Here are over 2,500 words on the role London’s tube has played in TV’s Doctor Who

Dr Who (Patrick Troughton) worries about some Yeti. Image: BBC.

That Doctor Who has often been set in London has been noted elsewhere on these pages. The frequency of the Doctor’s turns around the UK’s capital must mean that the city’s transport network has featured in the series pretty often, right?

Well, here at CityMetric we like the Underground, and we like Doctor Who. So what could be nicer than a trip round London via a list of tube stations that have significantly featured in the programme? Other than cake.

We’ll start at Marylebone, which is seen in Doctor Who And The Silurians (1970), in scenes that depict the outbreak of a deadly plague. There are a couple of things of note about this. First is that the story demonstrates that the cheerful Victoriana of the twenty first century Marylebone is entirely artificial. When these sequences were shot on 13 November 1969, the station was very much a grimy post war box. The scenes are also relatively notable in terms of Doctor Who, because most the rail passengers falling victim to the titular Silurians’ plague are members of the Doctor Who production team. Don’t worry though, they were – like a lot of TV staff of the era – mostly former actors still in Equity, so there were no demarcation issues.

We’ve begun here because, let’s face it, Marylebone is not the most convenient station to get to and isn’t really on the way anywhere, which makes it a better starting point than stopover. But something we can do from here is take the Bakerloo line toward the river and get off at Charing Cross – which is where things are going to start to get a little bit complicated. 

In the 1974 serial Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor arrives in a London which has been evacuated due to, yes, an invasion, by dinosaurs. The prehistoric beasties have, through no fault of their own, been transported through time. As part of the plot the Doctor discovers dinosaur transporting conspirators in a secret government bunker hidden under a tube station. The studio sets for this station indicate that it is Trafalgar Square Station.

But there isn’t one – or at least, isn’t anymore. However, we’ve arrived at Charing Cross on the Bakerloo Line, and when these platforms were opened by then privately owned Baker Street and Waterloo Railway in 1906, they were part of a station called Trafalgar Square. These platforms were only fully incorporated into, and renamed as part of, the labyrinthine complex we know as Charing Cross today in 1979. 

The underground diagram on the sets for Doctor Who’s Trafalgar Square station is actually a bit too up to date for 1974, showing the Victoria Line going all the way to Brixton, despite the fact that extension was still under construction at the time of recording. Back then, it was the production team’s intention that Doctor Who’s then ‘contemporary’ stories were actually set in the very near future. (Don’t write in.)

A stegosaurus menaces Moorgate. Image: BBC.

However, while it’s clear that, within the fiction, these scenes take place at Trafalgar Square – even down to the Doctor checking a map in his car that shows he’s between Buckingham Palace and Whitehall when he arrives there – the station exteriors were actually shot at the far less busy Moorgate station, as can be seen from its distinctive design and Metropolitan Line signage.

If we want to visit Moorgate, and really we should, we’ll need to get back on the tube. But we’ll do so, not at Charing Cross itself, but at the nearby Embankment station.

That's because Embankment itself has its own curious Doctor Who history. The 1966 spin off film Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD features several scenes set in and around an Embankment station in a future London which has been invaded by Daleks, a mere hundred and seventy five years or so after its occupation by dinosaurs.

This Embankment station wasn’t shot on location, but was a mock up on a backlot at Elstree studios. This was cheaper, of course. But in 1966 it would anyway have been impossible to shoot at the real Embankment station, because – you guessed it – there wasn’t one. The District Line platforms of the 2018 Embankment were opened in 1870 by the then private Metropolitan District Railway in 1870, but that station was called Charing Cross, not Embankment. Then, when the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway decided that this Charing Cross would be the perfect place for its own trains to stop immediately after Trafalgar Square, it constructed a separate, parallel station, at ninety degrees to Charing Cross station and deep underground beneath it.

A screenshot from Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD. Image: BFI.

