Doctor Who: How time and space was found in Wales

November 24, 2013 1:18 AM

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Doctor Who: How time and space was found in Wales

Doctor Who may be on an endless journey through the universe but Wales has been his home on Earth since his adventures returned to Saturday night television.

Princes and people from all over the world have travelled to Cardiff to check out where the Time Lord hangs his sonic screwdriver between takes.

The sci-fi show, celebrating its 50th anniversary on Saturday night, has a new Tardis in place for Peter Capaldi, the fourth incarnation of the Doctor since its 2005 revival.

Cardiff was in the right time and space when the series was re-commissioned for the BBC after a gap of 15 years.

The corporation had been looking to move more of its network productions out to its regions and nations.

Julie Gardner, the then head of drama at BBC Wales, said: "I had been working with [executive producer and lead writer] Russell T Davies on Casanova. Russell is Welsh as well and I knew he was a massive Doctor Who fan.

"I didn't know that he had been talking with the BBC over a number of years about when Doctor Who would come back."

She added: "All these things came together: my working Russell, him and the Doctor, the increasing calls for the Doctor to return and the BBC looking at growing its use of regional and national productions.

And what a kick-start, with Christopher Ecclestone as the new face of the Time Lord, proving a winner with both family viewers on Saturday evenings - and the critics.

The re-booted Doctor Who has since passed its 100th episode and is about to embrace Capaldi in a fourth incarnation of the role, replacing Matt Smith to become the 12th Doctor Who.

Over the years, the show has attracted stars for cameo appearances including Kylie Minogue, Carey Mulligan and Sharon Osbourne as well as some of Britain's most venerable thespians such as Sir Derek Jacobi, Simon Callow and Sir Ian McKellen.

Even Capaldi appeared as a Roman banker in a story when David Tennant was the tenth Doctor.

Throughout this time, as well creating purpose-built studios for the show, the Cardiff-based production drew on locations in the city and across Wales.

Ms Gardner said: "There were key locations that appeared in multiple scenes and episodes.

"For example, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, that's got good, wide, dark lower level corridors that are very helpful for chase sequences and quite anonymous architecture that we would repeatedly use.

"We had very good access to multiple and diverse locations from beaches to countryside to urban scenes and we were able to increasingly build an experienced workforce."

It has hanging on to that workforce that led Gardner and Davies to perhaps Doctor Who's best known spin-off, Torchwood.

The name of the Cardiff-based alien hunters, an anagram of Doctor Who, was famously put on early Doctor Who rushes being sent to London to evade potential story spoilers.

The opening credits of Torchwood, with its helicopter-shot title sequence revealing John Barrowman standing Angel of the North-like on the large sloping roof of the Wales Millennium Centre, has been described as Russell T Davies's "love letter to Cardiff".

It meant Gardner and Davies could keep their creatives in place all-year-round.

She said: "The spin-off came from enjoying John Barrowman's performance in Doctor Who and liking his character [Captain Jack Harkness] and thinking there were new stories to explore with the character.

"Torchwood came out of classic necessity. We had built a fantastic production team but were only filming for nine months each year.

"We had a production team we wanted to keep together when increasingly they were being offered other jobs."

The series is now a cornerstone of BBC Wales' purpose-built drama studios at Roath Lock in Cardiff Bay.

Gardner has since passed on her BBC Wales baton and is now based in Los Angeles working with BBC Worldwide on drama programmes for American broadcasters.

But she returns to Wales often, mostly recently for filming of Da Vinci's Demons in Swansea.

"I think Doctor Who has been very good to Wales, it has brought an enormous amount of employment and tourism and given south Wales an enormous amount of profile.

"There seems to be a brilliant synergy in Doctor Who going through Cardiff."

Source: bbc.co.uk

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