Last Alteration: Sunday 26 April 2009

July 2004 - London Filming

Welcome to our World!

Chuck Foster, July 2004

It's a strange feeling, but less than a year ago we were sitting around wondering if the BBC would ever make Doctor Who again; yet here we are, the end of July and some fortnight's new Who already in the can!

I never had the chance to see any filming for the old series, and often felt a little bit jealous of friends who had been along or even worked on the series themselves. But, come the evening of Sunday 25th July, turning a nonchalant street corner off the Strand I was suddenly plunged into a little piece of television history - new, original Who, unfolding right there in front of me!

What follows is an account of the days' filming I saw over the course of a week in London ...

Three episodes were being recorded over this period; episode one ("Rose") and episodes four and five ("Aliens of London" and "World War Three"); trying to piece together which story each scene would belong to was to be an interesting exercise as they were all jumbled together.

Incidentally, everything that follows is all speculation on my part, based upon what I witnessed; what we ultimately end up seeing on screen might be completely different, which for me is going to be part of the fun - was I right or completely off the track of what the scene being rehearsed and recorded would actually mean?

Just before I get started, I thought I'd just mention something about attending recordings in a public place. As the word 'public' implies, you have every right to be there, but at the same time you should still respect the fact that the production team are trying to do a job and don't want to also have to deal with people who hinder that. You can quite often be asked to move for reasons that aren't always apparent (did you see that camera perched high on a building?), and it is just common sense to be polite and above all quiet, especially during filming itself.

Sunday 25th July (filming photos)

I arrived at Adam Street a little after 7:00pm to see a number of production vans parked up and busily unloading. In John Adam Street itself a number of police vehicles and an army APV were parked up, plus a couple of cars which turned out to also feature in the story. At this point it really could have been any show or film being made, and it wasn't until the arrival of a certain famous icon that the reality that Doctor Who was finally back!

The Royal Society of the Arts backs onto John Adam Street, and one of its entrances happens to resemble the front of Number 10 Downing Street. Not surprisingly a number of films and shows have taken advantage of this fact, and it isn't too hard to guess why filming was taking place here tonight.

The first rehearsal to take place involved a number of ministers etc. running in panic out of the doors of "Number 10" and down the road. However, after a couple of attempts the scene was apparently abandoned as not working too well, which was a bit of a relief actually as it did seem a bit artificial. This was then followed by cars pulling up outside, with ministers getting out and entering the building. However, at this point I did get a little distracted ... as the TARDIS had arrived!

With the exception of the various times nearly being killed during the assembly of Andrew Beech's police box prop at Panopticon(!), this is the first time I've been up close to the genuine article, and it was fascinating to watch the familiar box take shape before me. Contrary to some of the comments about the prop reported on the Net from Cardiff, I must say I was quite taken by the finished item. It does seem a little wider than the original, but it was still very impressive. Even though I had watched it being put together, there was a certain sense of awe to see the finished police box there on the pavement, even more so to see the key dangling in the lock, almost inviting one to enter to be whisked off to who-knows where! As you can see from the photos, the new box has a different light to the previous on-screen version, and I was also interested to see that the front panel on the door can be opened.

However, much to my disappointment the box never got used in filming that night in the end; it was submerged under a tonne of white wrapping for the evening and then dismantled around midnight. Sigh. Still, the best moment was when a passing taxi suddenly squealed to a halt as its driver did a double take at the sight!

Film Sequence 1: Filming got started pretty much on the dot at 8:30pm; this particular sequence was of cars arriving outside Number 10, various ministerial types climbing out and entering the building, amidst a flurry of questions from the assembled journalists opposite. Over the course of the next hour or so there were several retakes of cars pulling up, with cameras at different angles, and eventually the "Prime Minister" himself. Not too much in the way of dialogue, other than journalistic-type stuff like "please Prime Minister, can we have a photo?" Then it reached 9:45pm and everyone disappeared off to supper, leaving myself and a few security guards to while away the time (at which point McDonalds beckoned).

Film Sequence 2: 10:45pm and the cast and crew return, getting ready for the next take, which looked to be yet another sequence of cars pulling up outside Number 10. Up until now I'd still had niggling doubts whether the series was really happening, but these were about to be banished completely as it reached 11:00pm and he arrived! Yes, the Doctor himself had finally appeared, and judging by reports from last week this was the first time he'd been seen filming. Hoorah! This made watching yet another sequence of cars pulling up worthwhile, being that this time it was Chris and Billie inside! Again the journalists snapped away at their arrival, with differing dialogue each time: it will be interesting to spot which version eventually ends up in the final show, with variations like "Who are you?", "Have you heard from the Prime Minister?", "Who invited you to Number 10 this evening?", and so on. I did like the way the Doctor gives the crowd an apparently nervous smile and wave, as if he doesn't really want to be there - or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part!

