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Digging the scene

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If there is a symbol of South Wales' growth as a home for top-flight drama, it is a blue police box that passes happily through time and space. Catherine Jones gauges its impact


AS if Wales needed reminding it has a media capital, the world premiere of the new series of Doctor Who showed just how much Cardiff has been put on the map by the sci-fi series.

The BBC Wales drama, which hits the nation's screens tonight, attracted a raft of stars and VIPs as well as 80 journalists from across the world.

"You couldn't make this in London," said Matt Smith, in Cardiff to see the preview of his debut as the new Doctor, with Karen Gillan as his new assistant, Amy Pond.

"You wouldn't have the scope or variety of locations. Big up Wales!" Matt, who fans agree is showing great promise as the new Doctor - as well as an ambassador for Wales - follows the lead of the cult show, which always gets Cardiff in somewhere in the script or scenery.

So closely is the success of Doctor Who woven into the fabric of a capital city once associated more with Tiger Bay, that hotels are offering themed breaks while tourist organisations line up to pay tribute to the show resurrected by the fabulous Russell T Davies, who hails from Swansea.

"The streets of Cardiff have become synonymous with Doctor Who over recent years and it is fitting that the city was chosen for the premiere of the new series, The Eleventh Hour," says Hywel Thomas of Cardiff & Co, the organisation charged with promoting the city.

"Doctor Who, produced by BBC Wales and filmed across the city and South Wales, has a huge following in the UK and farther afield and the screening in Cardiff serves to emphasise that connection.

"Clearly, such an event attracts significant interest from the media and presents an opportunity for the city to highlight its position as a media capital and to attract further investment in this area."

Hywel is unequivocal about the potential economic benefits of the cult drama saying: "The continued success of BBC Wales with productions such as Doctor Who, Torchwood, Merlin and The Sarah Jane Adventures brings significant benefits both in terms of tourism and investment."

His sentiments are shared by Caroline Sims, director of sales and marketing of Cardiff's luxury four-star Park Plaza Hotel, which offers a one-night Doctor Who break.

"It's an ongoing offer that has run for the last couple of years," says Caroline, who came up with the idea after seeing the buzz created by the show.

"It's overnight accommodation with breakfast and two tickets for entry to the Doctor Who exhibition in Cardiff Bay and guests also receive a remote-controlled Dalek to take away with them.

"The take-up for the package is really good, which is why we keep doing it.

"Since 2007, more than 1,000 people have stayed here.

"The majority are families, but we also have individuals who are fans of the show.

"The children love the gift of the Dalek - we may be the only hotel who does that.

"It used to be an inflatable Dalek, but the guys on the desk found the children wanted it blown up there and then so now we give a remote-control one which has its own battery, so the children can play with them straightaway!

"The exhibition in the Bay is so good.

It's been relaunched and they've got a massive Dalek there."

While fans post sightings of film locations on the web, the exhibition at the Red Dragon Centre boasts an array of the show's creatures including Sontaran, the Sibylline Sisters, Cyberman, Clockwork Man, as well as The Hath.

A permanent fixture in Cardiff Bay, it includes costumes from the Doctor's team, including outfits worn by Martha Jones, Captain Jack and Donna Noble as well as props such as an 'Ood Elder' from The End of Time, a fly-headed 'Tritovore', Lady Christina De Souza's get-up from The Planet of the Deed, The Flood monster and Maggie and Tarak costumes from The Waters of Mars.

Add in a special display from the team behind the show's monsters, showing the production process behind creating an Ood, and visitors are likely to come away feeling they've been on a trip worthy of the Tardis.

Caroline says: "I think Doctor Who has had a huge impact on the profile of Cardiff and there's a lot of support for it.

"As a local person, I can definitely see it and think it can only be good news for Cardiff."

The impact of the show has become the subject of an academic study headed by Professor Steve Blandford of the University of Glamorgan, who looked at the impact of television shows, such as Doctor Who and Torchwood, on Wales.

