It’s a cliché of film and TV to declare that “the location itself is another character in the drama” – perhaps even “the most important character in the story“.
But it’s certainly true that McDonald & Dodds makes the most of its filming location in Bath, where two detectives have formed an unlikely crime-solving partnership among the Georgian terraces and honey-coloured limestone of the city.
Jason Watkins stars as Dodds (first name still unknown), a Detective Sergeant who’s been paired up with Londoner DCI Lauren McDonald (Tala Gouveia). Here are the locations you’ll see on screen, across seasons one and two.
Where is McDonald & Dodds filmed?
The drama is filmed primarily in Bath, with a little help from Bristol – although, so far, all the action is set in Bath itself.
“It’s an interesting place,” Jason Watkins observed. “It obviously has a real architectural flavour and a lot of old money, many very successful people and a mix of types, but there is an underbelly as well. It’s a wonderful backdrop and a world that is great to plunder and visit again and again.”
One of the specific locations we see in the drama is Bath’s famous Royal Crescent, a Georgian terrace of 30 Grade-I listed houses which curve around a lawn and overlook Royal Victoria Park.
And while season one was filmed in ‘normal’ times, season two was shot towards the end of 2020 – i.e. in a pandemic-struck Britain, between lockdowns. This had some major implications for filming on location.
“Tala Gouveia said: “It was slightly easier to film this year because normally Bath is so busy and full of so many tourists. I mean, people love going there! So in that way it was easier and also we got to go into some locations which I’m not sure we’d get to use, like the Bath Spa and the Roman Baths – some really big touristy things I don’t think we’d have got. We went one early morning and the steam was coming off it. Gorgeous.”
The Roman Baths are one of the city’s best-known attractions; during Roman rule, they were built for public bathing. Though the site fell into ruins, over the years its various parts have been preserved, re-developed, rebuilt and restored.
Filming at the Box Hill Tunnel
In season two’s second episode, “We Need to Talk about Doreen”, much of the action takes place around the Box Hill Tunnel, also known as Box Tunnel. Built under the direction of famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it was completed in 1841 – and, at the time, was the world’s longest railway tunnel, stretching for 2.8km.
The tunnel is in constant use, lying on the Great Western Main Line between Bath and Chippenham. And in the episode, a body is discovered near the entrance at the west portal… just before the first morning train comes through.
Producer Sarah Lewis tells us: “We shot at the Box Hill Tunnel, and we also used another disused railway line as a double for Box Hill for the close ups on the line, because Box Hill is an active railway line. For these close ups we used Greet Tunnel in Winchcombe.”
The Box Tunnel cuts straight through the hillside, but at a gradient. As we hear in the episode, there is a story that the rising sun only fully shines through the whole length of the tunnel on Brunel’s birthday, 9th April – although the question of whether this is actually true is a contested point. According to some sources, the full illumination actually occurs on 6th or 7th April depending on Leap years; but a test in 2017 showed that the sun did indeed shine through on Brunel’s birthday.
Further filming for the episode took place in Brunel Square near Bath Railway Station, at Parade Gardens, and at The Cross Bath on Bath Street. We also see shots of Abbey Green when Doreen (Sharon Rooney) goes on her Bath bun “safari”.
The Indigo Hotel in Bath is featured as the location for the women’s birthday weekend getaway, although some of the hotel’s interiors were created with the help of a set.
How did they film the model railway at Jimmy’s house?
The chairman of Bath Eagles rugby club, Jimmy Daly (John Thomson), owns a beautiful old house near the Box Hill tunnel – and one night, in season two episode two, he hosts an ill-fated late-night party.
Filming took place at a private residence. And because Jimmy’s model railway is so central to the story, the McDonald & Dodds production team actually built a model railway to film with.
Thomson said: “Part of the storyline is all about a model railway he has in his home, which is a replica of the Bath countryside and one of Brunel’s tunnels, where the body is found. When I got on set I was blown away by the model railway they’d built, which was the size of several snooker tables!”
Where did they film the hot air balloon crash?
Season two opens with a dramatic hot air balloon crash, as a group of formerly-famous friends (played by Martin Kemp, Patsy Kensit and co) land with a bump in the middle of Bath.
“We were filming on the lawn of the Royal Crescent,” says Watkins. “It’s a vital ingredient in the show, just to have the city as a backdrop. It is the most magical place and it’s just perfect for this show because it nods back to the past – and it’s just a sort of perfect location.”
Where is the police station filmed?
Various interiors were filmed at The Bottle Yard Studio in Bristol – including the police station.
James Murray, who plays Chief Superintendent Houseman, joked: “I didn’t really get to see the beautiful Bath vistas that everyone else got to see quite as much. But that was fine because it kept me miserable like my character.”
Damien Timmer, Managing Director of production company Mammoth Screen, said: “It was an absolute pleasure to shoot McDonald & Dodds against the backdrop of modern Bath and Bristol, and we’re hugely grateful to the local communities for being so welcoming.
“The location takes centre stage in the series, and has provided us with a wealth of varied sites – from impressive Grade II listed buildings, cathedrals and gardens; to hospitals, libraries and gyms. In addition, it was wonderful to return to The Bottle Yard Studios to shoot an array of the interior scenes for the series.”
Where was the Mara Clinic filmed?
For series one episode two, the fictional “Mara Clinic” was filmed at Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, about an hour away from Bath. The park is described as “an impressive venue in a picturesque setting located within 200 acres of beautiful Gloucestershire.”
While the Victorian mansion was previously the home of explorers and baronets and earls, it’s now a venue that hosts weddings, birthdays, anniversary parties, school proms, Sunday lunches and afternoon teas.
Where was the Crockett house filmed?
The first feature-length episode, titled The Fall of the House of Crockett, was filmed at a beautiful private home in Bath called Crowe Hall.
“I mean the house was pretty extraordinary, wasn’t it?” Jason Watkins said. “The Crockett mansion, it’s a lovely family home – Crowe Hall, yeah. And they took us in, and the hostess baked us cakes. Cups of tea. They put us in a room where the cricket was on. The master of the house kept popping in and out because he was desperate to watch that, because they’d packed up the other television because we were using their room.”
Crowe Hall is a Georgian mansion and a Grade II listed building with Grade II registered gardens. It sits up high in Widcombe in Bath, with sloping terraced gardens and a rock garden and a grotto.
Several decades after being built by a Brigadier Crowe, it passed into the hands of the Tugwell family (one of whom became Mayor); in the 2oth century it had several owners, and then in 2010 it was put on sale with a £6 million price tag.
Will McDonald & Dodds ever leave Bath?
In an interview with RadioTimes.com and other press, Gouveia and Watkins joked about “a little summer special” where McDonald & Dodds go abroad. Or perhaps their detective work will take them to Bristol – or even to London, for a joint case with the Met Police. “He’d get a bit worried about going outside of Bath, would lose his bearings a bit,” Watkins said.
However, the show is very closely tied to its location in Bath. And there’s still more to see in and around the city.
Watkins said: “The countryside around is always so beautiful as well – you know, you’re driving to a location and you’ll see a house on a hill in the dance and you’ll go, ‘Oh it’d be nice to film there.'”