I recently had the chance to go to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. I don’t want to go into too much detail as a large part of the exhibit is the surprises to be found within. That being said there is a lot to recommend here.
The idea is that the 11th Doctor is once again trapped in the Pandorica (to be exact the Pandorica 2) and needs your help to get out. To this end he has your group pilot the TARDIS, getting you into trouble along the way.
I went early in the day, so didn’t have to wait too long before going in. The waiting area has some nice Target inspired illustrations of several Doctor Who monsters on the walls (oddly there is an Ice Warrior among the more recent creatures) but the single monitor played a continual loop of the most recent Doctor Who trailer.
I imagine if you had to wait longer this could become quite tiresome. Happily the children were provided with copies of Doctor Who weekly from last year to keep them entertained. Bring your own reading material if you expect to wait.
Once inside the guide keeps things moving briskly without making you feel rushed. Right from the start the experience impresses with its use of sleight of hand. Cracks in time appear, the TARDIS materialises and corridors open up. You never quite know which way you’ll be heading next.
Matt Smith is good, obviously pitching his performance to the younger members of the audience. This encourages the adults to let the kids be at the centre of the more interactive set pieces.
Mindful as I am about Dr Who canon I was pleased that there wasn’t anything that stuck out as out of character or just plain wrong. Indeed there were some ideas, particularly a Dalek civil war, that seemed an imaginative use of the setting.
There were sections in which you are encouraged to move forward but the Doctor keeps the banter going. Obviously this is to keep those at the back entertained but makes those at the front feel like they are missing out on the witty dialogue.
Similarly there is a section where the audience is urged to get through a Weeping Angel filled forest quickly, remembering not to blink, yet the urge is to stay and take in the amount of detail in the location.
With those minor points aside it should be stated that this is a fun experience, mixing adventure with some mild scares. There is an impressive amount of detail in the set dressing, including some neat props from the Classic Series mixed in amongst Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the exploding TARDIS and Queen Victoria’s telescope.
I also enjoyed the miniature story arc for the Doctor, belittling the audience at start. They are, after all, no Amy. They’re not even Rory. By the end he has a grudging respect for your capabilities.
Once you’ve survived the experience you can explore the exhibit section. There is an impressive selection of props and costumes. You can see the different costumes for each of the Doctors, compare screw drivers and console rooms before seeing what the Daleks look like in real life.
For younger visitors they can have their photo taken against green screen that puts them in the TARDIS console room, learn to walk like one of the monsters or operate a Dalek. Older fans can watch some interesting videos on the special effects and sound design.
It was a pleasant experience and you can tell that some effort has been made to make sure that people get the most out of their money.
From a roleplaying perspective there is something to be taken away from the simple way that it justifies a group of ordinary people being drawn into one of the Doctor’s adventures. Having the PCs pilot the TARDIS in a quest to reach the trapped Time Lord would be a good way to start a campaign.