Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

***Contains spoilers***

Part 1 of 6: Closing Time

In 1983 the BBC ran a huge Doctor Who convention in Longleat to celebrate the show's 20th season.

In 2011 the BBC ran another exhibition in London to celebrate its, um, 31st:

It was so popular that a year later it's still open, and is now being permanently relocated to Cardiff. A BBC spokesman said "Don't read too much into the fact that we're sending it out on tour to the regions on the back of a truck - it's not to drum up support, it's just standard policy for all programmes."

For years now, many family-friendly museums have boasted some sort of audio-visual tour that you can go on. They typically feature video clips, talking statues, pre-recorded audio, timed lighting displays and so on. Sometimes they sit you in a miniature railway car which escorts you past lavishly detailed sets that contain costumed dummies robotically moving to a dialogue track. They often contain a celebrity tour guide who has pre-recorded umpteen pieces of video narration to talk you through with.

The Doctor Who Experience boasts a similar presentation at the start, with the tiny additional spark of running a Doctor Who storyline through it. A bit like the Alien War attraction at Leicester Square in the 1990s, only without any actors.

So, yes, this was another of those twilight Doctor Who minisodes of questionable canonicity. There's just no way to watch this story except by going to the exhibition to personally to be in it!

Well, unlike Mickey in Rise Of The Cybermen, even I didn't much fancy a walk all the way to Wales.

So it was now or never.

Part 2 of 6: The Visitation

So one day recently I caught the train to London before it closed. Although it was my official birthday, I wasn't really expecting to get in that day though. Probably just to buy my ticket for a few days' hence.

This seemed like an even better idea when I arrived in the drizzling rain and beheld the queue outside of thousands. This seems familiar…

I told the marshall out front that I hadn't bought my ticket yet. She told me to join the queue to go in anyway. This was completely cool with me, because as I stood there, I was recalling how jammily I had shown up ticketless to the convention in 1983 and got in. Though I don't buy into karma, I did feel perfectly happy to at last be paying something back to fandom for that day.

Ten minutes later another marshall came along separating the queue into two lines, depending upon which entry-time people had booked. I said that I had no ticket. He apologised that they were sold out today. I said that the marshall at the front had told me to join this queue to go in and buy my ticket. He said I should go back and talk to her again. I said sure, no problem, and asked his name.

Back at the front, I quoted his name, the first marshall took her turn to apologise, and told me to go straight in and up to the sales desk to buy my ticket.

And so it was that, mere minutes after my arrival, I walked straight past thousands of rained-on people who had pre-booked, got in the lift, and then joined a much shorter, warmer and altogether drier queue upstairs just outside the exhibition's entrance proper.

Maybe ten minutes after that I reached the desk. Cash in hand, I was about to open "I understand that it's sold out today…", but caught myself and instead led with "Are there any tickets left for today?"

These may not have been her exact words, but she looked past me at the short queue of people going in and replied something like "Well, since you're paying with cash, you may as well just go in with this lot."

I thought I was due 50p change, but there was no way I was going to delay by asking for it. Within further minutes I was walking through the entrance, which had been designed to look like the swirly Doctor Who credits, complete with music.

I felt as though I had been flashing hynoptic paper at everyone. Well, maybe that's a metaphor for cash.

Inside however, there was yet a fourth further queue, albeit past a few props and displays. This was one of those long snaking ones that makes the most efficient use of a large room. And it was here that I really did queue, would you believe to get to the final real entrance!

True to the reputation of BBC scheduling, this Saturday afternoon the episode didn't go out at the time billed. At one point they told us we'd be going in in 30 seconds. Then they told us that they were "just in the middle of fixing a technical glitch". Then someone else showed up to tell us that once the walk-through area had been emptied, it would take 15 minutes to fix, and then another five to test, so maybe some of us would like to go away and get a coffee? To this suggestion I think every adult resolutely remained exactly where we were. As I sat wondering if my long-shot entrance today was actually going to come off after all, the crowd around me seemed extremely nice and patient.

Then after 35 minutes, suddenly it was all on again. The girl on the door was counting people off as they went in. Then she shut the door with me still on the outside. It was another five minutes. If this post seems like it's dragging to you, then remember its title - I'm trying to write about The Doctor Who Experience EXPERIENCE here! :)

And then, I was walking in too…!

This once in a lifetime episode of Doctor Who was about to begin.

