Philip Murphy interview: The Doctor Who Experience, Doctor Who Live, and the 50th anniversary

The head of BBC Live Entertainment chats to us about the upcoming Doctor Who Experience, looks back at the arena tour, and hints at future plans…

The BBC has just opened ticket sales for its latest Doctor Who event, The Doctor Who Experience, which will be running at London’s Olympia Two from February next year. We got a chance to ask the head of BBC Live Entertainment, Philip Murphy, just what it’s all about…

Can we start with something a bit basic? What is it exactly that you do?

Basically, the Live Entertainment business unit is part of BBC Worldwide, and what we do is put on shows, whether they’re touring shows or one offs. Plus there’s exhibitions, events, attractions, and we do that in relation to a variety of properties owned by the BBC itself. So BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the BBC, and we exploit properties to generate profits for the BBC, which we pay back, because the BBC owns all of our shares.

And yeah, we sell the DVDs, we organise live events. We’ve done Doctor Who: The Arena Tour, Doctor Who: The Experience, which we’re talking about today, Top Gear Live, Strictly Come Dancing, Planet Earth concerts.

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We’ve got lots of things in the pipeline, all based around giving people the chance to interact in some way in a live moment. And hopefully generate some really exciting memories to do with that property, which they don’t get from watching the TV.

Clearly, Doctor Who has moved firmly onto your radar in the last 12 to 18 months, with the arena tour and the exhibition. I’m assuming from what you’re saying that the interactivity is the key for you?

It’s the thing that most excites us about live events. With TV and radio, you obviously broadcast the stuff out. With digital mediums, you have the opportunity to have people come back to you. And live is just the same.

TV entertainment is changing, the way people consume the products that the BBC is making is changing. One of the things that I’m really excited about, in relation to live events, is creating the opportunity for two-way stuff between the audience and the programme makers.

The Doctor Who Experience, and I know it sounds like marketing who-ha, is a real demonstration of that. The reason for it is fan generated.

When we asked people what they wanted to get from Doctor Who, the number one answer was people wanted to go inside the Tardis. So that’s how we built the immersive adventure part of the Experience from the ground up, to deliver that.

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So what we said is it’s not good enough to just have people step inside the Tardis and move on, it’s got to do something. It’s got to be the Tardis. You need to fly it, it needs to take you somewhere. That leads you to the immersive experience part.

I’ve been to a few Doctor Who exhibitions over the years, but my concern with the Experience, with flying the Tardis, is that it’s the kind of thing that sounds, when you get there, there’s a massive queue and you can get nowhere near it, because it’s the centrepoint of the event. What kind of things are you doing to manage the demand, to give everyone a fair crack at it?

It’s a time entry experience, so there’s a limited number of people per hour who can go in. We sell tickets on that basis. If you turn up, you can queue for tickets if there are any available on that date. But there’s no question of you not being able to get inside the Tardis.

We came up with [the story] to enable you to do something with the Tardis, that we then developed with Steven Moffat, who then wrote the script for Matt Smith’s scenes within the adventure.

The general plot, I won’t give it all away, is that the Doctor has been trapped and separated from the Tardis. And he’s got a plan to make sure it’d all be alright, because he saw it coming. But he needs you to fly the Tardis, and Amy Pond is not around. It runs from there.

It wouldn’t be any use if you couldn’t get in there and touch the Tardis.

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There’s not going to be people preventing you from getting to it. Obviously there will be a lot of people coming through the day, but it is a timed entry thing. Our expectation is that you’ll spend around half an hour in the immersive experience, and then around an hour in the exhibition afterwards. But that’s down to your personal choice, obviously.

It is a two-tier event. How big is the exhibition at the other end of it, which is presumably what’s bringing the legacy Doctor Who stuff in?

What we’ve tried to do really hard is to do stuff that’s fresh and relevant to the current Doctor, and the current production in Cardiff, to cater to the TV viewing audience.

