Travel and Tourism

Doctor Who in London

Doctor Who began in London. The fog, the junkyard, the modern school – all set in London. All recorded in London. And – whether you count that school as in Shoreditch, Hammersmith or a BBC studio – all these were set and recorded in London.

Of all the places the Doctor ever visits, which is the one he comes back to more than any other? Not ostensibly exotic locations such as Skaro, Gallifrey or New New Earth – even Cardiff – but London. And, paradoxically, since Doctor Who began recording in Cardiff, the Doctor has been drawn to London more than ever before. But then, when the Fifth Doctor exclaimed that he was being pulled towards the middle of the Universe, there was no way this was going to mean a thrilling return to Terminus. Inevitably in Doctor Who, the centre of the Universe is London.

So if you ever want to travel in space and time to Doctor Who locations throughout the last fifty years, there is no better place to visit. Even if many locations from the past no longer look the same, at least Londoners are fantastic at rebuilding most of the famous landmarks destroyed by Russell T Davies. Here, then, is a selection of twelve (or more) of the most distinctive places for visitors to the British capital who want to follow in the Doctor’s footsteps…

Compiled by Alex Wilcock, who blogs at Love and Liberty and recommends Richard Bignell’s book Doctor Who On Location and the website Doctor Who – The Locations Guide as invaluable research aids.

(This tour was created before the fiftieth anniversary episode of Doctor Who was shown. If Alex does a recount and adds to the tour later, we'll add the information here!)

The First Doctor

The Doctor (William Hartnell) spent a great deal of time trying to get back to 1960s London. When we first meet him, he’s been staying there for some months; a pair of intrusive teachers cut that short. Having been forced to kidnap them, the two ungrateful new travellers in time and space keep prodding him to return them to the city. No wonder the TARDIS comes back to London so often – memorably, to the then Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower, and no longer open to the public) when this Doctor was approaching his first regeneration, and at many points since – but there’s really no question where you should start.

“The Dalek Invasion of Earth”

Doctor Who’s first epic, the series’ first major location shoot and still among its most ambitious, this takes us to the heart of a deserted London two hundred years in the future. In itself a time travel mash-up of London – set in the 2160s, filmed in the 1960s, with the impression of an occupied London from an alternate 1940s – even then there was an outrageous amount of running involved. Perhaps the most memorable sequence is when the Doctor’s friend Barbara and her uneasy ally Jenny help a man in his wheelchair cross central London while trying to avoid the Daleks.

Go to either Waterloo station or Westminster Underground station, from each of which it’s a short walk to the south side of Westminster Bridge (actually on the east, given the turns of the Thames). From there, you can see along the Bridge on which perhaps the most iconic publicity photos ever taken for the series were staged: Daleks looming before the Palace of Westminster and St Stephen’s Tower, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, as the very image of democracy overthrown by fascism.

Before crossing the Bridge toward the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, look left along the Albert Embankment; if you see zeppelins and signs for Newport, you’re in the wrong London. Best get that settled before you set out.

Pass Big Ben into Parliament Square, turn right into Parliament Street and Whitehall to follow in Barbara’s fast footsteps, and like her you’ll reach Trafalgar Square at the end. That in itself is a much-used Doctor Who landmark: Ian and Barbara return there for an exuberant homecoming in “The Chase”; in “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, a New Year rings in; Nelson gets a redesign in “No Future” and has long since toppled by “The Sontaran Experiment”; Rose has lunch there with Mickey before meeting the Doctor; it’s conquered by the Daleks again in the game “City of the Daleks”; but Londoners can feel secure that in a thousand years’ time, Trafflegarr Square will still be there in Spaceport Five Undertown.

The Second Doctor

Some Doctors are particularly associated with London (the first, the third, the tenth) while others rarely visit, or visit in other times or to Cardiff streets with a Tube logo slapped on the signs. The second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is perhaps the most problematic of all for the London sightseer, since virtually all of his capital landmarks have changed beyond recognition, even if the episodes in which they feature can still be seen. Most obviously, the striking images from “The Invasion” of Cybermen dominating St Paul’s Cathedral can no longer be replicated when we no longer have St Peter’s Steps to march down, while even next door’s Knightrider Street (yes, it’s really called that) has had major makeovers. But there’s one location that you might not think of as a location at all that’s still worth visiting…

“The Web of Fear”

While Covent Garden itself has changed enormously since 1968 or 1975 or whenever you fancy the story was set, the TARDIS arrived at the Tube station, and so should you. Any visitor to London will almost certainly use the Underground, and this story makes it a destination as well as a means. It’s true that the BBC didn’t record the story there, but when the sets were so good that London Underground complained, does that matter?