Chris and Billie already seem very settled together, the two appearing to spark off each other's personalities with little effort. This was also the chance to see the Doctor's "costume" properly for the first time, and I must admit the dark brown leather jacket didn't settle with me too well initially. Hmm!

Come midnight and they were off for the night - not bad for an evening's work, a quick car ride to Number 10 and a walk through the door (grin).

Film Sequence 3: From then on there were various shots of ministers, police, army, etc. clustered outside Number 10, and what appeared to be a press conference. I'm pretty sure that all of tonight's scenes were from "Aliens of London", with one question to the PM sounding like "Is it true there is an alien? Have you seen it?"

There was probably quite a bit more going on, but come 1:00am I realised that I really ought to get some sleep before work that morning, so I left the crew to it. I don't recall seeing Andrew Marr on the scene before I left, so it is possible that was either filmed late afternoon before I got there, or after I'd left. It will be interesting to see what else will crop up in the televised version; certainly, during one of the rehearsals a number of troops were given lessons on how to fire their guns, so a battle might well be in order!

Line of the night: "I'm the first 12" Doctor Who!" (Chris was of course referring to his figure that was to be released at Christmas!)

Monday 26th July (filming photos)

Having somehow managed to survive the day in the office(!), it was a quick drive into London to try and catch up on where the film crew would be that evening - fortunately a friendly policeman the night before had indicated that they would be in the Embankment area, so that was a good place to start. Of course a photo later appearing in the Sun shows that they had been filming around Trafalgar Square that afternoon (rabbits, can't catch it all!), but at 8:15pm this evening there was little evidence to show that filming would be here, so I almost missed it completely until I spotted a familiar van parked near to the RAF Memorial. It wasn't long before other vehicles started pulling up, and suddenly it was all action again, with equipment being unpacked, pieces of police box making an appearance (and hopefully to be used tonight!), and general preparation for the evening's shoot.

9:30pm: I suddenly noticed a trolley of sound equipment being pushed up towards Westminster Bridge ... and so I followed ...

Now, as you can imagine, the logistics of filming in a very public place like Westminster Bridge is going to be a nightmare. The bridge remained open to pedestrians and vehicles, so there would often be pauses between takes in order to allow the various tourists etc. the chance to carry on their journey (those who didn't stay to watch, of course!). Also, with a more public place, Who fans are more likely to have found out, and there were a few familiar faces eager to see some action, like Steve Scott from the Stamp Centre. Chris and Billie arrived about 9:45pm, but it was interesting to note that most of the public remained unaware of who they were! There were a number of curious questions from passers-by, but also a lot of blank looks at the name Doctor Who - hopefully a good marketing strategy will make the series a worldwide name once more.

Film Sequence 1: The first scene filmed tonight was to be the Doctor and Rose running across the bridge. I must admit this had me worried, as this first sequence had them running towards a low camera and then passing over the top hand-in-hand. It had the feeling of an end of episode, and of course with media threats of 'relationships' one had to wonder! Of course this is just the "old-school" fan in me grumbling (grin).

Film Sequence 2/3: We all needed to move much farther back for these sequences, as they involved long shots of the pair running along the bridge (part of the barrier protecting the renovation work on the other side had been removed to enable the film crew to set up there). It wasn't an end of episode after all, and it became more apparent that it was the Doctor dragging Rose to keep up with him! Then it was to the other end of the bridge to enable shots of them running down the steps towards the London Eye.

I did get the chance to talk to a couple of extras who were scheduled to appear but weren't filmed in the end; very pleasant people, but like the rest of the crew extremely guarded over who they portrayed and what they would be doing. Rather annoyingly one girl had a script but I couldn't quite see the lines, which she had highlighted - curses!

One issue arising from these sequences was the requirement for a London bus to be passing along the bridge at the time they were running across it. I would have expected that they would have had a "stunt bus" for these sequences, like in Cardiff, but in fact it was just the general buses on their usual routes. Sometimes a take had one bus in shot, another with two, and it crossed my mind that this would be quite a tricky scene to edit together for the actual broadcast version! I imagine some CGI will be used to match up bus numbers afterwards. The other item of note was that this was all being filmed between 10:00 and 11:00pm, but I overheard someone say in the story it's actually about 7:00pm - so watch out for the time on Big Ben to see what it says!

