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Around the World with Doctor Who

By Vernon McCarthy

At the end of 1999 I embarked on a three-month trip overseas visiting friends in various countries including Canada, France and England. My intentions for this trip were threefold; to enjoy a holiday with friends, behave like a tourist (at times) and also take the opportunity to visit some of the locations used in Doctor Who.

Why visit locations? As fans we spend our time watching the episodes, reading the books and listening to CDs of the show. If there are opportunities to reach out and be closer to the programme, then we take them. Visiting a Doctor Who exhibition will take you that one step closer giving you the opportunity to see the real Bessie, a TARDIS prop or a Dalek, but visiting a filming location will transport you into the programme itself. Locations are the only Doctor Who ‘sets’ still in existence, still sparkling with a little bit of that unexplainable magic that somehow manages to continue fueling our interest in a programme thirty-seven years old.

During my travels I managed to see three different types of location: an overseas location, the major location — London, and a rural location. This is how I got to relive that ‘magic’.

City of Death locales

The design on the front door of Count Scarloni's residence

While in Paris, France, I explored some of the smaller back streets in the Hotel de Ville area, close to Notre Dame. This area is typical of any city in Europe with long narrow streets and houses on each side reaching four and five stories high. To someone such as myself who has grown up in Dunedin — a city only one hundred and fifty years old — walking down these streets was a continuous source of amazement. I found myself drifting along these streets for some distance as I appreciated the architecture and imagined the lives of people, past and present, living in these houses. It was while I was aimlessly wandering that I came across a large wooden door with a medusa's head carved into it, similar to the one used as the exterior to Count Scarlioni's house in the City of Death. This discovery prompted me to begin my search for locations from the story.

I decided to start with an easy-to-find location, the Eiffel Tower. Everyone should visit this place, not just because it is a Doctor Who location, but also because it is one of the most amazing and captivating constructions in the world. Such was my interest in the tower that I visited a number of times, ascending its dizzying heights to appreciate the view and look down upon the lawn far below. The second time I decided to walk up the stairs! Having reached the first floor I compared my screen stills with the view and realized the wire netting surrounding the outside of the tower was different. From this I was able to conclude that the meeting between the Doctor, Romana and Duggan took place on the second floor. I continued climbing. Upon reaching my destination I prevailed on a couple to take my photograph and the words of the Doctor echoed in my head: “Bye, bye Duggan”.

Wherever You Are, There's Who

Doctor Who fans have a unique perspective on the world, or to put it another way, an ability to hunt out any aspects or evidence of the existence of Doctor Who wherever they may be. For me this was demonstrated by the fact that one of the first things I did upon arriving in Canada was to check the TV Guide listings to see if the programme was currently on air. It is a testament to my enthusiasm for Doctor Who that it only took me a few moments to spot that familiar abbreviation “Dr. Who” hidden among the listings for over sixty channels. Screening each weekday at 7.30am on the science-fiction channel Space was The Chase.

On my first day in London, while flicking through the multitude of terrestrial and satellite channels available, I discovered the final part of Genesis of the Daleks playing on BBC2 (6 March 2000). I managed to catch the final few moments as the Doctor, Sarah and Harry grabbed the time ring to travel back to the Nerva Beacon. Later I learned of the furore surrounding the promised repeat season and its sudden cancellation.

My next location was the café across the road from the Cathedral Notre Dame. This location was almost as easy to find as the Eiffel Tower. It is interesting to note that the interior of the café looks nothing like the exterior scenes depicted in Part One. This was because the café originally intended for filming was closed; hence the nearby Café Notre Dame was used.

