TARDIS hunting in Glasgow

This Scottish city has been on my ‘to visit’ for a while and when my fiancé and I were discussing a simple getaway after our July wedding it seemed perfect. We enjoy a city break and loved that we could just jump on the train and be there in a just few hours. Also there was the added attraction of no less than six in-situ police boxes dotted across the city – a wonderful opportunity to see a TARDIS in the wild!

I do love a big blue box – one of the first things I planned for my wedding was having a full size TARDIS. Fortunately I happened to know someone who had one and who would very kindly dismantle and build it at the venue (and bring along a couple of Daleks as well!). Doctor Who has been a presence in mine and my husband’s life since childhood and it was wonderful to include that on our wedding day.

So when people asked where we were going on honeymoon I was only semi joking when I replied that we were going ‘TARDIS hunting’. I’d found this fantastic resource online https://www.greatestglasgow.com/best-glasgow-police-boxes/ (check out the bouncy boxes on the map) and we headed out into the city the day we arrived clutching a print out and map. We managed to bag four the first afternoon and the remaining two the next day. It turned out to be a really good way to explore the city, with a few in the main retail area and a couple at tourist sites like the cathedral and botanical gardens. You could easily do them in a day if you wished or were short on time.

Below are the 6 in the order we visited them;

Buchanan Street – saw this one in the afternoon and were horrified to see it covered up in CBD advertisements from floor to ceiling. Fortunately we discovered when we went past in the evening that they’re only stuck on by Velcro – which is unsightly but thankfully not permanent.

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Sauchiehall Street I– aka ‘the red one’. More adverts covering it as again it’s a CBD kiosk by day.

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Sauchiehall Street II – near the Mackintosh at the Willow tea room. I’m certain this is the one that used to be on Wilson Street. I compared it with the website mentioned before and checked on Google maps – there was a box in Wilson Street in May 2018 but I think was moved later that year https://reglasgow.com/police-box-coffee-kiosk-can-open-in-sauchiehall-street/. It is currently being repainted and is covered in pigeons as it seems to be a perfect roost for them amongst the trees.

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Botanic Gardens – still in its original location apparently, partly enclosed by railings near the main entrance.

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Cathedral Square – the most pristine. It obviously pays to be located where it is – paint work and condition immaculate. Has a de-fibulator inside which is a great use for it.

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London Road – this is the most battered of the lot but has more charm because of it. Has a bit of a graffiti and damage, probably the least touristy area of the city.

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Bonus TARDIS – there is a huge wall mural which featured amongst other things the TARDIS, 1960’s Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert and the character ‘Malpha’ from lost 1965 Doctor Who episode ‘Mission to the Unknown’. I didn’t realise that Verity’s written archive is held at Strathclyde University and the mural is attached to one on the campus buildings. The ‘Mission to Unknown’ lost episode is fresh in my mind as I was fortunate to be able to see some of it being filmed at UCLan at the start of the year and see the finished work in a private screening.

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NB I hadn’t quite realised how much Glasgow has been used in films and TV – I watched World War Z when we got back as it doubled as Philadelphia in the opening scenes. We were also impressed to see a whisky bar we’d stopped in appear in the new ‘Fast and Furious; Hobbs and Shaw’ when the city was used as a double for London.

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When in Sheffield

I got to bag my first of the 13th Doctor filming locations! While in Sheffield to attend the SF Weekender at the O2 Academy in March it was only right and proper that I made a geek pilgrimage to the home of new Who companion, Yaz, who’s family live in the rather trendy – Park Hill Estate.

Now I’ve some interest in urban planning and architecture – I’m not ashamed to admit that I quite like a bit of practical, yet artfully arranged concrete. The Park Hill estate was saved from demolition by the creative folk at Urban Splash who have done the near miraculous with redundant and unloved buildings. https://www.urbansplash.co.uk/regeneration/projects/park-hill

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It looks rather handsome now after the refurbishment of a large section, the part closest to the city centre. The dominant position overlooks the city centre and bright colours against the concrete make it quite prominent on the skyline.

