It was another Doctor Who day today. I hadn't really intended for Cardiff to be solely Doctor Who sightseeing, but that's how things have panned out thanks to my wandering on the first day and the tour yesterday. There was one big attraction that I couldn't resist: the Doctor Who Experience. It's a huge installation in a custom-built warehouse space on the Cardiff Bay, and given the new series premieres in two days it felt appropriate.
The experience is comprised firstly of a twenty-five minute interactive adventure scripted by the show's producers and starring Matt Smith. Second, there's a large exhibition of props, costumes and models from the show. It is obviously aimed at kids, but there were more than a few older attendees too, and not just parents.
The interactive experience is basically along the lines of a MovieWorld ride. It beings with a five minute highlight reel of the series, which, honestly, was pretty powerful and may have got me a little misty-eyed. Then you pass through into the Starship UK, and your guide shows you around until disaster strikes and you need to help the Doctor. Then it's a whirling tour through the Tardis (actually entering in the front door into a room that's bigger on the inside), and kids get to drive it as pneumatic pumps roll the platforms you're on to simulate movement.
The Daleks make an appearance, as do the Weeping Angels. Honestly, to adults it's not the greatest thing ever, though the novelty of it all keeps it engaging. Kids, though, were flipping their shit. Getting to drive the Tardis, being captured by Daleks. Despite knowing that some of the creatures are infamously scary to children, it was quite something else seeing one freak out and start crying when the Daleks approached. I guess when you picture it as a five year old, it's all pretty fucking intense. Poor guys.
After it finishes, you're let out into the museum portion. This was where I spent a good hour or two, wandering all the exhibits. They had hundreds of props from the original series and modern continuation, both original and replicas. They had the outfits of all eleven Doctors on display, and Tardises from the original series, Eccleston era, and most recent series. They had the original, slightly burnt Tardis interior from Tennant's regeneration, and a huge collection of creatures. There were large Dalek and Cybermen exhibits, along with Silence, Judoon, Silurians, Sontarans and more. It was awesome.
Eventually, I had to tear myself away to have lunch. I then headed back up towards our hostel to visit the Cardiff Castle. This large fortress was built on Roman ruins and is rather famous for each successive owner attempting to either hide or show off its old features. One marquess decided to cover the old walls, fill in the moat around the keep and open the green up into lawn. The next dug up the moat again, exposed the ruins for historical merit and renovated the mansion with gothic wings. And so on and so forth.
It was a fascinating space, situated on a busy city corner beside the large shopping district. Inside, of course, you can't really see or hear the city world, but you can't quite fool yourself into thinking you're in the countryside. The mansion was kitted out with period pieces and was rather magnificent, though you couldn't tour every room. In the grass, there were falconers training their birds.
Probably the most special experience came out of nowhere. As I was there late in the day, the place had cleared out and was rather quiet. I wanted to do a walk along the battlements before leaving, and followed a path up the sloped mount. I could have continued up to the walls, but there was an entrance leading underground that I headed into out of curiosity. It turns out, the interiors of the old walls (rebuilt on the Roman ruins back in the 1800s) had been used for World War II air raid bunkers.
The passage led to a corner, and in front of me stretched a huge, continuous corridor, only partially lit. I started to walk down it, and then nearly jumped out of my skin when, triggered by the motion, a speaker began playing historical audio. The entire corridor was lined with them, so it continued to boom as I moved further down. It was playing the radio announcement of Britain's war with Germany after they refused to withdraw from Poland, presumably by Churchill.
It was deeply moving to walk along this passageway that people had hid in, and see the little kitchens and benches that had been their only comforts. As if that wasn't intense enough, the radio message gently faded out and was replaced by the sounds of an air raid and bombs falling. In the huge room, it echoed all around you, and you could almost feel the vibration in the stones. Immensely powerful, and quietly devastating. I started to well up for the second time in one day.
We're nearing the end. Tomorrow, we leave for London, where we have our last two nights in Europe (though I said similar in Norway too and things didn't quite work out that way then). After London, we head to Canada, where we have a good couple of weeks, and then it's just Japan left. Starting to feel like we're on our way home.