There’s something magnetic about Big Ben, especially where Doctor Who is concerned. The clock tower of the Palace of Westminster in London, which took its common name from the great bell that hangs in the belfry, has seemingly appeared more times than some of the Doctor’s companions. And, just like a true compantion, it has not escaped the Doctor’s adventures unscathed.
Here’s a summary of its greatest hits, starting with a walkabout by some delegates from Skaro:
“The Dalek Invasion of Earth”
The first and most iconic interaction between Doctor Who and Big Ben occurred in 2167 (or, more accurately, 1964), when, as the story’s title suggests, the Daleks invaded Earth, only to be thwarted after a long and bloody struggle by the First Doctor. The key moment occurred when they crossed Westminster Bridge (see photo above), an incident that was recreated in 2013 for Mark Gatiss’s An Adventure in Space and Time.
The sad news, however, is that by the 2700s, not only has Big Ben vanished, but so has London itself, as recorded in this exchange between Ian and Barbara and the two surviving crew members of the space ship on which the TARDIS has materialized:
Ian: Tell me, is er, Big Ben still on time?
Captain Maitland: What century do you come from? The 21st, perhaps?
Barbara: No, the 20th.
Maitland: I see.
Carol Richmond: What’s Big Ben?
Barbara: It’s a clock. Near Westminster.
Maitland: Yes. You see the whole lower part of England is called central city now. There hasn’t been a London now for 400 years. We come from the 28th century.
“Aliens of London”
Rose Tyler is getting used to her new Time Lord friend, the Ninth Doctor, and her mum has just slapped him. Then there’s the small matter of an alien spaceship arriving in the center of the British capital and whacking a big hole in its most famous landmark.
“The Empty Child”
In 1941, having escaped the attentions of a bunch of creepy kids in gas masks, Captain Jack Harkness ties his invisible Chula warship to Big Ben and attempts a smooch with Rose Tyler, while offering a bargain on some scrap tech he had salvaged. They settled for a dance to Glenn Miller instead.
“Rise of the Cybermen”
Having been biffed out of the time vortex and into an alternate dimension, the Tenth Doctor, Rose and Mickey are surprised to discover that they’ve arrived in a place that looks a lot like London, except the London Underground has taken an upward leap. And how do we prove it’s London? Oh look, is that the time?
“The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith”
In this moment from The Sarah Jane Adventures, Sarah Jane Smith and her son Luke arrive in an alternate reality, the Trickster’s World, in which London has been all but destroyed. The rubble of Big Ben is the equivalent to Charlton Heston happening upon the Statue of Liberty in the original The Planet of the Apes.
“The Eleventh Hour”
You can’t really blame the Eleventh Doctor for the erratic driving of his TARDIS in this particular instance. He had only just regenerated and his console room chose to mark the occasion by exploding, which must make steering tricky. He was lucky to escape by the seam of his trousers.
Speaking of time, back in 1892 a young governess called Clara Oswald told the children in her care that she had been born behind the clock face of Big Ben, and added that it gave her a particularly acute sense of time. Lies, of course, although two of the Doctor’s companions did get quite close to that fabled clock face…
Then there was the unfortunate incident with the Tyrannosaurus rex who got entangled with the TARDIS just after the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration. Somehow the TARDIS and the tyrannosaur traveled together to the 1890s, and, during a period of extreme confusion for the Doctor, Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, the unfortunate dinosaur burst into flames, directly behind the tower. And later on, the Half-Face man met a grisly end when he fell (or was pushed) from his hot air balloon and became impaled on the spire.
Oh, and when the Doctor’s entire history was summarized for this trailer for the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” the Daleks appeared on Westminster Bridge once more, with the tower looming behind both them and the Cybermen.
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