Friday, 4 January 2013

TARDIS Travels to Castles of England & Wales

It may come as a surprise that television's most famous time traveller has a surprisingly distant relationship with the fortified nobles' homes which are scattered across our island. You might expect that Medieval England is an obvious destination for what started as a children's TV show with a partly educational remit - but it is not the case.

As a devoted fan of this magnificent programme, and as a lover of history too, I have decided to take you on a spin in the TARDIS to poke around the collection of castles that have graced the show through the years. I will name the episodes and show some clips in which they appear, so you can keep an eye out for repeats in 2013 - the show's 50th Anniversary year.

The studio-bound nature of the early seasons
meant that often painted backdrops were used.
Here is a fairytale castle in a fantasy land.
Doctor Who began in 1963 but despite the Time Lord's ability to meet history's greatest rulers, not one single genuine castle was used for filming during the show's first seven years of production. When one finally made an appearance, it did not represent a trip to the past, but instead featured as a contemporary prison.

By the time location filming had become more affordable and therefore more frequent, it coincided with a shift in thinking about what the programme should contain, and historical stories were phased out in favour of visits to the future or thrillers set on contemporary Earth.

When the TARDIS finally made a trip to a fictional medieval castle, it was actually filmed at a Victorian mansion! The second real castle to appear in the show was used to represent a suspiciously retro alien world, and it was only the third occasion that a structure from the Middle Ages was used for filming a historical location. The final castle used in the show was seen during a visit to the present day. In the entire original 26-year run of Doctor Who, only four castles were featured in the series, and on only one occasion was it for the purposes of dropping in on a famous king or queen.

After the series returned to our screens in 2005, a plethora of historic landmarks was visited, but once again they were used creatively to portray structures such as prisons, monasteries, Downing Street and even Venice. Here's my guide to the real castles of the Middle Ages that have featured in the fictional worlds of Doctor Who.

Dover Castle - "The Mind of Evil"


The first castle ever used on the show was during production of the Season Eight adventure The Mind of Evil, when the crew went on location to Kent at the end of October 1970. Dover Castle was chosen to portray Stangmoor Prison and numerous sequences were filmed there. The castles Constable's Gateway (completed in 1227) was used for shots of vehicles approaching, including the Doctor's arrival at the opening of episode one.

The earliest part of the Castle used was the King's Gate built in the 1180s and this can be seen during an assault by the paramilitary force UNIT. Also during this attack on the "prison", the castle's distinctive Fitzwilliam Gateway was used. The late-Victorian stables were shown as the attack was mustered and the Keep Yard was the setting for bits including an impressive stunt fall down a set of steps.

You can see some great shots of Dover Castle during the first couple of minutes of episode one in this video of The Mind of Evil.

Peckforton Castle - "The Time Warrior"


The first time the Doctor travels back in time to visit a castle is in the show's ninth season. But although the Doctor arrives in the Middle Ages, the structure used for filming is in fact a country house whose construction was started in 1844. During three days' shooting in mid-May 1973, Peckforton Castle became the fictional home of the evil medieval bandit Irongron.

Peckforton was commissioned by the wealthy estate manager John Tollemache and designed by Anthony Salvin in the Gothic style. Its authentic-looking exterior and modern facilities made for an ideal building to film the scenes which were supposed to take place in the 13th century. It doesn't belong on this list, but is included because it's the first of only two fictional visits to such a setting.

Episode two of The Time Warrior features Peckforton Castle in its opening and it can be seen in the first minute of this video clip along with the first ever appearance of a Sontaran - a monster which continues to be popular today. There is more good footage of the location in this clip here.

Leeds Castle - "The Androids of Tara"


It is quite remarkable that a gap of a further seven years then elapses before a castle is required again in Doctor Who, although there was one quirk to mention. For the story Terror of the Zygons a stock photo of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye was used to represent Forgill Castle, but no location work was done there.

When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet called Tara, its similarity to medieval England allows for a retelling of The Prisoner of Zenda but, as this is Doctor Who, it is done so using androids.

For this ersatz environment, Leeds Castle in Kent was selected and the production team filmed there between 24th and 28th July 1978 in the story which was called The Androids of Tara. The first building on the site was started in 1119 but the following centuries saw demolition and rebuilding, and much modification by Henry VIII. The building was transformed again in 1823 when it took on its present form in the Tudor style.

Here in this video clip there are some good shots of the castle and in this clip from episode four the castle is illuminated at night as the Count dives into the moat.

The Doctor Who team would not call upon another castle for five years - but there was a cameo by Powis Castle at the end of Warriors Gate. Still images were used as backdrops with the characters added using blue-screen. The slides were seen only in greyscale to emphasise the mysterious "mirror world" in which the characters arrived.

Bodiam Castle - "The King's Demons"


A medieval castle was actually used to portray a medieval castle on only one occasion, and it came in the Peter Davison story The King's Demons. Purely historical adventures were long since extinct by this stage and the plot deals with the Master's attempt to change history at the court of King John with the help of an android.

Ironically, the story is set in 1215 but the location chosen for this chivalric tale was Bodiam Castle in East Sussex, built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge. 

Some beautiful establishing shots of the Castle from episode one can be seen here along with the jousting which then takes place in the grounds - and the TARDIS landing interrupting it. You can click here to see the TARDIS being carted inside the castle.