The BBC-funded research involved focus groups as well as questionnaires to discover if audiences felt Doctor Who increased an international sense of Wales as being a contemporary place.

Prof Blandford says: "Across Wales, not just in Cardiff, Doctor Who was felt to be a very positive thing.

"A lot of the audience did respond, by saying, 'Oh this is great, because it brings visitors to Cardiff'.

"A lot of people talked about travelling abroad and there was one very sweet story about Welsh holidaymakers in Phoenix, Arizona.

"When they went into a hotel and said they were from where they make Doctor Who, they were upgraded to a better class of room because the person at the hotel was such a fan of the show!

"Spin-off show Torchwood is also a very popular series.

"At one point the three prime TV shows on BBC America were Doctor Who, Torchwood and Gavin & Stacey."

Prof Blandford credits the BBC, which funded the research, with working hard to form a relationship with the public in and around South Wales.

"They've done the opposite of hiding it away by posting up locations where they've filmed and encouraging people on their own website to location spot and have a dialogue about it.

"That means a feeling of ownership.

"I don't think that's manipulative - it's just sensible and interesting.

"Plot lines are one thing that would be really wrecked if there wasn't some secrecy, but I think this encourages people to invest and share in the fact it's shot here.

"There are shots considered quite iconic, including those of the Altolusso flats and the image of John Barrowman (Torchwood's Captain Jack) standing on top with arms outstretched.

"That's certainly one shot that seems to make people see Cardiff as a big international city."

Prof Blandford, the director of the university's Centre for the Study of Media and Culture in Small Nations, said the study involved 10 focus groups from across Wales with an additional 250 or so questionnaire respondents.

"Quite a number of people reflected on it being great that tourists come here because of the show, but I think it's a bit different to the link between Coronation Street and Manchester, which is all about making something grittily realistic.

"I think Doctor Who and Torchwood are rather different.

"And this was something people noticed - that it was something that wasn't necessarily associated with being Welsh.

"Not that people want to disassociate themselves, but that it's possible to be Welsh, but also have a sense of a big international city where exciting things take place.

"The science fiction fantasy genre means you don't have to make it grittily realistic drama, always asking yourself, 'Is Wales really like that?' Sci-fi can have fantasy."

Prof Blandford says that the pounds 20,000 study also revealed a public awareness of Cardiff's developing profile as a centre of excellence thanks to BBC Wales.

"Lots of people know Casualty is moving here, for example, and the result of Doctor Who and Torchwood has been a sense of a changing Wales," he adds.

"Ten years after devolution, it's as though there is an evolving confidence in Cardiff and Wales.

"We did focus groups with school kids and it was amongst them this feeling was most prevalent.

"They almost took it for granted that Wales was happening and that Cardiff had increased confidence as a city and was an interesting place to be for 12 to 14 year olds. The impact of shows such as Doctor Who show what a powerful medium television can be.

"People enjoy the fact there's this new confidence about Wales and its ability to produce first class TV programmes "Is he a fan himself? "With kids in their early teens, I fit into that category of it being a family show we all watch," he says.

Cardiff-based Caleb Woodbridge, 24, a science fiction writer and Doctor Who fan from Roath, believes that Doctor Who and its spin-off series have greatly enhanced the appeal of Cardiff to a wider audience.

He says: "They haven't actually set a full episode in Cardiff since Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor - although Doctor Who visits Cardiff - so even though they film it in and around Cardiff, it's only in the real story occasionally.

"I think there are many memorable scenes as they visit various bits of the city, often pretending it's London.

"So you've had various alien invasions like shop window mannequins coming to life in Howells (department store) and so on.

"One of the big locations featured heavily in the first episode of the new series is Llandaff Green, which stands in for the fictional village of Ledworth.

"They spent time filming on the green with Matt Smith as the new Doctor, so that's an example of using Cardiff to represent somewhere else.