This it called Embankment, giving it a different name even though the stations were connected. (That’ll be that private sector efficiency we hear so much about in action.) The not-yet-Bakerloo side of the station changed its name to Charing Cross (Embankment) in Spring 1914, to either minimise or maximise confusion, depending on your point of view. The name change coincided with the addition of trains from the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, which we now call the Northern Line, to the station.

Perhaps sensing the game was up, and admitting that having two names for stations that were literally on top of each other had always been daft, the BS&WR and the CC,E&HR threw their lot in with Metropolitan District and renamed their bit of the station Charing Cross a year later. It remained that way until 1974, when it became Charing Cross Embankment, and then changed again to just plain old Embankment just in time to ring in the eighties.

And you thought the River Song story was complicated. (Editor’s note: There’s an even longer version of the Charing Cross/Embankment story here, should you want one.)

The Dalek film’s sets use the 1962 version of the Tube map as set dressing, but it seems that this future Embankment Station is only on the Northern and Bakerloo lines, with its connections to the District and Circle nowhere to be seen. Let’s ignore that detail, in order to get the Circle Line to Moorgate, to look at our fictional Trafalgar Square from the outside, before getting back on the Circle again and staying on until we reach King’s Cross. Here we can change to the Piccadilly Line and head south and west.

The Doctor and his companions in The Web of Fear. Image: BBC.

Covent Garden is one of several stations that feature in the 1968 Doctor Who story The Web of Fear, a serial set almost entirely within the confines of a London Underground which is deserted because London has been taken over by a giant web and the abominable snowmen. No, honest. The production team of the day approached London Transport for permission to film on the tube, hoping to do some tunnel scenes and a sequence set outside Covent Garden Station on location.

That wasn’t a completely ridiculous idea. The BBC’s other adventure series Adam Adamant Lives! – also created by Doctor Who’s creator Sydney Newman and produced, as Doctor Who initially was, by his protégé Verity Lambert – had filmed scenes for the episode Ticket to Terror! on the underground a few months before. So it was possible. However, the BBC were informed that they could only shoot on the Underground between roughly 2am and 5am – which would be extraordinarily expensive in terms of night shoot payments to actors and crew. London Transport also wanted a substantial fee, one which the Doctor Who production office was unwilling to pay.


So, designer David Myserscough-Jones decided to construct everything he needed in a studio instead. A single platform tube station, complete with loop of tunnel, was designed and built, and doubled for the multiple stations seen in the serial. Minor redressing enabled the set to appear not only as Covent Garden, but also as South Kensington, Goodge Street and others.

The set is, as can be seen in the episodes that are available on DVD, genuinely a marvel: a remarkable recreation of a Northern line station like Goodge Street. It would be churlish to point out that it’s less effective at pretending to be the District & Circle line-serviced South Kensington. Not least because London Transport wrote to the BBC during the serial’s transmission, demanding to know how the story had been filmed on the Northern Line without their permission, and didn’t they know it was dangerous to walk on the tracks? Good work all round.

If we follow the Piccadilly Line down to Leicester Square, we can change there to the Northern line. We’re doing it this way because that’s something that Patrick Troughton’s Doctor must have done in The Web of Fear itself: we see him following the tunnels from Covent Garden to Charing Cross, but as that Charing Cross is, as discussed previously, the one that’s now Embankment, and isn’t on the Piccadilly Line, this is the most sensible place for him to have hopped lines.

We’re not going back to Embankment though, but instead up to the aforementioned Goodge Street. While all scenes set here were shot in studio mock ups, we see far more of this station than just the platform: a deep shelter at the station, constructed during World War 2, is used throughout the story as the base for the British Army unit, which is investigating the titular web and its Yeti chums.

This shelter was, and is, real, even if Doctor Who didn’t get to film in it. Ask TfL to show it to you. They won’t.

But you can pop upstairs, cross the road and visit Bedford Square. There isn’t a tube station there, but several scenes for the 1966 Doctor Who serial The War Machines were filmed there, and 1968’s The Web of Fear is such a blatant knock off that it’s literally set in the same postcode. There’s also a Konditor and Cook on Goodge Street itself. So you can get that cake we talked about.

