The Red Dragon Centre
Leave THE M4 at J33
AND THEN FOLLOW THE
A4232 to Cardiff Bay
10:00 TO 18:30
(LAST ENTRY 18:15)
UNDER 16s AND
FAMILIES (2 ADULTS
AND 2 CHILDREN) £20.00
10TH OCTOBER 2010
I’ve been meaning to get down to Cardiff for several years now; ever since they started filming there, in fact. Not only does the bay area sport such exquisite landmarks as the architecturally-delightful Millennium Centre and its incredibly arresting water feature, but the adjacent Red Dragon Centre houses Up-Close Cardiff - without a doubt one of the most impressive Doctor Who exhibitions ever held. This weekend I finally made the five-hour drive down there, the tedium of which my long-suffering wife found infinitely preferable to spending even longer running around after me with a camera inside a children’s sci-fi wonderland.
We arrived in Cardiff at around 11am via the M4’s Junction 33. This added a few miles onto our journey, but neatly avoided the volley of pedestrian crossings and one-way streets that I understand we’d have been subjected to had we listened to our TomTom. It also provided us with stunning views of the Bay as we approached, prompting lots of pointing and gasping on my part as I recognised various buildings that I’d seen from high above in Torchwood.
To my astonishment, the Council Building on
Hemingway Road offered free parking, and
was located within just a few minutes stroll of
the Bay. Despite the urge to run straight over
to the Millennium Centre’s water feature and
try to get the Torchwood Hub’s unperceivable
lift working, I managed to sort out my priorities
and tackled the Who exhibition first, and it’s a
good thing that I did. When entering, the staff attach a band to your wrist allowing a full day’s
access, but I don’t think that they expect anyone to take that literally. Needless to say, I did, and so by the time that we’d got finished, there was barely time for Torchwood.
As I entered, I found myself lost amongst headless dummies wearing the Doctor’s clothes. David Tennant’s suit, overcoat and sneakers was the first sight that I clocked when entering, and just opposite it was Christopher Eccleston’s all-black outfit and Billie Piper’s original costume. A soiled version of Matt Smith’s garb was the first of the Series 5 exhibits, but all these things were as nothing when I rounded the corner to find myself face to face with the TARDIS. Thirty-seven minutes and sixty-four carefully choreographed photographs later, my wife was finally able to tear me away.
The exhibition is divided up into story-themed areas of varying sizes. For the most part, it’s
a love song to Tennant’s tenure, with only a handful of relics from Eccleston’s era persisting, such as the resplendently retro Annedroid from Bad Wolf. Series 5 exhibits are slightly more numerous – amongst Host Robots, Sycorax and legions of Ood is an ‘Ironside’ Dalek, a few assorted costumes (Churchill, Pond, etc), and a Smiler from The Beast Below; booth and all.
For me though, the real highlights of the exhibition were all borne of tenth Doctor tales. The
Rise of the Cybermen two-parter is afforded an imposing display, as a brace of Cybermen (one of them quite chatty, if you know what buttons to press) tower over creator John Lumic’s wheelchair. The Vashta Narada of Silence in the Library, similarly, get an eerie little corner all to themselves, and the Ood are that disquieting that I saw one little girl have to be carried past them by her parents! The wife’s reaction to the Hath of The Doctor’s Daughter and the Tritovores from Planet of the Dead was almost as extreme, mind. And all the while, we were bombarded with well-chosen clips that played out across the floors and ceilings; informative (though not always all that accurate!) placards; and even exciting interactive features such as a working green screen. I finally made it to Bad Wolf Bay.
Now believe it or not, before Saturday I’d never encountered Dalek in the flesh, but even if I had done, nothing could have prepared me for the Hall of Daleks. Sat either side of a stage about half a metre off the floor are two Daleks – one black, one bronze, but both inanimate. Beside them is an appropriately big and threatening red button.
One press later and I wasn’t inside a Cardiff exhibition but on board the Dalek Crucible seen in The Stolen Earth on television. Bathed in mist and a hellish red light, the Dalek Supreme rose from beneath the stage just as his two underlings awoke and swivelled to face me. Call me a coward, but my instinctive reaction was to stick my hands up. I should’ve known better - a battle cry from Nicholas Briggs later and I was being cut down with green lasers in spite of my surrender, while the missus desperately tried to keep her hand steady as she tried to film the whole thing. Fortunately I was able to recruit a kindly Australian lady with a steadier hand to handle the more challenging aspects of the photography from that point forth.
Given the horrors of the Hall, it’s probably for the best that the exhibition’s internal layout is configured so that one can avoid it, and I saw more than one youngster who did just that. My wife wasn’t so fortunate, enduring four visits in all.
Having patted the rusty old K-9 of School Reunion goodbye1, we finally emerged in the gift shop, which came as a little bit of a let down having been exterminated by a Briggs-voiced Dalek and threatened by a lively Cyberman. Had I been in the market for a remote control Dalek, then I’d have been onto a winner – I’ve never seen so many! - but beyond that the wares on offer weren’t anything to write home about; just a smattering of antique Big Finish CDs and a modest selection of surprisingly pristine Target paperbacks. I decided to treat myself to one of the latter, just for the novelty of owning a Target book that hasn’t yet been ravaged by the years; a novelty that I then surpassed by using a copper-crushing device to turn a worthless old penny into a TARDIS-branded coin.
With my wife literally begging for sustenance, I had to capitulate and treat her to a gourmet burger by the Bay before braving the hordes of snap-happy tourists milling around what any right-minded person thinks of as Torchwood. Sadly the Millennium Centre’s water feature was inactive and overshadowed by an ugly crane, but I still managed to have a little jump up and down on the invisible lift and pose for two hundred and twelve subtly-different pictures nearby. Still not sated, on the way home I pulled up outside St Paul’s Church in Grangetown, where I walked up and down on the spot of road that did for Pete Tyler, bringing the day’s fanatical revelry to a surprisingly maudlin end.
For Doctor Who and Torchwood fans lucky enough to live within driving distance of Cardiff, I’d heartily recommend making the trip. The Up-Close Cardiff exhibition is closing down in March 2011 for refurbishment, but until then, for a maximum of just £6.50 (kids and families are a bit cheaper) you can lose yourself amongst Daleks and Cybermen, (surreptitiously) fondle the handle on the TARDIS doors, and even cut and paste yourself onto the hills of
New Earth. For almost half the price of the Legoland Discovery Centre (don’t ask), it’s an absolute bargain.
1 Unless the staff ask. “Don’t touch the exhibits!”
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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