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I've Seen Who's in Cardiff
Doctor Who Up Close (Cardiff)
Member Name: collingwood21
Doctor Who Up Close (Cardiff)
Advantages: Fun, Great chance to see and photograph costumes and props from the show, Open daily
Disadvantages: Expensive, Smaller than I had expected
The "Up Close" exhibition is located in the Red Dragon Centre, a newly built entertainment complex in the bay area, gratifyingly near the mythical location of the "Torchwood" hub. It is pretty easy to get to - there are yellow AA signs to the "Doctor Who Exhibition" on major roads through the city from the M4 and the centre has a substantial free car park. It is also easily accessible on public transport via the "bay car" bendy bus, which runs between the city centre, central train station and bay area around every ten minutes (it cost £1 each one way from the train station to the bay, and the bus stop is well signposted from the platforms). The Red Dragon Centre has a bowling alley, cinema, bars and restaurants (but apparently no public toilets) as well as the exhibition, which can be found near the back, next to the Odeon. Entrance to the associated shop is free (how kind!), but if you want to go around the exhibition, then be prepared to shell out a hefty £5 each for adults and £3.50 for children and concessions (or £14 for a family ticket). The exhibition is open from 11am to 7pm daily, and will be in the Centre for the foreseeable future (and judging from how many visitors there were when we went, that will be for quite a while yet).
The exhibition occupies a fairly small space, so things tend to feel a bit crowded inside, especially when it is busy; if you go on a Saturday, expect to have hordes of overexcited small children pushing past you during your visit! The experience starts with a series of information panels telling you a bit about each of the Doctors; a nice trick here is that the information has been put on semi-transparent panels, so when you press the big red interactive button, lights behind the panel go up to reveal a hidden monster behind each one (including an original cyberman, which scared the hell out of me when I was little). The rest of the exhibition is made up of a selection of costumes, props, artefacts, models and images from the first three series of the new "Doctor Who", most of which are on open display, so you can get pretty close to them and take photographs easily. The order of the displays seems a bit haphazard, and I think that is a result of the organisers trying to fit as many things in as possible into a small space, and then adding new items from series three after the exhibition had already opened. Highlights for me were seeing the costumes that the main characters wore (including Kylie's outfit from the 2007 Christmas special), and seeing a dalek (which are bigger than I imagined them to be). Other Half was especially pleased with the Tardis and the model stone angel used from the episode "blink".
The tour was great fun - families can take free quiz around with them if they want to and claim a window sticker at the shop for completing it - but took only about half an hour to go around. To be fair, the organisers had crammed in as much as they could to the exhibition, but I had expected it to be much bigger, especially given the cost of visiting. I would have expected such an attraction to occupy a larger site (I certainly got that impression from their website), but maybe the chance to be so close to the prime location of the bay was too good to miss. The other major disadvantage I noted was the lack of toilets in the exhibition; this, coupled with the absence of public toilets in the venue (if they were there, then they were very well hidden) means spending even more money in one of the eateries if you want to use a bathroom during your visit. I was less than impressed with this situation given it was a family attraction. The exhibition content should be suitable to most visitors, although very young and/or sensitive children may find it a bit scary or overwhelming. Most children I saw during my visit were thoroughly enjoying themselves, but a couple did seem to find it a bit too much; mind you, the scarecrow model from episode "the family" would have been quite enough to scare me if I had met it close up at that age! The exhibition appeared to be fully accessible to visitors in wheelchairs or with pushchairs.
At the end of the exhibition, you emerge through a one-way door into the well-stocked (and no doubt highly profitable) "sci fi shop". The shop stocks just about anything that has ever had a "Doctor Who" or "Torchwood" logo slapped on it: toys, mugs, posters, models, t-shirts, books, inflatable daleks, you name it. Of more interest to us, however, was the selection of signed pictures and Royal Mail first day covers, as they were unique to the exhibition (and a great birthday present for any sci fi loving dads who just happened to have birthdays coming up). Prices for the toys and books seemed comparable to what you would pay for the same items in high street shops, with the autographed pieces varying in price between about £15 and £65 depending on who had signed them (or which Who had signed them for that matter!). The shop was busy and a bit chaotic, but it had something to appeal to most visitors if you were prepared to fight your way through the crowds to have a look at things - I actually found it quite refreshing that the organisers weren't just trying to flog things at the captive audience of excited kids (although that was going on as well, of course).
In summary, I think it is a good place to visit as long as you are enough of a fan of "Doctor Who" to not mind spending £5 on seeing a small and quite random selection of items from the show. The opportunity to have your photo taken with some of the more famous items was brilliant, and we both enjoyed browsing around the shop, but I did have the nagging sense that the entrance price was just too much for what we saw. Other Half - as a seriously dedicated fan - loved it and couldn't stop grinning for the rest of the day. He thought it was well worth the £5. I suppose value for money comes down to how much of a fan you are in the end!
Shop website: www.scificollector.co.uk
*It really says something about the UK that our favourite recent TV show is a children's programme filmed on a shoestring budget in Wales.
Summary: A good place to visit for fans of Doctor Who
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