Part 3 of 6: Inside The Spaceship

The first room was nothing to blog about, but in the interest of completeness, it was a dark miniature cinema with maybe six backless benches for people to sit on and watch the far wall. The kids in our party of about 30 sat down, while the adults dutifully lined along the back standing. People were still sorting themselves out when the current 'time tunnel' credits swirled into view and suddenly the eleventh Doctor's voice was filling the room…

"There are fixed points in time where things must always stay the way they are. This is not one of them, this is an opportunity, a temporal tipping point. Whatever happens today will change future events, create its own timeline, its own reality. The future pivots around YOU, here, now. So do good! For humanity, and for Earth. Come on. Be extraordinary."

Wow. We were about to become a part of a classic. Ah, no, wait, that was just a quote from Cold Blood. This was a montage of clips from the series that had been current when the exhibition had opened a year ago. Well, this was good too. I'd watched most of Ecclestone's era on a similarly sized giant screen and a series of Tennant's this way, so it was good to also experience Smith's Doctor in a cinematic environment. Murray Gold's triumphant music has never been so effective.

It must be said though, these clips went on for quite a while, and given that the whole story was supposed to last maybe half an hour, I did wonder just how much of the running time they were trying to get away with here.

These 'opening credits' over, the white crack in the universe appeared on the screen, along with further relevant dialogue. And then the crack opened. Literally, it lined up with the vertical black crack that had been visible as a hairline fracture throughout the preceding movie, and slid apart like a pair of doors on Star Trek, revealing a room behind!

Suddenly our human tour guide piped-up:

"Okay guys, if you'd like to step through the crack in time into Starship UK!"

Perhaps I ought to have pointed out to her that:

1. it was actually a crack in the universe,

2. if we stepped through then we'd be erased from history, and

3. for this reason Starship UK could not possibly be waiting for us on the other side.

Well, all the evidence to the contrary was rather backing up her version, so I guess this actually was the brand new concept of a 'crack in time', and not an element from the TV series after all. :(

(well, maybe we'd somehow come through the crack in the hull seen at the end of that episode)

Anyway, we all slowly piled through, passing a Smiler on the right, and arrived in the starship's similarly dim museum.

Yes, within a Doctor Who audio-visual exhibition, we found ourselves inside an audio-visual exhibition in the future! Alas, there was neither the time nor the room to look around at the exhibits, which included an excerpt from a bulletin about solar flares devastating the Earth, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci from Vincent And The Doctor, the throne of Rosanna Calvierri from The Vampires Of Venice, and King Albert's enormous telescope from Tooth And Claw. That these were all from the Earth of 2012's past somewhat wasted the futuristic setting, making the experience more akin to that of being within an ordinary museum in the present day. If I had been younger, I might have felt cheated.

Anyway, these exhibits were illuminated for us by Guide Node 8251/Amber - an information node similar to the ones in Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead and quite the most impressive effect in the whole presentation. I don't know how they got her moving disembodied face to appear on that statue, and don't really want to know. She looked awesome! Incidental music hides as part of the exhibition.

Suddenly someone hacks into the museum's systems and appears on the screen that had previously displayed the solar flare warning.

It's the Doctor!

He's in his usual on-screen multiple edits hidden by bursts of static mode, which he does a lot in extra-canonical stuff. He explains that the coallition of the unwilling (my phrase) from The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang have trapped him in the Pandorica's spare, catchily named the Pandorica 2. Thoughtful of them to put a camera, microphone, screen and speakers in there for him to contact us via.

Well, that's what I think now. At the time I couldn't shake the rush that that was the actual Doctor there, addressing us all directly... and looking in part at ME! :) Cynicism fled from my brain as the suspension of disbelief succeeded in a way it had only ever dreamt of doing on the telly...

"Right. Last time I was trapped in this box I made a plan in case this ever happened to me again. I used the psychic settings on the screwdriver to try and find Amy Pond and get her to bring the TARDIS back to me. Excellent plan. Brilliant plan! Tiny little mistake in the execution of the plan. Instead of Amy Pond and my TARDIS… I've got a bunch of people out shopping."

He also name-checks Rory. Given his separation from the two of them, and that the exhibition opened in February 2011, I'd place this after Good Night and before his lone travelling in the 16th National Television Awards, itself prior to The Impossible Astronaut. But I could be wrong…

Anyhew, the Doctor further explains that if the screwdriver has homed in on us lot, then then TARDIS must be quite close to us, one second out of phase with the material universe "which doesn't make any sense but sounds pretty cool." What also doesn't make any sense is why it's on Starship UK in the first place. I guess the aliens who incarcerated him must have captured him during a return visit here.

Anyway he uses the sonic screwdriver to get the TARDIS to materialise, or more accurately to get the false gauze wall to our left to slide open Star Trek style, revealing the familiar blue box flashing and producing smoke behind. Given the unusual smoke and absence of rushing wind, I guess she wasn't feeling too well today. Aww, poor TARDIS.