Next on my list of possible locations were the boulevard St. Germain, boulevard St. Michel and rue de Vieille du Temple. I realised I had unwittingly visited a number of these locations previously. The boulevard St. Michel houses a number of Internet cafes I had frequented and while there I had stared out the window at the Luxembourg Gardens. The Doctor and Romana had strolled past the iron fencing the surrounds the Gardens. My final location was a return to very narrow rue de Vielle du Temple and a rediscovery of the door to Count Scarlioni's residence. Only then did I realise that a few days previous, by chance, I had discovered the most obscure and well hidden of all City of Death locations. The street is much narrower than it appears on screen. Apart from the carving on the door, the house is somewhat inconspicuous. Standing there photographing the door, I imagined a Doctor Who cast and crew filming twenty years previously in the exact same place. This was an eerie experience that was to repeat itself in the following weeks.

Shopping and Stars

For the last seventeen years I had imagined visiting England and seeing some of the places where Doctor Who was filmed. I had imagined walking across Westminster Bridge, down St Paul's Cathedral steps and crossing the village green in Aldbourne. Upon arriving in London I took the tube to East Ham station. As I left the station my attention was diverted across the road to the Who Shop with its name in bright blue letters on the front and a Dalek sitting in the window.

My first full day in London began with a trip to the Who Shop and the truly unforgettable moment when I walked through the front door. This is a place that houses enough Doctor Who merchandise to sate any enthusiast's desire for an eternity and beyond. I stood for a moment and quietly took in my surroundings, which consisted of a wall of books, another of videos, and a dozen other fixtures laden with merchandise. The shop is owned by a couple, Kevin and Alex, who both expressed no surprise that I had come half way around the world to visit their shop. Apparently a number of people from New Zealand (the editor of TSV included) have stopped by on their travels. After spending sometime talking with Kevin and Alex I busied myself looking through their stock. Over various cups of tea Kevin then proceeded to tell me stories of his days pushing Daleks across Westminster Bridge for charity and any other excuse to dress up in costume. Momentarily disappearing into the TARDIS (the life-size wooden one at the back of the shop) he reappeared with a box of photos to illustrate his stories. Some hours later I departed the shop with two shopping bags full of videos, books and models. Before leaving I was reminded that Nicholas Courtney would visit the following Saturday for the launch of The Paradise of Death CD and Jack and Deborah Watling on Sunday for the launch of The Web of Fear CD. Timing could not have been more fortunate. All other proposed activities for the weekend were cancelled!

Nicholas Courtney — alias the Brigadier — with Vernon McCarthy at the Who Shop

Venturing down to the Who Shop on Saturday I discovered a crowd of about thirty people queuing outside. Entry to the signing was by prior purchase of the CD thus necessitating a trip into the shop and then returning outside to join the queue. After a wait of about half an hour I had my opportunity to meet Nicholas Courtney who was an extremely polite gentleman and most happy to grant everyone's requests for photos.

Following the signing I was invited to stay after closing and was able to enjoy a short conversation with Nicholas. He was most interested to hear that I was from New Zealand and explained that he has a brother who has been living in the Wairarapa for about twenty years. His brother would to write and let Nicholas know when his episodes had been screening. As our discussion progressed we began talking about Tom Baker and Nicholas commented that one of the most amusing scenes he enjoys seeing over again is the sequence from Robot Part One, where the Doctor makes various costume changes in an attempt to find clothing that is not to conspicuous.

Sunday was a repeat of the previous day's events, this time in the company of Deborah Watling and her father Jack. Once again this was an exciting opportunity to meet the people who had made Doctor Who. Deborah and Jack were also happy to oblige requests for photographs.

On Location in London

After a few weeks of playing tourist in London, it was time once again to begin the intrepid search for locations. This time I was to have a guide. Seizing the chance to escape from the shop for an afternoon, Kevin volunteered to show me around some of the London Doctor Who locations as well as regale me with anecdotes of life at the Who Shop during the 1980s.

