When Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, the show’s chief writer, Welshman Russell T Davies moved the production to Cardiff, making the city both the home location for filming and a setting for some episodes.
And when the spin-off series Torchwood kicked off in 2006, the alien-hunters’ home base, The Hub, was in the heavily regenerated Cardiff Bay — the rebirth of the bay from post-Second World War industrial malaise and Doctor Who’s regeneration from TV inertia having occurred at the same time, 2004—2006.
The city and surrounding area are dotted with locations for both series. Dedicated Whovians can take a four-hour bus tour of the city, but this short walk around Cardiff Bay takes in key locations.
Distance: Half a mile. Time: An hour
Roald Dahl Plass, named after the Cardiff-born author, sits directly in front of the architecturally impressive Wales Millennium Centre and The Senedd (the Welsh Assembly building). The 70ft-high stainless steel Water Tower in the plaza’s centre can’t be missed. This was where the time rift hidden below Cardiff funnelled out through the Tardis in Doctor Who’s 2005 episode Boom Town and, in Torchwood’s first episode, Everything Changes (2006), a secret “lift” entrance to The Hub appeared here.
Look across to the entrance to the Millennium Centre. This is where Van Gogh’s exhibition was held in Doctor Who’s 2010 episode Vincent and the Doctor.
Walk south to The Senedd and you’ll find that not even the home of Welsh democracy has escaped being a location for Doctor Who. The interior of this striking structure — opened in 2006 — was used in The Lazarus Experiment.
Then, almost directly in front of The Senedd, you’ll see the imposing, red-brick Pierhead Building — backdrop for David Tennant’s Doctor chatting with his companions Captain Jack Harkness and Martha Jones in 2007’s Last of the Time Lords.
Head down to the water’s edge, passing under the bridge, turn right and you’ll see an unassuming doorway behind a grill. This was the entrance to The Hub in Torchwood.
Since the death of the character Ianto Jones in episode four of the story Children of Earth (2009), an impromptu shrine has grown, with fans leaving letters, poems and flowers for the deceased team member (played by Welsh actor Gareth David-Lloyd). Proof, if proof were needed, of the huge affection in which these characters are held!
Easy stroll through a pedestrianised area.
From Cardiff Central station, catch a train to Cardiff Bay, 0.2 miles from Roald Dahl Plass. Exit onto Lloyd George Avenue and head south. Or take a Route 8 bus to the Plass from Cardiff City Centre.
The west side of Cardiff Bay has lots of restaurants, bars and pubs. The Norwegian Church Arts Centre, south east of the Plass, formerly a Norwegian sailors’ church, is now a stylish bar and coffee house, and hosts art exhibitions and concerts.
OS Explorer 151
Visit Cardiff, Cardiff Bay
Whovians shouldn’t miss the Doctor Who Experience, which is based in a giant exhibition space next to the studios where the show is filmed. It’s basically a scripted walk through sets based on the series (including the Tardis) with cameos from a pre-recorded Doctor on wall screens and special effects, followed by an exhibition of props and costumes. In 2014, it was updated to include an all-new story from the era of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. You can read our review here.