Travel to Holborn, Charing Cross, or Cannon Street and imagine pitched battles, non-explosions or the relentless Web. Visit Goodge Street: a minor station which perhaps still retains a little awe, because you’re unlikely to go there for any other reason than Whoish pilgrimage. Or, if you squint in the redesigned but still grandly circular ticket hall at Piccadilly Circus, you might just conceive of the final confrontation there. And while you’re down in the Underground, why not trip forward a little to Marble Arch, a couple of million years before it’s Marb Station? Just try not to irritate any Silurians while you’re down there.

Wherever you go, gaze at the map of the Circle Line (now even less circular) and imagine all over again the pulsing Web forcing its way around the system to cut you off. Is there an app for that?

The Third Doctor

The most Earthbound of them all, the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) defended London and counties handily close to hand against threat after threat. And yet, strangely, he seemed to have slightly less memorable landmarks as his backdrops, in the way that Londoners don’t spend all their time at the tourist traps.

“Invasion of the Dinosaurs” offers striking views of deserted Westminster Bridge, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square – but we’ve already visited those. The streets around and including Moorgate Station might be more distinctive, although they’ve done a lot of digging and rebuilding there (as my own visit, with utterly convincing dinosaur, attests).

The aggressive January sales of “Spearhead From Space” are hard to picture when the Ealing Broadway attacked by Autons has long been completely rebuilt, while round the side of St Pancras Station is a bit of a dingy stop even to celebrate the series’ first London location with a secret UNIT base underneath it.

Even Marylebone Station has too many ticket barriers to race through dying of Silurian Plague. So the best way to conjure up this era is by stepping a little further ahead than the day-or-year-or-ten-years-after-tomorrow UNIT stories…

“Frontier In Space”

Even in the year 2540, the South Bank Centre will still be a great London landmark in all its concrete splendour. Get out at Waterloo Station and it’s just across the road – startle patrons of the arts as you run about the walkways of the Hayward Gallery upper levels dodging Ogron, Draconian and police state security firepower! Well, all right, perhaps you’d better not, as the rather less lethal security might still object.

And in part of the same complex, try your luck: perhaps the BFI might have one of their Doctor Who screening events on, although sadly the exhibition at MOMI, as seen in the “Shada” release, has long since closed.

The Fourth Doctor

Freed at last to be a wanderer in time and space, the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) didn’t come back to London much. His most memorable visit is surely to the foggy nights of the East End of 120 years ago in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, but that presents its own problems: some of it’s been rebuilt; most of it looks very different in the daylight; and some of it was (shh) in Northampton. Wapping Old Stairs look much the same but are a bit slippery, particularly with onions, so Clink Street in Southwark is probably your best bet (and it’s not far from Shad Thames, coming up). But Tom Time Tourism is best served counter-intuitively…

“The Seeds of Doom”

There are barely a handful of London scenes in this continent-hopping story, but you should still go to White City or Wood Lane Tube station – whichever’s on the best line for you – and nip across the road to look fondly at the location used for the World Ecology Bureau.

It is, of course, Doctor Who’s greatest recording location: BBC Television Centre, now foolishly sold off. Perhaps by the time you visit, you’ll be able to stay there as a hotel.

The Fifth Doctor

The fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) was another associated with trying and failing to get back to London, specifically Heathrow Airport. But you may well be coming through there anyway, and it’s not a place to plan to hang about – you may already be doing quite enough of that.

This Doctor’s awkward relationship with London is further complicated by having burnt much of it down: go to Monument Underground station to see the Monument to the Great Fire and Pudding Lane. It’s across the Thames, though, that your most recognisable sightseeing is to be done…

“Resurrection of the Daleks”

A brisk walk from London Bridge station, you can reach Butler’s Wharf on the riverfront, with Tower Bridge in the background to recreate the arrival of the TARDIS in a very similar view today. Turn in from there to find Shad Thames’ distinctive criss-crossing walkways between warehouses, now gentrified but still familiar at a glance. And, as a bonus, the body-count will be sure to be far lower than when Eric Saward went visiting.