With my lagging back to watch the Doctor's video-clip run out, the human tour guide and the Doctor simultaneously usher us into the Police Box.

I suppose one expects entering the TARDIS to be a definitive magical moment. I mean it's surely the realisation of a lifelong childhood dream to not only step through those doors and into the console room, but to also simply be able to see through the doorway that in the series is almost always hidden by a jump cut.

You know what? I felt nothing. It actually made complete dispassionate sense to me that inside this small Police Box there was a much larger control room containing a many-sided console. I blame Terrance Dicks.

In fact, this TARDIS was smaller on the inside than it is on the TV. Pushed for space I guess, so no floors, or staircase. The Doctor's now on the scanner screen - I hope he remembers this method of communication on the telly next time he's locked up and needs to get a message back to whoever's in the TARDIS.

The central console was cordoned off by a network of railings and the Doctor's pleading. The closest walkway however contained some miniature "remote stations" for the kids in our party to follow the Doctor's instructions on and operate, so that the TARDIS could home in on the signal from his sonic screwdriver.

Unsurprisingly, this was a disaster.

We took off, the console flashed and belched more smoke, the floor beneath us heaved up and down, and we briefly lost the Doctor's picture. By the time the rematerialisation engines were roaring, they were drowning out the Doctor's furious screams of "Landing?? Landing??!!?!? WHY IS SHE LANDING??!!????!!?!?"

In a nod to his own advice to viewers at end of The Enemy Of The World, the Doctor advises all the kids present to hold onto their parents' hands in case they get a bit scared. Well, he's good with kids, this one.

Despite the ocean of authentic sound effects here, which thanks to the absence of any music we could hear clearly but without familiarity, there was still no 'Davison' landing bong. :(

The scanner screen shows an empty alien corridor. However, something is very wrong, and the Doctor won't admit what it is. He hurries us all out of the TARDIS, via its new back door. Yes, its back door. On the one hand the sight of a big black UK fire exit in the set kind of, heh heh, breaks the fourth wall (try the veal), but on the other, the Doctor can be so eccentric on occasion that why shouldn't he have such a deadpan health and safety sign installed?

The bigger shame here really is simply that we didn't get to exit through the same doors that we had come in by. While exiting this way into a different location to the one we'd left might sound like something of a logistical challenge for the designers, y'know I was actually kind of expecting them to pull it off. Instead it felt as though they were holding their hands up and admitting that it wasn't real.

In 2005 I went on a similar Virtual Tour Of Australia presentation in Sydney Tower where they had about six (probably lighter) nigh-on identical sets that that each held a small audience and rotated en masse. Given that the TARDIS' floor had to move about a bit anyway, I'm just sayin'. Maybe next time.

Outside the TARDIS' back door, we had indeed landed in the same bland hexagonal corridor that we had just seen on the viewscreen. Given our unorthodox mode of exit, I erroneously wondered if this was meant to be a corridor within the TARDIS. True to the disorientation of actually travelling with the Doctor, I had absolutely no idea where or when we had landed, and as I say, the blank walls weren't giving me any clues.

The Doctor's voice echoed down from the ceiling. "Keep going… they're behind you." I looked back. There was noone there. I didn't know to whom he was referring. I am impressed that he had so quickly hacked into the corridor's speaker-system, but given that this was the eleventh Doctor, and that I didn't know where and when the Pandorica 2 was in space and time, he may well have had years to recontact us.

The corridor was impressively long. I suppose I should have got into the spirit of things and run down it, instead of merely hurrying. I got to the end and turned left to find myself in another spaceship's control room, complete with window through which we could see a nearby planet. No time to admire that though, for also on the bridge were…


EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYOOOOOWWWWWW, da-daddla-dang, da-daddla-dang, da-daddla-dang (key change), da-daddla-dang (key change back), da-daddla-dang, da-daddla-dang… Well coming up next on ONE, Graham Norton hosts Gay Celebrity Makeover Swap Island, but you can press red now to find out in advance who wins…

Well, okay, the episode didn't really shrink into a box and end there, but if they were going to include a cliffhanger, then the unexpected return of the Daleks at the start of the fifth room would have been a good place to put it.

Oh, what the heck.

Part 4 of 6: (r)Evolution Of The Daleks

The corridor was impressively long. I suppose I should have got into the spirit of things and run down it, instead of merely hurrying. I got to the end and turned left to find myself in another spaceship's control room, complete with window through which we could see a nearby planet. No time to admire that though, for also on the bridge were…


Do Power Ranger Daleks count? Yes, I suppose they do. They count their royalties.

