My replica Sonic Screwdriver doesn’t necessarily make me a nerd when it comes to Doctor Who, the world’s longest-running TV sci-fi show. But my TARDIS-patterned bathrobe and remote-controlled Dalek are conclusive evidence of a slavish love for all-things Gallifrey.
If you understood any of those references, you’re likely just as excited as me about the weekend of Nov. 23, when the show’s 50th anniversary special will be simulcast around the world.
Gearing up to toast the Doctor – for the uninitiated, he’s a human-like alien travelling through time and space battling baddies – Britain is full of opportunities for diving into the show’s family-friendly Whoniverse.
On my recent visit, I started in Wales. Cardiff’s regenerated bay area is home to the studios where the show is filmed.
Secrecy shrouds the studios’ operations, but just a few steps away is the Doctor Who Experience (doctorwhoexperience.com). Part interactive adventure and part museum, this is Britain’s top Who destination. Wearing my bathrobe (just kidding), I wandered its walk-through adventure, which started in the TARDIS – the Doctor’s preferred mode of transport that looks like an old blue-painted telephone box – and encountered some Daleks, those robotic enemies hell bent on exterminating everyone.
The exhibit-area is equally cool. The show has changed radically over the years and it’s fun to peruse the clunky sets and quirky costumes of old alongside images of previous actors who have portrayed the Doctor: he changes every few years and the 12th incarnation has just been announced.
While the Doctor Who Experience is planning birthday celebrations, November’s biggest party will be in London, where thousands of costumed fans are expected at the ExCel convention centre for three days of star appearances and Whovian shenanigans (celebration.doctorwho.tv).
But while guided weaves around Cardiff and London filming locations are also readily available – see Brit Movie Tours (britmovietours.com) for details – it’s just as easy to create your own solo Who adventure.
Start at Earls Court Underground Station where a TARDIS sits incongruously outside, luring camera-wielding fans. I discovered another one – plus two Daleks – inside the South Bank’s London Film Museum (londonfilmmuseum.com). But there’s an even better “secret” museum across the city.
Upton Park’s excellent Who Shop (thewhoshop.com) attracts pilgrims with its comprehensive range of must-buy merchandise, ranging from Cybermen teapots to K-9 T-shirts.
Kevan Looseley, who runs the shop with wife Alexandra, tells me the show’s original concept came from Canadian TV producer Sydney Newman. In fact, there appears to be nothing Looseley doesn’t know about Who. “We tell people to come in with a trivia question or two – but I haven’t been beaten yet,” he says.
The shop’s backroom museum is a delight. Accessed via TARDIS-like doors, it’s a treasure trove of props, costumes and photos: the kind of place a true Who nut can easily spend a drooling hour.
But if you’re inner Whovian remains hungry – and you’re planning an extended stay – there are additional options worth timing your travels for. On Nov. 12, London’s British Film Institute (bfi.org.uk) is screening An Adventure in Space and Time, a docudrama about the show’s genesis.
Further afield, Bradford’s National Media Museum (www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk) has some kid-friendly November events, while Leicester’s National Space Centre (spacecentre.co.uk) is presenting Science of the Timelords, with appearances by past stars.
I’d also recommend Manchester’s popular Lass O’ Gowrie pub (thelass.co.uk) on Charles Street. During November, it’s presenting fringe-like performances, Who-themed karaoke and a live on-the-night screening of the anniversary special – plus a chance to sample custard and fish fingers, the current Doctor’s favourite dish.
If that kind of grub doesn’t put you off British pubs, also consider London’s Fitzroy Tavern. On the first Thursday of every month, its subterranean Writers & Artists Bar hosts a lively gathering of die-hard fans. It’ll be the ideal spot for a postmortem of that much-anticipated anniversary show.
OUR READERS WRITE
- The definitive website you want to look at is www.doctorwholocations.net, which has an insane amount of detail. Most of the modern series is filmed in Wales – Neath Abbey and Southerndown are both popular places, as is Cardiff Bay (Cardiff is the HQ of the show). For London, key location sites might be the London Eye (from the first episode of the reboot in 2005), Big Ben (destroyed in the fourth episode of the same series), and the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral (down which the Cybermen stomped in a famous 1968 story The Invasion). In Cambridge, try punting on the Backs (the Cam River behind the colleges), to recreate Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s scenes from the lost story Shada in 1981. @paulclammer
- Go to Wales! Doctor Who was filmed in the Cardiff area. In particular, check out Chepstow Castle and Southerndown Beach. @GChanRay
- Follow @drwhofilming and @Markgatiss during filming season – broad hints are dropped about shooting locations. @aegisnyc
- I’d recommend the Shard building in London; and there’s a TARDIS at Earl’s Court. Obviously, also go to Cardiff! @CateSevilla
- The Who Shop and Museum in east London. You enter the museum through a TARDIS! And of course, Cardiff is a must for the Doctor Who Experience and all the filming locations near there. @AboutLondon
- I was pretty generic on my visit: did Cardiff Bay for the Doctor Who Experience and Torchwood locations. As a tech and design geek, I loved the set models and original TARDIS blueprints. @SMLois
Follow John @johnleewriter.
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