"They do have an episode set in Wales in the new series - a two-part story bringing back some old monsters called the Silurians.

"And they do try and mention Cardiff to acknowledge the areas that they are filming in.

"I think a personal favourite of mine is with the Christmas special where you had Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate, and her family.

"One of the things I found quite fun was that I ended up being at a New Year's party between two episodes of David Tennant's finale, just next door to the house where the Master was threatening Donna while she was held there. I had the strange sense that if I went in there I'd actually meet the Doctor's companion!

"They recently filmed in Waterloo Gardens in Cardiff where the Doctor was seen playing football.

"I think (Gavin & Stacey's) James Corden was filming too, and one of my friends who lives there was very excited to see the new Doctor trying out his sporting skills.

"I think Doctor Who is great for Cardiff because it shows the variety there is in and around the city.

"Just in terms of location, you have got the sea, the Bay and the urban areas.

"You've got mountains and nice village-like scenes like Llandaff.

"Much of it is very picturesque. I think they have used parts of the Bay to double for modern-day Paris.

"It's fairly widely known that Doctor Who is made in Wales and Cardiff, and I think it's made a name for the city as a place for television production."

Richard Thomas, also of Cardiff & Co, believes the impact of Doctor Who is as valuable psychologically as it is financially.

Richard said: "Doctor Who and its spin-offs have had a huge impact on people's perception of the Cardiff city-region with positive images of the city being relayed into living rooms throughout the UK and further afield.

"Torchwood, in particular, has a large and loyal following in the US amongst people who otherwise wouldn't know much about our capital city.

"And having worked across the bridge, I know at first hand that seeing scenes of Cardiff on the small screen has made people sit up and take notice of the way in which Cardiff and its bay has been transformed over the last 10 to 15 years.

"The fact is that Cardiff is a fantastic city that rarely fails to impress when visited for the first time.

"So where programmes like Doctor Who help encourage people to visit, the word-of-mouth promotion that happens afterwards helps spread the message about Cardiff far and wide.

"And that doesn't take into account the positive media coverage generated on the back of the programmes where stars of the show like Matt Smith are quoted praising the city and the warm welcome he and his fellow actors have received.

"It has bred a confidence among those who represent the city on a wider stage and in the true spirit of the Doctor, it's engendered a belief that anything might happen - and probably will."

He added: "Many of those coming to the city as a result of seeing it featured on Doctor Who will, of course, pay a visit to the Doctor Who experience in the Red Dragon centre.

"But whether they do that, visit the site of the Torchwood Hub or simply shop, eat and drink in Cardiff, they're sure of having a fantastic time."

BOOKS BOOKS

GRAPHIC: Torchwood on location in the Oval Basin, Cardiff Bay Kylie Minogue filmed some of her Doctor Who scenes in Swansea Former Doctor David Tennant and Catherine Tate filmed a Christmas special in the summer heat on a busy Cardiff city centre street Doctor Who's Tardis has appeared in many strange locations, but none stranger than the ornamental fish pond in the great glasshouse at the Botanical Gardens of Wales. The prop, left over from recent filming at the gardens, gets a daily clean from horticulturalist and keen Doctor Who fan Chrissie Harcourt. She said: It's quite weird to see it sat in the fish pond - the fish hate it and won"t go anywhere near it. New Doctor Who Matt Smith with assistant Karen Gillan filming on Southerndown

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jones, Catherine (2010-04-03). Digging the scene. The Western Mail p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jones, Catherine. "Digging the scene." The Western Mail [add city] 2010-04-03, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jones, Catherine. "Digging the scene." The Western Mail, edition, sec., 2010-04-03
  • Turabian: Jones, Catherine. "Digging the scene." The Western Mail, 2010-04-03, section, 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Digging the scene | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Digging_the_scene | work=The Western Mail | pages=12 | date=2010-04-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2019 }}</ref>
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