Here however they might be better described as the Anglican Daleks.





As you can tell, this is pretty good dialogue for Daleks, which would be why they say so much of it twice. Their total of three (if memory serves) is nicely consistent with the series too, as is the famous Dalek Control Room sound effect. On the negative side, they are each rooted to the short 'walkways' (I don't know what else to call them) that they slide out on, and their lights didn't flash in sync with their voices. Maybe these were some freakish Power Ranger / Movie Dalek hybrids. I didn't look, but after the fire exit in the TARDIS, I'll bet there was a fire extinguisher in that control room somewhere.

Anyhow, reading between the lines, they're planning to irrevocably alter our human DNA with Dalek DNA (not sure why Dalek has a capital but human doesn't), and begin this process by scanning us. However they quickly detect chronon-energy. By an almighty leap of deduction, they realise out loud that we're in contact with the Doctor, and in so doing give away that they are the ones who have captured him! (Daleks have no internal monologue. JD of Scrubs fame would be no good as a Dalek)

The Daleks decide to instead exterminate both us and the Doctor. I had quietly been hoping that there would be a stooge going round with each group for the specific purpose of getting exterminated in front of us (like in the aforementioned Alien War show), but obviously this might not have made the exhibition quite so child-friendly.

Fortunately the Doctor hacks into the Daleks' own display-screen to bargain for our lives.

"They're not a threat, look at them. They're not even proper humans. They're a harmless sub-species known as… shoppers."

At this, I wouldn't have been surprised if our party had fired the Doctor as negotiator in favour of electing someone from the group.

However, before anyone can exterminate anyone else, another spaceship shows up by the planet outside the window and hails the Power Ranger Daleks.

Now who could this be? There are no clues (that I picked up on) - it could be anyone. The Time Lords back from the dead again? UNIT with a space budget? Beep the Meep? My money's still on the unusually absent Graham Norton.

No, it's more Daleks, threateningly playing more music. I guess they have a cassette deck in their ship. In fact, these are the original Daleks, as opposed to the chunky modern Power Ranger ones. I guess they're now retroactively called the Dapol Daleks.


(they obviously haven't watched The End Of Time) (Goodnight!)

There's then a big space battle outside the windows between both Dalek factions, which it has to be said the original Daleks own, purely because their ships are able to move. Well, that about wraps it up for another life.

While the Power Ranger Daleks are retracting backwards out of the room on their walkways (again reminiscent of the movie ones), the Doctor gets the TARDIS to extend a time corridor so that we can all escape through the far doorway.

And corridor really was the word. To clarify, it was just a corridor.

Following the show this bugged me, as I really felt we'd missed something. So I did some digging and realised that the malfunction that we had been waiting for them to fix beforehand had actually been the Forest of the Weeping Angels. Apparently, 'fixing' it had actually been a euphemism for 'removing' it.

While researching this article, I've gathered from other sites that the Forest of the Weeping Angels was no big deal. The audience didn't stop in the forest but simply hurried through it, so there was no alteration to the overall running time. The Doctor's voice-over (not sure how he got that into a forest) accordingly warned everyone not to blink, there was some roaring (which we did get), and apparently there was a holographic Angel which suddenly moved forward. I suppose for me this bit represented one of those infuriating deleted scenes, that are generally only seen by people who shell out for the DVD.

Mind you, we did get to see the extremely rare blank corridor, which in context really has to be the 'time corridor' to which the Doctor had just referred. So - in your face, people who went on every single other day of the year! YOU missed out on seeing the time corridor! The FUNKY AWESOME TIME CORRIDOR OF AWESOMENESS!!!

(sorry to go on about it but, wow, that time corridor really was worth the price of the entry ticket on its own)

Anyway, as we all gasped with amazement at the far end of the spell-binding time corridor, the tour guide handed us all some spectacles, which the Doctor advised us to put on to avoid our eyes melting from radiation. So we did.

I had no idea where or when we were now, but this was probably just a little less confusing than if I had just come through the forest. We were underground, outside the (a?) Pandorica, complete with ashen Dalek from the museum in The Big Bang.

Were we still in a spaceship? I mean Starship UK, the TARDIS, the Dalek saucer and the Forest of Angels had all been on spaceships, hadn't they?

On another screen, the Doctor checked via his screwdriver if the TARDIS had been programmed correctly, and bang - suddenly he was free and back inside the TARDIS again. His TARDIS mind you, the one with the staircase from the TV series, as opposed to the cereal box one that we'd flown in earlier. I don't know how we had a screen on the left of the Pandorica to watch him on, but I suppose we were in yet another museum.