Although it’s more than a brisk walk, you may also like to know that between here and the South Bank Centre along the South Bank is Shakespeare’s Globe, which may be worth a visit for the tenth Doctor or in its own right; it depends what’s showing. If it’s Henry Gordon Jago, with horns, in another revival of The Merry Wives of Windsor, I should get a ticket.

The Sixth Doctor

Here’s another tricky one. The sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) wasn’t around too long on TV and, like the fourth, most memorably went down the sewers. Impressive Victorian engineering as they are, I won’t recommend them. Unfortunately, other local Attack of the Cybermen locations are mostly anonymous roads in Acton, and not even the ersatz junk yard still exists. It’s two million years early to explore “The Mysterious Planet”, with Marb Station currently less tacky and Hyde Park currently rather prettier than when the Tribe of the Free come to hide in it.

But help is at hand. With the sixth Doctor enjoying a fabulous new life in Big Finish’s audio plays, there’s one very distinctive London location for which the Doctor makes the first two extended visits that we experience in his timeline – if not ours – during this incarnation…

“The Marian Conspiracy” / “Jubilee”

Two of the sixth Doctor’s finest adventures take place with Dr Evelyn Smythe at the Tower of London. And there’ll be plenty more: an Ice Warrior King enthroned there in “The Dying Days” with the eighth Doctor, as well as the Eleven-Day Empire extending unkindly out that way; the new-born tenth Doctor finding a UNIT base underneath it – the first time a drama was ever recorded there – in “The Christmas Invasion”; and his eleventh self returns there, or at least to a part of Cardiff with the Tower in the background, almost bang up to date in “The Power of Three” (you could try the Savoy with him, but it’s rather more pricy than admission to the Tower).

And, for those visitors who think royalty is all that London has to offer, Londoners take satisfaction in the city’s biggest attraction being not where they live now, but where they were sent to have their heads chopped off. As “Jubilee” suggests, many happy returns for the Doctor to the Tower!

Go to Tower Hill Tube or Tower Gateway DLR. You’ll spot it.

The Seventh Doctor

The seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) at last picked up a new best friend from contemporary London, and in some ways his TV adventures are as much Ace’s. She’s run away from home and London – in part by choice; it’s complicated – and he eventually confronts her with home again, in past and present. Which means that Doctor Who’s original TV run ended, as it began, with a juxtaposition of modern London and a savage wasteland…

“Survival”

If it’s a nice day – no, really, it sometimes happens – then why not travel to outer London for a change, to look up the seventh Doctor’s friend Ace’s old haunts in Perivale? While the streets may not be as distinctive as some, if you walk from Perivale Station up Horsenden Lane, Horsenden Hill is a nice spot, with a great view across the rest of London. And somewhere, we wept as the Doctor and Ace walked off into the sunset for the very last story… Until all the others.

Tip: while heading West, don’t stop off in Ealing to find Sarah Jane’s Bannerman Road; it’s secretly in Wales.

Bonus: “Remembrance of the Daleks”

Did you wonder how we were going to get to twelve locations? Some of the finest of the Doctor’s New Adventures that survived Survival were written by Ben Aaronovitch when the series refused to let temporary televisual disinterest kill it off. He’s now the best-selling author of books set in contemporary but very strange London – Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground, Broken Homes and more to come – and so no Doctor Who London guide could fail to mention him. His first script took the Doctor and Ace to London to fight the Daleks (or to watch them fighting each other), and to go back to where it all started: a junkyard and a school. So here are the story’s most memorable locations…

Come out of Waterloo station, cross Waterloo Road into Sandell Street and Cornwall Road to get to the refurbished but still recognisable arches under the Waterloo East railway bridge, and up to the corner of Wootton Street – where blazing Dalek battles lit up London (and set off all those alarms).