Arundel Castle - "Silver Nemesis"


The final castle to feature in the new series appeared for the location-only story Silver Nemesis, and was recorded in June 1988. The adventure takes place in Windsor Castle but the production team could not secure permission to record in the real location and so Arundel Castle was selected as a suitable substitute.

The crowd of tourists featured a number of celebrity extras to mark the 25th anniversary of the programme. Included in these people was Nicholas Courtney in his first appearance in the show for five years, although not specifically playing the Brigadier.

Half way through episode two this sequence represents most of the footage shot at Arundel.

The New Series - Welsh Castles from 2005 Onwards


When Doctor Who was brought in from the cold and relaunched in 2005, the new show was based in Cardiff rather than London. Dramatic changes to production techniques in the preceding decades had made location work ubiquitous for most television serials and so more real buildings were scouted for shooting.

Doctor Who in its reborn form not only had a more generous budget but greater ambitions and more time to prepare, and so location work in some of Wales's finest historic buildings became commonplace.

And yet, as with the previous incarnation of the show, the Doctor still rarely shows us any iconic moments from British history, and therefore the nation's great stone fortifications have been used instead to depict a variety of weird and wonderful places.

Penllyn Castle - "Tooth and Claw"


Although Hensol Castle was the first gothic-looking building to be used in the new series, it is actually a Georgian mansion. The first genuinely old structure to be utilized does not have much surviving from the Middle Ages but features quite prominently in the opening of Tooth and Claw. The Doctor Who team came to Penllyn in Glamorgan in September 2005 to film the kung-fu style courtyard battle at Sir Robert's House. Started in 1135, this privately-owned house only has a couple of walls dating from the earliest phase of building, with most being rebuilt in recent centuries.

Fonmon Castle - "The Next Doctor"


Whilst the aforementioned Hensol had been used for a couple of shots in The Next Doctor, it was the elegant interior of the 13th century Fonmon Castle that appeared most on screen. Sadly, however, the building's impressive exterior was not used.

During shooting in April 2008, several rooms and the stairs and landing were used as the Cybermen chased the Doctor through Reverend Fairchild's house. The impressive rooms can be seen in this clip from the episode.

Castell Coch - "Journeys End" and "Vampires of Venice"


When an ominous castle in Germany had to be depicted, the predominantly Victorian folly known was Castell Coch was used as the foreign UNIT base in the season finale Journey's End. An establishing shot of the distinctive south-west corner was followed by scenes set in the banquet hall when Martha meets a German woman.

Much of this house was built in the 1870s but it is founded on the remains of a 13th century castle. The site is at least authentic, even if the current architecture is not. The location work was completed in March 2008, but the production team returned in January 2010 when its distinctive courtyard was used as the Calvierri residence in the Vampires of Venice.


Caerphilly Castle - "The Rebel Flesh" and others


In April 2009, Doctor Who came to Caerphilly for the first time, but the show would return on many occasions during the following years. This great structure was never used to represent a historical building, and rarely was it even used to represent Britain, but it was the first full appearance of a proper medieval castle's exterior in the new series.

The interior first appeared as Her Majesty's Prison Broadfell during the Master's resurrection in David Tennant's finale The End of Time. Despite the castle Gatehouse's spacious interior, a new, vaulted ceiling was added in post production to provide more spectacle.

The next time the production team arrived, the castle was to play the somewhat unlikely role of Venice. On 9th February 2010, the castle moat was used during a night shoot in order to record a scene in which Doctor and Rory arrive at the Calvierri palace for The Vampires of Venice. The Great Hall was featured when a doorway to the palace was needed, and the castle's tunnels were used for when characters made their way in and out.

Ten months later, Doctor Who was back in the very same tunnels for The Rebel Flesh to shoot scenes with Rory, and the crew returned again in April 2012 to shoot scenes for The Power of Three.

Cardiff Castle - "The Snowmen" and "The Rebel Flesh"


Cardiff Castle was visited twice by the Doctor Who team. At the end of November 2010 and again in the new year, the corridors were used for the futuristic Monastery in The Rebel Flesh.

In mid-September 2012, the interiors were used for recording the Christmas special called The Snowmen.

Skenfrith Castle - "Amy's Choice"


The only present-day castle ruin ever to appear in Doctor Who as a present-day castle ruin, this location was used at the end of February 2010 in the story Amy's Choice.

The first parts of the defences were built shortly after 1066 and the castle was still in use in the 15th century. By 1538 the castle was abandoned and ruinous and is now an open site in the midst of the town.

Much is seen of the ruin as the episode centres around Amy Pond's home of Leadworth. She and and her time-travelling friends wander about the village, chat in the castle grounds, and ultimately meet a group of alien-possessed pensioners on the green.

This excellent location can be seen here in this video clip from the episode.

Chepstow Castle - "The Rebel Flesh"


In December 2010, yet another historic location was used for the two-parter The Almost People and The Rebel Flesh.

Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire featured as the Monastery for this retro-futuristic outpost and is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. It was in regular use until 1685 whereafter it was partly dismantled and fell into disrepair.

And so ends our tour of England and Wales. Almost all these sites are accessible to the public and present a great opportunity to engage children with the past. Next time you're planning a holiday - especially anywhere near South Wales - why not look in on a few of these sites which are now part of our televisual history as well as our military one.

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