[An edited version of this article was published in the South Wales Echo in January 2017, as part of our monthly column.]
By now, you probably know that the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay is closing (on 9 September 2017, to be exact, but this article was written long before we knew). While that may be of little interest to you personally, its loss to Cardiff’s tourist trade should make it of concern to us all.
For the past few years visitors have been able to explore the TARDIS, and see costumes and props from various series stretching back since the programme first hit (small, black and white) screens in 1963. It’s nothing less than a place of pilgrimage for Whovians (fans of the show) and a significant tourist draw.
Having started life in 2011 in London it soon moved to the Red Dragon Centre and then expanded into the unusual, purpose-built grey building in the area now known as Porth Teigr in July 2012. (Unusual but somehow familiar to some as it’s vaguely reminiscent of the ‘squashed toilet roll’ visitor centre that once stood near here.)
The DWE has brought millions of pounds and millions of people to Cardiff. Many of those visitors would not have otherwise experienced our brilliant city.
There’s a sense in these parts that it’s almost unpatriotic or unloyal to not be a fan of Doctor Who (or the spin-off Torchwood) since they’re made and often shot on location in the city.
As with Sherlock and any TV or film productions shot in Cardiff, I love trying to spot locations and consider myself pretty good at it. It’s a niche hobby and a narrow skillset, I admit. Someone will ask me what’s going on in Sherlock, and I’m like, “Who cares? Look! Charles Street is now off Regent Street!”
But I’ll straight-up admit it, while I had a toy K-9 as a kid and was fairly scared of some of the freaky creatures and planets conjured up by the BBC special effects up on a shoestring budget, I just can’t get into it as an adult. But that’s not the point…
Among Doctor Who fans, or Whovians, around the world there’s a tangible sense of panic, and increasingly one of frustration among some who have yet to visit the exhibition.
Tony Lloyd, the self-proclaimed ‘Difflomat and a Cardiff tour guide, feels passionately on this issue. Speaking long before its closure was confirmed officially, he said:
“Sadly, so many visitors focus solely on London. The DWE encouraged tourists come to Cardiff and finally see, appreciate, and admire our warm and welcoming capital. I hope they return.
“If we are to lose the DWE, I hope we can reinstate an exhibition, at least, like the Red Dragon Centre once hosted, which would also give recognition of the BBC’s presence at Roath Lock. Perhaps one of the empty buildings in Butetown, like the old Post Office, could be refurbished.”
Tony kindly collected some opinions from folks around the world via Facebook. You can read some of the comments below.
George Baker is a Bristol-based Whovian who started the Twitter account @SAVETHEDWE. “I hope the petition will make the BBC realise what the experience actually means to fans,” George told me. “Hopefully it may help them to consider relocating.”
There are also at least two ‘Save the DWE’ online petitions. “Everyone deserves to see the museum of their favorite timelord. The location is perfect and so is the museum,” states Dutch petitioner Steve Van Teeffelen on change.org.
Meanwhile on 38degrees.org.uk a petition created by Bex Ferriday had nearly 7,000 signatures within a few days.
“Ok, I admit: this sounds daft and there are many, many more important things out there we should be petitioning for or against,” Bex writes. “But not only is Doctor Who a global institution, Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience brings much in the way of tourism to an otherwise socioeconomically deprived area, gives local people jobs, does much to improve the economy.”
Another Dutch Whovian, Jacqueline Lindemulder is organising a group booking for 60 people for the Doctor Who Experience in April.
“The idea for the trip started because many Dutch people suddenly realised the Experience is closing down and they haven’t been yet,” she says. “We will be coming all the way from the Netherlands for one day – sleeping on the bus both there and back – just to visit Cardiff/the DWE.”
However, Jacqueline’s not happy. Her trip is planned for 8 April and yet SeeTickets.com, the official ticket seller, is only selling tickets up to 7 April and has received no further information about selling tickets after this. “That must be when it ends,” I was told by a representative when I called today.
