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.

 
 
 
 

How the pandemic is magnifying structural problems in America's housing market

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Long before Covid-19, the United States suffered from a housing crisis. Across the country, working class and low-income Americans struggled to pay rent, while the possibility of home ownership receded into fantasy. In hot markets, affordability became a struggle for even the middle class: In California, 41 percent of the population spends over a third of their income on housing costs. 

The coronavirus pandemic will only make these trends worse as millions are unable to work and the economy dives into a recession. Building could slow down in the medium term, as construction loans (risky bets in the best of times) become harder to come by. Unsubsidised affordable housing is often owned by small landlords, who are more likely to struggle during recessions, prompting flips to home ownership or sales to rental empires. 

New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty documented America’s longstanding housing crisis – and California’s efforts to battle it – in his book Golden Gates, which debuted just before the pandemic hit. “My sense is that right now coronavirus is magnifying a lot of things that were already happening,” Dougherty says.  


While Covid-19 adds new pressures, he says that many of the same issues we were facing still loom over the issue, from developers crowding the higher end of the market, to escalating construction costs, to stagnating wages and vulnerable service-sector jobs that leave ordinary Americans struggling to keep a roof over their heads. “That’s my larger message,” Dougherty says. “I think the structural problems continue to be a much bigger deal than the cyclical problem in housing.”

CityMetric spoke with Dougherty about how his thinking has changed since Covid-19, Donald Trump’s pro-suburban rhetoric, and the apparent exodus from San Francisco. 

I’ve really been struck by how strong the housing market seems to be despite the epic economic crisis we are facing. Costs seem to be higher everywhere. I've heard realtors talk about bidding wars like they haven't seen before in Philly, where I live. But perhaps that's just pent up demand from the big shutdowns?

What you have is an economy that has bifurcated. You have fewer middle-income jobs, more lower-income service jobs, and more higher-end jobs in software and finance. That's how our economy looks and that's a problem that is going to take the rest of our lives to solve. In the meantime, we have this housing market where one group of people have so much more money to spend than this other group. Cities reflect that. 

What's important about this bifurcation isn't just that you have gross inequality, but that these people have to live next to each other. You cannot be someone's Uber driver and telecommute. You cannot clean someone's house remotely. These lower-end service workers have to occupy the same general housing market as the super-high-end workers. 

All the pandemic has done is thrown that even more out of whack by creating a situation where one group of people is buying and expanding homes or lowering their home cost by refinancing, while another group are at income zero while trying to live in the same housing market with no demand for their services. When you see home prices booming and an eviction tsunami coming in the same newspaper, that tells you the same thing the book was trying to show you.

Does America writ large have the same housing shortage crisis as California and the Bay Area more specifically? There are other super hot markets, like New York City, Boston, or Seattle. But in Philly, or in Kansas City, is there really a lack of supply? 

There are three kinds of cities in America. There are the really out of control, fast-growing, rich cities: the Bay Area, Seattle, New York. There are declining Detroits and Clevelands, usually manufacturing-centric cities. Then there are sprawling Sun Belt cities. This book is by and large concerned with the prosperous cities. It could be Minneapolis, it could be Nashville. But the housing crisis in places like Cleveland is much more tied to poverty, as you pointed out. 

Those kinds of cities do have a different dynamic, although they still do have the same access to opportunity issues. For instance, there are parts of Detroit that are quite expensive, but they're quite expensive because that's where a lot of the investment has gone. That's where anybody with a lot of money wants to live. Then you have Sun Belt cities like Dallas and Houston, which are starting to become a lot more expensive as well. Nothing like the Bay Area, but the same forces are starting to take root there. 

I think that the Bay Area is important because throughout history, when some giant American industry has popped up, people have gone to Detroit or Houston. Now tech, for better or for worse, has become the industrial powerhouse of our time. But unlike Detroit in its time, it's very hard for people to get close to and enjoy that prosperity. There's a certain kind of city that is the future of America, it has a more intellectual economy, it's where new productive industries are growing. I think it's an outrage that all of them have these housing crises and it's considered some insane luxury to live there. 

A recent Zillow study seemed to show there hasn't been a flood of home sales in the pandemic that would signify a big urban exodus from most cities, with the glaring exception of San Francisco. Do you think that could substantially alleviate some of the cost pressure in the city proper?

On the one hand, I think this is about the general economy. If unemployment remains over 12% in San Francisco, yes, rent is going to be a lot cheaper. But is that really the reality we're all looking for? If restaurants and bars that were key to the city's cultural life remain shut, but rent is cheaper, is that what everyone wants? I bet you when this is all over, we're going to find out the tech people left at a much lower rate than others. Yes, they can all work from home, but what do you think has a bigger impact on a city: a couple of companies telling people they can work from home or the total immolation of entire industries basically overnight?

I don't want to make predictions right now, because we're in the middle of this pandemic. But if the city of San Francisco sees rents go down, well, the rent was already the most expensive in the nation. It falls 15%, 20%? How much better has that really gotten? Also, those people are going to go somewhere and unless they all move quite far away, you're still seeing these other markets picking up a lot of that slack. And those places are already overburdened. Oakland's homeless problem is considerably worse than San Francisco's. If you drive through Oakland, you will see things you did not think possible in the United States of America. 