For Coal Hill School, the location is currently The Macbeth Centre, an adult education centre, but it looks much the same. It’s on Macbeth Street, Hammersmith, a walk from Hammersmith Underground station up King Street. For more remembrance, the old Riverside Studios are also close by.

The Eighth Doctor

Well, here’s a challenge (a poster for a Palace, a flash of another turned inside-out? No). The eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) had rather limited time on screen, but was another to have a memorable time at the Tower of London, in “The Dying Days”. Associated with Faction Paradox, that’s also at the edge of the Eleven-Day Empire, but you’re a little late to visit there. Probably best not to try and follow “Dead London”, while today’s Henrietta Street (off Covent Garden) is a little shorter of Adventuresses, even if he spent so much time with an Edwardian one. And Charley wasn’t his most unusual companion…

“The Flood”

It’s a wonder that television Doctor Who has never yet visited Camden Town: all those grandiose tourist traps, yet not the one that is just as big a commercial draw but whose more patchwork, irregular nature would seem more in tune with many of the Doctors. It’s not as if this story hasn’t had other noticeable echoes in his TV adventures since.

The eighth Doctor’s final story in the comic strip series took him and alien friend Destrii to a London under threat from the Cybermen, deliberately juxtaposing their emotionless conformity with the raggedy diversity you’ll find if you walk up the road from Camden Town Tube to Camden Lock Market (or even just cross the road from the station to the appropriately Doctor Who historic pub, The World’s End). That story even made friendly, ubiquitous London rain a threat; maybe it’ll keep dry for you, eh?

The Ninth Doctor – well, so we thought

We first meet the ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) blowing up bits of London. That’s where Rose meets him, too. So where else could there be to visit?

“Rose”

Rose’s first trip in the TARDIS lands here almost back where we started – the Embankment, Westminster, at the Royal Air Force Memorial. It’s round the corner from Westminster Tube station, and as you run back to Westminster Bridge you can see Big Ben rising ahead of you again, its Slitheen damage repaired. It’s time to run the other way over the Bridge!

And now, ahead of you, it’s the London Eye, which you didn’t see back when you were on that side to begin with – it must have been completely invisible. Oh, please yourselves. If you want a less well-known (albeit in some ways less picturesque) view, jump on the Tube to Oval and cut through Kennington Park: here you’ll find Rose and Jackie’s Powell Estate – actually the Brandon Estate, Kennington – and can admire its unexpected Henry Moore.

The Tenth Doctor

His ninth self might have blown up not-Harrods-honestly, his second might have blown up anything he could lay his hands on, but your go-to Doctor for demolishing London landmarks has to be the tenth Doctor (David Tennant). But which to choose? He’s had one Tower – time for another…

“Army of Ghosts” / “Doomsday”

No visit to London can be complete without seeing the splendour and glamour that is the Isle of Dogs. So pop along the Docklands Light Railway or Jubilee Line to their slightly different Canary Wharf stations – one inside, one outside – and take a look at what very privileged locals call the Torchwood Tower, most people call Canary Wharf Tower (even though there are now several of them), and which is properly 1 Canada Square.

Further sightseeing on the Isle lets you gaze across the Thames to the Millennium Dome (now the O2 arena), with Canary Wharf the site of the Doctor’s excellent adventure “The Time Travellers”; or you can see up the line to Westferry DLR Station built over the House of the Dragon, although we locals don’t mention Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen and her skip. But it’s the great big exciting Tower that had all the Daleks, Cybermen and Torchwood coming a cropper.

The Eleventh Doctor

And so for now we end our journey with the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), who hasn’t visited London that much, what with all the repair bills. The four outstanding British national myths apart from the Doctor are those of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, and the second world war; although he’s a great friend of a Great Victorian Detective and her wife, he’s also been seen palling around with Winston Churchill – when the latter’s not palling around with the Daleks. So why not finish a tour of time and space with something that goes back to the series’ original educational purposes…

“Victory of the Daleks”

The Churchill War Rooms are, once again, close to Westminster Underground station, on the Clive Steps (from Great George Street or King Charles Street, depending on your direction). These are a paying historical exhibition, but worth a visit – or, if you really like your secret bunkers and fancy a drive some way East of London, there’s the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, now only slightly less secret than a UNIT HQ. But that’s rather more than a walk from Westminster.