Doctor Who occupies a unique position in British culture. Following the intrepid Time Lord as he travels through time and space in his TARDIS, the series captured the imagination of postwar audiences, finding a global following and changing the very nature of popular television.
Co-created by Sydney Newman, Donald Wilson and C.E. Webber, the show was put in the charge of maverick young producer Verity Lambert who steered the programme into an initial successful run with the First Doctor, William Hartnell, debuting 60 years ago on 23 November 1963. Over the following 27 years, The Doctor would be played by six other leading actors, the show involving countless writers, directors and stars, before the initial run was cancelled in 1989.
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Although there was a 1996 television movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, it was not until 2005 when the show returned in full strength thanks to screenwriter Russell T. Davies, once again becoming a world-beating series as a new range of new Doctors did battle with alien monsters across time and space.
But while it’s now considered one long record-breaking series, the first 27 years are quite distinct in terms of how television was produced during that period. This is especially true in its use of locations, which were far less frequent, as the early series were much more reliant on multi-camera studio work. Yet, when the series did get out on the streets using 16mm cameras, the resulting sequences were often some of the show’s most famous moments.
Here are 10 locations used for distant planets and alien invasions during the classic run of Doctor Who.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)
In the Daleks’ second television outing, they moved from their home planet of Skaro to invading Earth in the 22nd century. Featuring some of the series’ earliest and most effective location filming, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is full of indelible shots of Terry Nation’s pepper-pots taking in a number of London landmarks. Perhaps the most effective scene occurs as a cliff-hanger when The Doctor (William Hartnell) and Ian (William Russell) are first confronted by a Dalek. In one of the more unusual reveals of the alien menace, a Dalek is seen emerging from the murky water of the Thames. The sequence was filmed at Queen’s Wharf in Hammersmith.
The location is adjacent to what was the Riverside Studios, where a great deal of older Doctor Who was filmed. It’s still recognisable today and a plaque adorns a nearby wall to celebrating the connection to the series. The renovated and reopened studio, in fact, has been given over to a celebration of the series and currently even has its own TARDIS.
Further up the road, the imprint of another BBC studio once vital to the recording of early Doctor Who remains. Lime Grove, a facility with a detailed history of film and television recording, was demolished long ago though the rough outline of where it stood adjacent to the street’s houses is clear.
The Invasion (1968)
The Invasion is one of the great Second Doctor stories, with the wonderful Patrick Troughton. Following the collaboration between an electronics company and the Cybermen, the story is a perfect invasion Earth fable with all the hallmarks of swinging 60s London. Although it’s one of the Cybermen’s most effective outings, unusually it holds off showing them fully for the first half of its eight episodes. When finally taking to the streets, however, their presence produced some of the series’ most renowned images, especially the sequence showing the Cybermen with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background.
After they have emerged from the sewers, the Cybermen are shown wandering around various locations near St Paul’s. This shot, for example, shows them walking along the pavement past a building on Knightrider Street.
Before the cliffhanger falls for the episode, director Douglas Camfield shows a close-up of a Cyberman with a building in the background on Sermon Lane. The distinctly 1960s building was demolished and replaced by a new build when the whole lane was redeveloped at the turn of the millennium.
Spearhead from Space (1970)
Jon Pertwee’s debut as the Third Doctor is considered a classic by many fans, not least for being the only story fully shot on film. It follows the attempted invasion of Earth by the Nestene Consciousness, the alien’s affinity for plastic meaning that its footsoldiers in the invasion, the Autons, are the possessed and terrifying figures of shop-window dummies. In one of the series’ most famous alien attack sequences, the Autons awaken from their window displays, break out and begin to kill people.
The sequence was shot around Ealing Broadway. While the area has retained some of the recognisable original layout, much has changed. The shop where the main body of Autons awaken, for example, has been heavily modernised, but is still in the same spot.
The original shop was the John Sanders department store. Today it is the area’s large Marks & Spencer at one of the busiest points of Ealing Broadway, especially when compared to the empty early morning of the original shots.
This shot looks back up Ealing Broadway and shows the remarkable shrinking of the road thanks to the demolition and rebuilding of an entire side.
