Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Doctor Who Experience: Launch Review (BBC)

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BBC - Doctor Who
The official launch of the Doctor Who Experience took place earlier this week on Sunday, 20th February at 10am at London's Olympia and we were there.

I arrive on time (miraculously) and as I pat my pockets looking for my invite, members of the public waiting outside Olympia take my photo. Just as I try out a mock-modest smile ('Who me? Oh, hello!') I see that Doctor Who writer and actor Mark Gatiss is right beside me and accepting that fame must wait, I step awkwardly out of shot.

Once inside there's coffee and a welcome from the organisers and I feel a palpable sense of anticipation in the room. John Culshaw, fan of the show and famous mimic of the Fourth Doctor, is present and says he's heard good things about the Experience and like everyone else, he can't wait to see the finished thing. I bump into Doctor Who composer Murray Gold who recalls visiting Doctor Who exhibitions as a child, vividly remembering sections of the Blackpool show. He's enthusiastic that an updated, immersive experience is now here for a new generation of fans to enjoy. Incidentally, it's fitting that Murray is present at the launch; his gorgeous music plays throughout several sections of the Experience, serving as a stirring reminder of what a great contribution he's made to the show since its 2005 return.

I also catch up with Mike Tucker over a cuppa. Mike's part of The Model Unit and one of the men responsible for ensuring the old monsters at the Experience look as fresh and frightening as they did when they first appeared. He's modest about his contribution and advises me to look out for the Giant Robot (aka K1) as it's looking fantastic. He introduces me to the improbably named Nick Kool who was in charge of restoring K1 to its former glory and he's surprisingly matter-of-fact about the huge amount of care and attention that's been lavished on these aliens of bygone adventures. You get the feeling that if these guys were working on the Titanic they'd have it up and sailing to New York within months.

And then we're off! The first part of the Experience is exactly what you'd expect. Recent costumes, some nice glossy pictures. That kind of thing. The next part of the Experience is exactly what you wouldn't expect. You remember the crack that featured so heavily last series? Well, after a rather brilliant video, visitors are invited to step through it, entering the Doctor's world... This is where the whole thing takes off. If this was the TV show, it would be the bit where the theme music screams from your set and you know you're in for something special. With the Experience it's the Doctor talking to you, a flight in the TARDIS, a brush with the Daleks, a trip through an Angel-infested forest... The whole thing is much more theatre than exhibition. Smoke, music, moving sets, some jaw-dropping 3-D sequences and some fabulously realised monsters really make this a highlight of the Experience.

Afterwards, every single person I spoke to beamed when recounting the adventure. Just like the show itself, this section is fun, funny, a touch frightening and it really does make you say 'wow'.

There's lots more after this journey, though. The Fifth Doctor's TARDIS, the Tenth Doctor's TARDIS, dozens of monsters from recent series and many from the earlier days of Doctor Who. Plus costumes, an activity area where you can learn to walk like a monster, more educational zones covering topics like the original theme tune and, of course, various videos that help contextualise what you're seeing.

The monsters from the pre-2005 era of Doctor Who are amazing and the Zygon in particular looks, well, beautiful in a macabre kind of way. I hear a couple of people who haven't watched early stories asking about the creature and it's fantastic that although the Experience focuses on recent episodes, there's lots relating to the first eight Doctors' travels. And Mike was right, K1 does look awesome!

The Doctor Who Experience is cracking good fun and I'm guessing that younger fans especially will discuss their visit for decades to come. I was lucky enough to go around it with people who have worked on the show for years, and even they were grinning like kids at Christmas so at its best, the Experience proves how uniquely magical Doctor Who can be.

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