Out with the old.
Christmas saw the swansong of Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor and a gave us a brief glimpse of the incoming 13th Doctor – Jodie Whittaker – being thrown out of the doors of an exploding TARDIS. Very dramatic and a clear sign that the new series will bring us not only a new Doctor but new console room.
A time-lapse video of the careful dismantling of the TARDIS console room set from its home at the BBC studios in Cardiff Bay popped up on Twitter a few weeks ago https://twitter.com/bbcdoctorwho/status/947422346607861760 . It was very sad seeing it go, more so because that was the Doctor’s TARDIS I finally got to step on to…
Back in April 2017 – between the end of the latest season of filming and before the start of the production of the Christmas special – the BBC kindly opened up the set to fans to visit for an additional fee when they visit the Doctor Who Experience (link to my blog about my final visit).
I’d already been to the Experience earlier that year in January having taken my boyfriend and fellow Who geek for his birthday. But when they announced the set tours and knowing that the Experience would be closing sometime that year another trip to the ‘diff was hastily arranged!
I’ve lost count of how many times I’d been to various incarnations of the Experience over the years and have enjoyed watching it evolve (thanks to good friends in Cardiff!). To be able walk on an actual in production, and screen used TARDIS would be the ultimate experience for a lifelong Doctor Who fan.
After an uneventful road trip down to Cardiff and an overnight stay at a friend’s house (whom we introduced to Cards Against Humanity…) we headed down to the bay early on a sunny Sunday morning. Our tickets gave us entrance to the Doctor Who Experience before the set tour and after enjoying that we skipped out of the museum to grab a much-needed coffee and bacon buttie. With mounting excitement, we met our guide in the entrance. There were about twenty of us proudly wearing our official tour lanyards, and after leaving any unnecessary bags behind, we were led to the studios.
The BBC studios are practically across the road from the Experience, barely 5 minutes walk. They were actually built after the Experience was – previously the studios were located outside Cardiff at Upper Boat. Given the proximity now it’s easy to see why sometimes actors have made special impromptu appearances to the great delight of fans.
Going through security was a geeky delight in itself. This wasn’t a normal security check – this was Doctor Who security! It looked familiar from having seen that part of the building and the corridor between studios in Peter Davison’s fabulous ‘Five(ish) Doctors’ special done for the 50th anniversary special. With another special BBC Visitor lanyard, we went sharp left then first right and we were outside the Doctor Who soundstage.
The unassuming set door was opened and we walked into a vast soundstage, empty but for a familiar blue box in one far corner – and a massive wooden structure that took up nearly a third of the space. Looking like a cross between a wasp nest and a yurt, the TARDIS console room structure is huge. It reached almost to the ceiling. Three floors and completely enclosed except for a few doorways which offered us tantalising glimpses of what was inside.
A set of wooden stairs led us up to the main entrance to the TARDIS – familiar blue doors surrounded by green screen. We went through those doors and into the TARDIS!
It’s a complete 360 degree experience – no imagination required – you are actually in the TARDIS. We learned that wall panels are taken out when required to allow for filming from almost any angle. I don’t think I truly appreciated how sophisticated and vast the set was until I got to step foot on it. It’s a sturdy construction and was built to look fantastic in HD and to survive the rigours of filming.
We had a brief talk then were taken out again. It was very nicely arranged for everyone to get a moment on the TARDIS without everyone else. A chance to have some quality time for photos and generally geeking out without everyone crowded round. So while some went inside again the rest of us looked at the props, posed with the TARDIS and generally took in the atmosphere of actually being were the show got made. There were a few costumes and pieces from the new episode that had aired the night before (Season 10 – ‘Smile’) and a topless dalek.
Finally, it was our turn to take a step into the TARDIS and it was everything we had hoped. It was a surprisingly moving experience – this was the actual TARDIS, not a replica or an old prop, the Doctor’s TARDIS! Some parts of it were blocked off so we didn’t have complete free reign to wander. We couldn’t go up to the upper level or walk all round the console but more than enough to see.
We had a ‘minder’, a lovely young woman who worked on the series and was happy to chat and tell us some stories. She was the one who confirmed that there would be a new set with the new Doctor (this was long before we knew about Jodie’s casting).
We took so many photos! We’d even brought our own sonic screwdriver! There was a lot of shameless posing, but everyone was the same. It was lots of fun, and we could see that everyone was trying to absorb as much of it into their memory as possible.
The Doctor’s guitar and amplifier were to one side, a pot of sonic screwdrivers was on a console. We even spotted the mini bar! (We didn’t realise then how much it would feature in the Christmas special – we didn’t have a tipple honestly Doctor!)
It was very trusting of the BBC to allow fans onto a ‘live’ set. But I’ve found that most fans are almost reverential in their respect for props and costumes. Saying that it still took a great deal of will power to not touch any of the buttons and toggles on the console…
We almost had to be dragged out as they had to get ready for another tour to come in. I guess we had about an hour to soak it all in and take as many photos as we wanted – it was well worth the extra cost and the return trip.
Reluctantly handing back our BBC Visitor passes we returned to the Doctor Who Experience to finish off our visit with a walk around the museum. It was an amazing day out which will never be forgotten and I’ve no doubt we’ll bore friends and strangers to tears with our tale of when we visited the TARDIS, but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?
Jump forward to December 2017 and we’re sat in a derelict bingo hall in the freezing cold basement of abandoned cinema in Bradford watching a special BBC preview screening of the Doctor Who Christmas special ‘Twice Upon a Time’ . My boyfriend nudges me and we share a smile as we watch the fabulous David Bradley as the 1st Doctor walk on board *our TARDIS*.