Full disclosure: I’m a Whovian (AKA a big fan of Doctor Who). Have been since 2007 when I walked into the room while my dad was watching it (read more about that here). The show is one reason (in many) why I was so excited to go to Britain. So forgive me while I geek a bit.
Cardiff had been on my to-do list since landing in Heathrow. The city is where they film most of the show. They even set a spin off, Torchwood, there. (Wales is to England, as Canada is to the US; they film a lot of things there simply because it’s cheaper.) In addition, BBC has set up a museum, the Doctor Who Experience, next to their studios. So like any self-respecting Whovian, I had to go there.
I was supposed to meet my cousin there (he’s stationed outside of Cambridge; I visited him in September) as he is a minor Whovian and wanted to see the Doctor Who Experience as well. He was running late, so I walked to Porth Teigr (the location of the museum) on my own from the city center coach stop I got off at.
Normally, it wouldn’t be that bad of a walk, a little long, but on the whole not that bad. But what I wasn’t counting on was the weather. I knew it was supposed to be raining that day and had prepared for it. It was the wind that I wasn’t expecting. It got so bad (even worse than Dublin) that I had to put my umbrella away for fear of breaking it. So I was left walking for twenty or so minutes, hunched in my raincoat, getting blasted with water from all sides.
I didn’t matter though. My excitement at seeing the Wales Millennium Centre staved off any ill-feelings that this kind of weather normally induces. The supposed entrance of the secret Torchwood base and site of numerous Doctor Who episodes, the plaza in front of the Centre is an iconic spot known to any remote fan of the newest incarnation of the series. It was deserted when I was there, and I had a hard time seeing it through the mist on my glasses, but I didn’t care. I was here. I squealed in delight.
I then made my way to the Doctor Who Experience (I was thoroughly soaked by that time) and waited for my cousin in the café outside of the exhibit. After waiting for about an hour, he called me and said he couldn’t get there. Google was not giving him a route to the area that could work. He was frustrated, tired, and I could tell that the weather was getting to him. He called to say that he was giving up and going home. I was now on my own.
So I got into in at the last entrance time. There were only about ten other people there: a couple of families and a few tourists. After going to so many places full obnoxious amounts of people, it was both refreshing and a little sad to be in this tiny group. I could tell that none of them were avid fans, just causal viewers looking for something to do on a cold and rainy day. The time of year and the weather had scared everyone else off. I felt a bit like a black sheep.
The Doctor Who Experience comes in two parts: the Interactive Experience and the Exhibition Hall. During the Interactive Experience, the visitor is placed within a specially created Doctor Who adventure and gets to go through all the thrills and fears of a companion. I won’t say anything more specific about the story (spoilers), but I will say that I felt a bit awkward during it. It would’ve been so much fun had more people gotten as into it as I had, but most didn’t. The adults just stood around, admiring the set design. The teenagers scoffed at how fake it all was. Some of the kids looked around in confusion (they were pretty young). I still tried to make the most of it though.
I really geeked out when I got to the Exhibition Hall. Similar to the Harry Potter Studio Tour but on a much smaller scale (ironically), the exhibit includes two expansive rooms full of sets and costumes from the 50+ years of the show’s history. From the original TARDIS consul to Missy’s costume, many of the highlights from over the years were there. I got to walk around the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS, peer into the eye of the first Dalek, examine the stitching on the Forth Doctor’s scarf, tap the glass of the Face of Boe, and stare up at the blank face of the Cybermen. I don’t believe I stopped smiling the whole time. Once again, I was by far the most enthusiastic. I took tons of pictures.
Afterwards a short stop in the gift shop, it was back out into the wind and rain, which was now accompanied by darkness. Without the anticipation of the Doctor Who Experience to sustain me, the weather started to get to me. Gloomy, wet, and approaching miserable, I ducked into the Wales Millennium Centre to take a moment to warm up. The place was packed with people, color, and lights. I had stumbled into the end of a Diwali performance. It was a pleasant surprise if I ever saw one. I lingered long enough to regain my smile and then left to get some food.
After a quick meal of fish and chips, I made my way back to the coach stop. It had stopped raining and I was finally allowed to enjoy Cardiff, dressed in its Christmas lights and full of late night shoppers. I wished I could stay longer, but I couldn’t. All the more reason to come back someday.