Michael Bennett Interviewed

The Doctor Who Experience is gone but it’s far from forgotten. It provided fans with an amazing experience and allowed the hard graft that goes into the show to be seen up close and personal. Some time ago Eddie got a chance to talk to Michael Bennett, owner and creative director of physical events and A/V company Sarner, who created the Experience?

Outpost Skaro: Let me start by asking how Sarner became involved?

Michael Bennett: At the very outset, the BBC issued a tender. We applied to get on the tender list so we could bid fro the project, and I was involved putting together the creative concept for the tender bid. I was involved right from the beginning, from that point.

OS: From a creative point of view, what is the Experience? What was the creative journey?

MB: At the very beginning, we wanted to try to create I suppose the ultimate adventure. What we were trying to do in our tender bid was create an experience where visitors would actually be involved in the show, as if you were in the story itself. That was our intention, that you could actually imagine going into the TV screen and you became part of the actual adventure. Obviously, that was a big, broad, brain storming kind of situation. We’d sit round the table at Sarner and start looking at ideas.

OS: So, this is an idea you brought to the BBC then?

MB: I think what we brought was this idea of going into the storyline. I think they were looking for an exhibition – a lot bigger than their current one – principally based around props, all the monsters. And it had to be in two halves, because we wanted the first half to be the adventure, where the visitor would get involved in the storyline and the actual show side of things, and the second half would be the exhibition itself. And of course, we’ve got some fabulous artefacts from the history of the show.

My principal direction was to create this show, and how we would actually do it technically, looking at the storyline and what would actually have to be there. What was absolutely going to wow the visitors, what was going to create that interactive experience.

OS: So, what would you say were the creative challenges with putting this show together, then?

MB: Creatively, the big hurdles… initially, we knew, we had to work with the production department, so obviously, then, we have to keep it on-brand. As well as coming up with the storylines and everything, we had to stay on-brand – and that’s quite a challenge in a live show, a live attraction. It’s quite a discipline to do that when you’re on TV – and we’re doing it in a live show, as well as coming up with how we do all the special effects, that sort of thing. So these are kind of two key challenges that we have to work with.

OS: Let me ask then – because I assume you’re not going to have Matt Smith and Karen Gillan showing up at every event – how did you merge the need for their time with the live aspects of the show?

MB: What we’ve done is, we’ve created this storyline where the Doctor is [XXXXX] in the [XXXXX] as he was in [XXXXX] – we’ve got a new [XXXX}, and he’s [XXXX]! He’s [XXXXX] in a [XXXXX] basically, and the adventure is that the visitors have to [XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX] with a plunger. So the challenge is to [XXXXX] him! And on the way we encounter lots of monsters, and all sorts of things happen. But that’s the challenge, and we get round the fact that he’s not there live, though of course he is. Inside the [XXXX].

OS: Tell me a little bit about the relationship with the BBC in Cardiff, and the ongoing-series prodiuction team. How did that work, and how closely have you worked with them to develoip this?

MB: It’s worked really well. I did one of the early presentations – to Steven Moffat and Beth Willis and Piers – quite early on, so they understood what we were trying to achieve by creating storyboards and doing the visuals. And they thought, this is really great, going to be a brilliant experience, they loved the idea. And from that point we did a rough script around what we were trying to create,. And then Steven rewrote that in a little bit of his style, adding some humour and these sorts of things. And its been an on-going relationship, with the producers making sure we’re on brand, and not straying too much.

Obviously, our immediate client is BBC Worldwide, but there has been a relationship with the production team in Cardiff. To organise shoots, and that sort of thing. Co-ordination.

OS: Talking about the relationship with Worldwide, I understand one of the goals of the Experience is that it move to Cardiff. What sort of constraints did that put on what you could do?

MB: A lot of thought has to go into doing a de-mountable exhibition, or one that’s travelling. The way it’s designed… because a lot of our shows are permanent shows, they’re quite complex, and you’ve got to think about the de-mountability or the fact that it’s going on the road. You’ve got to think some of it is a bit like opera or theatre, touring theatre. You’ve got to think about scenics, and how they’ll come apart, and you have to design with that in mind. Everything’s got to be done is such a way that it’s easily tourable.

OS: So, did that lead to any things you couldn’t do, that you’d like to have done with it?

MB: Not really – we put everything in we wanted to put it. We’ve probably have gone a bit over the top! It’s a very complex show, but some of the endings we had in mind from the very beginning – it wasn’t going to be a travelling show then – are still there.

OS: This is Doctor Who – there’s no such thing as over the top…

MB:True, yeah!

OS: Let me ask one last question, then. What’s your relationship with Who, and the team from Sarner that worked on it. I mean, this is obviously a professional engagement, but does it go beyond that for you?

MB: I think, like a lot of people, I lived it as a fan. I watched it right from the very beginning, It’s been a family event in our family – after the football results, Doctor Who’s going to start, and it’s a tea-tome thing. I’ve lived with it from 1963. I mean, personally, I was a big fan in those days, and having seen it come through… With this exhibition, we’ve got the Tom Baker Tardis, the interior of the David Tennant Tardis, these are really iconic kind of things for everybody. Although it has to be a fun adventure, but as far as the iconic items that are here, it’s going to be a very exciting exhibition.

It’s a job, but also, being what it is, part of the British culture, it becomes something more as well. It’s very exciting in that respect. A very exciting thing to be involved in. A really great experience.

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