The Daemons (1971)
One of the series’ most celebrated locations is the sleepy Wiltshire village of Aldbourne. This is thanks to one the most popular stories from the Third Doctor’s era: The Daemons (1971). Today, the village is a Mecca for Doctor Who fans, and The Blue Boar pub – which plays The Cloven Hoof – has since dedicated itself to all things Who.
The Daemons concludes Pertwee’s second series in the leading role, which was filled with stories in which he faced The Master (Roger Delgado) as he allied himself with various evil forces in order to enact his malicious plans. In this story, The Master has summoned demonic alien Azal (Stephen Thorne).
The village is the setting for most of the story, as a strange heat barrier surrounds the local area, trapping The Doctor with his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and a number of his colleagues from the military organisation UNIT. At the heart of things is the church where The Master is enacting black rites to summon Azal. Like much in the village, the church of St Michael’s is as it was.
The clearest shot of St Michael’s comes just before the UNIT helicopter is stolen by a possessed follower of The Master. Director Christopher Barry uses the many locations around the village to incredible effect considering its tiny size.
Many shots of St Michael’s could be chosen, as it features extensively throughout the story. Interestingly, the church is destroyed in the finale, with a model shot used to show it blowing up. However, the shot was so effective that many people complained to the BBC about the destruction of the church.
Later in the story, the local villagers trap The Doctor during their May Day festival and he is tied to the May pole by some possessed Morris dancers. This scene took place on Aldbourne’s village green.
A closer shot shows where the May pole was positioned as Pertwee was trussed up and prepared to be burned as a witch.
In the final part of the story, UNIT finally break through the heat barrier and tries to attack the church, defended by Bok (Stanley Mason), a possessed stone gargoyle. In one of the series’ most famous lines, the brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) sees the foe and calmly delivers the order to a soldier: “Chap with the wings there, five rounds rapid.”
The soldiers later take up position on the green’s war memorial to get a better shot at Bok.
UNIT continue their assault on Bok and the church, with this shot showing the gates of St Michael’s as the bullets ping off the gargoyle.
Eventually the village is saved from Azal and The Master by The Doctor and Jo. Clearly, the village is still grateful today, as – to commemorate The Doctor’s visit – the pubs have their own Daleks on guard and the bins are TARDIS-shaped.
The Android Invasion (1975)
While Aldbourne may be the English village most famous for its Doctor Who connection, many others featured throughout the series. Another very recognisable, creepy village appears in the underrated Tom Baker story The Android Invasion. While most stories in Baker’s second series leaned toward the gothic, this story found eerie menace in what seemed to be the everyday village of Devesham.
Devesham was, in fact, East Hagbourne in Oxfordshire, which director Barry Letts uses to great, unnerving effect. In particular, the village’s long-standing stone pillar plays a prominent role in the story.
When The Doctor (Baker) and Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) arrive in the village, they find it unusually deserted.
In trying to find out what is going on, The Doctor decides that the best place to start is in the Fleur de Lys pub. This is the village’s real pub and today the bar is adorned with photos taken during the filming as well as a signed picture of Baker.
Much later in the story, when the alien menace has been revealed to be the Kraals and the village a fake testing site for their potential invasion force of androids, The Doctor is tied to the village’s stone cross while Kraal leader Styggron (Martin Friend) gloats as he places a bomb on the monument. East Hagbourne thankfully survived the Kraal matter-dissolving device and is still one of the most recognisable locations from the Fourth Doctor’s era.
The Androids of Tara (1978)
Season 17 of Baker’s era saw The Doctor sent on a season-long quest with his newly appointed Timelady companion Romana (Mary Tamm) in search of the six segments of the Key to Time. In The Androids of Tara, their search for the fourth segment takes them to Tara, a planet with a mixture of knight errantry and high technology as the story follows a suspiciously similar narrative to Anthony Hope’s novel The Prisoner of Zenda, albeit with androids.
In one of the most entertaining and witty stories of the original run, director Michael Hayes makes stunning use of Leeds Castle in Kent. Shooting in the middle of summer meant that Hayes managed to beautifully construct a whole sunny world out of the castle and its vast grounds and buildings. The main shot of the castle, however, cannot be fully recreated as the side it is taken from is now a private golf course.