11:45pm saw some rehearsing for the scene that would take place after the break. One of Rose's lines sounded like "can it fly?", which certainly suggests that this is the first time she's travelled in the TARDIS, so it's likely that everything tonight is for episode one. Meanwhile, other parts of the set are being made ready, such as prop telephone and post boxes, not to mention some additional lights along the Embankment that you won't normally see. And then the police box is revealed in its night-time glory, all lit up and looking very impressive!

1:50am, break is over and it's back to work. Being that it had been raining in Cardiff the week before, like yesterday the ground was sprayed in order to make it look like it had been raining, though in London this week we'd done remarkably well so far. Unfortunately a delay in Chris and Billie getting back meant that by the time filming was ready, another hose-down was in order! Lots more rehearsal and then filming restarts at 2:50am ...

Film Sequence 4: This scene revolves around Rose and the Doctor arguing over an incident that's just occurred, which sounds like Rose accusing the Doctor of being indifferent to someone's death, to which he replies something like: "if I did forget some little thing, it's because I have to save every stupid ape blundering about on top of this planet, all right?" - sounds like we have a Doctor initially more concerned with the big picture! I suspect that we'll be seeing a softening of his personality under Rose's influence as time goes on ...

As the scene progresses there is talk of the Nestenes and a transmitter, which strongly indicates that the first story in the series is the one featuring the Autons - Russell T. Davies did intimate something like that in an interview for BBC Wales, and this backs that up (though who the "aliens" are in "Aliens of London" then remains to be seen). On looking for where the Nestene signal could have originated from, the Doctor wonders "how do you hide something so big in a city so small?", when just behind him stands a majestic icon of 21st Century London ...

Other little logistical problems that occurred on the night included some revellers who 'cemented' themselves onto a bench and were not going to move despite friendly advice from the police on hand. So, if you look carefully in the finished scene you might well see them in the far background! Oh, and at about 3:00am the press suddenly turned up en-mass to snap away, and you can get a real feel for just how annoying they are, sometimes.

Why am I still here at 3:15am? Bloody good question and time to go home. As I walk back to my car I pass by where police are holding up the traffic during takes, which I guess isn't so inconvenient at this time of morning.

Line of the night: "If you're an alien why do you sound like you're from the North?"

Thursday 29th July (filming photos)

After a couple of "days off" (a small matter of the real world intruding, not to mention sleep becoming mandatory!), it was back into London to catch up with the action. This was to take place at the Brandon Estate in Kennington, which to be honest could have been any other estate in England (or Wales!) - so why pick here?

A quick chat uncovered the fact that they'd been filming on the rooftops earlier in the day, which would have afforded a good view of the London skyline - suddenly the estate in question does make more sense. The scenes in question apparently involve the Doctor and Rose watching a spaceship coming down in London ("Aliens of London"), which sounds intriguing; however, no "alien debris" was around to indicate it would be subject to filming tonight. What was evident were the same APV and police vehicles that I saw on Sunday evening, so it was likely the scenes tonight would be connected in some way.

Film Sequence 1: After rehearsing at 9:30pm, the first sequence involved a couple of women (Bev and Susi?) walking through the parade of shops and waving to group having a party outside one of the flats (trailing a banner "The Aliens have Landed"). This just seems to be a 'filler' scene, with nothing 'exciting' going on.

Film Sequence 2: Chris had arrived at this point, and further takes involved him walking out of the flats and along the parade, passing the two women from earlier. It wasn't too clear if this is a completely new scene, or the same one as before this time with the Doctor, since the party was still continuing, so we'll have to wait and see what eventually appears. There were a number of takes of the scene, the camera moving for close-ups, etc., as the Doctor passes the ladies.

A break for supper at 10:15pm leads to a re-arrangement of the set, with the APV and police vans being moved into position near where the last scenes were recorded. At this point there was a slight accident as, when the APV was manoeuvring into position it turned out to be too heavy for one of the drain covers, which promptly cracked! After much discussion, the area in question was cordoned off with cones so that nobody could accidentally fall into it until something more permanent could be arranged.

One other alteration that had taken place at this point was that the police box had now gained a bit of graffiti; there's actually been quite a bit of speculation on the meaning of this on the Net, but on the night it simply looked like "a local kid" had sprayed it on. I get the feeling that, as this is episode four, the Doctor's been around for some time, and the locals aren't too pleased about their 'resident', perhaps a little scared of him. So, a warning, perhaps? Anyway, it did serve to give the box even more character!