The site of Radcliffe's Yard in Theed Street, from Remembrance of the Daleks

Our first stop was the ever-familiar Westminster Bridge where I performed the obligatory Dalek impersonation. Following this it was a quick walk (in London terms) up the road to the Royal Festival Hall and the exterior of the detention area from where the Doctor and Jo tried to escape in Frontier in Space. A short distance from here is the now disestablished Museum of Moving Image which previously housed a Doctor Who exhibition. Continuing our walk into the streets near Waterloo Station we arrived at the small and narrow Theed Street, home to Radcliffe's Yard, from Remembrance of the Daleks. The yard itself has been tidied up since the days of filming, as too have the buildings which have been converted into expensive inner city accommodation. The iron girder that protrudes from the building still remains! Across the road from the yard can be seen the doorway in which the Doctor and Ace hid from the Daleks and half way down on the right hand side the street intersects with Windmill Walk. Continuing our journey in this direction we discovered the bridge that crosses Windmill Walk underneath which the battle between rival Dalek factions took place. Ten years on these streets still look similar except that more vegetation is visible and the streets are now cleaner. After a short rest we moved on heading over Blackfriars Bridge and towards St Paul's Cathedral. No visit to London is complete without viewing those famous steps on Peters Hill where the Cybermen slowly descended in The Invasion. Sadly the steps no longer exist in the same form that they appeared on television. The area has been redeveloped with fewer steps and is now dominated by a long slow incline. Having completed my best impersonation of a Cyberman (rather pathetic actually), we then took the tube to Tower Hill station and crossed Tower Bridge to visit Butler's Wharf, location for Resurrection of the Daleks.

St Paul's — looking up Peters Hill

It's obvious from the More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS documentary that Butler's Wharf has also been redeveloped during the last seventeen years, so this time I was prepared for the changes. The wharf itself and the surrounding buildings have all benefited from a facelift with plenty of new businesses now occupying the area. The most obvious aspects that remain from the film location are the lattice wrought iron bridges that cross at varying heights, Shad Thames, behind Butler's Wharf. These were originally built to carry barrows from warehouses alongside the river to warehouses further inland. We took the time to wander around the other streets that connect with Shad Thames which were also used in the story. Lafone Street was where Colonel Archer tried to use the (prop) telephone box. The building behind the telephone box (to the right on your TV screen) has since been demolished. Also used for filming was Curlew Street where Lytton and his mercenaries can be seen walking away at the end of the story. The old warehouse buildings in this street have just had renovations completed.

Village of The Dæmons

The Aldbourne churchyard

After a whirlwind tour of London locations I decided it was time to travel further afield. My destination — Devil's End. Of all the Who locations, Aldbourne is a place I had always wanted to visit. This is because the whole village can be viewed as a surviving Doctor Who set. In addition, it is still an excellent example of the quintessential English village and little has changed in the last thirty years. Aldbourne is approximately 100 km west of London so a trip on British Rail was necessary. I coaxed my sister into making the journey with me by telling her that she would have the opportunity to view first hand a real English village (the fact that it was a Doctor Who location was initially played down somewhat). We travelled by tube to Paddington station, by train to Swindon and then by bus to Aldbourne.

The Aldbourne village green, looking from the Blue Boar to the church

The approach to the village was over a hill and during the decent the spire of Saint Michael's Church was just visible. From the bus stop it took us two minutes to walk to the village green. Upon entering the green I just stopped and stared, images of Bessie, Bok and Morris dancers playing in my head. The difference between this location and those in London was the surreal nature of the village. I felt that we had literally stepped into the world of Doctor Who. If you have had the opportunity to see the video Return to Devil's End then you will remember that it was a very dark gray overcast day when the cast made their return visit. It was exactly the same weather on the day of our visit. When visiting locations there are three things you can do — take photographs, talk about what you are seeing, and stand and imagine the action happening. Our first destination was the churchyard where I did all three things simultaneously. We briefly examined the interior of the church but I was unable to recall whether this bore any resemblance to the studio sets. Unfortunately the same had to be said for the pub, the Blue Boar, which had just closed for the day and so we had to be content with peering through the windows. Directly across the green from the pub is the pathway that leads to the church where the Brigadier gave his famous instruction. This definitely required reenactment and the taking of photos: “...Chap with wings. Five rounds rapid!”

Two days later I was back on the plane for the long journey home and already saving my money for the return!

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).