But also we want to cater to fans and uber-fans as well, so the exhibition part is much bigger than anything that’s been done before. Having actual Tardis sets in it, for instance. So the David Tennant set, that was blown up at the end of The End Of Time, has been rebuilt, and it’s right there. We’ve also got the Peter Davison Tardis set. Loads of props. We are also displaying stuff that people will have seen at previous exhibitions, all of which have been much, much smaller than this.

We’re running about 4000 square metres for this thing, which is getting on towards the size of a football pitch. Nothing like this has been done before.

Is the longer term plan to take this around the country, once it’s completed its run in London?

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The current plan is that we will move it to Cardiff in 2012, and it’ll have a permanent home there. And when I say permanent, you’ll measure it in years and not months.

The attraction of Cardiff, obviously, is that it’s where the series is filmed, and it gives us access to new props, to cast and crew, and for events. It’s also something that Cardiff as a tourist destination is very excited about, having this connection with Doctor Who.I’m not anticipating touring it elsewhere. But once we’ve opened our doors and launched this, we’ll be looking at what we do with Doctor Who next.

You’ve mentioned that Matt Smith and Steven Moffat have been involved in the Doctor Who Experience. Is there any involvement from anyone else in Doctor Who past or present?

In relation to the Experience, the existing Cardiff production team were all involved in it, because we had to get it all right. We had to build an exact replica of the Matt Smith Tardis, and lots of people on the technical side have got involved with it.

There aren’t other companions, or actors from the series, involved in that side of it, no.

Can I go back to the arena tour that you ran earlier in the year, and it’s a question of value for money I want to put to you. Because there was some dissatisfaction that even kids were being changed over £40 apiece in some instances to go along to that. And there’s been middling feedback from it.

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What do you say to people who do question the price of these events? Because in my view, personally, for all the merits of the arena tour, I don’t think it managed to offer full value for the price that was being charged.

Well, I’m not sure I agree with all of those comments about the arena tour. I haven’t had lots of complaints about pricing. In fact, what I have had is lots of very, very positive comments and compliments from families, because I’d say we created a really great piece of family entertainment, that the families who went to it loved.

Leaving that point aside, there is a big difference between the ticket pricing of the arena show, which as you say is very expensive, with lasers and flying Daleks. You can’t put that on on the cheap.

The costs [for the Experience] are on a different scale, and our ticket prices are on a different scale. Family tickets start at £42 for a family of four for the Doctor Who Experience. It is a very different scale of cost.

I challenge you to go to an arena show, though, and not pay [that amount]. I think the arena pricing was very competitive, and I think that the arena tour, and I think it’s competitive against other attractions on similar budgets.

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I suppose I can only relate my point of view here, where I paid nearly £150 to take three of us along, and we walked out wondering if we’d really had £150 of entertainment for that money? But then you must have had an abundance of differing feedback.

We’ve had almost entirely positive feedback, genuinely. With people taking their families to a Doctor Who show, and what a great way it was to experience that. The music, and the excitement, and being in that room with something that a lot of people loved.Finally, Doctor Who is very much in your crosshairs for the Live element of BBC Worldwide. The Experience is the second big event in two years. What do you have planned next?

Well, it’s fair to say that we have designs on doing more stuff with Doctor Who in the future. But what we don’t want to be doing is hitting Doctor Who fans over the head 18 times a week. We do very much want to develop what we did in live entertainment outside of the UK. A lot of the things we do with Walking With Dinosaurs, for instance, have worked well internationally. We haven’t done much with Doctor Who outside of the UK, and we do have strong audiences there, so we do want to look at that.

And I think we’ve got some good ideas as to what we can do with Doctor Who over the next couple of years. I can’t give anything away about that, but obviously we are coming up to the 50th anniversary, so we’ll need to do something special for that.So a 50th anniversary event is somewhere in the thinking?

Well, we’ll be doing some more Doctor Who stuff in 2013, but I can’t say any more than that!

Philip Murphy, thank you very much!

Ticket booking for The Doctor Who Experience is open now. Find more details here.

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