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Obviously, the Doctor Who location scouts thought it would be the perfect place to film outside of the usual Cardiff area, and some of the earliest shots of the filming came from there if I remember rightly. The TARDIS was placed outside the main entrance and well, it’s not that easy to disguise a big blue box. There was also some filming on the tram bridge which passes below the estate. That was were the first sighting of the Doctor’s fashion crime of wearing of wearing a bum bag was recorded – nothing so heinous has been seen on the show since Colin Baker’s technicolour wardrobe!

I like Sheffield and don’t know it half as well as I’d like to, having only visited a handful of times. These include a failed job interview at Museums Sheffield, and a memorable visit back in 2010 when I went to see Doctor Who alumni John Simm as Hamlet at the Crucible Theatre.

The city does actually have its own genuine police box which of course I’ve visited. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1405185 Dating from 1928 it’s located by the Town Hall on Surrey Street – but it’s green and the windows are wrong. But it’s a TARDIS in my eyes.

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External stimuli

I’ll admit it, I’m easily influenced when it comes to locations – take ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ for example – that last shot of Rey finding Luke on Ach-to? That led to a week’s holiday in the west coast of Ireland and boat trip to Skellig Michael.  I also visited the ridiculously photogenic Puzzlewood after learning that it was used in the same film, and a ridiculous number of other movies and TV productions.

The trailer and title of the last of the final Star Wars trilogy ‘Rise of Skywalker’ was presented at Star Wars Celebration Chicago in April this year. The opening scene is a fantastic shot of Rey in the desert. It was a great relief to my bank balance when it was confirmed as a location in Jordan. Now that’s somewhere I have already been to, I visited Wadi Rum as well as Amman, Jerash and Aqaba part of a tour I did of Jordan and Egypt back in 2004.

Wadi Rum has been used a many times in feature films, often doubling as an alien planet such as Mars in ‘The Martian’ and also Jeddha in ‘Rogue One – A Star Wars story’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Rum I’d happily go back there though – I went in the pre digital camera era – I had a good old practical film camera – which took 27 or 36 pictures per film! Today it’s no exaggeration to say I can take literally hundred in one day – I can’t imagine now just taking one or two a day. That’s all you could take though, and I don’t remember feeling deprived that I couldn’t take a picture of everything.

I’ve just checked my album for that Jordan/Egypt trip – 78 pictures over I think would have been 12 days…wow! Here’s all the ones I took ‘on location’ – all 6 of them –  and I did know it was film location back then – ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was most definitely in my mind when I visited. The quality is fine for the time but looks rather grainy compared to more modern digital cameras.

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I do feel that we now take pictures of things without truly looking. I used to work in an art gallery and often people would wander the rooms taking pictures of the art. Presumable to enjoy later or show friends. With most public art on the internet now, why bother taking pictures? Who are you going to show them to?

A few years ago, I took an organised tour around Morocco and one member of our group was travelling on his own didn’t take a single picture – nothing, nada, zilch, not even a quick pic on his phone. Now I remember thinking that was odd, as did everyone else on the trip – but when you actually think about it, honestly – how often do people actually go back and look at their albums – especially now when most pictures never leave the confines of a phone of memory card? Did he have the right mind-set – is it best to just look?

Of course, if you’re seeking out locations used in film and television – not taking any images would be in a way be rather hypocritical. Plus you’d lose out on the bragging rights…

So, I think a happy compromise is best, look more with the eyes but even then, I know I’ll easily take a couple of hundred pictures in a day. But I’ll put a heavily edited highlight set for friends and family on Facebook. The rest will probably linger on my laptop or get saved to a CD or external hard drive. A few at most will get physically printed, which is mainly due to cost and laziness, and honestly lack of storage space.

Looking for Ghostbusters

“Well there’s something you don’t see every day”

New York feels as much a main character in the film Ghostbusters as Venkman, Spengler and Co. in my opinion. The city provides an energy and grounding to the story – what begins as a group of frustrated scientists capturing all manner of strange and freaky ghosts becomes a desperate mission to save all of New York from Gozer the Destroyer! I have fond memories of being scared by the film when I was probably too young to have watched it. The library poltergeist and Dana’s apartment haunting particularly stuck in my memory. It was great to re-watch it before a trip to the Big Apple last year and locations from the film were high on the ‘to do’ list.

