Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Doctor Who day's wide-eyed wonder

The winners of a Children in Need competition were able to tour the BBC Wales studios where Doctor Who and Torchwood are made

By Nick Dermody
Lifelong Doctor Who fan

Who wouldn't be thrilled at the prospect of spending the day in the alternative worlds of Doctor Who and Torchwood?

Few were more excited than me, one of the dozens of BBC staff who volunteered for the enviable task of showing several groups of awed, and often wide-eyed, sci-fi fans round the shows' permanent set at Upper Boat, near Pontypridd.

They were the first 50 of the 100 winners of a Children in Need competition who were each entitled to bring three guests to share their day.

Even if they didn't mix with the TV stars, they were certainly immersed in the celestial stars, alternative universes and realities created by some of the UK's best-known television.

A sign welcomes visitors to the Doctor Who and Torchwood studio

The winners and the family and friends they brought with them seemed to be still coming to terms with the idea that they were to be exposed to the magic of its creation.

I was one of those in the car park at the start of the morning and afternoon sessions meeting and greeting those whose prize winnings already included a genuine key to the Tardis.

It had to be genuine because it came with a big ticket, tied on with string, marked "Tardis". Even the people who ran the place didn't have one of those!

My car park role provided perfect cover to find who had made the competition-winning call. It should be no surprise to learn that a great many pleased-looking men put their hands up, even if they then had to confess that their son or daughter had armed them with the facts.

Moments of incredulity

But it was the youngsters' turn to smile, with the first of many moments of incredulity when, as we walked to pick up their passes and guides for the day, we passed the cars from Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures.

David Tennant
David Tennant has described the Doctor Who role as "life changing"

The vehicles, parked by the entrance to the studios proper, provided the first of many photo opportunities, from motors to monsters in pretty short order.

The Doctor himself, David Tennant, and his companion, Catherine Tate, aka Donna Noble, both put in an appearance, albeit via video message at the tour welcome.

It wasn't long before everyone was making their own, virtual, appearance in Doctor Who as "green screen" technology allowed them to be placed in the set alongside the stars.

Before the day was done, I found myself caught up in one of the highlights of the tour: the moment that waxwork-like monsters in the Torchwood dungeon leapt into life, bringing shrieks, and even the occasional tear, from young onlookers who had been talking very bravely until then.

But the pinnacle of the day was where I spent most of my time, on the set of the Tardis.

A character in its own right, the Tardis is a place that makes you feel you have stumbled into the Doctor's private life rather than just his personal transport.

Eve Myles, Nikki Amuka-Bird and John Barrowman in Torchwood
Eve Myles, Nikki Amuka-Bird and John Barrowman in Torchwood

The console, occasionally as chaotic in its deeds as its looks, is a cultural reference for generations of Doctor Who fans, and it must have prompted hundreds of photos in those few hours.

There was an additional treat for the Children in Need competition winners in the shape of Russell T Davies, the creator of the new incarnation of Doctor Who.

He was there answering endless (usually expert) questions and sharing his love of the characters and plots that are the stuff of (largely alien) life in that little corner of the universe.

But it was also he who delivered the most fearful warning of the day when guests were taken on to a mystery stop at the end of their tour and told not to take photographs or even talk about what they had seen.

Another 200 winners and guests are having the same experience on Sunday, and I could tell you what that is.

But if I did, I'd have to kill you. And that might just ruin the excitement.

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