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 so 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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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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A brief adventure in London – how to bag a Star Wars location without even trying.

Or … I went to London Film & Comic Con and found myself on Scarif Imperial base.

The last weekend in July saw the mass annual pilgrimage of geeks to London Film & Comic Con at Olympia. With neither the stamina nor finances to manage the full three days we opted for just the Saturday and travelled in via tube after parking at Canary Wharf. For a Doctor fan it was rather thrilling to drive through security and go into the underground car park – the building is also known as Torchwood Tower

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I’ve been meaning to stop at Canary Wharf Underground Station for ages but have normally been just passing through on the Jubilee Line. Canary Wharf tube station was used as part of the imperial base on Scarif in the Star Wars film Rogue One. In the trailer we saw a glimpse of our heroes running through the station which didn’t actually appear in the final cut of the film (as with much of the trailer…) Check out this article with a link to the trailer; https://londonist.com/2016/04/what-the-heck-is-canary-whaf-tube-station-doing-in-new-star-wars-film-rogue-one

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I remember seeing the photos that made the newspapers during the filming there – a great picture of stormtroopers coming down the escalator en-masse. I just imagined a worried crew member guiding them off the bottom with haste so that there wasn’t an undignified pile up of bodies at the bottom. This site has some great behind the scenes pictures and background to the filming; https://www.buzzfeed.com/scottybryan/yes-star-wars-rogue-one-was-filmed-on-the-lond?utm_term=.gheLA4kko#.ojQvwlEEg

It’s easy to see why the location was used, it is still very new and shiny looking having opened in 1999. With some clever set dressing and covering of TFL signage it does look like a very functional imperial base, only those who regularly take the tube would immediately recognise it as a tube station. Shame it’s not on screen longer.

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Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs has its own film office – given how frequently is appears on film and television  I didn’t realise but it comes in a 14 of the 20 most used film locations in the world https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/film-tv-locations-mostused-top-20-central-park-new-york-city-a8214281.html

Another highlight of the day was seeing these awesome Rogue One costumers right as we walked into the show floor at London Film & Comic Con. Stunning work everyone!

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Bonus TARDIS at Earls Court as well! 

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On the way to Olympia we stopped at Earls Court tube to get some breakfast and joined almost a queue of fellow geeks grabbing a quick picture with the TARDIS just outside. Now this I have visited on previous trips but it was lovely to see that the police box has been repainted recently and looked particularly striking in the early morning sunshine. Check out the police box on Google maps, there’s a brilliant not so secret Easter egg – if you search for the location and then go on the street view – you can actually enter the TARDIS and see a 360 view of Matt Smith era the console room.

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LFCC was fun as usual and I got to catch up with friends, my boyfriend got his picture with Peter Capaldi and I was very impressed with the number of 13th Doctor cosplayers! 

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A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away…

…or five years ago, in Tunisia and a few hours flight away.

One of my strongest childhood memories is standing on top of a ridge of sand, staring wistfully into the distances as I watch the twin suns slowly set on the horizon…

Okay, I was posing on a sand dune on the beach at Fleetwood looking out as the single sun sank into the Irish Sea. I was geeky child with a great imagination. I’d seen Star Wars: A New Hope at a very early age, either on TV or VHS – I had to wait until the re-releases before the prequels came out to finally get to see it on the big screen

Luke was the character I most identified with when I was a kid, waiting for adventure and excitement, feeling that something was just out of reach yet calling to him. As an adult with wanderlust and a disposable income I knew that one day I would visit Tatooine and the Lars Homestead where Luke was raised and where he met a couple of droids that would start his hero’s journey.

In April 2013 I joined an Explore trip to Tunisia which as well as visiting Tunis and Tozeur, and historical sites such as Carthage and El Djem, would take in two Star Wars filming locations; The “Lars Homestead” in Matamata and the standing sets that formed Mos Espa in the prequel films.

Sand…lots of sand…

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The Mos Espa location is in the middle of nowhere, a place called Chott El Jerid. This site is great for pinpointing exactly where http://www.losapos.com/starwarstunisia.  Either by accident or design the very large and quite substantial set built for The Phantom Menace still stands and is slowly being smothered by the desert. In fact, the encroaching sand dunes are being used by scientists to study how the Sahara is spreading; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23375344

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Built in 1997 so were 16 years old by the time I got there, they seemed in very good condition. It’s an area you wouldn’t get to without a 4×4 and a guide so it’s not open to vandalism and damage you might get somewhere else. A nearby town had a shop with a couple of items that looked like they’d come from the set, and the entrepreneurial shopkeeper would try and tempt tourists in to see more items he’d acquired.

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Coming home

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I remember feeling very slightly cheated when I discovered that when Luke’s Aunt Beru shouts up to him to as he looks over the edge of the homestead – they were actually in two separate places. The internal courtyard is in reality a traditional troglodyte dwelling – now the Sidi Driss Hotel in a small town called Matmata. Not much has been altered as the locals are well aware of the power of the geek pound. The location was reused when they filmed Attack of the Clones and they left all the set dressing behind. It’s a very strange and familiar place, you can sit in the cave used for blue milk scene, it has a very recognisable painting on the ceiling.

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I’m sure there are many fans who stay the night there, though I stayed in a similar hotel nearby. I tried to watch the sun set from the roof but it lacks the romance of the desert –too many satellite dishes and aerials.

I didn’t get to visit the external Lars Homestead structure that was restored by a group of fans in 2012. I did though get to see how they did it at Celebration Europe in 2013 when    they gave a great talk about their “Save the Lars Homestead” project. I also got a patch!

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I got my Tatooine sunset on our last day in desert region before we headed back north. We walked over dunes to a beautiful vantage point. As the sun sank lower in the sky I could hear the classic John Williams score in my head, and for a moment lost myself to a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Magical, just magical.

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