Doctor Who Experience: Porth Teigr, Cardiff BayBookmark and Share

Friday, 20 July 2012 - Written by Matt Hills
Written by Matt Hills




The latest incarnation of the Doctor Who Experience opened its doors to the public today. The show’s popularity was itself on view, as queues stretched down the road while fans snapped photos of a few unexpected arrivals: a Dalek, Cyberman, Silence, and Silurian mingled with the crowd and posed menacingly for pictures. There was even an official opening ceremony. A younger visitor dressed as the eleventh Doctor – complete with fez – cut the ribbon and got the show on the road.

Inside, the new building is filled with lovely details. Chris Achilleos-style illustrations (presumably using Anthony Dry’s artwork) adorn the final queuing area and the café, and “Exterminate!” graphics eventually usher you out of the gift shop. Bessie sits inside the main entrance, looking every bit as resplendent, shiny and new as her box-fresh surroundings.

Many fans will have visited the previous Experience based at London Olympia. This version shares much of its DNA with that earlier venture: the interactive walk-through part seems pretty much identical. Given that the Doctor Who Experience will be based in its new Cardiff home for at least five years, focusing on the Pandorica might start to seem like ancient (series) history as that tenancy progresses. Nevertheless, the series five-centric walk-through does a great job of capturing the energy, wit and feel of televised Doctor Who, featuring some great effects, spooky monsters and impressive 3D. You’ll probably never view a Dalek sucker arm in the same light.

The exhibition part of the Experience is where value is really added for return visitors, as there’s a good selection of props on show here for the first time. These include the Silence spaceship (appropriately enough, lurking upstairs), the cyber conversion chamber from Closing Time, the Doctor’s cot from A Good Man Goes To War, and Let’s Kill Hitler’s antibodies. The most recent Christmas Special is also represented by items such as the Doctor’s spacesuit.

But for visitors new and old alike there are some exhibits that continue to be show-stoppers; downstairs there are various Police Box props scattered between TARDIS interiors like the “Coral desktop theme” and the Junkyard version featured in The Doctor’s Wife. And the Doctor’s many costumes also form a central part of the exhibition space. Housed across two floors, displays really have room to breathe, and you get a wonderful sense of scale and scope as you walk up the interior staircase, able to gaze down at ground-floor exhibits, and take in the Melkur and the RTD-era TARDIS alongside all the many costumes.

Upstairs, Daleks and Cybermen get their own dedicated areas, and one can’t help but wonder whether Asylum of the Daleks was partly inspired by a certain showrunner witnessing different eras of Daleks lined up together in the Experience. A Zygon and an Ice Warrior also stand together, daring fans to speculate about yet more returning monsters. As well as exploring the sounds of Doctor Who, the upper floor illuminates design processes, using the eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS interior as a case study, and demonstrates the various stages of monster creation by focusing on an Ood. An assortment of props, among them a rug from the series six White House and a time glass from The Girl Who Waited, round things off before visitors are directed out via the gift shop. I love a little shop, and this one is well stocked with DWE exclusives (something which wasn't true when the Olympia Experience first opened). Mind you, I would've liked to see more Cardiff-specific merchandise carrying the brand new ‘Porth Teigr’ identity.

Overall, this was an extremely well-handled opening day; queues seemed fast-moving, and the monster alliance outside the venue was well received by everyone. And the new venue has Doctor Who threaded right through it. At the Olympia it was only when you exited from a characterless lift that you felt you'd stepped out of impersonal corporate space and into the colourful, thrilling Whoniverse. Not so now; this is a far more unified Who experience. Even before you get into the building there’s a brilliant Police Box landing bay visible as you approach. It will apparently be lit at night, but even during the day it makes a wonderfully welcoming icon (rather like the old TARDIS entrance that used to greet visitors to the Longleat exhibition back in the day). Whether you’ve been to the DWE before, or have always wanted to go, this regenerated version is well worth a visit.



Tickets are available now from doctorwhoexperience.com.

(With thanks to: BBC Worldwide Press Office)




Doctor Who: Dark HorizonsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 7 July 2012 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Written by J. T. Colgan
BBC Books
UK Release - 05 July 2012
Available to purchase from Amazon UK
This review contains plot spoilers 

Dark Horizons is a well-crafted, enjoyable Doctor Who story carrying more than an occasional hint of J.T. Colgan’s primary career as a writer. Better known as Jenny Colgan, author of “chick lit” titles such as Meet Me At the Cupcake Café and Amanda’s Wedding, here Colgan brings romancing, character-driven sensibilities to the action-adventure world of the eleventh Doctor. There’s a running gag about the Time Lord’s knowledge of women – or lack of it – and his (un)suitability as an advisor on matters of the heart. Plus there’s a burgeoning romance between Princess Freydis and her captor Henrik (who oddly shares his name with a twenty-first century department store). Since the Doctor is travelling alone, Freydis and Henrik act as stand-in companions. It's a role these characters play rather effectively, even if Freydis strikes an overly familiar note as feisty and proto-feminist, while Henrik closely resembles Rory in at least one crucial way.

