Doctor Who Experience

Get ready for a whole new style of Doctor Who exhibition, as the Doctor Who Experience plunges you into an adventure which sees you at the controls of the TARDIS. Philip Murphy, the BBC’s Managing Director of Live Entertainment, reveals what’s in store

You’ll be able to fly the TARDIS with instructions from the Doctor, learn how to walk like a monster, create sound effects and see Doctor Who sets and costumes that have never been on display before. The Doctor Who Experience will be the biggest, boldest, most interactive and longest Doctor Who exhibition ever when it opens at London’s Olympia Two next February (before moving to a permanent home in Cardiff) and for fans who grew up with the Longleat exhibition it’ll be culture shock. Whereas at the Longleat effort, after you entered the Police Box doorway, you had a certain sense of “it seems smaller on the inside”, the Doctor Who experience has been designed to keep you entertained for at least 90 minutes, with no less than three TARDIS sets to keep you occupied. Hey, and if you love a little shop, there’s one of those too. And a cafe.

Unlike previous Doctor Who exhibitions, which have been licensed out, The Doctor Who Experience is being produced wholly by BBC Worldwide, and, according to Philip Murphy, the BBC’s Managing Director of Live Entertainment, it’ll be “a game of two halves. There’s a walk-through, interactive, immersive adventure where you get to get to be part of the story, and then there’s a fully-fledged exhibition, which is by far the biggest exhibition of Doctor Who props, and memorabilia and actual sets that’s every been done. Way bigger than anything else.”

How big? “At 4,000 square metres, it’s getting on to the size of a football pitch. So, it’s a big old thing. This is something that we’re doing 100% ourselves rather than involving external companies or licensees or anything like that. This is an entirely BBC owned and run project. So it’s essential that we do it well.”

So was there a feeling that previous Doctor Who exhibitions hadn’t quite lived up to the standards of the series?

“Each exhibition has to be taken on its own merits and I wasn’t personally involved in licensing any of them so I can’t really speak about them. I think a lot of people visited and enjoyed all the previous exhibitions. Could they have been better? Well, by its very definition, what we’re doing with the Doctor Who Experience will demonstrate that they can be done better, but it’s an expensive business. You need the size and scale to be able to make something like this work.”

Rumour has it that the interactive adventure starts with you stepping through the infamous “crack” we saw throughout series five.

“That’s correct,” says Murphy. “Basically, it’s a storyline that’s been generated from the fans that we asked. We asked the how them how they wanted to interact with the show outside the TV medium. The number one thing they said to us was that they wanted to get inside the TARDIS. So our whole process from then was to try to work out the best way we could do that, and making it more interesting than, ‘This is the inside of the TARDIS, now move on.’ So creating that whole storyline to give people the chance to be part of an adventure, and be the Doctor’s companion for the day – to help him out in this particular story – seemed like the perfect way of doing that, then leading through into the more traditional, free-flowing exhibition, albeit we’ve got interactive elements in the exhibition too.”

In the Experience as a whole there will be three TARDIS sets, Murphy explains. The Exhibition will feature the actual sets used during the Tennant era (“reconstructed after its catastrophic destruction”) and the Davison era (“There’ll be some differences in production value between the two of them, obviously”) but the set used in the interactive Experience adventure is a, “100% reproduction of the actual Matt Smith TARDIS that you’ll fly.” Also, while the Tennant and Davison sets will obviously be open on one side (hey, the cameras had to peek in somehow), the Smith set will be completely enclosed, “so it’s going to feel even more like the real thing,” says a genuinely excited Murphy. “To be inside this thing – which is just enormous – and feel the scale of it, it brings out the inner geek of me. I’m looking forward to seeing people’s faces for the first time when they get to be stood inside the TARDIS for the first time, and then take photos and put them on FaceBook.”

The interactive adventure will also feature new footage of Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor. “The Experience is programmed to last half an hour, so there’s a whole load of Matt Smith footage that’s been filmed specifically for this that has been written for us by Steven Moffat. So it’s properly true to the current incarnation. That obviously comes in and out during the half hour with all the other physical interactions with the various sort of surprises and visual effects and monsters that appear during the course of that adventure. It’s very much aimed at a family audience so we’re not going to try to scare people to death. However, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who unless it was a little bit scary in places.”

The interactivity doesn’t stop after you finish being a companion for the day. “Within the exhibition there are some other interactive elements,” explains Murphy. “There’s some stuff from the Radiophonic Workshop, sound effects stuff. We’ve also got – obviously aimed at the younger end of the audience, but which I’m still quite excited about – a “learn to move like a monster” video section with lessons from a lady called Ailsa Berk (who does the monster choreography on the show). It is aimed at kids, but I’ll be doing it! We’re just finalising which monsters we’ll be teaching you to walk like, but Cybermen, Scarecrows – they have the fun movements. But we haven’t filmed the choreographed sequences yet.”

And it’s not all about the new series. Apart from the Davison TARDIS, the classic series will be well represented.

“We’ve tried to pack a lot of stuff in, but there’s a limit to what we can do. We’ve tried to be fair to all of the eras. We’ve gone into the archives of Radio Times . We’ve gone into the archives of the production and the sets. We’ve got things like the original Bernard Bresslaw Ice Warrior costume. There’s a lot of stuff that never has been seen before in exhibitions. But obviously there is a limit to what you can do. For example, we can’t feature every companion. We’ve only got a selection of companion costumes, because over 47 years there are just too many.”

The decision to kick off at London’s Olympia Two in February 2011 before moving it to Cardiff is, Murphy frankly admits, a financial one: “The decision to run it in London first is purely commercial. If you want to spend the sort of money required to make this kind of experience work, you’re going to have to sell enough tickets to make money back from it, and that meant starting in London before we can then move down to Cardiff.

“The idea of then moving to a more permanent home in Cardiff is that it is the spiritual home of the show now, and with the proximity we will have to the new studios that the production will be moving into, it just seemed to make the most sense. Certainly, Cardiff as a city was really, really keen to see it. So we’re going to do our level best to make sure that’s what happens. But there are still a few wrinkles to iron out before we can confirm when and where and that sort of thing.”

And BBC Worldwide sees the Exhibition as a long-term project. “Our plan is to measure its time there in years. We’ll then refresh the content of the exhibition as the new series goes on. And when series six goes on air and new monsters appear we will be finding ways of featuring them in the exhibition. The Experience won’t change because that’s been filmed already. But the exhibition we can update.”

For more information on how to book tickets got to .

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.