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The Doctor Who Experience

Not so long ago, and with some the Geek Clique in tow, I ventured to West London to see the Doctor Who Experience. It’s at the Kensington Olympia – a right pain in the arse to get to – for the next month or so. Is it worth catching? Well, that depends.

I’ve been to quite a few Doctor Who events over the last year or two. The frankly appalling stage show first. Then the excellent Crash of the Elysium. Since we were down in London anyway we decided we’d give the Experience a go. It was either that or go and see the warehouses at Shad Thames where Rodney Bewes was running away from Lytton.

The Experience is rather like Crash of the Elysium in that it’s slick, has a certain amount of audience interaction and feels ever-so-slightly overpriced.

Also like Crash of the Elysium there’s a sort of narrative that involves Matt Smith saying he needs some help into a camera while whirling around inside the TARDIS.

I can’t actually remember a lout about the actual experience, barring a bravura piece of 3D cinema that finally makes the medium feel worth bothering with.

There’s also an excellent bit at the end with monster suits and costumes and props. And, following that, an expansive gift shop that’s a monument to just what a money-spinner Doctor Who is for the BBC. Tacky shit.

But what made the Doctor Who Experience such a, well, experience was something that had never happened there before and never will again.

Shuffling past us as we entered and looking for all the world like Terrance Dicks was… Terrance Dicks. It took us a few minutes to work out whether it was indeed The Man Of A Hundred Targets, but the unmistakable voice confirmed it: we were traversing the universe with Terrance Dicks.

One of the sections involves piloting the TARDIS – pushing buttons on an instrument panel about a yard in front of what I assume is a replica of the TARDIS console prop. The Geek Clique were piloting the TARDIS with Terrance Bloody Dicks.

It was, genuinely, a wonderful moment. Later on a couple of the guys spoke to him and confirmed that he was very pleasant but not especially keen to speak to a number of star-struck Doctor Who fans in their mid-30s. Keen though I was to say hello to Terrance and how much I liked his work (including his New and Missing Adventures – and even his non-Who work, including Cry, Vampire) I thought he’d appreciate being allowed to look at an old TARDIS console (the one that debuted in the Five Doctors, looking weirdly small) unmolested.

All in all it was an experience that made the twenty quid entry fee a lot less galling. I’ll never forget it.

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A Doctor Who film? Oh, bollocks

NB. Since all of this kicked off The Moff has issued a kind of ‘get your kids of my lawn’ response and private Eye basically suggested that the BBC leaked the news in an effort to undermine Moffat, with whom it is quickly losing patience. Make of that what you will.

A new Doctor Who film? Those fans who might conceivably have watched The Twin Dilemma when originally broadcast may recall a few other Doctor Who films supposedly in the pipeline through the decades.

Tom’s Doctor Who meets Scratchman, written by himself and Ian Marter, starring Vincent Price and funded by crumpled £1 notes mailed to Tom from keen fans.

The ones suggested in the very early 90s that would star Donald Sutherland and feature a rapping TARDIS perhaps (I defaced the images of Sutherland in anger) or the more recent Tennant-and-Piper rumours.

Then there was the TVM. Well, they got McGann pretty much right, but the rest was an absolute mess – a more fitting example you could not find of what happens when people who don’t understand or care for Doctor Who make Doctor Who.

Today has brought with it the news that Harry Potter director David Yates will helm a new Hollywood film featuring a strange character called Doctor Who (never heard of him) that will reboot the series and stick two fingers up at 50 years of canon.

Quite why these rumours have come to light again – about two years after they were first mooted and repeated today with historic quotes – is not clear. Are BBC Worldwide trying to kickstart the project? Has a bored hack in search of an article dug up an old story? Or has someone sniffed that something is actually happening on this front?

We’ll wait and see. For now let’s look at the claims Yates made about his new film. In a move that could not have alienated the show’s fanbase more if he’s threatened to cast Vin Diesel, Yates claims that the film will be “starting from scratch”.

Why on Earth would you do that? The show has the most malleable format in the genre, perhaps all TV. You can change the lead cast without ditching anything. This is something that has happened innumerable times over the show’s history.

If Yates wants a good example of how to kick off a new series – or new interpretation – he need only look to Rose, a terrible episode but a great example of kickstarting something new without abandoning all the good stuff.

It’s an important reminder that we’ve had people at the helm who cared about the show – we know that RTD kiboshed stuff like a female Doctor, a Young Doctor Who series on CBBC and more; and that even Tennant was very protective of what the show did and didn’t do.

It’s impossible to image Moffat taking the show into taboo territory too. We’ve been lucky that since the reboot – and in the good old days – we had people who looked after the show as best they could.

Unfortunately, Worldwide is a financial entity and must surely be scenting hard cash and, conceivably, a billion-quid money-spinner like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter over a multi-film series that would make the TV show look like A Fix With Sontarans in comparison.

That’s presumably the thinking behind recruiting a director with no apparent understanding of Doctor Who whose looking to recruit a writer with no apparent understanding of Doctor Who.

Yates pays tribute to Davies and Moffat’s visions – and in the same breath announces that he’s going to trash it all. Where’s the logic to that?

He also says Doctor Who “needs quite a radical transformation to take it into a bigger arena”. Does it? Isn’t the exact point of the show – its appeal and its essence and its very artron energy – that it’s a quaint little British show? Certainly it does epic storylines and its format and tone is elastic but it’s always recognisably the same.

RTD and Moff clearly understand this and fandom has largely taken to their series. Perhaps it didn’t need older fans, but the likes of the two show-runners are fans after all.

The show doesn’t necessarily need a fan to take it to the big screen – or a Brit. But I feel sure that it would be a better product for it – and we have two people who can wield an enormous amount of power in the TV and media world, not to mention people like Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Mark Gatiss who are steeped in the show and are professionals in their own right.

Alas, if what we read is to be believed then Yates directing makes perfect sense in the eyes of BBC Worldwide. They won’t give two flying figs if the Doctor carries a gun, shags a busty American and has a time capsule voiced by Mos Def (actually, I like Mos Def, that could work) if it brings in the bucks.

What would this do for the TV show? Undoubtedly, if successful, it would kill it off. How could you have a TV series and a film series running in parallel that directly contradict one another? The film idea dovetails with the growing suspicion that Who might bow out on the small screen shortly after the 50-year anniversary. Torchwood, in all likelihood is gone. The Sarah-Jane Adventures are sadly no more. Confidential is canned. In a very short space of time Doctor Who has been whittled away to the main show, and there are increasing ructions over production, money and quality in the mothership.

All told then, I don’t really see an upside to the film. We’ve had six largely enjoyable seasons of NuWho that has given repeated, respectful nods backwards. It’s all about to be usurped by a new film series that chucks it all in the bin.

The two films we have are cute curios, but they’re hardly high quality. The abandoned film projects all looked awful. The TVM was dreadful. Yet the BBC appears to have learned nothing.

Doctor Who doesn’t need a film. If it’s coming to an end as a going concern on TV the natural development is to segue into a ‘specials’ format. Canon or the heritage aren’t the issue I have with a new film. I simply fear it would be bloody awful – and history has plenty of warnings when it comes to big screen Who.