So, this week has been eventful. Actually, no it hasn’t. I’ve done pretty much sod all for most of it, but that would be because I’d been waiting for Thursday and my trip to Cardiff.
The long day started at 6am. I’d do a detailed description of what I did until I got the train, but you didn’t come here to read about my morning ablutions, so I’ll spare you that. The travel tickets had been bought in advance, and worked out at £22 each way from Manchester to Cardiff, which is pretty good considering that on the day they would have cost us a cool £67 each way.
I’d arranged to meet up with Jenny and Laura at Manchester Piccadilly for 8am, which is exactly the time we arrived, because we’re geeks, and geeks are always on time. Following a quick jaunt into WHSmiths for provisions (and a pack of Doctor Who Top Trumps) we jumped on the waiting train nice and early and found ourselves a table seat. As the journey to Cardiff is over three hours, it’s a good job we all brought along something to entertain us on the way. Doctor Who Top Trumps didn’t last very long, despite our amusement at there being an Adolf Hitler card – so we moved on to travel Connect Four, and then travel Battleships (or at least a slightly cheaper, but no less fun, version of the game called Sea Battle). I lost. Enough about that.
Upon arrival at Cardiff Central we met up with Andrew and made our way over to the bayside area, some twenty minutes walk. On the way we passed the road where a handcuffed Sherlock and John Watson cobbed themselves in front of a bus, and then merely yards away we happened upon the Millennium Centre, complete with Torchwood hub outside. My hope to visit Roald Dahl Plass (for that is the location’s name) and to wander properly through the square was scuppered for the second time this year, as the area was taken over by a travelling funfair. Curses.
Onwards to the Doctor Who Experience, to be found a short walk along the bay. The building is very easy to spot – it’s a huge hangar-style building with DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE emblazoned in 12ft letters over the doors. Observe: –
As you can see, it’s not exactly the most inconspicuous building in the world. Being the summer holidays it was pretty busy inside, a lovely mixture of Doctor Who fans of all ages, some dressed up as Who characters, some (like me) in their Sunday finest. This is a place where you’d really need to be a fan to work there. If not, the constant looping of tracks from the Who soundtrack would probably end up really getting on your tits. I mean, I’m a fan, and I wasn’t there long, but even I was tiring of I Am The Doctor after a few minutes.
We’d arrived some thirty minutes or so early, so we took a seat in the canteen and waited for 1pm, the time of our tour. A quick bottle of water later and we wandered over to the large Lego Dalek in the far corner of the lobby. There we were met by Andy, our guide, who handed out BBC Visitor passes and beckoned us (and around 10 or 12 others) to follow him over the road to Roath Lock Studios.
One brief, excited walk up the road and along the outside of the studios later, we arrived at a turnstile at the far end. Andy buzzed us all in individually and we lined up facing a huge heavy metal door, flanked by security. We were told that the long, narrow avenue on the other side of the door was known as the Yellow Brick Road, so named due to the designers of the studios painting that particular section yellow on the architect’s drafts. It isn’t a strictly accurate name. Grey Tarmac Avenue would be a closer description. We were escorted through the gates and along the avenue, past intriguing-looking doors on either side with signs such as “Costume Store” (what I would have given to have had a look in there!) before we eventually reached Studio 4.
With no further ado we were led straight into the studio; a huge area with an impossibly high ceiling, black soundproof walls keeping the sound (and heat) inside. To our left was what we were here to see.
The first thing we saw as we passed that structure was the famous blue TARDIS doors halfway up. It isn’t an enormous structure by any means, but it is an impressive bloody thing, and that’s just the view of the wooden panels on the outside. Ahead of us as we walked past the structure were a multitude of random chairs and stools, and another mean looking security guy stood menacingly in the corner. We were asked to take a seat and advised that we would be entering the TARDIS in groups of six. We were the largest group there, so we (and a young lad with his mum) headed up the stairs to the Police Box doors first. Outside, the guide proceeded to inform us that the platform upon which we were stood was the location for the filming of the sequence in The Snowmen where the camera followed the Doctor into the TARDIS from the outside. A genuinely fascinating fact, I must admit, but one which, as Doctor Who fans, we all knew already – and this was eating into our time on the set.
After a quick photo outside the famous blue doors, the guide proceeded to open them, and we were bathed in bright green light emanating from the TARDIS console in the centre of the room. A number of gasps could be heard as we were ushered forward into the Console Room set, and once the doors were closed behind us we found ourselves in another world. The set is a 360-degree build. There is a full ceiling above, and the walls surround you. Once you’re inside, you are INSIDE. This is a fully encapsulated set, which makes it all the more impressive.
The console itself is immediately familiar. Although this set has only been in use less than a year it feels like something you’ve known all your life – the fact that the console design owes slightly more to the original William Hartnell console than the previous Nu-Who designs is probably the reason for this. It’s a magnificent device – all levers, lights and buttons as you’d expect from the TARDIS console, but other segments had beautiful coloured screens inset into them:
We learned that these monitors have their displays beamed to them externally, and that each of the twenty panels making up the “outside” wall of the TARDIS can be removed, meaning that the cameras can film anywhere around the set without taking up too much space. Unfortunately, this was all information we could have read anywhere – and we wanted to spend our limited time on the set exploring and taking photographs. The guide moved ahead of us to the lower level, and while he spent time giving information to the young lad and his mum about the Heart of the TARDIS below the console, we spent the time we had taking pictures – one of which soon becoming my favourite picture taken of me EVER…..
Our tour was soon over, and we were led outside really rather sooner than we expected. We were inside the TARDIS around five minutes, certainly nowhere near the ten minutes we were hoping for. If I was going to criticise anything, it would be that we should have been left a little to our own devices once inside. While I wouldn’t expect to be given free reign of the set, I think the majority of tour-goers would simply want to use the time to gaze around and take pictures. We felt we were hurried a little through it.