OLYMPIA TWO, 2ND FLOOR, HAMMERSMITH ROAD, LONDON, W14 8UX
10:00 TO 18:00
(LAST ENTRY 16:00)
FAMILIES OF FOUR: £62.00
DISCOUNTED PRICES ARE AVAILABLE FOR ADVANCE BOOKINGS
12TH MARCH 2011
“There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes...”
The Doctor Who Experience is the latest in a very long line of exhibitions dedicated to the world’s longest-running telefantasy series, and, while there is an element of the traditional museum to it, this installation stands out against its predecessors. The name is no lie or canny advertising ploy - this is truly an experience.
Having entered the Olympia Two and been deposited on the correct floor, the excited visitor is shepherded into a showing at the next available opportunity. Within a cinema / exhibition room, a montage of the latest series then runs. All very nice on the big screen, but so far, so samey. Then the in-universe element kicks in. Spotlights illuminate props from the most recent episodes, and a human-faced data node (of the type seen in Silence in the Library) activates and rather unnervingly welcomes you to the museum - ostensibly at some point in the distant future. These aren’t props and costumes from a TV show, these are relics from Earth’s distant past.
Then things really kick into gear. Upon the screen appears the Doctor, speaking to you from a specially-recorded video sequence. He’s got himself trapped in the Pandorica again (which is really rather careless, to be honest), but he’s managed to set the TARDIS up for this eventuality. The TARDIS has sent for help… but actually, it’s brought in some shoppers. But the Doctor needs your help, and so, thanks to some ingenious lighting work, the TARDIS materialises in the corner of the room. You, the viewer, the fan, are invited to enter…
This isn’t a simple snatch of film and a few snazzy effects shots. The Doctor accompanies you through the entire journey. Although it has been promoted as an interactive experience, in reality there’s precious little actual interaction. However, within the astonishingly detailed and accurate replica TARDIS set, the younger members of the audience are encouraged to operate the controls on the Doctor’s instruction. And so the TARDIS materialises on board a spacecraft, and the adventure continues…
It really is a fantastic spectacle. Whether you’re racing through a forest of Weeping Angels, or standing bang in the middle of a pitched space battle between Progenitor Daleks and those loyal to Davros, the mixture of top-notch video sequences and genuine props from the series give the feel of watching an actual episode from the inside. And then the Crack appears… and then it opens… in the most impressive sequence of all, the audience are handed 3D glasses and then taken on a journey through the Time Vortex, as all manner of strange, strange creatures fly towards them. Presumably due to its having been tailored to a specific location and set of dimensions, this was easily the most effective use of the now common 3D movie effect I’ve yet seen. Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels genuinely seem to be reaching out to you, mere inches from your face. There were a lot of jumps and gasps in that final sequence.
All told, this little adventure lasts about fifteen minutes, maybe even a little longer. Having the audience move from room to room along the way allows new groups of visitors to be brought through into each segment without long waits, so the experience never stalls. It’s a breathless, immersive experience, and completely captivating. Matt Smith, of course, is as wonderful as ever.
The second stage is the more traditional exhibition. Even this, however, is perfectly set out, maximising its limited space to create a packed environment, and making use of ingenious interactive exhibits. Though the video experience was understandably one that promoted the latest series, the exhibits are split fairly evenly between the classic show and its modern continuation. Having already stood within a replica of Matt Smith’s TARDIS console room, we get the organic-looking version from the Russell T Davies era - with a limited access for visitors, allowing them to touch and experience this set to a small extent - and later, the actual console used from 1983 to 1989, a working prop with a central column that rises and falls. The central section includes a TARDIS prop, and costumes for all eleven incarnations of the Doctor. Genuine monster costumes and props are displayed, including an array of Cyberman heads for comparison and a whole battalion of Daleks, ranging from the original 1963 version, all the way through to the latest model. Now, while I have my reservations about the new Daleks, they are undeniably impressive ‘in person’ - taller than I am, although I am, admittedly, a bit of a shortarse. However, even they pale in comparison the mighty, and lovingly restored, K1 giant robot from Tom Baker's debut serial.
Some of the exhibits are replicas rather than originals - inevitable, really, considering that many of the props and costumes were created in the 1960s and were only ever intended to have a limited lifespan. The oldest original item on display is probably the impressively hairy Ice Warrior costume, although I may well be wrong there. Some replica items have been created specifically for visitor interaction, such as the ‘half-Dalek,’ exactly the right size for a young child to step into and operate. Although certain items are of more interest to older visitors - the mock-up of the production artists’ studio, for example - the bulk of the experience and exhibition alike are, quite rightly, aimed squarely at the youngsters. Not that this stopped me enjoying it one bit. Indeed, seeing the little girls and boys charging around, full of excitement, happily identifying things, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the entire experience. With plenty of them to get involved in, such as sound effects booths and Cyberman stomping lessons, there’s little chance of boredom (and it means that the polite ‘No Touching’ signs on the original props are more likely to be obeyed).
In fact, the entire experience had a wonderful atmosphere. There were plenty of enthusiastic youngsters accompanied by long-suffering, sensible parents, yet there were more than a few enthusiastic parents bringing along their long-suffering, sensible kids. Although Doctor Who is still considered a mostly boys’ show, there were more teenage girls and young women there than there were their male counterparts. I can’t quite decide if my favourite ‘visitor moment’ was the young boy in his tiny tweed jacket and bow-tie, or the couple kissing in front of the Dalek army as if it were the most romantic spot imaginable.
There are a couple of negative points. Some have complained about the brevity of both the experience and exhibition. While, for nearly twenty quid a ticket, you expect some bang for your buck, I think the video experience is perfectly timed, although further exhibits would have been welcome. There were a couple of technical issues - the voice modulators would have been fun, but seemed to be out of order when I visited, and some of the smaller prop displays could have done with better lighting. The gift shop was limited and overpriced (a tenner for a programme!) but that’s hardly the most important element.
Altogether, my Doctor Who Experience was a tremendously enjoyable one, from the cohort of fancy-dressed geeks leaving as we entered (and, no, I’m not in costume - those are my standard clothes, though I got plenty of comments nonetheless), to the kids charging about Kensington (Olympia) station, waving their screwdrivers about as we waited for our train. Combining the best elements of the traditional museum with the chance to enter the world of Doctor Who itself, the Doctor Who Experience comes highly recommended.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011
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