Last Alteration: Saturday 10 November 2007

September 2004 - Swansea Filming

This article was originally written for the DWAS publication Celestial Toyroom, back in October 2004; it is presented here in it's unabridged form, with some additional notes placing it in context with what we now know was broadcast!

Swansea Location Report, 20th-21st September 2004

Andy Keast-Marriott, October 2004

There aren't too many reasons for wanting to stand around all night in the cold, peering from afar to catch glimpses of strangely clothed actor/extra types, all of whom are also standing around, waiting for their five minutes of action every hour or so. And if we were all being patient, the horses were even more so. Our equestrian thesps stood calmly awaiting their cue, dressed up to the nines as hearse-carriers and the like, occasionally defecating in sheer boredom.

A considerable number of Swansea's population had gathered to catch the filming of the third episode of the new series of "Doctor Who" - "the Charles Dickens one". Having heard that location work would take place in Swansea on Monday, 20th September, I decided to make my way over from London to the principality - on my way down to visit my folks in Cornwall. It wasn't really on my way to Pastyland, but then I'm a Doctor Who fan! For over twenty years I'd dreamed of watching the filming of the series, and even though I was aware that all the roads would be cordoned off, I was determined to at least enjoy the atmosphere.

I arrived at about eight o'clock in the evening and headed for the marina, where the filming was rumoured to be taking place. On my way, I saw in the distance a large crane and a crowd by a cordoned-off road, and I knew immediately that I'd stumbled across the location filming of the new series. From up on high, a snow machine was whitening the Swansea roadways and square, depositing a very realistic (but terribly gross) powder that I'm sure I've seen advertised on TV as non-biological. It certainly smelled and tasted of Daz.

For the next four hours - along with locals and other fans, I went from one cordoned-off street to the next - probably five in all, trying to get a closer glimpse of the filming, and of Billie and Chris. I heard people discuss their conversations with Billie - "she was lovely - we didn't have a camera, so Billie took a photo of herself on my granddaughter's phone" and "what an experience - shame the TARDIS isn't here, though". The crowd were excited, and understandably proud that their hometown was to appear in the re-vamp of an institution.

The best view of an actual take was one in which Simon Callow walks across the square, greets a Mark Gatiss-like actor/extra in Victorian garb, and booms his line, which was either "Merry Christmas, everyone" or "Humbug, humbug, everyone." I couldn't tell which it was. At one point a member of the production crew, looking very much like Phil Collinson, reprimanded us all for a flash that had gone off which caused a re-shoot of a scene. I was next to the flash at the time, and I don't think it was a fan. It seems that the paparazzi are out in force - at all the locations. This is no ordinary BBC Wales production!

My view for those few hours was limited, but everything was about to change as the crew retired briefly for dinner. The crowds departed, and four or five of us remained, exchanging greetings with nineteenth-century town dwellers, as they drifted off to the catering van at the production base. Alone, we had the set to ourselves. We photographed the posters advertising Charles Dicken's appearance at the theatre. We posed by the Victorian pillar-box and the pie warming stands. We delighted in having access at last to this land of make-believe. This city square at Chrismastime,1869.

And so my experience was complete. I could lay claim to visiting a Doctor Who set. Yes, a location for a series that just over one year ago was more of a memory than a TV reality.

And then it happened, as the best things in life happen. Totally unexpectedly. You can't plan for such an opportunity. It was suddenly suggested by one of the enthusiasts who had remained that all four of us take refuge in the pub on the set. The pub was being used as the base for the forty to fifty dressed extras and actors. My anonymous friend had viewed the previous several hours of filming from within the pub, with Chris Eccles and Billie occasionally popping in to get warm. Apparently the pub landlord had assumed that my friend was with the production crew, and the production crew had assumed that he was a resident in the pub!

Oh happy day! For the next six hours, I took great pleasure in having virtually unlimited access to the production of episode three of the new series. I would never in my wildest dreams have believed that it would have been possible.

In the early hours of the Tuesday morning, I watched from behind the cameras as the Dickens episode took shape. At this point I stopped taking photos, as I knew that I was in a privileged position, and I did not want to take advantage. I was standing next to Euros Lyn and Phil Collinson, as they discussed shots and re-takes. I was inches from the clapperboard as it identified the various scenes to the cameras. Anonymously, and reverentially, I stood by open-mouthed, as Chris and Billie filmed scene after scene. Billie was dressed in a dark purple Victorian dress, and Chris wore the brown leather jacket, which was lined with a triangular shape on the back. Oddly, the jacket did not look out of place. It seems to blend in with its surroundings.

I chatted with the extras, who had been employed for at least three nights' filming (Swansea, Cardiff and Monmouth). I even managed to scoff a BBC jam tart to keep me going. After all, watching your favourite televisual institution being filmed is hungry work!

In those special, never-to-be-forgotten hours, the three overriding impressions I got were that:

  1. this new series is being made very professionally, with great care taken to capture a variety of angles and approaches to each scene
  2. Billie and Chris have a fantastic on- and off-screen chemistry. In the early hours of the morning, they were laughing and smiling - with each other, with the crew and with Simon Callow
  3. this is traditional Who. It's well written, directed, acted and produced, but this is a show that's loyal to its past. We are in for one heck of a treat.

I have three specific 'takes' to report, and although the dialogue might not be absolutely exact, you'll get the gist.

  1. The Doctor and Rose (probably newly arrived) approach two men, one of whom is a newspaper vendor. The Doctor pays for a one-sheet journal, and he and Rose walk off arm-in-arm, as he acknowledges that the date is correct (December 1869), and she looks around in wonder. (The choreography of this scene was incredible, with twenty or so extras moving in and out of their way as they walk towards the theatre.)
  2. Rose approaches an undertaker's female assistant by a horse-drawn hearse, with a lifeless woman's body in it. The undertaker is hidden from Rose's view. Rose says - in best cockney - "'Ere, what you doing?" - or similar - and the undertaker moves around the hearse to approach Rose from behind. The assistant responds to Rose: "Nothing to concern yourself with, Miss. It's Mrs .... She's got the brain fever and we're taking her to the infirmary. Rose comments: "'Ere, she's dead. What's going on?" The undertaker chloroforms Rose. His assistant is shocked: "What did you do that for?" "She knows too much. Get her into the hearse. Take her legs". And Rose is bundled into the hearse next to the corpse.
  3. The Doctor rushes out of the theatre, shouting "Rose!". He is followed by Charles Dickens, who stops him in his tracks and says: "Don't run away from me, sir. What do you know about that hobgoblin?" Or words to that effect! The Doctor then replies, in a very northern accent: "Sorry, mate, haven't got time now." He then goes up to a hansom cab and orders the cabbie to "Follow that hearse!"

When Billie had completed her scenes, she proved herself to be a true professional. It was around five in the morning, and although she is one of the two stars of the show, she found it in herself to thank the production team for their hard work. What a star she is!

And so as the production team shouted "It's a wrap", the filming came to an end. I could not have wished for a better teaser for the new series, and it's an experience that I - and the other chaps in the pub - will never forget. And what can I say of what I've seen? It's scary, it's bold and it's beautiful. But more importantly, it's back!

Webpage meets XHTML+RDFa standard Webpage meets CSS standard

Page visited 3471 times