It’s then back on the Northern Line for the penultimate leg of our odyssey. If you want we can go up to Camden Town, which was mocked up on a Cardiff Street for The Stolen Earth (2008), but whether that counts is really up to you. What we definitely do need to do, though, is go down to Tottenham Court Road and change to the Central line and head west.

The Central Line will pretty soon take us through Marble Arch, which was a significant setting for the first four episodes of the 1986 Doctor Who serial The Trial of a Time Lord, which were set in a London 2bn years in the future, long after the planet Earth has been dragged across space by the Time Lords and subjected to a fireball that has all but eliminated the human race. (Editor’s note: In my day we called that The Mysterious Planet. CityMetric does not support Doctor Who story title revisionism.)  

Marb station. Image: BBC.

That future Marble Arch was entirely represented by a studio set, the area above the ruined station having been reclaimed by forests in the millennia since the Earth’s devastation. It’s rather a nice set, although its escalator is implausibly short for a Central Line station, and looks nothing like any at the real Marble Arch. Boo.

White City, further west along the Central Line, featured in a much earlier Doctor Who episode, The Planet of Decision, shown in late June 1965. (Editor’s note: And this is the last episode of The Chase, okay.) Doctor Who’s earliest days featured a running subplot about the Doctor’s inability to return his human companions, Ian and Barbara, to their home of London in the 1960s. So for the first couple of years, contemporary stories where very much a no no.


In this episode, they finally get home to London 1965 (someone should do a meme about that) courtesy of a stolen Dalek time machine. The first thing Ian sees on looking out of the shabby garage in which the DARDIS (no, really, it’s called that in the script) has landed in White City.

The reason for this is very simple. It was directly opposite BBC Television Centre. This is the first ‘proper’ appearance of a working tube station playing itself in Doctor Who, although there had already been one very near miss.

Even today, on the way into White City if you’re heading into Platform 3, you can look across and see a derelict platform for another station entirely: the abandoned Wood Lane. Wood Lane was also on the Central Line, back when it was the private Central London Railway, and was built for the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition and the 1908 London Olympics; before then, the Central London Railway terminated at Shepherd’s Bush.

The company stored its trains at a Depot in Wood Lane. When the exhibition was built, it constructed a new loop of track around it, which enabled westbound trains to circle the depot clockwise before heading back to Shepherd’s Bush by rejoining the eastbound track. There were alighting and boarding platforms, one on each side, to allow easy access to the exhibition – although punters had to cross the main road by an overhead walkway before sampling the delights of this celebration of the Entente Cordiale or watching the jeu de paume, an Olympic Sport for the first and only time at the 1908 games.

The station closed with the exhibition at the end of year, but was periodically reopened for other events at the same venue, before reopening permanently when the Central London Railway expanded westwards after the Great War. Wood Lane, however, was hobbled by its deliberately temporary design, and closed in 1947 to make way for White City.

London, 1965! Image BBC.

The dilapidated Wood Lane station was still there in 1964 – it wasn’t fully demolished until 2003 – and so was available when Doctor Who did its first major location shoot, for the episode World’s End. This was the first episode of the serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth, later remade as the film we discussed earlier in relation to Embankment. As in the remake, the original features scenes set in a resistance base which is in a wrecked and deserted tube station. But it’s not Embankment. It’s Wood Lane: being, like White City, just across the road from Doctor Who’s usual studio, Wood Lane was ideal to film in. Perhaps more so than the series production team knew; it finally closed on 23 November, Doctor Who’s anniversary. Although the series was minus sixteen at the time.


This Wood Lane station was, by the way, entirely separate and unrelated to either the current Wood Lane station on the Hammersmith & City and Circle Lines, which opened brand new in 2008, and or the rival Wood Lane station opened by the Hammersmith & City’s former incarnation the Metropolitan Railway, which also opened in 1908 and burned down in 1959. Yes, there were three Wood Lane stations.

