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Don’t Blink! Find Doctor Who in Britain, Onscreen and Off

Visit Britain

Doctor Who spins back to Earth this week with five webisodes before the September 1 season premiere. But he's easy to find beyond BBC America. Step through a crack in time — or space, at least — and explore some of the hero's haunts, as the world's longest running sci-fi series approaches its 50th anniversary in 2013.

Like many fans — or "Whovians" — visiting Britain for the first time, Ed Matuskey headed straight for the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales (£15). "The interactive experience was fun, but the artifacts were the highlights. Especially the classic TARDIS console rooms — places I've often pictured myself madly flipping switches and yanking levers!" said the metadata specialist from Seattle who favors the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.

The exhibit itself takes just a few hours to explore, but the Cardiff area contains hundreds of "Doctor Who" locations, from its bay waterfront to the Millennium Stadium and picturesque Llandaff Village (also the birthplace of children's author Roald Dahl). Unofficial bus tours loop through landmarks (£18). But intrepid travelers often prefer to plot their own courses using the impressively comprehensive Locations Guide, a fan-crafted database.

For Mark Scales, this urge materialized in the form of a blog detailing the Gloucester musical director's attempts to visit every backdrop from 2005, when the show regenerated after a 16-year hiatus. He devoted an entire week to Cardiff, which just happened to overlap with his favorite doctor — the current, 11th one, played by Matt Smith — carrying the Olympic Torch.

As the show's icon would say, never ignore coincidence. Scales certainly didn't. "I got up at 4 a.m. and made sure I was at the front of the queue."

The blogger — who recently renewed his wedding vows in a Who-themed ceremony — found his favorite destination so far in Skenfrith, Wales, the setting for "Amy's Choice" episode from 2010. It's "basically two streets but has a village green with a castle on it. It's absolutely gorgeous," he said. "A short train ride takes you to Newport, which features several locations from what is considered the best episode: 'Blink'."

Doctor without borders

But the Time Lord's escapades don't confine themselves to Wales. Daleks first trundled across London's Trafalgar Square in 1964 (today one still lurks in Waterstones Piccadilly, Europe's largest bookshop). Cybermen have taken over Battersea Power Station, while The London Eye doubled as the transmitter for the Nestene Consciousness in the 2005 episode "Rose."

The Doctor met Shakespeare at the Globe Theater. The Spaceship Titanic narrowly missed smashing Buckingham Palace. And not even the prime minister's digs can elude the time vortex, as the Slitheen infiltrated No. 10 Downing Street in the 2005 "World War Three" episode.

The Who Shop in London's Upton Park is, of course, bigger on the inside. It sells sonic screwdrivers (£9—59), Doctor-style Harris Tweed jackets (£450) and 12-inch remote-control Imperial White Daleks that screech "Exterminate!" (£99).

Other favorite stops center around the TARDIS, the Doctor's spacecraft and time machine, which takes the form of a blue police box. Catch up with the beloved low-budget prop at the Film Museum or outside the Earl's Court's Tube Station. Versions have also shimmered into Google Maps' Street View at several other British spots.

  • Hull Road Service Station, York, England, YO10 3, United Kingdom
  • Castle Street, Glasgow, Glasgow City, United Kingdom
  • Buchanan St, Glasgow, Glasgow City, United Kingdom

As the fifth Doctor said: "There's always something to look at if you open your eyes!"

American appeal

U.S. fans battled for a sneak peak of the "Asylum of the Daleks" premiere on August 25. MovieTickets.com sold out in half an hour and more hopefuls crashed the website.

On the BBC, British actor and screenwriter Dallas Campbell suggested Americans especially enjoy the Doctor because he's flawed and very British-ly eccentric, conveying a different flavor than U.S. sci-fi.

Matuskey sees the focus on "characters and story over explosions and action" as a refreshing change for American audiences. "The show's often had to do more with less, which forced the writing and actors to really step it up. People respond to that craftsmanship. It is literally substance over style."

That quality led him, like many other fans, to weave the Doctor into his travel plans — with happy results.

"Visiting 'Doctor Who' locations may sound 'geeky,' but it's truly rewarding," Scales said. "People have been warm and welcoming and happy to share their own experiences. 'Doctor Who' is about seeing the best in humanity, and my experiences have shown that the Doctor is right."

Allons-y!

by Amanda Castleman

Top: Doctor Who's seventh season: cowboys, space dinosaurs and scarier-than-usual Daleks. (Photo courtesy of the BBC.)

Right: Skenfrith, with its 13th- century church with squat tower, was the setting for a "Doctor Who" episode. (Photo: VisitBritain/Britain on View)

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