Speaking of markets beyond San Francisco, you have a chapter about how difficult it is to build housing in the municipalities around big cities – many of which were just founded to hive off their tax revenues from low-income people.

That’s why you see Oregon, California, or the Democratic presidential candidates talking about shaking this up and devising ways to kick [zoning] up to a higher level of government. We've always done this whenever we've had a problem that seems beyond local governance. Like voting rights: you kick it to a higher body when the local body can't or won't solve it. 

But for better or for worse, this suburban thing is part of us now. We cannot just undo that. This notion of federalism and local control, those are important American concepts that can be fiddled with at the edges, but they cannot be wholesale changed. 

The first time I ever met Sonja Trauss [a leader of the Bay Area YIMBY group], she told me she wasn't super concerned about passing new laws but that the larger issue was to change the cultural perception of NIMBYism. We were living in a world where if you went to a city council meeting and complained about a multifamily development near your single-family house, you were not accosted for trying to pump up your property values or hoard land in a prosperous city. You were seen as a defender of the neighbourhood, a civically-minded person.

What is significant about YIMBYism is that the cultural tide is changing. There is this whole group of younger people who have absorbed a new cultural value, which is that more dense housing, more different kinds of people, more affordable housing, more housing options, is good. It feels like the tide is turning culturally and the movement is emblematic of that. I think that value shift will turn out to have been much more lasting than anything Scott Wiener ever does. Because the truth is, there are still going to be a bunch of local battles. Who shows up and how those places change from within probably will turn out to be more important. 

As you said, we've been seeing a lot of Democratic candidates with proposals around reforming zoning. How does Joe Biden's plan compare to the scope of the ambition in the field? 

There are two big ideas that you could pull from all the plans. First, some kind of renter's tax credit. It is obscene that we live in a country where homeowners are allowed to deduct their mortgage interest, but renters aren't. It is obscene that we live in a world where homeowners get 30-year fixed mortgages that guarantee their house payment pretty much for life and renters don't. If we think that it's a good idea to protect people from sudden shocks in their housing costs, that is as good of an idea for renters as it is for homeowners. 

I tell people that in this country, homeowners are living in the socialist hellscape of government intervention and price controls. Renters are living in the capitalist dream of variable pricing and market forces. Homeowners think they're living in this free market, but actually they're in the most regulated market – there are literally price controls propping up their market mortgages. 

Then there is Section 8 housing. Right now homeowners get access to the mortgage interest deduction. That programme is available to as many people as can use it, yet only about a quarter of the people eligible for Section 8 can get it. I think rectifying that is hugely important and a lot of the plans talked about that. 

The second big idea is using the power of the purse to incentivise people to more robustly develop their regions. You should have higher density housing in fancy school districts, near job centres, near transit. We're going to use the power of the purse to incentivise you, within the bounds of your own local rules, to do this right. Of course, that’s what Donald Trump is running against when he talks about Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). 

When I was a local reporter in Philly, the city went through with that AFFH regulation despite Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson not being interested in enforcing it anymore. The city produced a fat report that maybe a few people read, but I don't think it changed policy. It's this phantom that Trump is running against, an ideal version of the policy that did not exist. It's also a phantom no one's heard of until Trump started tweeting about it. 

It’s been bizarre to watch. But Trump does seem to recognise that suburban politics don’t neatly fit into a red or blue construct. People who live in Texas and claim to want a free market system will turn around and erect local regulation to make sure nobody can build apartments near them. People in the Bay Area who claim to be looking for a more diverse place will use different logic, anti-developer logic, to keep apartments being built near them. 

People like that regardless of how they feel about things nationally. The bluntness with which Trump is doing it is discordant with the electorate and quixotic because people don't know what he's talking about. But the basic things he recognises – can I make voters feel like their neighbourhoods are threatened – he's onto something there. As with many things Trump, his tactics are so off-putting that people may ultimately reject them even if under the surface they agree.

You hear people on the left say the scary thing about Trump is that one day a good demagogue could come along. They're going to actually tax private equity people and they're actually going to build infrastructure. They're going to actually do a lot of popular stuff, but under a racist, nationalist banner. I think the suburban thing is a perfect example of that. There's a lot of voters even in the Bay Area who [would support that policy] in different clothing.

The world has changed completely since Golden Gates debuted just a few months ago. Has your thinking about housing issues changed as a result of the seismic disruptions we are living through?

The virus has done little more than lay itself on top of all of the problems I outline in the book. Whether we have an eviction tsunami or not, a quarter of renters were already spending more than half their income on rent. There's a chapter about overcrowded housing and how lower-income tenants are competing with each other by doubling, tripling, and quadrupling up for the scant number of affordable apartments. We now know that overcrowded housing is significantly more of a risk [for Covid-19] than, say, dense housing. If you live in a single-family home with 15 people in it, that's a lot more dangerous than 40 apartments in a four-story building.

Housing is just a proxy for inequality, it's a way of us building assets for one group at the exclusion of another. It is an expression of the general fraying of American society. I don't feel like that larger message has been affected at all, it's only been enhanced by the pandemic. With the caveat that this can all change, it just doesn't seem to me like there's some uber housing lesson we can learn from this – other than having a bunch of people crowded together is a really bad idea. 

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.