Having coasted past the ghost of that Wood Lane and got off at White City, we’re opposite Television Centre, 20th century Doctor Who’s spiritual home. But 21st century Doctor Who’s spiritual and actual home is, of course, Wales. Which creates for us something of a problem. The first 21st century episode of Doctor Who, Rose is set in London – but, like all Doctor Who this side of the millennium, was largely filmed in Cardiff.

For several shots during the episode’s climax, where alien clothes mannequins start bursting out of shop windows and gunning down passers by, a London Underground style tube station sign was affixed to Cardiff’s Queen’s Arcade, creating the wholly fictional Queen’s Arcade station. We can’t visit that one: it’s even more difficult than visiting the mock up version of Camden Town and/or substituting the real one instead. The mock up looks nothing like the original, but at least a version of something that exists.

Mind out for those Autons. Image: BBC.

Where might Queen’s Arcade station be? What line is it on? Well, Rose implies it’s a short bus journey from the Powell estate, where the Tyler family live, and the various ‘zoom into London’ shots in the series imply that the Powell estate is on the southern tip of Peckham.

Which just goes to prove that Queen’s Arcade is made up. A tube station, in Peckham? That could only be science fiction.

 
 
 
 

So why is Peterborough growing so quickly?

Peterborough Cathedral. Image: Jules & Jenny/Flickr/creative commons.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.  

The 2001 census put the population of Peterborough at 156,000. Some time before next spring, it’s projected to pass 200,000. That, for those keeping score, is an increase of about 28 per cent. Whether this makes it the fastest growing city in Britain or merely the second or the fourth – the vagueness of Britain’s boundaries means that different reports reach different conclusions – doesn’t really matter. This is a staggering rate of growth.

Oh, and since austerity kicked in, the city council has had its grant from central government cut by 80 percent.

Expansion on this scale and at this rate is the sort of thing that’d have a lot of councils in our NIMBY-ish political culture breaking out in hives; that seems to go double for Tory-run ones in Leave-voting areas. This lot, though, seem to be thriving on it. “I think the opportunity in Peterborough is fantastic,” says Dave Anderson, the city’s interim planning director. “We’re looking at growing to 235,000 by the mid-2030s.”

More striking still is that the Conservative council leader John Holdich agrees. “I’m a believer in ‘WIMBY’: what in my back yard?” he says. He’s responsible, he says, not just to his electorate, but “to our future kids, and grandkids” too – plus, at that rate of growth, a lot of incomers, too.

All this raises two questions. Why is Peterborough growing so quickly? And what can it do to prepare itself?

If you’re a little uncertain exactly where Peterborough is, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Until 1889, the “Soke of Peterborough” was an unlikely east-ward extrusion from Northamptonshire, far to its south west. Then it was a county in its own right; then part of the now-defunct Huntingdonshire. Today it’s in Cambridgeshire, with which it shares a metro mayor, the Conservative James Palmer. When I ask Holdich, who’s giving me a whistlestop tour of the city’s cathedral quarter, to explain all this, he just shrugs. “They keep moving us about.”

Sitting on the edge of the Fens, Peterborough is, officially, a part of the East of England region; but it’s just up the road from East Midlands cities including Leicester and Nottingham. I’d mentally pigeonholed it as a London-commuter town, albeit a far flung one; but when I actually looked it up, I was surprised to discover it was closer to Birmingham (70 miles) than London (75), and halfway up to Hull (81).


The more flattering interpretation of all this is that it’s on a bit of a crossroads: between capital and north, East Anglia and the Midlands. On the road network, that’s literally true – it’s where the A1 meets the A47, the main east-west road at this latitude – and railway lines extend in all directions, too.

All of which makes Peterborough a pretty nifty place to be if you’re, say, a large logistics firm.

This has clearly contributed to the city’s growth. “It has access to lots of land and cheaper labour than anywhere else in the Greater South East,” says Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities. “Those attributes appeal to land hungry, low-skilled business as opposed to higher-skilled more knowledge-based ones.”

That alone would point to a similar economy to a lot of northern cities – but there’s another thing driving Peterborough’s development. Despite being 70 miles from the capital, the East Coast Main Line means it’s well under an hour away by train.

