“Some of the greatest labourers in the history of Earth have thought here” – Doctor Who in Cambridge

Image Credit: Adapted from Jean-Christophe Benoist (CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Image Description: Trinity College Cambridge

“One of the delights of the older Cambridge colleges. Everyone is so discreet” — Professor Chronotis, Shada Part One

James Ashworth continues his Who on Earth? series by travelling from Oxford to the other ancient university city, Cambridge

Once upon a time, this adage was true, as Time Lords and other aliens took Cambridge to be there own. However, as we prepare to enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, we at Tides have decided that enough is enough. After exposing the Doctor Who connections of Oxford, we believe it’s time that the Other Place caught up, and so, once again, we ask you to don your academic gowns for a tour of Cambridge.

If you’re feeling suitably energetic, you can start your tour in Oakington, a village situated to the north of Cambridge itself. Liz Shaw and her friend, Jean Baisemore, used to live here in Elmview Cottage during their time studying at the university. Given she was born in 1943 (according to BBC Past Doctor Adventure The Devil Goblins From Neptune (1997), though this has been contradicted elsewhere), we can perhaps surmise this took place during the mid to late 1960s. After Liz left, Jean continued to live here, and was where her conversion into a Cyberman began, documented in Big Finish’s The Blue Tooth (2007). This was due to the inadvertent reactivation of a buried spaceship under the nearby RAF Oakington, and a dental implant inserted by an amoral scientist. Fortunately for the residents of Northstowe, currently being constructed on the defunct airbase, the intervention of the Third Doctor, along with UNIT, means that there is no longer a risk of cyberconversion in their homes.

Continuing down Cambridge Road, and onto Girton Road, you will arrive at the first of the outlying colleges of Cambridge, Girton College, which we know was once home to Alison Williams of the Intrusion Counter-Measures Group, thanks to her scarf in Remembrance of the Daleks (1988). Liz also considered going here, but decided against it due to her dislike of cycling. Heading down Huntingdon Road, and turning right onto Storey’s Way, you will then find yourself at Churchill College, where Gordon Jones, lecturer in physics, once taught, before being kidnapped by Tobias Vaughn at the offices of International Electromatics in The Invasion.

Once you’ve reached the end of Storey’s Way, you’ll find the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics opposite, where Liz Shaw acted as chair after the death of her predecessor, Teri Billington. She was experimenting with a time dilator, a development that worried both Liz and The Doctor, and inadvertently sent them forward to 2014 where they uncovered the conspiracy of The Sentinels of the New Dawn (2011), as told by Big Finish. Liz would also be involved in activities at the Paranormal Research Department, where Cambridge students were developing psychic powers after illegal experiments by Hardin in DWM’s Change of Mind (issues 221-223, 1995), and would later open the Trainor Foundation after the death of the eponymous scientist in The Devil Goblins From Neptune

Also on this site is the current location of the Newton Institute, which, at its previous site in Wooton, had one Professor Carl Thascalos, or The Master, amongst its staff, where he supervised the construction of the TOMTIT machine to summon the eponymous Time Monster (1972). The Master obviously enjoyed his time here, choosing to include a Cambridge education as part of his Harold Saxon persona in a later incarnation. Looking from here down Wilberforce Road, either the lake to your left or sports field to your right is the location of the Cambridge Heliport, constructed by the heads of the Sentinels of the New Dawn, the Beauregards, in order to station their jetcopters for easy transport between Cambridge and their Bond-esque castle in the Fens.

Heading down Clarkson Road and over the playing field, you will approach St John’s College, which, while not a specific feature of the Whoniverse, provided the education of both Douglas Adams, whose work on Shada (1980 [well, that was the plan]) provides for much of this piece; and Derek Jacobi, who is further evidence that the Master is a big fan of Cambridge. Unless you know someone from St John’s, you’ll probably need to head around the north of the College, coming down Bridge Street to approach Portugal Place, one of the many, non-connected roads that form a part of the Doctor’s bike ride away from Skagra’s orb. Unless he had a teleport, he would have been unlikely to take the filmed route in reality, and this is evidenced by the scene where he abandons his bike, at the end of this road, to find himself back at the start by the Baron of Beef. Heading down this alley, you too may find yourself trapped by the orb, just for the TARDIS to save you in the nick of time!

Continuing down St John’s Street and Trinity Lane, you’ll then approach Trinity College itself. Due to the presence of Guy Burgess and Kim Philby in Big Finish audio Entanglement (2018), we’ll deem this the real world equivalent of Sedgewick College, where the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven spend some time after the TARDIS lands precariously on a wall. It would later crash through the roof of the library, and, in the possible wish-fulfilment of some university academics, crushes some android proctors in its wake. The library itself is the basis of the Entanglement Machine’s dimension, where the missing provost, Sir Isiaah Hardy, would be trapped, later joined by fellow aliens Professors Woolf and Lewis. An alumnus of Who note is Alexander Armstrong, who would go on to play Reg Arwell in The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (2011), having previously voiced Mr Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011). Taking Garret Hostel Lane, you’ll then approach a familiar bridge,  where the Doctor and Tom Baker have their confrontation before the aforementioned bike chase. If you also take the opportunity to look down the river towards Clare College, you’ll see its bridge, where the Doctor and Romana were seen taking the opportunity to learn about punting, as well as being kidnapped, temporarily, for the events of The Five Doctors (1983). 