In this shot of ‘Castle Gracht’, Romana escapes on horseback.
At the end of the story, when Count Grendel of Gracht (Peter Jeffries) is defeated, he flees over the castle walls and into the moat after a lengthy swordfight with The Doctor. Grendel jumps into the water from this part of the castle’s walls, still recognisable even if the original shot was at night.
City of Death (1979)
From Baker’s penultimate season, City of Death was the first story to be filmed outside of the UK. Using a distinctly bohemian selection of locations around modern-day Paris, the story is rightly celebrated as one of the many of highs of the Baker years.
A whole article could be dedicated to the huge variety of settings used in the story, which follows intrigue surrounding time-travel experiments and the theft of the Mona Lisa from The Louvre. Two stick out, however. The first is the mansion of art collecting alien Count Scarlioni/Scaroth (Julian Glover). The location, also used for the story’s famous promotion stills, is on Rue Vieille du Temple just off Rue de Rivoli. Today, the building’s wooden doors have been taken away for restoration work.
The second location is the gallery where the TARDIS is parked throughout the story. This was the Denise René gallery on Boulevard Saint-Germain and, though the building is still present, it has since closed and is currently for sale.
Resurrection of the Daleks (1984)
One of the grittiest stories of the whole series, Resurrection of the Daleks is a real bloodbath. Aside from its high body count, its equally grim setting of 1980s London docklands is apt and effective. Before the redevelopment of Shad Thames, director Matthew Robinson used the area to great effect, especially in the opening sequence.
Showing the rainy, miserable vision of derelict Shad Thames warehouses, the streets around the area initially seem quiet as the camera turns to a lonely old man rolling a cigarette. The streets have dramatically changed in the intervening years, becoming well-known as an example of post-industrial London development.
The quiet of the street is broken when a group of unusual people in futuristic clothing burst from the warehouse in panic. While difficult to pinpoint exactly where this was due to the area’s changes, it was likely just a bit further along Shad Thames.
Soon after, having got the TARDIS out of the trappings of a Time Corridor, The Doctor (Peter Davison) lands in full view of Tower Bridge with Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson).
They proceed to explore the remains of the warehouses, with The Doctor trying to convince Tegan that there is interest in the buildings, or as she describes them, “a load of crumbling brickwork”. Today, it is one of the more lavish areas of Thames-side central London.
Attack of the Cybermen (1985)
Colin Baker’s first full series as the Sixth Doctor saw numerous locations being used, from the Shropshire in Mark of the Rani to Spain in The Two Doctors. For this visit, we looked to the first story of the season, Attack of the Cybermen and its various London locations. As the complicated plot revolves around the Cybermen wanting to change history, the story flits between numerous locations, but the most interesting concerns a supposed bank robbery being conducted through the sewers and an alien signal drawing The Doctor’s curiosity.
Rather appropriately, the TARDIS lands where it first set off on its journey in 1963: the junk yard at Totter’s Lane. However, although the area is supposed to be east London, the location used is west, at Becklow Road in Acton. Today, the yard has been built on, but the houses seen opposite as Peri (Nicola Bryant) walks away remain.
Later The Doctor is close to finding the alien signal. He and Peri walk down an alleyway off nearby Davis Road.
He then walks up Davis Road, initially taking a wrong turn as the signal is emanating from the other direction.
They finally find the signal in a garage, but it is only a dummy being relayed from elsewhere in the city. Rather than a spot for sending alien signals, the garage is now a fully functioning moped repair shop.
The original run’s final story, Survival, sees the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) bring his companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) back to her home of Perivale, north-west London. The story was almost entirely filmed on location, but perhaps the most apt of these to visit is the setting for the final shot of the TARDIS in the original run. After his final fight with The Master (Anthony Ainley), The Doctor is transported back to the TARDIS, which is parked on the junction of Colwyn Avenue and Bleasdale Avenue.
We get a zoomed-in shot of the location when The Doctor tries to calm down a neighbour complaining about the noise. The Doctor would not grace the small screen again after this, barring a few specials and a television movie, until 2005. And so we are left to wish the Doctor a very happy birthday. Here’s to another 60 years of adventures in time and space.
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