Phone Box Thursday: The Wrong Phone Box #1: Doctor Who, ‘The Chase’ (1965)

A new subseries of Phone Box Thursday today. This one could go on (intermittently) for some time!

Everyone knows about the famous police-box-shaped TARDIS in Doctor Who, but – as a frequent visitor to 20th century Britain – the Doctor has often encountered the red type of phone box too. I’ll be taking a look at these instances while I wait to be allowed outside again to track down more extant examples…

We start off with the first example of a classic red phone box in the programme, at the end of the 1965 serial ‘The Chase’, when the Doctor’s companions Ian and Barbara return to their home era (well, give or take a couple of years) and home city of London.

Doctor Who: The Chase
The police box is a regular sight in Doctor Who… but what’s that lurking in the background?

Spending the day doing some celebratory sightseeing, they find a police box (not the TARDIS), which is flanked on one side by a couple of red examples. The first red phone boxes (shown in black and white, but let’s ignore that) seen in Doctor Who!

The filming location, on Bayswater Road (coincidentally just around the corner from where I photographed my last two London phone boxes in November 2019!) was very easy to track down, as the Doctor Who community is a world of wonderfully in-depth geekery and so the useful site Doctor Who Locations is a thing that exists. Someone on there has taken a photo showing that both the police box and phone boxes were removed at some point and replaced with a more modern KX+ phone kiosk, presumably in the late 1990s when that design was in use.

Here’s the most up-to-date Street View image: 51°51’02.3″N, 0°18’80.6″W.

Make sure you click on the little clock dropdown in the top left corner on Street View, because the really interesting thing here is the story of the telegraph pole that you can see in the still from the programme. At the start of the 2010s, it still looked exactly as it did in the mid-1960s. However, over the course of the last decade, it has become gradually overgrown with ivy, to the point that by the time of the most recent image from July 2019, it was so completely disguised that you really have to know it was there in order to identify it among the trees! Given that it’s slap bang in the middle of London, I am absolutely flummoxed as to whether this was a deliberate attempt by the council to hide it, or just nature taking its course (and the council just went with it, due to the pole no longer being in use).

Anyway, this is not Telegraph Pole Thursday, so let’s move on.

I noticed when I was doing my rounds of central Edinburgh to photograph phone boxes in January 2016 that many of the red phone boxes were standing next to police boxes (Edinburgh and Glasgow have both largely maintained their collections of police boxes; the large rectangular police boxes that are particular to Edinburgh are so sizeable that most of them were turned into coffee kiosks in the 2000s, and have seemingly been doing a roaring trade ever since). Here’s an example in the Grassmarket. It seems this setup may have been common in London, too, when police boxes were still standing there.

Next time the Doctor visits Earth: we find a few more London examples. Tune in next week! (Presuming I don’t find another box for the main collection in the meantime.)

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