). However (at least on my visit) the lights could have been turned down a little further during the 3D section for greater impact (here’s where one of the organisers grumbles about health and safety) and the whole thing does feel just a tad too short – it needs one more element or location, or final twist. Definitely worth checking out, though.

Then it’s out into the display area, which oddly looks smaller on the inside than it does on the outside. This is mainly because a huge section of it is dominated by the Ninth/Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS set, which is vast (and which you can partially walk onto). You could fit the ’80s TARDIS set (which is huddled in the opposite corner) into its newer counterpart about 20 times.

But the remaining (limited) space is well used, with loads of renovated classic series monsters and costumes, monsters and props from the new show. And you can get surprisingly near all them for photo purposes. Let’s hope the polite “No Touching” signs do their job and they remain in such amazing condition.

There are also some fun interactive elements, including a “Learn how to walk like a monster” video workshop (with more than enough room to practice) and various sound effects and musical buttons to press and levers to pull. A special green screen photo area lets punters have their picture taken inside the Pandorica, among other things.  There’s also a half-Dalek which kids can operate (yes, this was the other moment when I had a plunger thrust in my face). But again, it seems slightly smaller than you might expect. You’re in the café (which sadly doesn’t have a themed menu) before you realise it.

Maybe we’re just being spoiled. After all, it’s a quantum leap over previous Who exhibitions (and in a different reality altogether to the broom cupboard at Longleat). What’s there is great, no argument – the monsters have never looked more impressive up close, and the displays have been intelligently and appealing arranged – but you just can’t help wishing it was an experience that could have lasted a little bit longer.