“All I get is half information, answers that amount to ‘I don’t know’ and nothing else,” says Jacqueline.
I asked the BBC. “As we’ve previously confirmed, the DWE is due to close in the summer, so will be open at Easter. Closing dates are still to be confirmed,” said a spokesperson. “We have always sold DWE tickets in seasonal batches and yes, they currently go up to 7 April.”
This should placate Jacqueline and her Dutch tourist group. I hope they get to visit and that they have a great time.
Do not EXTERMINATE!
The information surrounding the closure has not changed since the official announcement in November: “The land currently occupied by the Dr Who Experience is owned by the Welsh Government and their development partner, Igloo Regeneration. It was leased to the City Council for five years to enable its relocation from Olympia to Cardiff on a temporary basis.
“It has always been the intention for the site to be developed as part of the ongoing Porth Teigr regeneration project. The agreement was always intended to be for five years only, reflecting the nature of the attraction. The decision to close the Experience at the end of the lease next summer has been mutually agreed by all parties involved, including the operators BBC Worldwide.”
Yesterday a Cardiff Council spokesperson was being pretty tight-lipped on the topic but underlined the fact that the Council has always supported the Experience, has done “all that we can to relocate it”, and will “facilitate as best we can” any future retention by the city of elements of the Doctor Who Experience.
I get the impression that discussions are ongoing. It’s reasurring. It’s just a shame that with only that one official statement from November, up until now we have had to assume that things are happening behind the firmly closed doors of the TARDIS.
The spokesperon also stated that the DWE is “highly unlikely” to be kept in its current format even if relocation is on the cards. And holding all those cards is BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the Beeb and owner of the exhibition.
I know no one’s being obscure and vague on purpose, but some clarity would certainly help thousands of potential visitors to Cardiff looking to visit before the DWE shuts its doors for good.
Like the Timelord himself, Doctor Who exhibitions have tended to flit about the universe (well, England and Wales) since the first opened in Longleat in 1973. There have also been ones in Blackpool and Llangollen.
While the DWE’s time is up, I’m far from alone in hoping that Welsh Government, Cardiff Council and BBC Worldwide can find a way forward for a Doctor Who tourist attraction to remain and regenerate in a different form in the city where the series is currently created.
Responses to the DWE closure from around the world, kindly supplied by Tony of Difflomats.
We first visited Cardiff just to go to the DWE three years ago and fell in love with the city. We have returned twice since for a week’s holiday, each time. We are planning to holiday in the Vale of Glamorgan this year. We would never have come to Cardiff were it not for the Doctor Who connection.
Ellie Moxon, Gap, France
I had hoped to put this on my next vacation list to the UK, but it looks like it will be long gone by October.
Theresa Hack, Chicago, Illinois
I can’t believe I just found out about this place and now it’s closing down.
Chad Neil, Salt Lake City, Utah
I have to go to Scotland soon for work and plan on taking a day to go to Wales, to hit up the Experience, before it closes. Do we know exactly when it will close, so I can plan accordingly.
Jason Dugay, North Carolina
Doctor Who is talked about here in Canada, as is Torchwood, by people who ask where Wales is. I tell them where Cardiff is, show them where Torchwood HQ is (under the fountain), and tell them about the DWE.
Peter Smith, Sudbury, Ontario
I went to Cardiff nearly one year ago and It was soooo Fan-Tas-Tic. The DW experience is just awesome. Just go visit guys.
Amandine Merzeau, Bandon, Ireland
As a Doctor Who fan I booked a two week trip to Cardiff for my 50th birthday. Had I not been a devoted fan of Doctor Who, I would have missed the opportunity to savour first-hand the beauty of the wonderful country of Wales. I’m distraught at the thought of the DWE closing, but I’m thankful for the beautiful memories I have of my time in the beautiful city of Cardiff.
Jo J. Colosimo, Riverside, California