A brief introduction to

Travelling Through History with Doctor Who

Between battling Daleks and dodging the Cybermen, the Doctor has taken us across the universe, and even dropped by some of England’s important historic places.

Between battling Daleks and dodging the Cybermen, the Doctor has taken us across the universe, and even dropped by some of England’s important historic places – but did you notice?

Here self-confessed ‘Whovian’ Paul Backhouse (also Head of Archive at Historic England) takes us through some of the historical backdrops you may have missed.

1. Prince Consort National Memorial (Albert Memorial), London. Grade I listed

Episode: The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

albert memorial from south west
Albert Memorial from the South West © Historic England

In this episode, the Doctor (played by William Hartnell) battles the Daleks on Earth for the first time, introducing the well-known phrase “Exterminate!”

There are many beautiful monuments in the background of this episode as it roves freely around a futuristic London, and it’s good to see them survive to the year 2164 AD.

In one iconic scene, we see the Daleks patrolling the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. This richly decorated sculpture was designed by George Gilbert Scott, representing the industrial arts: Agriculture, Manufacture, Commerce and Engineering alongside representations of Europe, Asia, Africa and America. Within the monument sits the figure of Prince Albert.

2. Millbank Tower, London, Grade II listed

Episode: The Invasion

cyber menDP163629
Millbank Tower, City of Westminster, London. © Historic England

The Invasion is one of the most highly regarded episodes of the Patrick Troughton era. It is also one of the episodes that was deleted in a routine BBC archive clear out between 1967 and 1978. As a result, it was animated and re-released in 2006.

The episode brings the return of the Cybermen, who are being aided by the evil industrialist Tobias Vaughn. Vaughn’s headquarters lie in Millbank Tower (built 1959-63 ) – one of the first tall buildings in London to be constructed along the river Thames.

3. Norris Castle, Isle of Wight Grade I listed

Episode: The Sea Devils

Norris Castle, East Cowes, Isle of Wight © Historic England

In this episode, the Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee) is pitted against the Master, another recurring character of the Doctor Who canon. This is also the first episode to introduce the aquatic version of the Silurian’s, a reptilian lifeform that inhabited the Earth before the rise of man.

The Master is kept prisoner in Norris Castle, not far from Osborne House – the former home of Queen Victoria on the Isle of Wight. Norris Castle is a rare Regency estate designed by one of England’s most notable architects, James Wyatt.

4. Clapham South Deep underground shelter, London. Grade II listed

 Episode: The Sun Makers

Underground DP158003
Clapham South Deep Tube Shelter, Clapham, London. © Historic England

Even when you set an episode on Pluto with the Doctor (played by Tom Baker), Leela and K9 all battling the evil seaweed Usurian, you need locations on Earth.

Here the Doctor travels underground to Clapham South Deep underground shelter- a WWII bunker dug during the war 1940-2. Built as an extension to Clapham South Underground Station, the tunnels were divided into sections and were served by a canteen and eight lavatory tunnels. A number of 1940s iron bunks and painted signs still remain, along with graffiti from the 1940s and 1950s, which makes this the most complete survival of the deep underground shelters.

5. Winchester Wharf, Clink Street, London. Grade II listed

Episode: Talons of Weng-Chiang 

Clink wharfaa98_05351
View of Clink Wharf Ltd. London © Historic England

This atmospheric story set in 19th century London pits the Doctor (played by Tom Baker) against unconvincing giant rats and a 51st century war criminal.

One of the scenes uses Clink Street, London, a dark and narrow alleyway which was once the location of one of the oldest prisons in London – now a museum. Alongside the museum are two warehouse buildings, built around 1814. These rare survivals are well preserved with wooden supports and original wooden floors still in place.

6. Rollright Stones and Little Rollright, Oxfordshire. Scheduled Monument

Episode: The Stones of Blood

Rollright, Oxfordshire cc72_02440
View showing two women near the largest stone in the circle. Rollright, Oxfordshire. © Historic England Archive | CC72/02440

The Doctor (Tom Baker again), Romana and K9 land back on earth and arrive at a standing stone circle on Boscombe Moor in present day England where archaeologists are surveying the site, and Druids are worshipping at it.

The actual location of the shoot was at Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, which have been dated to between the Neolithic and Middle Bronze age. The site consists of a stone circle, portal dolmen, standing stone and a ditched round barrow.

7. Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Grade I listed

Episode: The Lazarus Experiment

Wells DP101599
Wells Cathedral, Wells, Somerset © Historic England

In a tale of science run amuck, the Doctor (played by David Tennant) meets Dr Lazarus, who is experimenting with defying the aging process. The episode culminates in a battle, which was shot inside Wells Cathedral in Somerset.

Wells Cathedral began construction around 1175 AD and was the first English Cathedral to be built in the French Gothic style. The scissor arches (shown above) were built from around 1338 AD and were designed to solve the problem of cracks appearing in the tower.

Further Reading

2 comments on “Travelling Through History with Doctor Who

  1. I love the way they use locations for Dr Who – you might be interested in a post I wrote way back about another location which featured in a David Tennant incarnation – Chepstow Castle -https://themistsoftime.wordpress.com/visits/castles/chepstow-castle-monmouthshire/

  2. My Dad worked at Oldbury Nuclear Power Station. They filmed at the plant and he said the canteen was full of Cybermen at lunch time

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: