The Doctor Who Experience [Gal About Town: Fashion and Travel at Your Fingertips]

Hi, Everyone!  This is JP stealing the blog again.  Jenny’s working double-time on a film and a commercial, both at the same time because apparently sleep is for amateurs.  So, it’s a good time for me to put in my five cents on one of my favorite stops during our trip to Europe: The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, England!

As this is Fierce and Nerdy, I don’t need to explain what Doctor Who is or why it’s the greatest TV show ever.  (And what better show for a travel blog, than a story about an ageless wanderer who can travel anywhere and everywhere?)

I grew up watching daily re-runs of Doctor Who on our local PBS station. Weekdays at 6pm the series ran in order, starting with William Hartnell’s “An Unearthly Child” all the way through the end of Colin Baker’s “The Trial of a Timelord”. Sundays would be one of the “new” Sylvester McCoy episodes. So, even though our plans for England originally didn’t involve us going near Cardiff, I knew I’d never forgive myself if we didn’t try to go The Doctor Who Experience.

We started our day by catching an early train from London to Cardiff, the capital of Whales. Cardiff gets a bad rap as being boring. So, we were pleasantly surprised when we found that the main area of Cardiff has a castle to explore, and a central shopping area that was a cool mix of New and Old with everything from pubs to churches to name brand stores. Very eclectic.  Very cool. And, it’s only a two-hour train ride from London. These factors alone make Cardiff a nice little day trip if, like us, you’ll check out any place you’ve never been to just to see what it’s like.


Downtown Cardiff is right at the train station. The only thing that’s not is The Doctor Who Experience.  But, unless you’re a huge wimp, it is an easy twenty minute walk down to Cardiff Bay where the Experience lives. And, if you’re there for Doctor Who, seeing Cardiff Bay (and the secret entrance to Torchwood!) is an added bonus.

Just past the bay, (and right next to BBC Whales’ studios where Doctor Who is shot!), is a big blue building that is, sadly, a little smaller on the inside than it is on the outside.

DrWhoBuildingImagine if you will: a museum dedicated to Doctor Who with props, costumes, sets, an old TARDIS or three, and an interactive Matt Smith Doctor movie where you get chased by Daleks and “fly” off in the TARDIS.

Fanboy dream come true, right?

Now, imagine: the budget cut in half, shove it in one of those inflatable buildings that looks ready to pack up and skip town at any moment, and set up the whole thing in Cardiff.

It’s not for everyone. For all the costumes and props there wasn’t a scrap of behind the scenes/making of info. Granted, I work on a sci-fi TV show and know how stuff gets done. But, would it have killed them to interview a costume designer?

Like The Harry Potter Studio Tour, you need to book your ticket in advance at The Doctor Who Experience website.  It’s also, timed entry.  But when we arrived early with our pre-printed tickets we, were told we could go in whenever we wanted.  We got the feeling we could’ve just shown up and bought a ticket at the door, despite the website telling us that was impossible.  It was nice to start early, but if we’d known, we would’ve planned our whole day differently.

The experience starts with an interactive adventure where a video of Matt Smith tells you he needs your help to fly the TARDIS and come rescue him.  It’s aimed at kids, but I was at the front of the pack to walk through the police box doors and grab the TARDIS console controls.  This is the best part of 10 minute interactive “adventure”.  If you’re fan enough to take the trip here, you’ll get a little misty-eyed when you walk through those doors.  But after that, the “adventure” devolves into you walking from room to room as you’re “chased” by Daleks on tracks and Weeping Angels so dimly lit that you can barely see them. It reminded me of the old Simpsons episode where they went to Krusty Land and all the cheesy animatronics were in a state of disrepair. What’s surprising about this is that The Doctor Who Experience had only moved into its permanent home here in Cardiff a few months prior. I would’ve expected everything to be shiny and new.

I was disappointed after the “adventure”.  But, that all changed when we were set loose on a two-floor Doctor Who museum and the first thing I saw was the original full size prop of the Keeper of Traken. (“The Keeper of Traken” was the first Doctor Who story I ever watched. When I saw it there, I knew everything was going to be ok.) To the right of that: Peter Davidson (my Doctor’s) TARDIS console from “The Five Doctors”. To the left: all eleven Doctors’ costumes (sadly, most of them replicas).


Rounding off the first floor was David Tennant’s entire interior TARDIS set which, in a sadistic choice, looped his regeneration scene over and over and over on a nearby TV. Yes, it’s just as sad the tenth time…But getting to make out with your wife on the TARDIS helps make it better.


The second floor was more props and costumes from all fifty years of the show. Jenny and I were impressed to see some key pieces from this year’s Christmas episode, even though it had only aired a week prior.

Sadly, not a single information card on the displays was worth reading. “The eleventh doctor is played by an actor named Matt Smith.”  Really?  “Daleks are one of the Doctor’s deadliest foes.”  I’m so glad you told me because I just wandered in here to get out of the rain…

Lastly, there was the over-priced gift shop. It had a ton of Doctor Who paraphernalia, but nothing you can’t find in a good comic book store or online.  We were hard pressed to find anything that actually said “The Doctor Who Experience” on it.  It was a choice between a t-shirt or a magnet.

Despite the Experience being less than perfect, I’m glad we went.  I think our big mistake with the DWE was going the day after we went to The Harry Potter Studio Tour.  If you read Jenny’s two-part blog on the Harry Potter Experience here and here (and if you didn’t, why not?), you know just how big and amazing it is.  After that, The Doctor Who Experience was underwhelming. And how could it not be? Harry Potter gets 5,000 people a day.  It seems like the DWE is designed to get about 500 on a good day.  But that also means a less expensive ticket and smaller crowds.  (For a lot of the time, we had the museum practically to ourselves.)

If you’re a huge Doctor Who fan (with a patient wife, who is a fan herself) and find yourself in England, it’s was well worth a day trip to Cardiff to be inches away from Peter Davison’s TARDIS console and see David Tennant’s entire TARDIS set. Just be prepared to shove a few kids out of the way when it’s time to “fly” the TARDIS.


John-Paul Nickel is a writer for the Syfy Network’s Warehouse 13 and an actor for SMBC Theater.  He can be found on Twitter (@JP_Nickel) committing shameless acts of self-promotion.