Going in search of Daleks in the backstreets of London

I noticed a few weeks ago the the old 1960’s Doctor Who films with Peter Cushing as the Doctor have been re-mastered in 4k for a re-release. I only mention it as one of the things that I always thought funny in one of those films is when the Daleks invade Britain and the Doctor bypasses Watford as it is crawling with Daleks. Given that I lived just 2 or 3 miles from Watford that made me smile as for various reasons, Daleks often seem to set up base in some of the less photogenic areas in and around London.

I’ve never done a Doctor Who tour myself though often thought of creating one. There are several longstanding ones all ready and I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. A few weeks ago I was specifically asked to take a family of six on a Doctor Who tour.

Of course with a show with 60 years of history, where does one start? Normally people book a tour I have already created so they know what to expect. I however had a blank canvas.

Having looked at some existing Doctor Who tours, they were often very samey. Or Time-Wimey even as the Doctor would put it. The advantage of doing private tours, even just for one person is that you can literally go where no-one has gone before so to speak.

I’ve watched Doctor Who since the end of the 1970’s with the legendary Tom Baker though I think the series may have peaked with David Tennant or at least Matt Smith just a decade or so ago since when I’m not alone in thinking it has rather lost its way a little.

However when I was a teenager there was one particular Doctor Who story that I particularly loved, Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988 with the often maligned Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and the brash, tomboy Ace as his companion.

You can see the advertising video for it below.

It is often remembered by those of us of a certain age as the first time that Daleks could climb stairs. For decades Daleks had been unable to climb stairs; the most powerful and evil force in the galaxy was helpless if confronted by a step. This was primarily because Daleks were life-sized devices that rolled around on hidden wheel. There was no real-life technology that could have them go up stairs.

Then in 1988 special effects technology had improved sufficiently that all of us youngsters were in for a huge shock. No Dalek had ever flown up a stairs and so when the Doctor was stuck in the basement with a Dalek, he was relatively safe because everyone knew a Dalek can’t go up stairs until…..

As you can imagine, this gave us all a terrible shock and it was pretty much all everyone talked about for the next few days. Imagine having to wait a whole week before finding out what happens.

Later on I became somewhat friendly with the actor who hits Ace and locks the Doctor in the basement. I’m even mentioned obliquely in his biography. In the U.K. he was famous for being the tyrannical teacher Mr. Bronson in Grange Hill though overseas viewers might remember him from small parts in big films such as Hitler in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade or Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back.

This series of Doctor Who was almost like a bridge between the older classic shows and New Who. For example the female companion Ace, wasn’t just a damsel in distress or a clever lady who could use her brains. Here we have a bolshy woman with a baseball bat and high explosives, taking the fight to Daleks and jumping through windows.

Ace takes on a Dalek

Hopefully these short clips will give some indication as to why back in 1988, this was such a thrilling adventure and so naturally I thought some of the locations in these episodes would make a great place to take tourists. Old enough to be classic, modern and exciting enough that people from overseas might have seen them.

This Doctor Who story was set in the 1960’s and so it required buildings and streets that could be made to look old-fashioned and for many of the scenes they used a neighbourhood near Waterloo Railway Station that miraculously survived both The Blitz and post-war reconstruction. Back in the 1980’s this was a rough area and indeed even when I was out exploring I went by a patch of blood where someone had been either stabbed or killed in the street. On the whole though it is now a very desirable place to live.

I was hugely excited to be going to look for these places going only of memories in my head of 1988 where Doctor Who and the Daleks had faced off. Also a little nervous as one of the locations wasn’t and indeed still isn’t the best of places and if there is one thing that draws attention to oneself it is stopping in dark alleys and under railways taking photos.

I was glad to see that I found everything just as I remembered. The photo above isn’t one that i took but it illustrates one of the filming locations. How gentrified the area has become and what was one a Dalek lair, dressed up to be a builders yard is now some rather expensive housing.

Above is another street view. Clearly the same spot as my photo below.

I managed to evade Dalek patrols long enough to take this photo just a few feet/metres from the previous photo.

Above is a doorway that the Doctor and Ace flee through to escape Daleks. You can see on the doo above the head of Ace, a small sign. it is one of those “Beware of the dogs’ signs. Below is the very same doorway and the old sign has recently called off leaving a different coloured paint beneath,

A good place to hide from Daleks!

One of the iconic moments of this episode was when two Dalek factions met each other in battle, leading to the Special Weapons Dalek being unveiled and laying waste to its opponents. For a TV show that was famously low budget, so much was spent on various laser beam fights and explosions that it is reported that the police were called as locals suspected perhaps a terrorist incident had taken place.

When I got to this spot there was actually a parked up lorry with a driver who eyed me up warily as I was taking photos as best as I could with his vehicle in exactly the spot I really wanted to photograph. I went over to speak to him and it turned out he was about the same as I am and when I told him what I was doing and that the Daleks had had a huge battle on this very spot then he actually drove his vehicle out so I could get the photos I wanted as he was a huge fan too!

You will be exterminated!

You can see a glimpse of one of the Dalek battles below that took place in the very spot I am at in the photo above. The video below has some related battle footage.

I was thrilled to have found all the locations I wanted to without even a map or smartphone to help me, just from where I thought they would all be in my head.

None of the large big group Doctor Who Tours come here but when it is a private tour with just a family or even an individual tour you can go to places where a group of 20 or 30 people would draw unwanted attention or perhaps not be able to go at all. It also means people can get to see real places and streets in London rather than just the famous spots and I think if you go on holiday then what you really want to do is see real people, try local foods, walk through actual streets.

This is just one area on my new Doctor Who tour and as it turned out, only one of the six people who came on it had seen the show. However with screenshots on my iPad and my commentary on how they filmed different pieces here and actual real history and social commentary, it ended up being perhaps their favourite location in the whole day.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
This entry was posted in Life, London, Popular Culture, television, Ye Olde England Tours and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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