Saturday, January 11, 2014

London Holiday, 6: Cardiff and "Doctor Who"

December 30th:  For our last day in the UK, we took an early morning train to Cardiff, the capital of Wales, in order to visit "Doctor Who: The Experience" at the BBC Cymru Studio Complex. I am a pretty huge fan of Doctor Who.  It's the longest-running science fiction show on television, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary last November. I fell in love with the show when various PBS stations started carrying it in the 1970's, and I was ecstatic when Russell T. Davies convinced the BBC to revive it 2005, with a better budget and a stellar cast. The show has been a ratings juggernaut ever since the revival. It's a great show. It's well done, beautifully written by luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffatt, and appeals to all ages. There's a definite nostalgia factor for older fans such as me, and the high quality of the programme brings in new viewers all the time.

A plug:  For those unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is that a human-looking alien calling himself The Doctor, an alien from an advanced society, stole a time and space machine from his people and travels the universe and history righting wrongs and saving innocents. His time/space machine used to be able to automatically blend in wherever and whenever it landed, but that particular circuit is broken and it's stuck in the shape of a 1960's British Police Telephone Box. The ship is, famously, bigger on the inside and is called the TARDIS. If you are willing to invest two hours of your time in some really quality television, go and find these two episodes: "Blink" starring David Tennant (the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Hamlet." by the way) as the 10th Doctor, and "Vincent" starring Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor.  They are self-contained, and brilliant.

For those a bit more familiar with the show, let me share this quote from current show runner Steven Moffat:  "It's hard to talk about the importance of an imaginary hero [like the Doctor.] But heroes are important. Heroes tell us something about ourselves. History books tell us who we used to be, documentaries tell us who we are now, but heroes tell us who we want to be. And a lot of our heroes depress me. But you know, when they made this particular hero, they didn't give him a gun.  They gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn't give him a tank or a warship or an X-Wing fighter, they gave him a call box from which you can call for help. And they didn't give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat ray. They gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts. And that's an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don't need a hero like the Doctor."

That, in a nutshell, is why I love the show, and why I could not travel all the way to the UK without visiting Cardiff.

Outside the Experience sound stage in Cardiff.

The building is one of the soundstages at the BBC Cymru complex, and the show itself is filmed right next door. If filming is not actively occuring, one can tour the studio, but alas, the day we visited, the show was filming. The "Experience" itself is divided into two portions: first there is an interactive "ride" experience, where you walk through an adventure with the Doctor.  Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, filmed about an hour's worth of original material as you walk through sets and props on your way to save him from the Pandorica. Again. It's loaded with costumes and props from the show, and was a fan's dream come true. The effects were well-done, even the 3-D movie portions, and if that alone had been the extent of the Experience, it would have been worth the trip, at least for me.

But it's not. At the conclusion of the Adventure, you are taken to what is a very, very extensive museum of fifty years' worth of costumes, props, and history of the show. Several incarnations of the Doctor's ship, the TARDIS, are there, as well as screen-used costumes from every single Doctor and most of his human "companions."

The quintessential Doctor Who villain, the pitiless Dalek.

The costume of Tom Baker, my favorite Doctor.  My beautiful wife knitted me a duplicate of his twelve-foot scarf for Christmas.  She researched where the original wool came from so as to make it as authentic as possible, and it is one of my most prized possessions!

Me with Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston's TARDIS console. I am thinking seriously about pulling a Doctor and stealing a TARDIS myself in this picture.

The TARDIS console in action!

An Ood, one of many, many aliens at the exhibit.

The three TARDISes and costumes from all three Doctors from the 50th Anniversary Special.

A Cyberman, another emotionless villain.

And finally, the villain that creeps me out the most:  Weeping Angels.  They only move when nobody's looking, so... Don't Blink.

After several hours in the museum, we hit the gift shop, which as a fan from the States, was a bit hearbreaking:  they have every DVD of every available episode ... but they're all coded for Region 2, Britain and Europe, and will not play in most US players. Still, there were tons of books and other goodies and I managed to leave with quite a few souvenirs!

We had time before we had to catch our train back to London, so we explored Cardiff a little. The National Museum is there, but they had inexplicably closed (even though, yet again, the website assured us they were open.) It was a shame because they have a wonderful collection of Impressionist paintings. So we walked over to Cardiff Castle, a beautiful ruin with elements going back to Roman times.

Cardiff Castle, specifically, the Romanesque ruin.)

Then it was time for one last delicious pub meal -- there are at least five pubs near the train station, and all of them have excellent reputations. Certainly the two we at which we ate were superb, O'Neill's and The Prince of Wales. Then it was time to board the train, get back to the flat, and pack up for an early morning trip to Heathrow on New Year's Eve for the long, long trip home.

Overall, the London holiday was the trip of a lifetime. With Crohn's Disease, travel is often difficult for me. At best, it's problematic. I had to take massive doses of unpleasant medications in order to temporarily stabilize my condition enough for the trip. I am currently in the process of weaning myself off of the worst of them now that I'm home. So I almost certainly will never be able to make such a trip again, which is a pity, really, because there was so much I still didn't get to see or do.

But clearly, from this and all the previous entries, there was a lot that I DID get to do and see, things I never dreamed would be possible. I am grateful that I had the opportunity, and I dedicate these entries to my family for going along with my crazy scheme, and to my doctors, who helped make it possible for me to do it at all.

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