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.

 
 
 
 

Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.