It’s already been two weeks (blimey!) since I celebrated my quarter-century, but even if this write-up is coming a fortnight late, I still wanted to take the time to look back on my 25th birthday. What a memorable weekend it was!
It’s no secret that I am, unashamedly, a huge fan of Doctor Who. I wanted to do something a bit different and special to mark this milestone birthday, and with the recent news that the Doctor Who Experience is set to close its doors this summer, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a long-awaited trip to Cardiff and visit the home of Who itself. So, after an early train ride on a cold and cloudy morning, we found ourselves across the Welsh border and stepping foot into Cardiff Bay. With a little while before our time-travelling trip in the TARDIS, there was time to explore and familiarise ourselves with the surroundings – from the obligatory selfies outside the Millennium Centre to visiting Ianto’s Shrine, first impressions were definitely positive, even if it could have done with a little more sunshine.
Then, at around 11:30, it was finally time for our appointment with The Doctor. I’d already been to the Doctor Who Experience before – six years ago, way back in 2011 when it was at the London Olympia and themed around The Eleventh Doctor. To think, Series 6 felt exciting and new back then… oh, how foolish we were! Anyway, there have been a lot of changes since then – not least the fact that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor is now running the joint, in addition to a completely revamped interactive adventure and tons of new exhibits on display.
Visiting the Experience now, post the 50th anniversary, is definitely more compelling – while there were always plenty of throwbacks to the classic era, it now feels like a true celebration of over half a century of sci-fi goodness. There are multiple TARDIS sets, from the authentic remake of William Hartnell’s version as seen in An Adventure in Space and Time and Hell Bent to David Tennant’s coral-themed desktop. Matt Smith’s console room even plays a key role in the walk-through journey at the beginning, which is now much more interactive. From the Gallifrey Museum, to Skaro, to a Weeping Angel infested forest, all the way to the junkyard on Totters Lane, there’s lots to see and constant banter back and forth between the pre-recorded Twelfth Doctor clips and the tour guide.
It’s a tantalising taste of what’s to come in the main exhibition, which is an absolute dream for Doctor Who fanatics. Pretty much every character and costume you could think of from the revived show is represented in one way or another (including from The Return of Doctor Mysterio, bringing it bang up to date!). It’s impossible to go through them all, but some highlights from the new additions include the barn from The Day of the Doctor and the Clara memorial TARDIS, beautifully painted and arranged with Jenna Coleman’s costumes on either side. And, while I had seen some of them already at the Doctor Who Festival in 2015, the final stretch filled exclusively with Series 9 props is a real delight, especially as that’s my favourite season from the modern era so far. I got to hang out with the ‘dying’ Davros again, face up to the Fisher King, stand outside a house on Trap Street, and take a gander at the teleporter from Heaven Sent. The experience ends with The Twelfth Doctor’s red velvet jacket and the Friend from the Future trailer playing on a loop, propelling you into the future of the show… or, more accurately, into the gift shop (yes, of course I bought some souvenirs!). A neat little surprise at the end was the bonus display of the Target book covers, complete with armchairs to sit and flick through the novels in and a red carpet-esque background for some shameless posing.
That would not be the end of the fanboyish fun, though. After a spot of lunch in the first of four Wetherspoons we would visit over the weekend, we paid a visit to Eddie’s Diner in Mermaid Quay. What just looks like a typical American diner to the average person is actually a hotspot for Doctor Who fans – it was, after all, used as a filming location in The Impossible Astronaut and more recently as Clara’s TARDIS in Hell Bent. We couldn’t resist popping in for a milkshake and some photos, and even if it was only a brief visit, it was nice to see the place up close – and also cool to see the owners really playing up their connection to the show. Cash in on it, I say!
For the rest of the day we headed into the centre of Cardiff, taking the chance to get our bearings and have a quick break in our hotel. Though night had fallen and the day was nearly over, there was still one big thing to look forward to – my birthday meal! By complete happy coincidence, we’d learned a few days earlier about Steak of the Art, a quirky restaurant that, among other things, has its very own Dalek booth. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place to eat if I tried! We had to wait a little while to be seated (despite booking in advance), but it was definitely worth it – being sat in a Dalek, its interior decked out like a funky TARDIS, was an experience I’ll never forget. What’s more, the food was delicious (I had pork schitnzel with sweet potato fries), and we even got free ice cream for dessert for our earlier patience! Brilliant meal, memorable setting, excellent staff… a wonderful way to round off my 25th. Will definitely be going back for seconds if I’m ever in Cardiff again!
Sunday was a slower day by comparison, but there was still plenty to see and do. We had breakfast in The Great Western railway-themed Wetherspoons right next door to the hotel (and lunch in yet another Wetherspoons, because we are so original). We explored the streets of Cardiff by daylight and came to the conclusion that is a really, really nice city – almost everything you could want seems to be there, and within reasonable walking distance! The big attraction of the day though was a visit to Cardiff Castle, an almost obligatory stop for first-time tourists. It was a fascinating place, from the architecture of the Norman Keep to the spectacular interiors of the House – and surprisingly poignant too, with the unexpected discovery of air raid shelters built into the castle walls that were used during the Second World War. Clever stuff!
Sadly, the weekend was over all too soon and the time to take the train back home had arrived. But, undoubtedly, it was a fantastic way to celebrate my 25th, and the memories from it will last a lifetime. I’m also really pleased I finally got to see Cardiff (and not just for the Doctor Who Experience!). It’s a truly lovely city and I’d definitely recommend paying a visit if you’ve never been.
Ironically, while I may have been turning the oldest I had ever been, my birthday weekend made me feel like an excitable child all over again. Rather poetically, it was the epitome of a famous Tom Baker quote from his time playing The Fourth Doctor…
“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes”