I was lucky enough to buy a ticket to a set tour in 2013, just a week or two before The Day of the Doctor was shown.
I invited my sister along because she was a media student and was interested in set design, but mostly just so that I wouldn’t have to go on my own. Oh the glamorous life of a Who fan.
Upon arriving at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, we were asked if we would prefer to do the Experience first, or do the set tour first. We chose the latter as I wanted to look through the Experience without the need to rush. We were gathered around in a circle in the foyer, and handed out little tour lanyards and given strict instructions not to take photographs until he gave permission, in case we caught any spoilers for Holby City in the studios.
After that we took a 5 minute walk across to the Studios while the group of about 10 of us started to introduce themselves to each other. We had to walk through complicated turnstiles – couldn’t fault them on their security, I would like to see John Simm try to steal this Tardis.
When we got into a huge studio, we were told to take a seat in front of a small monitor playing clips from The Name of the Doctor. This isn’t what was interesting me though. I could see the huge wooden cocoon-looking Tardis set, with a Weeping Angel, Dalek and promotional images from Series 7 scattered around.
Something that surprised me – that probably shouldn’t have done – was that the doors for the Tardis were on a raised platform, in order for there to be a lower level in the interior. The second thing that I was not expecting, is that I found myself correcting the tour guide on some of his ‘facts’, to the point where my sister was sniggering. The line of ‘Oh, you’ve redecorated…I don’t like it’, was first said by Patrick Troughton, yes. But it was in The Three Doctors, not The Five Doctors that it was first said. Tut tut.
We had to wait for a little while for the previous group to leave the set. For that time we were just shown the front doors for 10 minutes. It was torture; being given the foreplay of the front doors, but not being allowed to see within for ages…flirts.
When we were eventually allowed through, I decided to do so with my head stuck in my recording camera – big mistake. Should have tried to enjoy it while I was there, rather than focusing on recording every detail in horrible definition.
Learnt a couple of tidbits. For example, the ceiling of the set is made of a black fabric. This is so that when it is dark, it just looks like a solid surface, but when it is bright, the lights shine through perfectly onto the actors. We weren’t allowed to go on the upper level for health and safety purposes. Button pressing was strictly off limits too, probably for the same reasoning? I still made sure that I touched the console quickly while nobody was looking. I know,. I’m a maverick.
The tour guide also explained that while lots of people think that the helicopter-like rings at the top of the time rotor were added in post-production; they were actually present and spun around as a practical effect. Except they weren’t allowed to show us that work either…health and safety?
I loved every second of seeing this set in the flesh. It just went by far too quickly. I didn’t even get the chance to run into the Tardis, locking the doors and then running to the console, flicking levers and materializing before the Sea Devils could reach me. I didn’t get to whip out my sonic screwdriver of choice, wander down to the lower level and pretend to work on the Chamelion Circuit. The point is that I didn’t get to play. That was probably my major qualm; though I don’t really know what I was expecting. I had to act very calm and reserved; when really I wanted to do was twirl around the console spouting about the polarity of the Neutron flow.