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How the Tardis took me back to childhood

If only my 10-year-old self could see me now. I’m standing on the upper level of The Tardis, gazing down on the central console where, since 1963, the Doctor has set the co-ordinates for his journeys in time and space.

Filled with strange equipment and flashing lights, it is the beating heart of the Time Lord’s adventures.

Then, someone calls up from below: “Would you like me to put The Tardis in flight mode?”

Before I can experience the famous police box whizzing around the universe, my attention is drawn to the bookcases that line the walls. If I wanted, I could flick through the complete works of Vanity Fair novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

There is also a skull, which might confirm the long-held suggestion there is something of the Hamlet in the Doctor’s attitude to the world. A globe of the type you might see in an antiques shop just begs to be spun, while a record player has the Doctor’s collection of vinyl piled up next to it: safe to say that with Liszt and Haydn albums, the 12th incarnation of the Time Lord listens to classical music to calm down after the stresses of defeating the Daleks for the umpteenth time.

Suddenly, the lights around the top of the Tardis begin to flash in sequence. We are in flight mode. “Now come down and fly it,” a technician says with a smile.

There are plenty of knobs to twiddle, a galvanometer (I had to check on Google later whether this a real thing or a fictional creation from the Doctor’s home planet of Gallifrey – it is real), and keys from old computers that spell out the words “Retro Time FWD”, “Retro Time BWD” and “Retro Time Select”.

The illusion is only broken by a screen in the middle of the console. Instead of showing our destination, it flashes up, rather prosaically, the message “cable not connected”.

So yes, OK, the man putting The Tardis in flight mode was not the Doctor, but the TV show’s floor manager. I never leave Cardiff in Wales, where the Doctor Who studios are located. But my “trip” in the Tardis is a fascinating insight into the attention to detail on this show.

Often there is some sort of visual trickery involved on the set of a science fiction show, but the inside of The Tardis in real life looks exactly like the inside of the Tardis on TV. There’s an organic, almost steampunk atmosphere to it and, as we stand and watch Capaldi film a scene, tucking his script into the Doctor’s famous long jacket, you can tell how at home he feels.

That is the brilliance of Doctor Who: it makes obvious fantasy feel like reality. This is further illustrated later in the day, when we see Justin Chatwin pull on his superhero costume for the first time. In the cold light of a wet Cardiff day, the rooftops of New York seem a long way away.

But as the lights dim, Chatwin turns to the camera and snaps into character, it feels like you are experiencing a kind of magic unfold.

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