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October 17th, 2011

As an American Doctor Who fan, it was always frustrating to read about the exhibitions of original costumes and props that randomly dotted Great Britain. Here in the U.S., our only opportunity for a close-up look at our favorite monsters was a travelling truck that visited public television stations in the mid-’80s.

Happily, last Friday the stars aligned for me and I was able to visit the most recent of the British exhibitions, the Doctor Who Experience in London. It’s half-museum, half-walkthrough effectsapalooza.

The walkthrough portion reminded me of the Borg Invasion at the late, lamented Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, in which the group was ushered through a series of rooms, all the while goaded on pre-recorded video segments. In this case, current Doctor Who Matt Smith provided the linking material.

It begins aboard the Starship U.K., as seen in the episode “The Beast Below.” The first room is an exhibition-within-the-exhibition, as a Node (the human-faced computer guides from “Silence in the Library) points out some of the items on display, including the full-sized telescope/anti-werewolf weapon from “Tooth and Claw.” Many other props were littering the chamber, unmentioned and difficult to pick out. (I’m pretty sure that I spotted a pool-cleaning robot from the Seventh Doctor story “Paradise Towers” amidst the debris.)

Matt Smith appears on the monitor to inform us that he’s been trapped in the Pandorica again. (Actually, a second one; he complains that they didn’t even paint it a different color!) Somehow, we’re the only ones who can help!

The TARDIS police box “materializes” in the room courtesy of a theatrical scrim and some lighting effects, and we’re ushered through the doors. For me, this is the best bit: the moment where you pass through the police box doors and enter the “bigger on the inside” console room. The Doctor has us control the TARDIS through some kid-friendly joysticks (pointedly not attached to the actual central console) as the floor gently bucks in simulated flight.

We “land” and exit through the back door(!) into a spaceship corridor and finally into a sinister control room dominated by three animated New Paradigm Daleks. Say what you will about the current Dalek design, but it’s damned impressive when it’s looking down on you, screeching about extermination.

Our imminent death is interrupted by a ship-to-ship attack by the previous generation of Daleks claiming to be the children of Davros, and we flee into what is supposed to be the woods near Stonehenge. There were some Weeping Angels here, but we moved too quickly through the chamber to get a good look at them.

The whole thing winds up with a 3-D show in which various monsters reach out at us through the door of the opened Pandorica. It’s cheesy, but the 3-D effects are excellent. Somehow we’ve helped the Doctor escape and save the day! Yay!

The rest of the Doctor Who Experience is an extensive museum of props and costumes, including costumes of all eleven Doctors and the latter-day companions. The console room of the Ninth/Tenth Doctors has been recreated, as has that of the Fifth/Sixth/Seventh Docs. Many monster costumes are on display, including an impressive line-up of Daleks from the their original 1963 appearance to the present day. A few other old-school monsters appear as well: Sontarans from “The Time Warrior” and “The Two Doctors,” an Ice Warrior, a Zygon, and–most spectacularly–the ginormous K-1 robot from Tom Baker’s first story.

Pictures within the walkthrough portion weren’t allowed, but I’ve fully documented the exhibit halls and placed the photos in a public Facebook gallery. Enjoy!

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