As artificial interactive Experiences go, in my experience, the thing to beat is Star Trek: The Experience, formerly of Las Vegas, Nevada, which started off with visitors lining up for, we thought, a theme-park simulator ride and almost instantly morphed into a far more thrilling adventure, when it seemed — no, it really really seemed — as if you’ve been beamed up to the Starship Enterprise. It’s been a decade since I experienced Star Trek: The Experience, which has long since closed, but to this day, pondering how they achieved that effect still boggles my fanbrain, and thinking about how it felt (I got beamed up to the Enterprise!) still gives me chills.
Does the new Doctor Who Experience, which just opened at London’s Olympia exhibition center, match that? Not quite… but very nearly. Very very nearly.
Of course, it helps if one is already so amped up on Doctor Who dorkiness that merely approaching the Olympia has you preorgasmic:
Entry is timed — you arrive within the half-hour timeslot on your ticket — so even if the event is sold out (as it was yesterday), mobs are kept to a minimum:
(There were far fewer kids than I anticipated, especially given the fact that schools are closed for half-term holidays. It was nice not to be the only childless adult in attendance.)
Then comes the next queue. While you wait to enter the interactive section of the Experience, you can mill around and check out a few props and costumes from Matt Smith’s debut series:
You can also mill around and enjoy the crowd, who are entertaining in themselves. I’m not sure I saw anyone under the age of 10 without a sonic screwdriver. I saw more than a few fezzes on more than a few heads (because fezzes are cool). Little boys were wearing bowties. Adorable!
Bring your smartphone! (Not that you would ever leave home without it anyway.) You’ll be able to use it to follow along through the exhibits after the interactive bit.
So: the interactive bit. I’m not going to spoil it by revealing what happens. All I’ll say is that I have long dreamed of walking into the TARDIS, and those dreams were rewarded in ways that gave me shivers of delight, even if I had to share the experience with a bunch of strangers. The Doctor talks to us! Yes, okay, it’s only via video screen, but he talks to us! And we have to help him! Even if, as he complains, we’re not Amy — we’re not even Rory! (There’s lot of silly Steven Moffat-Matt Smith humor in the video stuff. It makes it feel even more like you’re walking through an episode.)
There are Daleks! For real, life-size Daleks threatening to exterminate us. They really did make me shudder, and I don’t even actually find them all that scary on TV. But one little girl, maybe three, screamed and screamed her head off in sheer terror. It was very unnerving.
There are Weeping Angels. They are very scary.
Oh, it’s glorious. Goofy, but glorious. If I had my druthers, the interactive section would be longer, and scarier still, and even more interactive than it is. But it’s so much fun. I haven’t grinned and giggled so much in ages.
Past the interactive bit, there’s a big exhibition of props, sets, costumes, and such from the show. There is, thrillingly, an installation of the console room set from the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant years: you can’t actually walk through it, but you can walk on some of it, and you can get pretty close to the console. And hell, if you stand with your back to the rest of the exhibition, you can pretend you’re in the TARDIS:
I actually got a bigger thrill out of seeing the Peter Davison-through-Sylvester McCoy console — also the actual set installed here — because this was my console:
Oh the wonderful retro 80s-ness of it! Oh TARDIS of my dreams!
If you’ve seen the Doctor Who exhibition that has been touring the U.K. over the past few years, you’ve seen some of this stuff before, but not all of it:
(That’s a William Hartnell-era Dalek, which would of course have been shot in black-and-white. Who knew it had pretty baby blue nodules!)
Above is only a tiny sample — there’s tons more, and depending on how truly geeky you are, you could spend hours looking at all the details.
For the kids, there’s lots of hands-on stuff here, too. Like the Dalek shell little ones can sit in manipulate the eyestalk and the guns:
There’s a little shop at the end, of course. There’s always a little shop, because they want to sell you stuff. It’s all the same old crap you can get in Forbidden Planet or online or anywhere. Doctor Who dork that I am, there still wasn’t anything there that caught my fancy.
But that’s okay. Because now I have this. It might be my most favorite picture of myself ever:
I’m on the TARDIS! At last!
Tickets are on sale for Experiencing through November at Doctor Who Experience.
(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)