In 1967, what’s more, the ancient cathedral city was designated a new town, to house London’s overspill population. The development corporation which owned the land and built the new town upon it, evolved into a development agency; today the same role is played by bodies like Opportunity Peterborough and the Peterborough Investment Partnership.

The city also offers relatively cheap housing: you can get a four-bed family home for not much over £200,000. That’s fuelled growth further as London-based workers scratch around for the increasingly tiny pool of places that are both commutable and affordable.

The housing affordability ratio shows average house prices as a multiple of average incomes. Peterborough is notably more affordable than Cambridge, London and the national average. Image: Centre for Cities data tool.

It’s made it attractive to service businesses, too. “London has probably played quite a big role in the city’s development,” says Swinney. “If you don’t want to move too far out, it’s probably one of the cheapest places to move to.”

The result of all this is that it has an unusually mixed economy. There’s light industry and logistics, in the office and warehouse parks that line the dual-carriageways (“parkways”) of the city. But there are also financial services and digital media companies moving in, bringing better paying jobs. In a country where most city economies are built on either high value services or land-hungry warehousing businesses, Peterborough has somehow managed to create a mixed economy.

Peterborough’s industrial profile: more services and less manufacturing, and more private and fewer public sector jobs, than the national average. Image: Centre for Cities.

At the moment, if people think of Peterborough at all, they’re likely to imagine a large town, rather than the fair-size regional city it’s on course to become. Its glorious 12th century cathedral – the hallmark of an ancient city, and at 44m still by far the highest spot on the horizon for miles around – is stunning. But it’s barely known to outsiders, and at least twice on my tour, the council’s communications officer proudly announces that the Telegraph named her patch as one of the best towns to live in within an hour of London, before adding, “even though we’re a city”. 

So part of the council’s current mission is to ensure that Peterborough has all the amenities people would expect from a settlement on this scale. “What the city needs to do is to adopt the mind-set of a slightly larger city,” says Anderson. Slightly smaller Swansea is developing a new music arena, of the sort Peterborough doesn’t have and needs. He frets, too, about retail spend “leaking” to Cambridge or Leicester. “Retail is now seen as a leisure activity: in the core of the city it’s important that offer is there.”

To that end, the early 1980s Queensgate shopping centre is being redeveloped, with John Lewis giving up a chunk of space to provide a new city centre cinema. (At present, the area only has road-side suburban multiplexes.) There’s major office, retail and housing development underway at North Westgate, as well as work to improve the walking route between the station and the commercial centre, in a similar manner to Coventry.

Fletton Quays. Image: Peterborough Investment Partnership.

Then there’s the city’s underused riverside. The council recently moved to new digs, in Fletton Quays, on the far bank of the River Nene from the centre. Across the river from the Embankment, the city centre’s largest green space, it’s a pretty lovely spot, of the sort where one might expect riverside pubs or restaurants with outdoor seating – but at the moment the space is largely empty. The Fletton Quays development will change all that, bringing more retail space and yes, new homes, too.

Jobs in Peterborough are unusually distributed around town: in many cities, most jobs are in the central business district. Image: Centre for Cities.

The big thing everyone agrees is missing, though, is a university. It already has the University Centre Peterborough, where degrees are provided by Anglia Ruskin University. The plan is for the site – a joint venture between ARU and Peterborough Regional College – to go its own way as an independent institution, the University of Peterborough, in autumn 2022. That should help provide the skills that the city needs to grow. A growing student population should also bring life and cash to the city centre. 

How big could Peterborough get? Could its enviable combination of good location and cheap housing and grand ambitions combine to make it the modern equivalent of Manchester or Liverpool – one of the great cities of the 21st century?

Well, probably not: “I think the optimum size for a city is probably about 250,000,” says Holdich. But that’s still a whole quarter bigger than now, and the council leader even discusses the possibility of refitting his dual-carriageway-based-city with some kind of light rail network to service that growing population. Peterborough’s not done growing yet.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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