The Doctor says that his enemies are going to be very angry with him for escaping, at which point the Pandorica opens. The crack in the universe then opens inside the Pandorica, and via the credits' time-tunnel effect, we see it almost sucking the TARDIS in. Then everything that ever hated the Doctor from every universe proceeds to come flying through, which will destroy everything. Yes, everything!

This calls for some more music, a lot of music!!!

While whoever wrote this script had by this point plainly just given up, this was the highlight of the whole highly impressive show. The glasses we were wearing were 3D glasses, and the ensuing 3D sequence was utterly gratuitous, in the best possible way. Diet Cybermen fired at us, we got another chance to not blink at the Weeping Angels, the multi-coloured Power Ranger Daleks lunged their sucker arms and eyestalks right out of the screen at us!

I count myself lucky to have been in a group with so many great kids, who duly screamed through the whole thing, to Murray Gold's rising music from season 31. The addrenalin rush was huge. As the Doctor struggled to somehow close everything and send them all back again, it wasn't even trying to make any sense, but I don't think anyone cared. It all felt utterly fantastic.

Afterwards the Doctor told us how well we'd done (although I wasn't aware that we'd done anything), told us to find our own way out (though we didn't even know where or when we were) and said he'd see us again some time.

The Doctor Who music came on again, we returned our spectacles, and another very happy group of shoppers fell laughing out of the exit into the more traditional part of the exhibition.

(hence my belief that the Pandorica 2 and ashen Dalek had been in a present day museum, sort of like the ones in the series)

And that's where this episode ends.

As for getting to go on an actual Doctor Who adventure, well, sorry to say it, but it's really more like a clips-show. Each room is self-contained. Aside from the Doctor's hurrying us into the TARDIS, there is no continuity between the different rooms. For example, the events on the Dalek ship are only referred to in that room. As the partitioned-off Forest of the Weeping Angels demonstrated, you can miss out any part(s) of this display without much consequence. I think that's very cleverly structured.

But the feel-good experience… well, that might just stay with me for the rest of my life!

Part 5 of 6: The Space Museum

Afterwards, the second part of the exhibition duly featured an enormous collection of props, costumes and replicas from the series' entire run, from 1963 right up to the most recent Christmas special. You can find every Doctor represented here somewhere, including among the display of 42 Radio Times covers.

There are plenty of pages on the net where you can see the photos that people have taken. This is another one.

I guess this was my favourite exhibit. I'd seen this before in 1986 at another exhibition in BBC Television Centre. Back then it had been somewhat worse for wear, with the miniature TV holders uncompromisingly empty, no working lights, and dialogue-cues pencilled onto it, presumably from The Trial Of A Time Lord. I don't know whether the one I saw today was the same one restored or was simply a replica, but its multiple flashing lights etc. ensured that it looked in the peak of health. The fourth Doctor's scarf is a bit of a continuity slip though, as also is, as I am certain that you have already noticed, that the console is oriented the wrong way…

Intriguing T-shape arrangement of darker window panes.

K9 looked in good nick since I last saw him at MOMI in 1991 too.

Towards the end the emphasis shifts onto how the show has been made over the years, including activites such as hearing your voice treated to sound like an alien, and learning to walk like a monster.

There's also a literal Dalek cutaway - one which you can get inside from the back! Alas, no ring-modulator to change your voice though. (unlike at MOMI in 1991!)

Finally, on the way out, there is a little shop. Surprisingly, there were no programmes to be purchased to remember the day by. Even the ticket above was suprisingly functional. Today however, now that its London run has closed, a couple of magical friends found and salvaged an obsolete poster for the exhibition and then kindly presented me with it. Well, that's proudly pictured at the top of this article. :)

Part 6 of 6: Journey's End

Overall, despite the amount of replicas posing as items from the series, The Doctor Who Experience certainly delivers on its promise of conveying something of the show's atmosphere. For that reason this exhibition will always be far more about the half-hour adventure at the start than any amount of exhibits and activities following.

As you can tell above, I hung around for quite a while. People obligingly took my picture for me, and I met a few others who seemed to enjoy hanging out here on a regular basis. One guy was dressed as the eleventh Doctor, complete with all the patter and mannerisms. I felt as though I had just met the man himself!

What a memorable birthday this had turned out to be.

In fact, the biggest impression that I took away from The Doctor Who Experience was nothing more complex than this:

Just how nice everybody was.

As I caught the train back home again to celebrate the rest of my birthday, I can't tell you how great I felt about being a shopper.

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