Again drawing attention to the fact that J.T. Colgan is Jenny Colgan, at one point the Doctor declares that if he fully understood human motivations he’d “retire to a hammock with a rather excellent hat and read a lot of novels with pink covers” (p.294), conjuring an image of the Time Lord as a holidaying "chick lit" consumer. But the in-jokes and the romance subplot simply add to a tale well-told, as the Doctor struggles to understand and combat a mysterious fire threatening twelfth century islanders and Vikings alike.

Dark Horizons, like The Coming of the Terraphiles before it, offers a strong argument for welcoming new voices and unexpected writers into the fold. The result this time is a Doctor Who adventure that has a vibrant freshness of touch, and a willingness to do things which old hands might deem unconventional, such as challenging the TARDIS’s powers and potency. One stand-out sequence has the police box proving to be a rather useless submarine whilst the Doctor realizes his time machine might, for once, prove more of a hindrance than a help.

Colgan’s authorial voice also shines through via a focus on character, though her historical figures sometimes read as thinly veiled versions of contemporary norms. It seems that the past is merely a different county; they do things pretty much the same there. Mind you, the TV series already has form on this, and one could just as well argue that Colgan is faithfully emulating the approach of The Fires of Pompeii. In terms of structure, this feels a lot like a Russell T. Davies tale, with the action-oriented storyline ending some time before the novel’s eventual closure and being followed by a coda leaving readers with a warm, fuzzy glow inside. Colgan has seemingly blended a cocktail of showrunners’ tics and tropes: Moffat’s take on monstrosity combined with Davies’s greater feeling for feeling.

And there are some ‘Easter egg’ treats for attentive readers, such as the Doctor’s knowledge of Busted lyrics in Chapter Eighteen, and some delightfully unexpected cameos in Chapter Nineteen. Colgan’s writing enacts its very own time travel in the latter case, skilfully proffering a sudden, vertiginous narrative switch to the present day. This gives her story added scope and scale, and brings home the fact that ancient history can linger unseen within nooks and crannies of the here-and-now. It’s a smart literary trick well suited to the omniscient narrator, and rather more difficult to pull off on TV.

The eleventh Doctor is well depicted, with Matt Smith’s performance style and quickfire dialogue being well captured. And although the Doctor’s method of overcoming the fiery antagonist he faces is very strongly signposted, there are still some unexpected twists and turns along the way. I suspect that BBC Books are deliberately commissioning these stand-alone releases as distinctly seasonal titles; the snowy, silvery Silent Stars Go By was aimed squarely at last year’s Christmas market, while this blazing red-and-bronze effort appears designed as a summer read, with the forthcoming Wheel of Ice again having a wintry feel in time for Christmas 2012. Or perhaps it’s mere coincidence that the range has settled into this publishing schedule of snow, fire, and ice. Given current British weather, BBC Books might be better off acquiring a novel about biblical floods or misbehaving climates for next summer.

As well as expertly catching the eleventh Doctor’s persona, Colgan also has some fun with how he is perceived. Thought to be a God, his identity is recurrently linked to that of Loki, the trickster. It’s a not uncommon parallel for the Time Lord, but one that’s especially relevant to Matt Smith’s Doctor, and also one that’s well integrated into the milieu of this story rather than ever feeling forced or tricksy. Freydis ponders whether the Doctor will meet the fate foretold for Loki, and in turn I wondered whether the novel would leave this thread hanging, implying some wider story arc or foreshadowing. But ultimately it seems that things are all tidied away by the time the Doctor departs for further adventures.

This is another satisfying novel from BBC Books. It features an intriguing, well-developed foe for the Doctor, and it successfully incorporates Colgan’s interests and writing style into Doctor Who. However, on a more critical note I do think that crediting this to "J.T." Colgan is an unhelpful bit of marketing wisdom. Are Jenny Colgan’s fans really going to order this title – with its foil DW logo – expecting it to be her usual brand of writing? Are Doctor Who fans going to read this without an awareness of “J.T”’s identity, given the author photo and description provided inside the back cover? The Coming of the Terraphiles was arguably a less ‘authentic’ Who novel than this, but there was no sign of that being written by “M.J.” Moorcock. Instead, Moorcock’s readers and Doctor Who fans were assumed to form a unified or at least non-antagonistic taste bloc (itself a potentially fallacious assumption). Coy and unconvincing author’s initials convey the shortsighted impression here that modern Doctor Who can’t or shouldn’t be clearly attributed to a bestselling “chick lit” writer. I can’t help but wonder what feisty Princess Freydis would make of this state of affairs. Or whether one “V.A.” Lambert would have sanctioned such dark, narrow horizons of gender and genre.