 We ticked off the three main locations; the Firehouse, Dana’s Apartment and Central Library. There were many more we could have included but we quickly realised when planning trip that we couldn’t do and see everything. A more detailed breakdown of all the locations from the film can be found here; http://onthesetofnewyork.com/ghostbusters.html

Interestingly I’ve realised that I’m probably more familiar with Ghostbusters through the animated series ‘The Real Ghostbusters’ and the toy range that accompanied it despite never having any of them! Ah, the brainwashing of an 80’s child!

Firehouse

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Iconic is a fair word to use for this building which is still a functioning fire station. Its future has been secured by a recently completed multimillion dollar refurbishment (it now has ladies loos)  and with a fresh coat of paint it’s never looked better. The fire crew adopted the Ghostbusters logo as their emblem and there’s a large version painted on the floor. It was interesting the observe how many people wandered past and stopped to grab a few photos in the brief time we were there – it’s not a main tourist area and it’s not somewhere you’d find yourself casually passing, you have to go find it.

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Dana’s Apartment

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On the edge of Central Park is Dana’s apartment building (extended higher in the film) but recognisable, 55 Central Park West. There’s the church next to it which gets flattened by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. We also wandered up to Columbus Circle and retraced the path of destruction.

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Central Library

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I really love this library, it’s a proper grand civic building, and ridiculously over embellished. The main library section is split into two – one side the general public can wander in and take pictures amongst the readers. The other half has an attendant where you presumably have to show a pass to get in. It’s the only building were security search your bags on the way in and the way out – are they just checking that you’ve not nicked a book or two?

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“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

 Bonus location – outside of the Central Library is were Spiderman’s Uncle Ben gets shot! Proof that with great locations comes great filming opportunities!

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Fantasy vs reality

It is possible to be disappointed with a location, but I always try not to set my expectations too high. It’s usually the places you’ve most longed to visit which can lead to the biggest anti-climax. Fortunately, I’ve had more hits than misses during the years location wanderings I’ve had. Although I speak as one of the thousands of tourists who have visited ‘Ramsey Street’ from the Australian soap opera Neighbours each year and have instantly said “But it looks so much bigger on the telly!”.

Last month I had a fantastic trip to New York with my boyfriend and now fiance Andy. (The Empire State Building should get a full blog entry of its own #isaidyes.) When two location geeks holiday together, double the sights! Plenty to write about for years to come from a single week in the Big Apple – so many locations, so little time. In Central Park alone we managed to bag a Doctor Who and The Avengers location simultaneously. With so many familiar places to visit you’re bound to get surprise when one doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

One New York location which wasn’t high on my list to see but certainly worth trying to find if we were in the neighbourhood was the Men in Black Headquarters which was used in the Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones ‘Men in Black’ films. One evening we headed to the Battery Park area for a night on the town. (Highly recommend the utterly magical Seaglass Carousel by the way).

Now this was something like I was expecting to see…

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It was dark when we visited it which was probably for the best as it wasn’t at its most photogenic to say the least. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Ventilation Building is currently surrounded by fencing and is part of a much larger construction and redevelopment project. The building isn’t going anywhere but it’s not going to be in any more movies anytime soon. Now I know the next time I see MIB I’ll just picture railings and a couple of port-a-loos! The Hollywood glamour has now sadly gone!

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We also got a glimpse of another location in the first MIB film – the site of the 1939 and 1964 New York’s World Fair. You can just spot the very sci-fi looking towers as you pass by in your taxi from JFK Airport. It’s now Flushing Meadows – Corona Park which I would certainly want to visit if I went back.

Save the date – the Doctor is back!

Sunday 7th October 2018

Doctor Who returns next month after being off our screens since Christmas. Not long at all if you’re old enough to remember the ‘hiatus’ from 1989 to 2005. I have vague memories of catching a few moments of the Sylvester McCoy era when I was little, but I really fell in love with the show through finding the Target novelisations when I was at primary school. Later I devoured the Virgin & BBC range of books in the absence of actual programme. As much as I adore the show I’m sort of glad that I discovered the adventures of the Doctor and his companions on paper. I realised later when watching the original series on video or DVD that my imagination far surpassed any BBC budget!