11:30pm and everyone's back and ready to roll. This time Billie is there as well as Chris, and also Noel Clarke who plays her boyfriend Mickey, and Camille Coduri who plays Rose's mother Jackie. All look refreshed, relaxed, and ready for action, which was rather handy as the next scene was to be the most action-packed I witnessed for the whole week!

Film Sequence 3: The Doctor, Rose and Mickey emerge from the TARDIS to be surrounded by the army and police. As a helicopter searchlight engulfs them Mickey runs for it, whilst the Doctor and Rose raise their hands in surrender.

Okay, so no helicopter, just a very bright searchlight from the gantry and a couple of air jets, but it still looks extremely effective on set and will look quite wonderful on screen, I have no doubt!

As always, the scene gets re-shot a number of times, but then in a truly ironic moment it starts to rain - the set had only been hosed down a little while before! This halts filming for a little while, but fortunately it's only a brief shower and they are able to get back to work. In the meantime, I was rather chuffed when Noel came over to ask how I was finding it, and took a great interest in the photos I'd taken!

As with Monday, various aspects of the scene are changed during takes; some involve a police dog, for instance. I'd imagine there'll be quite a few high shots from the gantry too, which will make for some interesting angles on the action. There are also takes with Rose's mum struggling with the forces, which might end up as part of the overall scene.

Line of the night: "Take me to your leader?"

Friday 30th July (filming photos)

The final night of filming in London, at least from this block of episodes, and the crew isn't going to be here particularly late, either. There's a sense of relief in the air, of a job well done, and no feeling that things have been rushed, missed, or problems from the week's activities. It's also quite a nice feeling to be waved at by some of the crew, who seem to have got used to me being about. I actually found the crew to be very friendly, and could be quite chatty when they weren't busy filming, but unsurprisingly nobody was particularly forthcoming with the plot points, so what I have seen this week remains conjecture - damn!

The police box is on the other side of the parade of shops today, and is wrapped up in a familiar bundle of white sheeting, so I guess it's not going to be used any more today. Again, there has been filming during the day before I arrived, so it most likely got featured then. But then again, it didn't get used at all on Sunday evening, so maybe it is just erected as a "mascot" wherever they're filming.

Tonight they're shooting up on the balconies, outside a flat that become apparent as the Tyler abode. There's a film crew on the ground, and another up on the balcony itself, which will allow for a number of different shots. No sign of the banners from the previous night this time though, so either these are for episode one or will be tight shots that won't show the balconies below where the banners were hung.

Film sequence: The Doctor seems to storm out of Rose's flat, closely followed by her, and they then have an argument. At this distance it wasn't too easy to hear what the dialogue was though, which was a shame, though something sounding like "mortal danger" was uttered. It was actually quite a lengthy scene, which getting in one take was quite a miracle! There was nothing to help place it in relation to the filming the rest of the week, so I don't know if this takes place before or after the London Eye scenes (assuming that this is episode one), but it might well be before she's travelled with him for the first time. Having said that, there is another take where it looks like the Doctor passes her a key - is he giving her a TARDIS key, or simply a plain normal door key?!!!

Meanwhile, back in the parade and the police box is seeing it's final dismantle for London - not quite the fastest way to travel back to Cardiff! The crew are heading off back to Wales immediately after filming has finished, which ended up around 10:30pm. And that's that!

A bit of an anti-climax, really, after the more interesting scenes the night before, and earlier in the week. That's part of the process of filming though, of course, the more mundane scenes have to be done as well as the exciting ones, and there's no reason to expect the biggest battles at the end of the last day.

It was also a little disappointing not to have seen any adversaries for the Doctor to battle, unlike the Cardiff-watchers (grrr!). Still, with Russell T. Davies citing 95% of filming to be in the Cardiff area, I'm not really so surprised. Mind you, I don't know what was filmed on Tuesday and Wednesday night, knowing my luck! I did hear of a couple of places that may have been used, such as Temple Place on the Embankment, and Cornwall Road near Waterloo (not a million miles away from where a lot of "Remembrance" was filmed), and I can't imagine the London Eye won't feature more prominently - but as nobody would tell me from the crew I guess we'll just have to wait and see!

It was also interesting to note that Billie's costume changed several times during the shoots, which would indicate a number of different days across the stories. As more photos from shoots become available we might be able to better piece together the order shooting has taken place. Well, we need something to do before broadcast!

And as for that leather jacket ... hey, it's growing on me!

Line of the night: "go home!"

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