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By Paul Scoones

Fans in New Zealand possibly don't realise just how different their perceptions of Doctor Who may be to that of British fans. When watching the Cybermen march down the steps near St Paul's or the Daleks glide across Westminster Bridge, we recognise the landmarks of another, perhaps unfamiliar country.

The reaction of British fans - and Londoners in particular - would be quite different. Viewing the location-based scenes, they may well recognise places they visit quite regularly, or - if they're immersed in the drama of the story - they might react to these monsters in London with the thought, ‘They could be on my doorstep any moment!’

This reaction, neatly summed up by Jon Pertwee with his often-quoted line about Yeti on lavatories in Tooting Bec, gives we New Zealand-based fans an insight into what it really means when British fans talk about being terrified of Doctor Who as a child. It's one thing to be frightened of a monster lumbering down some street, but if you recognise that street as one not so very far away from where you live, then the clichéd behaviour of hiding behind the sofa takes on a whole new depth of meaning.

Whilst New Zealand viewers may lose out in the adolescent terror stakes, we - and viewers from other countries - have an advantage over UK fans. The suspension of disbelief may not be broken for the UK viewer when the Cybermen are invading London, because the location isn't masquerading as anything else, but when the all-too familiar prefabricated concrete walkways of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank are presented in Frontier in Space as a futuristic government installation, Arundel doubles for Windsor in Silver Nemesis, or the Welsh town of Portmeirion takes on the guise of an Italian township in The Masque of Mandragora, the illusion is probably shattered.

Oddly enough, it was an inversion of this observation that inspired these thoughts during my recent UK trip. Someone I met there mentioned how much he enjoyed Hercules and Xena. Both series are filmed in New Zealand on the West Coast beaches and in the bush-clad Waitakere ranges about an hour's drive from central Auckland. For someone who once lived in the Waitakeres as I did, it may require quite some effort to suspend disbelief when watching these shows. There's nothing so disconcerting as watching Xena battling a giant serpent at a cave entrance, only to realise that this is the exact same place that you and your classmates had a particularly memorable party to celebrate the end of school some years earlier. For the UK fan I spoke to however, these locations are completely unfamiliar and the places seen on screen in Hercules and Xena appear exotic and appealing, adding immeasurably to the appeal of these shows, in my opinion.

Do we therefore, I wonder, have an advantage over UK fans in watching and appreciating Doctor Who, simply because we do not possess an over-familiarity with its locations?


This item appeared in TSV 55 (October 1998).