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How Doctor Who Changed London

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From the Post Office Tower to the London Eye, 'Doctor Who' has embraced— and sometimes toppled — London's most iconic monuments. Peter Watts finds the sites at the centre of the universe

As a Time Lord, Doctor Who can visit any point in the universe at any moment he chooses. So why has London been so central to his story? Does this support London's claim to be the greatest city ever founded? Or is this intergalactic bias more to do with the location of the BBC? London is where the Doctor's adventures began in 1963, ended in 1989, and were reborn with Christopher Eccleston in 2005. Many of the most legendary episodes feature London - usually being invaded by Daleks. Cybemen, Autons, dinosaurs, yetis or any combination of the above. The show's inventive use of London landmarks waned as the series declined and the city became wallpaper for sci-fi waffle. But in 2005. TV writer Russell T. Davies (see interview page 16) embraced the past and put London centre-stage again. As Steven Moffat and Matt Smith take over from Davies and David Tennant. we celebrate London's most memorable 'Doctor Who' moments. Welcome to our guide and double-page map, which we've prepared so you can make your own Whovian tour of the capital.

"Doctor Who" has a fine tradition of using London locations as inventive settings. Peter Watts materialises some favourite Whovian locations (turn the page for the story of each numbered site . Illustration Peskirno.

The First Doctor William Hartnell 1963-66

'The War Machines' (1966): Post Office Tower

In 'An Unearthly Child', the first episode (broadcast November 23 1963), we meet the Doctor and the Tardis for the first time at 76 Totter's Lane, a scrapyard in Shoreditch, London (including the Transport Museum, Trafalgar Square and the Thames) features in 1964's 'Dalek Invasion of Earth', but Hartnell's best London episode is 'The War Machines', when he battles WOTAN, a supercomputer located on top of the Post Office Tower. Here we see an early Whovian device - the subversive use of iconic contemporary London locations. The Tower was completed in 1965 and opened by Harold Wilson and Tony Benn. It embodied the 'white heat' of Wilson's technological revolution, a key symbol of what Private Eye called 'Berm's Hover Britain', but 'Doctor Who' turns this promise inside out. WATCH IT! www.tinyurlcom/T0who I

The Second Doctor Patrick Troughton 1966-69

'The Invasion' (1968): St Paul's Cathedral

Gripping stuff, as Cybermen come out of a manhole outside St Paul's! The Second Doctor's other great London story was 'Web of Fear', in which he fought a Yeti on the tube at Piccadilly Circus. It was filmed in a studio, but London Transport were so impressed by the set they accused the BBC of filming underground illicitly.

The Third Doctor Jon Pertwee 1970-74

'Spearhead from Space' (1970): Ealing

A new Doctor takes on the Autons, evil plastic dummies controlled by the Nestene Conciousness, after they burst out of a shop window (now M&S) in Ealing. London featured in 1974's 'Invasion of the Dinosaurs', with the dinosaurs controlled from Trafalgar Square tube (now Charing Cross). In 1973's 'Frontier in Space', the South Bank 0 is used to represent London in 2540.

The Fourth Doctor Tom Baker 1974-81

'The Talons of Weng Chiang' (1976): Clink Street

Dressed in homage to Sherlock Holmes, Baker took the Tardis to Victorian London for this Fu Manchu-esque episode, which begins with a fight filmed on Clink Street. Russell T Davies has compared the dialogue in this episode to Dennis Potter. We are not sure what Potter made of 1975's 'Terror of the Zygons', in which the Loch Ness Monster swam down the Thames.

The Fifth Doctor Peter Davison 1981-84

'The Visitation' (1982): Pudding Lane

The David Gower Doctor's most memorable London appearance is also temporally controversial, as a Terileptil weapon explodes and causes afire. In 1666. In Pudding Lane. Geddit? Davison returned for 'Resurrection of the Daleks', with scenes shot by Tower Bridge

and in derelict dockland warehouses.

The Sixth Doctor Colin Baker 1984-86

'Attack of the Cybermen' (1985): 76 Totter's Lane

The episode begins with an attack in the Fleet sewer and continues with the Tardis landing back at 76 Totter's Lane (filmed at Becklow Road, W12), although with a different Doctor, now dressed as Ronald McDonald, and Peri, his improbably cleavaged companion. Much criticised by fans, but it does at least feature Brian Glover (the episode, not the cleavage).

The Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy 1987-89,1996

'Remembrance of the Daleks' (1988): Roupell Street

When filming the Dalek v Dalek fight in Waterloo, the explosions were so loud the fire brigade was called to deal with what was assumed to be an IRA bomb. The Seventh Doctor's final scenes in 'Survival' (1989) - the last TV episodes until 2005- took place in, wait for it, Perivale.

The Eighth Doctor Paul McGann 1996 'Doctor Who' (1996): Houses Of Parliament

London made a fleeting appearance in McGann's 1996 TV movie, with the Houses of Parliament appearing for about one frame as one of the world landmarks getting sucked into the Eye of Harmony by Eric Roberts's uber-camp Master. Blink and you'll miss it. The Eighth Doctor was regenerated fora radio series which included the London-soaked serial 'Dead London' (2007), where he encounters aliens named after St Sepulchre's Church.

The Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston 2005

'Rose' (2005): London Eye

Russell T Davies revived the notion of London as a temporal playground for competing forces. In Eccleston's very first episode-echoing 'The War Machines' -a futuristic London landmark The London Eye is used for nefarious means. The Autons also returned, this time at Henrik's department store, modelled on Harrods. London also featured memorably in 'Aliens of London', when a spaceship crashes into Big Ben, and 'An Empty Child', which takes place during the Blitz.

The Tenth Doctor David Tennant 2005-10

'The Next Doctor' (2008): River Thames

Tennant's rom-com Tenth Doctor has spent an extraordinary amount of time battling malevolent forces emanating from London landmarks. There are the Cybermen made in Battersea Power Station ('Rise of the Cybermen', 2006) the Daleks and Cybermen at Canary Wharf ('Army of Ghosts', 2006); the Racnoss spider-people at the Thames Barrier ('The Runaway Bride', 2006); the evil energy transmitter in Alexandra Palace (The Idiot's Lantern, 2006); and the Brixton-Victoria bus that ends up on an alien planet (Planet of the Dead', 2009). And let's not forget the episode in which a spaceship called the Titanic almost crashes into Buckingham Palace but is saved by the Doctor and Kylie Minogue ('Voyage of the Damned', 2007), prompting the Queen to declare: 'Thank you, Doctor! Thank you! Happy Christmas.' However, our favourite is the The Next Doctor', in which the CyberKing emerges from the Thames and stomps all over 1851 London like an angry metal Godzilla, something that Peter Ackroyd astonishingly omitted from his otherwise definitive history of the city.

Thanks to Ian Crutchfield at the BBC. Further reading: 'Who Goes There' by Nick Griffiths (Legend Press, £7.99); 'BFI TV

Classic: Doctor Who' by Kim Newman (BR, £12);

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  • APA 6th ed.: Watts, Peter (2009-12-10). How Doctor Who Changed London. Time Out London p. 11.
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=How Doctor Who Changed London | url= | work=Time Out London | pages=11 | date=2009-12-10 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 October 2021 }}</ref>
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