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Doctor Who and Cardiff’s attraction as a filming location

The TARDIS on top of Cardiff Castle.
The new series of Doctor Who has more Cardiff than ever before, but why does the show film here? Source: Richard Croft (via Geograph)

By Katherine Wheeler | Comment Editor

Like it or not, Doctor Who has become a staple of Cardiff life. Just take a walk around the city and you might bump into a film set. If you’ve got a Doctor Who fan in your house, you may be used to impromptu 2am treasure hunts for filming and wondering what exactly they’re going on about.

Cardiff has been base of operations for the show since its revival in 2005. Any tour company will include guided walks around prominent filming locations that have now gained legendary status amongst fans. The old tourist information booth on Mermaid Quay, now referred to as ‘Ianto’s Shrine’, is one of them. There’s no doubt that the show has brought a new type of tourism to Cardiff, a wave of fans exploring the set of their favourite TV show and even better, spending money in local businesses.

With the new series beginning (you can catch the first episode on iPlayer), it seems as if lockdown restrictions have kept the majority of filming in Wales. The question is: what makes Cardiff the ideal film set?

Number one, Cardiff’s city streets are seen as far more film-friendly than London’s. Adaptations of classic London-centric stories like Sherlock Holmes require Baker Street looks without Baker Street prices. It’s not just the cost of setting up a shoot but also catering and commuting. With crew members living locally, travelling into work needn’t be an hour on the Underground. It’s not just Cardiff either, diverse landscapes await just outside the city too. Within a sprawling capital like London, an alien planet might be hard to find but in Wales, quarries await round every corner.

Another big motivation is the BBC’s pledge to expand its horizons beyond London. Previously the BBC had aimed to have 50% of its network shows produced outside of London by 2016; it seems this expansion is still in motion, with an additional £700 million pledged to areas outside the capital. The move seems to come amongst continued criticism of London centric broadcasting with big names such as Ant and Dec expressing disappointment with the industry. ‘When we were growing up it was all around us,’ said Declan Donnelly, television was in ‘an accessible place’ for working class hopefuls outside of the London bubble.

Lastly, why put a stop to a good thing? Doctor Who’s Cardiff-centrism has become the most convenient running gag in TV history. Of course a rift in time and space would open up here! Of course that quarry looks suspiciously familiar… Location filming makes or breaks a show’s charm. The shows with the strongest cult following have the most recognisable backdrops: Portmerion for the 60s show ‘The Prisoner’, the streets of Birmingham for ‘Peaky Blinders’, Highclere Castle for ‘Downton Abbey’. The list goes on. Doctor Who’s love affair with Cardiff isn’t over and, if we’re lucky, it’ll remain a part of the scenery for a long time to come.

Katherine Wheeler Comment

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