With the new Doctor being a she – it seems to have shaken up fandom a little, and there’s the sense of anticipation for the new season that reminds me of when the show returned 13 years ago. When Jodie Whitaker was announced as the new Doctor I had friends who cried that their show was now ruined and they’d never watch it again! I am curious to see if they do tune in and watch it now they’ve had time to calm down a little. To me the Doctor has always been rather fatherly and asexual, and I’m curious to see how, or even if, anything really changes with a woman in the role. I’m going to watch the new Doctor with a completely open mind – I have no doubt Jodie will be brilliant, but to me it will all come down to the writing – Chibnall, I’m counting on you!

There’s been some photos appearing in the press and on the web of the new series being filmed on location in Sheffield and further afield in South Africa. I would love to see the show actually being filmed one day – I came very close once! I visited Cardiff in October 2016 when they were making the 10th Doctor story ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ and it just happened to be the day (and night) they weren’t actually filming. The location was the rather stunning Senedd building in Cardiff Bay, which is home to the National Assembly for Wales. The very large machine that was central to the story was covered up and looked rather intriguing. I liked that there was a very polite notice stuck to the barrier explaining what was going on.

“BBC Wales is filming an episode of the next series of Dr Who in the Senedd. You will be able to watch the episode next year. Thank you for your cooperation”

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I have friends who live and work in Cardiff and have accidently stumbled upon filming on their lunch breaks a couple of times! I used to follow fan sites such as Outpost Gallifrey religiously, following the latest filming spotted and pouring over grainy photographs looking for clues to what the story might be. I’ve not been so zealous in recent years, but I confess to having seen the leaked photo of the new console room which angered the BBC rather a lot…

The first episode of the new season airs on BBC1 on a Sunday rather than Saturday which I think will be great – it won’t be up against the big Saturday shows on ITV, and more people are likely to be at home to watch it. I won’t be able to watch it as it goes out ‘live’ as I will literally be time travelling myself. I’ll be crossing an ocean and time zones as I’ll hopefully be on a flight between New York JFK and Manchester Airport. I’m sure the first thing we’ll do when we get home at a ridiculous time of night will be to put the kettle on and sit down to watch “The woman who fell to Earth”. See you soon Doctor!

Ksar of Ai Ben Haddou

Some places look too perfect to be real, and the Ksar of Ai Ben Haddou is one of them. It’s absolutely stunning – a fantasy Arabian city rising up out of the desert. Like Ireland’s extraordinary Skellig Michael, it’s a place so remarkable that you’d easily believe it was the work of craftsmen and CGI wizards for blockbuster movie. I was fortunate to visit it on a tour of Morocco back in 2010 with Explore. We arrived shortly before sunset and were able to wander our way to the highest point for a stunning view as the light slowly changed.

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It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444  and has been used so much in film and television that you’ve probably seen it without realising, or indeed known that it was a real place. The most recent film to my memory at the time was Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” and there was the occasional bit of helpful graffiti pointing you the way.

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Having been there now whenever I watch any film with a desert location I’m always on the alert for it cropping up, and it usually does, just check out this list;  http://www.ksaraitbenhaddou.com/filmes-ouarzazate-aitbenhaddou_en.html  It was also used in Season 3 of Game of Thrones as one of the places Daenerys liberated slaves.

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There is a cheat though – apparently the impressive gate towers were built for a film and were left standing afterwards, they do look very in keeping with the location.

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Being Morocco it’s got tourists without being too touristy. You need your own transport or to be with a tour group to be able to get there. Staying in the village across from it means you get to see it in the early morning light and I don’t think you could ever tire of the view.

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There’s a film studio on the edge of the nearby city of Ouarzazate, http://www.cla-studios.com/crbst_32.html and in the city itself is a fabulous film museum that I didn’t get enough time to properly explore but would happily go back and spend hours playing on the standing sets and admiring all the old camera equipment. As it wasn’t in our itinerary I begged for a quick look and had a whistle stop tour by an enthusiastic museum guide who didn’t speak English.

 

Rather randomly just a short drive from Ouarzazate there is a derelict America service station. It was built for the 2006 remake of “The Hills have Eyes” . It’s just been left as it probably was on the last day of filming –  it’s one of the most unexpected and bizarre locations I’ve ever stumbled across.

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