diamond geezer

 Friday, March 25, 2005

Who's London
(November 1989)

The very last Doctor Who episode was set in London, just like the very first. It wasn't meant to be the very last episode, it just turned out that way when the Doctor finally met his match in the form of evil programme controller Michael Grade. Had the production team known that this was the end of the line, I suspect they'd have wrapped up the show somewhere slightly more glamorous than the streets of Perivale. But I guess it was kind of appropriate to end somewhere suburban, somewhere ordinary, somewhere London.

Perivale is very London. John Betjeman described the place as a "parish of enormous hayfields", but you'd be hard pushed to agree with him today. Now it's a patch of 1930s semis built alongside the A40, just west of the Hanger Lane gyratory system. Perivale's most famous landmark is probably the Art Deco Hoover Building, a Grade 1 listed white structure now sympathetically converted to a Tesco hypermarket. It's even lit up emerald green at night, just to show how much loved it is. But that's about as thrilling as Perivale gets. There is the Grand Union Canal, and the Central line and a huge Royal Mail sorting office, and even a very big hill (of which more later). But Perivale is mostly houses.

This is the house on the corner of Bleasdale Avenue and Colwyn Avenue, outside which the Tardis materialised at the start of the final Doctor Who story. We're on the Medway estate, a well-kept network of mock tudor semis and desirable council housing complete with spring blossom and multi-car ownership. In the TV series these leafy avenues were supposed to be where Ace grew up, popping down to the shops on Medway Parade and hanging out in the recreation ground opposite the station. Here the feline Cheetah People struck, carting off the local adolescents to hunt as prey on their distant homeworld. I watched as a silent milkfloat hummed by, and shuddered slightly as a small cat stopped to look at me from the pavement. All wonderfully ordinary, just like the streets where I grew up, and so typical of Doctor Who to place the terrifying slap bang in the middle of the mundane.

The final scenes of the final show were shot atop Perivale's highest point, the summit of Horsenden Hill. It's a beautiful wooded peak of green contours, rising unspoilt above the surrounding housing estates. I climbed the wooded path from the hump-back bridge by the canal, arriving halfway up in a grassy clearing populated by shifty-looking semi-clad blokes. At the summit four boys were kicking a football around while their mothers sat patiently waiting for them to run out of steam. I stood for a while to take in the fantastic views over West London, including the new Wembley arch rising to the east. I liked the place rather more than I thought I was going to, but I'm still glad that by 7pm tomorrow evening this attractive hilltop will no longer be the site of the final Doctor Who episode.

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on Ace, we've got work to do."

• ace Perivale website (including in-depth Doctor Who location guide)

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