This Sunday sees Sheffield join an elite club.
That’s right: along with Aberdeen, Bristol, Cardiff, Hull, Liverpool, Leeds, and London, Sheffield will become “a real UK city that has been featured in BBC TV’s Doctor Who”, which is clearly way more important than being a City of Culture or hosting an Olympics or whatever.
To celebrate this achievement, we’ve decided to count every appearance of a city on BBC TV’s Doctor Who to find out once and for all which city is the best at appearing in BBC TV’s Doctor Who.
(Excluding fictional space cities. For arbitrary reasons, in the old series we’ve counted appearances per story, in the new one we’ve counted by episode. And we’ve counted by the supposed setting, not filming location. Sorry, Cardiff.)
In reverse order:
8th equal – 1 appearance
Aberdeen – well, just about. Thirty years after the fact, an episode of the new series revealed that this was where Doctor Who had left companion Sarah Jane Smith at the end of The Hand Of Fear (1976).
Amsterdam – appeared, for spurious reasons, as itself in Arc of Infinity (1983).
Arles – was where Doctor Who met Vincent Van Gogh in the episode ‘Doctor Who meets Vincent Van Gogh’ (2010).
Beijing – Doctor Who won some elephants playing backgammon with the Chinese emperor that one time (Marco Polo, 1964).
Berlin – Let’s Kill Hitler! (2011)
Cambridge – or almost, because production of the story in question (Shada, 1979) was abandoned.
Florence – Doctor Who went to Leonardo Da Vinci’s house to hide the message ‘THIS IS A FAKE’ under six copies of the Mona Lisa in City of Death (1979). Blame Douglas Adams.
Hull – as represented by a generic bit of countryside in Blink (2007). Idea for future episode: Doctor Who goes to Hull and the TARDIS turns into a white telephone box.
Jaffa – The Crusade (1965).
Leeds – In a dark alternate timeline, in which Doctor Who died, companion Donna Noble was forced to move to Leeds. Chilling stuff. (Turn Left, 2008)
Liverpool – was apparently where Doctor Who confused some policemen in a lost Christmas-themed episode called The Feast of Steven (1966).
Pompeii – In The Fires of Pompeii (2008).
Rome – In The Romans (1965).
San Francisco – Setting of the American-made 1996 Doctor Who TV movie. San Francisco was mostly played by Vancouver.
Seville – Appeared as itself in The Two Doctors (1985), in no way so the production team could have a free holiday.
Sydney – The Doctor and Bill make a very brief stop somewhere with a good view of the opera house in, The Pilot (2017).
Tenochtitlan/Mexico City – The Aztecs (1964).
Tokyo – In a slightly questionable scene in The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016) involving Pokemon Go.
Troy – In The Myth Makers (1965).
Venice – In Vampires of Venice (2010).
7th – Los Angeles – 2 appearances
Both in Christmas specials! The aforementioned lost 1965 episode The Feast of Steven features a sequence on a film set presumably intended to be in Hollywood. Doctor Who meets Bing Crosby and tells him he has a stupid name.
Just 45 Christmases later, A Christmas Carol sees Doctor Who stop off at (again, presumably) a Hollywood party, where he accidentally gets married to Marilyn Monroe. As you do.
6th – Washington D.C. – 3 appearances
The Impossible Astronaut, The Day of the Moon (both 2011) and Extremis (2017) all feature scenes set in The White House. Albeit that the last one turns out to be a simulation of the White House, but still. It counts.
5th – Paris – 5 appearances
In your face, Brexit – Doctor Who’s been making trips to the French capital since the first season, which ended with a trip to the revolution in The Reign of Terror (1964). He returned a couple of years later in The Massacre (1966).
And then, after a gap of ten years, Doctor Who went back to Paris – for real, in City of Death (1979). Tom Baker threatened to fly off the Eiffel Tower and everything!
3rd equal – Cardiff – 6 appearances
Chiefly in The Unquiet Dead and Boomtown (both 2005). The other four amount to Torchwood cameos, so are probably best forgotten, but that’s still lower than you’d expect given that almost all of it’s been filmed there since 2005.
(There is actually a canonical explanation, which amounts to “Doctor Who avoids going to Cardiff because looking at John Barrowman gives him a headache”.)
3rd equal – New York – 6 appearances
Doctor Who went once in The Chase in 1965, ran into Peter Purves doing an excruciatingly poor American accent on the top of the Empire State Building and avoided the place for the next 40 years.
Since then, though, it’s been the setting for four new series episodes and appeared briefly in another. The Angels Take Manhattan (2011) even features the real, actual Central Park. Other appearances: both episodes of “Rubbish Daleks in New York” (2007), The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016) and the very end of Day of the Moon (2011).
We are definitely not counting New New York, home of space cat Father Dougal and a big face.
2nd – Bristol – 9 appearances
Doctor Who must have got a thing about Bristol after accidentally landing there in Flatline (2014) – because he spent much of the 2017 series teaching at a fictional Bristol University, St Luke’s. Hence Bristol’s unlikely position as ‘the second city of Doctor Who’.
1st – London – 80+ appearances
In a way it makes sense – perhaps the TARDIS, embarrassed that it got stuck as a London police box in 1963, is always attempting to steer back to the one place in the world where its appearance is at least slightly plausible.
What maybe makes less sense is that the series ramped up the number of London-based stories when it came back in 2005 – even though it was no longer made in London, necessitating the wanging of London Underground logos onto Cardiff shopping centres and so on. In fact, while Russell T Davies was running the show, over half the stories were set in the capital. Here’s a graph, in case you like graphs:
The propostion of Doctor Who stories set in London in each season, from 1963 to the present day.
This is partly due to a shift in the nature of the show – In 21st century Doctor Who the companions’ Earthly lives play a more important part than in the old series; and since companions have tended to be from London that necessarily means more stories set there. Note that in seasons 5, 6, and 7, featuring Amy & Rory, the percentage drops – because they’re from the made-up village of Leadworth, so we get scenes set there instead.
So maybe the debut of Sheffield heralds an end to the series’ recent London-centric ways – Doctor Who In An Exciting With The Northern Powerhouse, anyone?
Is this the terrifying new incarnation of Doctor Who’s nemesis, the Master?
The new series of Doctor Who, the first with new star Jodie Whittaker, begins on Sunday with ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’.
Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.