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Cult Interview

Q&A: Philip Murphy talks 'The Doctor Who Experience'

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Doctor Who Experience

© BBC

There's a real treat in store for Doctor Who fans next year as a new interactive exhibition launches in London. The Doctor Who Experience will offer you the chance to jump aboard the Tardis and experience an adventure with the Time Lord himself! There will also be the opportunity to get up close and personal with Daleks, Cybermen and other baddies in the event's huge exhibition hall, which will showcase costumes and props from throughout the show's long history. Eager to learn more, we called up the BBC's managing director of live entertainment, Philip Murphy.

What does The Doctor Who Experience offer that past exhibitions didn't?
"There's two answers to that! The first thing is something completely new. We have an immersive, interactive adventure, which lasts for basically about a third of the programmed time. It's estimated at 90 minutes and a third of that time is spent in an adventure. You're basically one of The Doctor's companions for a scripted walk-through adventure, with special effects and monsters. The most crucial thing is that you get to go inside the Tardis and you get to fly it!"

Does the interactive experience feature newly-written scenes with Matt Smith?
"That's exactly right. I obviously don't want to give the whole plot of the adventure away, but the basic premise of it is that thanks to the nefarious plans of the villains, The Doctor has been separated from his Tardis and he needs someone to help him get it back. Given that Amy's not around, the public get the chance to do it instead!"

And there's a full recreation of the Eleventh Doctor's Tardis interior?
"Absolutely, yeah. It's a faithful 100% reproduction of the current Matt Smith Tardis, with the addition of a couple of gadgets which The Doctor has sensibly planned ahead to include, to enable the public to fly it! Obviously there'll be more than one person in the room at a time. There will be batches of 50 people, so we've got some slight additions there that Steven Moffat has scripted in for us. But other than that, it's a 100% reproduction of the Tardis set as it currently stands down in Cardiff."

Was Steven Moffat involved in writing the script for this mini-adventure?
"[He has written] all of The Doctor's parts that were filmed for it, yeah. The actual premise for the adventure came from us and from the exhibitions and attractions company that we're working with. We then got Steven to work with us on making sure that all of the stuff involving The Doctor was spot-on, compared to the TV series."

The walk-through finishes with a 3-D finale. What can you reveal about that?
"There's a bunch of special effects throughout the whole walk-through, involving the Tardis and where you fly it to. It then culminates in a CGI sequence that involves 3-D animation. I should stress that it's the finale, but it's not a big part of it. It's a couple of minutes at the end of the sequence, but it ends things with a really impressive bang!"

The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond in the Tardis
What was the original inspiration behind the interactive adventure?
"It was designed because we did conduct some research and asked fans what they wanted from a live Doctor Who experience. The number one response was 'I want to go inside the Tardis'. We then had to find a way to create an engaging, interactive experience that let you achieve that. It was that fan response that led us to create the walk-through, because that created the need for an adventure and we built it up for there. It's genuinely a fan-led production, in that sense."

What can you tell us about the exhibition element of The Doctor Who Experience?
"At the start, I said that there are two reasons why this is different. The first is this immersive experience, the second is that it's by far the biggest Doctor Who exhibition that's ever been done. That's the crucial difference between the exhibition part of this experience and anything that's gone before. The total floor space is about 4000 square metres in Olympia Two, and that's getting on towards the size of a football pitch. It's a big, big space! Within the exhibition, we've got loads of props and memorabilia that have never been seen before. We've got the whole David Tennant era Tardis set - the original set that was blown up in his final episode. It's been rebuilt for us, so you actually get to stand in the real set. We've also got a Peter Davison era Tardis set from back in the '80s. They're both genuine sets, not recreations. We've got lots of genuine props and then obviously some recreations, because things have been destroyed or just aren't safe to make available to the public!"

How far back into the show's history does the exhibition delve?
"We go all the way back to the really early episodes. For example, we've got the original Ice Warrior costume, worn by Bernard Bresslaw in 1967. It's got his name inside it and everything! Obviously it was a bit moth-eaten and we had to do some repair work to it, but it's still the original. We've also got other original costumes, such as the Zygons [from 1975's 'Terror of the Zygons']. There's so much stuff that got put in storage and there was just never any room for it in the smaller end-of-pier style exhibitions that have been run before now."

Is it a balancing act appealing to both younger viewers and the long-term fans?
"Yeah, I think it's fair to say that we have to strike a balance on this kind of thing between people who are fans of the current series, people who watch it on a Saturday as a family but don't really see themselves as huge fans, and people who do really care about what Jon Pertwee wore in 'The Green Death' episode! We need to cater to them and to classic Who through the exhibition part, as well as provide stuff relating to the show since the relaunch in 2005. There is a balancing act, because you've got a lot of dedicated fans who really want to get something out of this, but fundamentally our big Saturday night TV audience is made up of families."

What are the long-term plans for the Doctor Who Experience?
"We have a long-term plan and we will be moving to Cardiff. I'm still working out the details of precisely when we move down there and how long we're there for, so I can't say very much about it. We want it to be down there long-term, so we'll be talking years, rather than months."

Ice Warrior
Will the exhibition be updated with new props and costumes as the series continues?
"Yes. It will be updated through the run in London and it will be updated again down in Cardiff. We're not expecting to change the actual immersive, interactive portion of the experience, but we will be updating the exhibition. There'll be new content and new monsters introduced on television, so we've got space set aside for that. We've already got hands-on experiences, such as learning to walk like a monster with the help of the TV show's choreographer and Radiophonic Workshop stuff. We'll look to change those around as well, as times goes on."

What are your thoughts on Doctor Who becoming more interactive, with the introduction of live events?
"My view is that these events make a real difference to our ability to interact with the audience, and it allows them to interact with us. Through TV and radio, we broadcast, and through digital mediums, we give people the chance to reach back to us. Through live events, we really let people engage in a very different way with the brand. We recreate real memories. In the case of the Doctor Who Live arena show, a huge number of people came up afterwards and said that their kids had an amazing time. They will remember it forever, in a way that they might not remember a particular episode of the show. I think it's a really exciting way to bring a much-loved brand into people's lives."

The Doctor Who Experience launches on February 20 at London’s Olympia Two venue. Tickets are available now at www.doctorwhoexperience.com.

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