The next section is a bit of a trek, taking you down the Backs, Queen’s Road, and Sidgwick Avenue to Newnham College. Liz Shaw is perhaps its most famous alumni in the Whoniverse, while it was also attended by her friend, the aforementioned Jean Baisemore. Like Jean, Andrew Carl, a cleaner who worked here in The Blue Tooth, was also converted into a Cyberman, while Liz, under the influence of Cyber-technology, beat up Sergeant Benton in one of the courts, or quads for the majority of our audience. Retracing your steps along Sidgwick Avenue, and across the road to Silver Street, you’ll find St Catharine’s on your left, which seems to have a history of producing Who villains, including the Great Intelligence (as portrayed by Ian McKellen in The Snowmen, 2012) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Ben Miller in Robot of Sherwood, 2014). As you turn right at the end of the road, you’ll now be on Trumpington Street, the location of the university dentist in The Blue Tooth who used a hypnotic waiting room to allow the insertion of cyber-converting fillings. If you then walk down Botolph Lane, you’ll be going in the opposite direction to the Doctor, just before he narrowly avoids Chris Parsons coming in the opposite direction. Looking right at the end of the lane, you’ll see Pembroke College, the alma mater of Philip Hinchcliffe, currently the last surviving classic Who producer. 

Turn around, and head up Free School Lane. On the left is Corpus Christi College, notable primarily for its alumnus Hugh Bonneville, later to play Captain Avery in The Curse of the Black Spot (2011), while less so for Liz and Jean getting drunk on wine in the court. Turn left at the end, and enter what is probably the most famous road in Cambridge, King’s Parade. Here, on the right, you’ll pass the Copper Kettle, where Liz and Jean planned to meet before the latter’s conversion, while The Doctor cycled down here on the way to St Cedd’s. Opposite the porter’s lodge of King’s is St Edward’s Passage, which Skagra exits and subsequently steals the car parked outside. 

Head down St Mary’s Passage, Market Hill and Petty Cury, and then turn right. This will take you past Christ’s College, which educated Charles Darwin before he met the Sixth Doctor in Bloodtide (Big Finish, 2001), before you eventually reach the College you were waiting for – St Cedd’s, or in this case, Emmanuel College. While you’ll certainly be aware of the Fourth Doctor visiting Professor Chronotis in room 314, you may be unaware of the First Doctor dropping in on him in Cambridge Previsited, a short story published in The Doctor Who Yearbook 1993. After meeting him in the college library, he later borrows his copy of Treasure Island, exchanging it for The Time Machine, without noticing the copy of The Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey on the shelf. The Doctor also took an honorary degree there in 1960, while he previously met one of its alumni, Lemuel Gulliver, in the Land of Fiction. 

Heading down Emmanuel Street, we now head into Cambridge suburbia. A named example is Grafton Street, located near to Anglia Ruskin University, where the aforementioned Andrew Carl lived. Also, in an unnamed suburban location, were the events of short story Glass (Short Trips, BBC Audio, 1998), where an escaped mind from Skagra’s orb became trapped in the glass of a greenhouse, requiring the Doctor and Romana to recapture it before it could try to force its way into reality. 

One final trek will take you to Cambridge’s railway station, allowing you to retrace the steps of Andrew Carl as a Cyberman before he is found dead, hit by train on the track. This line also passes close to Homerton College, the last location of the Varsity Quiz, where Oxford finally pulled into the lead, while Nick Briggs looked on. If you wish to go even further, you could head to Grantchester, where Skagra’s spaceship was formerly to be found parked in a field.

Now we’ve finished with the places, there’s just enough time to mention a few more people. Sarah Jane notes in The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Death of the Doctor (2010) that Ian and Barbara, now married, are Cambridge professors, while her aunt’s ward, Brendan, is also a student here in short story Housewarming (included in Decalog 2: Lost Property, published by Virgin in 1995). Other scientists, including Doctor Lennox, Rachel Jensen and Anne Travers were all students here, as was Adelaide Brooke in The Waters of Mars (2009), who graduated with a first class degree in physics and mathematics.

After this somewhat exhausting tour, we hope this time exploring the world of Cambridge through the lens of Doctor Who has been enjoyable. As you’ll have seen, there are certainly more concrete connections with Who in Cambridge than in Oxford, but also a somewhat more careless attitude to factors like basic geography. With a new series approaching, who knows? Maybe it’s time for the Doctor to drop back in one of their alma maters. 

The author would like to acknowledge the help of the Cambridge University Doctor Who Society in puzzling out some of the intricacies of Cambridge geography

Tides 44 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

Other Who on Earth? articles




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