x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dr Who makes a timely arrival in Dubai ? but misses the bus

The Tardis is about to land in the Dubai desert as Doctor Who, the Time Lord, pays a visit to an alien land.

Feel the excitement: Doctor Who works his magic in Cardiff, Wales this month. Centre is David Tennant; right is his co-star Michelle Ryan.
Feel the excitement: Doctor Who works his magic in Cardiff, Wales this month. Centre is David Tennant; right is his co-star Michelle Ryan.

The Tardis is about to land in the Dubai desert as Doctor Who, the Time Lord, pays a visit to an alien land. An episode of Britain's popular science fiction TV programme is to be partly filmed here next month in one of the biggest television productions the UAE has seen. Despite the city's futuristic skyscrapers, Daleks will not be appearing in the Burj Dubai. Filming is to take place out of town.

While the plot is being kept under wraps, the show will mark one of David Tennant's last appearances in the role of time-travelling doctor. The BBC reported that a double-decker bus, which was to feature in the episode, was damaged while being lifted by a crane upon arrival in Dubai this week. As a result, the script had to be quickly rewritten. The episode will be co-produced by Ian Ross, of Central Films, a Dubai production company. Mr Ross confirmed the company's involvement. "You can come here for the glass and the highways, but you can also come for the mountains, sand dunes and beautiful roads in the middle of nowhere," said Mr Ross. "You could choose one of half a dozen countries like this in which to film, but here, we have better infrastructure.

"We are also intercepting stuff that would go to South Africa because flights are shorter from Europe and, while Dubai is the most expensive place in this area, it is still 25 per cent cheaper than South Africa." Producers of the show were so reluctant to release details of the plot that they sent only a brief synopsis to Dubai Media City for production approval. The full script was only delivered after considerable negotiation and guarantees of secrecy.

A crew of several dozen technicians and cast members will arrive in Dubai in mid-February and stay for only a few days. The Doctor Who episode will be the second BBC project to be filmed in the UAE, following scenes for the hospital drama Holby City that were shot in Dubai. The Dubai episode will be one of four specials to be screened later this year and early next, before Tennant is replaced by Matt Smith, a relatively unknown English actor who was announced as the 11th Doctor Who earlier this month.

The show's dedicated fans have had a mixed reaction to news of the temporary move to Dubai. Some welcomed the Doctor broadening his horizons, while others wondered what he would do there. "Maybe the episode will resemble a corporate advert," wrote one fan, on a newspaper website, "in which the Doctor has a cocktail at his swanky hotel bar, visits the indoor snowdome, suns himself on the beach, goes shopping in one of the air-conditioned supermalls."

Doctor Who originally ran on television from 1963 to 1989, becoming a part of British popular culture. The show underwent a revival in 2005, with Tennant and his predecessor Christopher Eccleston credited with reinvigorating the character. The show is also developing a burgeoning fan base in the UAE, where the third of four seasons of the new incarnation was recently shown by the ShowSeries channel.

A spokesman for Showtime in Dubai said: "Doctor Who is one of our top British shows and probably most popular with British expats as it is big in the UK." Stephen Johnston, a 47-year-old Scot who works in Sharjah, has been eagerly awaiting the show's arrival. "Certainly some of the buildings are impressively futuristic and there is plenty of bleak sand and mountain for settings," he said. "It would be a blast to bump into David Tennant in a Dubai street, especially with both of us being so far from our home, Scotland."

rhughes@thenational.ae