Mine was a Parisian pilgrimage with a purpose. As any fan worth his huon particles knows, the 1979 Douglas Adams’ überclassic “City of Death” was filmed there. My goal – to visit the locations where Tom Baker and Lalla Ward shot the story! Who lalla! See what I did there?
I reached into the depths of my Who cupboard and pulled out a dog-eared and battered document from its dusty depths “Travels without the Tardis”, a guide for Whovians wishing to visit filming locations from the series. But zut alors it only furnished me with out of date generic travel information on reaching and getting around Paris. I wanted exact locations and street names. Where is a tin dog when you need one?
I wouldn’t need assistance to find my way to the two iconic sites – the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. But in my mind’s eye there was a big wooden gate, covered in ornate decorations. Was the memory cheating, but I remembered the Doctor and Romana being escorted through it by Count Scarlioni’s hoods. That gate was a must. But I could hardly wander around Paris asking random strangers “Pour aller a la fancy gate in Doctor Who?”!
The answer lay inevitably in every-day modern technology. You’ve guessed it. I googled “doctor who paris locations” and before you could say un deux trois our ever faithful search engine took me to doctorwholocations.net This wonderful site had already done the spade work for me. It told me exactly where to find that wooden gate!
I also discovered that the path to Paris was a well-trodden one. Many a Whovian before me had paved the way, but my trip would be different. I delved one more time into my Doctor Who cupboard and pulled out a very familiar object.
My 1970’s ‘Denys Fisher’ Tom Baker doll. He would accompany me on my trip. “Tom Junior” is no stranger to continental travel as he actually comes from another European country – he is the Italian version of the toy, an “intrepido esploratore” is as written on his box.
Admittedly my holiday in Paris was not “strictly Whovian”. I was meeting a “normal” friend there. Together we would be “normal tourists” too, taking in the “normal” sights, enjoying the “normal” French cuisine and savouring the “normal” local wine.
I needed my friend – let’s call him Romano, shall we – to be au-fait with the Whovian aspect of the trip. I revealed my plan, whipping out Tom from my hand luggage. I told him we would visit Doctor Who “City of Death” locations and take pictures of Tom in each of them. He started laughing and said I was mad.
I pulled out my smartphone and typed in “Rue Vielle Du Temple 47”. I saw that on foot it was only twenty minutes away from our hotel. Our quest began – “Turn Right in 30, 20, 10 metres”, “Go straight ahead!” instructed my phone’s robotic female voice. How I longed it was K9’s! But she did the job. Twenty minutes later a familiar looking gate drew into sight…
For the love of Duggan, that was it! The very gate! Just standing there – as gates do. Tourists walked blithely by, oblivious to its significance. Romano took a picture of me – child’s play, but getting the doll into shot would require cunning.
Being of a somewhat reserved disposition and surrounded by tourists, there was no way I would allow myself to be snapped holding up Tom on high. What were we to do?
Time for a reconnaitre. I caught sight of a quiet little backstreet facing onto the gate and not a tourist thoroughfare. Making sure nobody was looking, I held up my Ipad Mini and brought the gate into shot. I gave my despairing chum the go-ahead and he glided Tom into view. Snap! It was over in a matter of seconds.
“City of Death” also showed the Doctor as he came out from an art gallery in the Boulvard St. Germain area. Its name could clearly been seen in the episode – “Galerie Denise René” That would be our next destination.
On arrival Romano and I discovered the galerie was on a busy street. This might have proved a problem, with so many people walking up and down the pavement outside. The assistant in the shop to the left of the “Galerie” was chatting to her friend outside. Although we were innocently planning the next shot, we we were worried we would be taken for stalkers.
Fortunately the weather saved the day. Not only had we brought Tom to Paris, but good old British rain too. A few drops at first, but soon it was raining ‘châts et chiens’! Suddenly multi-coloured brollies appeared out of nowhere as everyone dashed for shelter. Trying their utmost not to get wet, no one gave us a second thought. Now was our moment. Ipad in position. Tom in shot. Click!
Next up was the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa. Ironically for a Whovian, time was against us and we didn’t have time to go indoors, acquaint ourselves with Little Miss Cheerful and discover if she was one of the Count’s fakes or otherwise. We remained outside the imposing museum and were again surrounded by tourists, this time all happily snapping away. Hidden in plain sight, it was easy to take pictures of Tom without causing a single head to turn.
A Whovian Paris trip would not be complete without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I too would cry “Bye bye Duggan!”
This would be our last photo session. It was still raining. Everyone was sheltering under the trees near the bottom of the tower. Its massive beams provided plenty of shelter too. Once again it would be simple to take photos, as the rain was everyone’s main preoccupation. I held Tom aloft in front of the tower and Romano, his patience at an end, took our final shots.
We walked away and the Eiffel Tower faded into the distance. I hummed Dudley Simpson’s famous Paris melody. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Da Da Da Da Da! I imagined Tom and Lalla running across the rue hand in hand. My friend looked at me oddly. I explained. He wasn’t in the least surprised.
With the holiday now over, I already feel nostalgic. It has been an unforgettable trip. “City of Death” was always a favourite story of mine and after this trip I love it even more – now every time I rewatch the classic, I can say “I have been there! I have seen that!”
And yes, Tom may now be back in his box and back in the cupboard, but something tells me our adventures in Paris aren’t over! For the moment it may be au revoir to the “City of Death” but it is certainly not adieu!