It’s St David’s Day. Hurrah! But Wales… it’s not exactly synonymous with sci-fi is it? More leeks and lava bread and vowel-deficiency. Come on, what have the citizens of Cymru ever done for sci-fi and fantasy?
Well, there’s the pretty red dragon on their flag.
Yeah, but apart from the pretty red dragon on their flag…
Well… You can see where this is going.
The first thing we have to mention, of course, is Doctor Who . And not just the recent version of the show, either: the good Doctor has been using Wales as a location for decades, including the picturesque Nant Ffrancon Pass doubling for Tibet in 1967’s “The Abominable Snowmen”, and Cwm Bychan, Llanbed, pretending to be the windswept and barren Death Zone in 1983’s “The Five Doctors”. Indeed, such is the connection between Who and Wales that you can barely look at an episode filmed 40-odd years ago – say, “The Green Death” – without wondering if that quarry in the background is filled with good old Welsh coal.
The BBC has put together this rather fine map of prime Welsh Who locations (old and new) if you're interested in hunting them down.
Modern Who , meanwhile, has its production team based firmly in Cardiff and shoots on location around the city. True, most of the time Cardiff is pretending to be London, but the odd episode acknowledges the truth: “The Unquiet Dead”, for instance, is was set in Victorian Cardiff (although just to confuse everyone, most of it was filmed in Swansea) and “Boom Town” nearly had Cardiff Castle demolished to make way for a power station. Later, due to the presence of all sorts of weird time-rift-y shenanigans in the city, Torchwood set up base in the Welsh capital, with the team’s HQ sitting almost in plain view (perception filters are tricky) by the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.
Who seemed to open the floodgates for Wales becoming a kind of regional telefantasy Hollywood. A few shows in our genre are filming in Wales right now – Being Human , for one, which moved from Bristol to Barry from its third series. Merlin spends half its time in France making the most of the pretty Château de Pierrefonds before relocating to shoot everything else in Wales. Other sci-fi shows filmed there include 1984’s groundbreaking Play For Today , Z For Zachariah , which was set in a post-apocalyptic Welsh valley (although the book it was based on was located in the States), and The Owl Service from 1969. This also featured a uniquely Welsh mythology, using characters from the Mabinogion.
Blockbusters visit the hills and valleys too, with North Wales doubling for China in the second Tomb Raider movie and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy utilising the same quarry in which “Planet Of The Ood” was filmed. Harry Potter’s shell house from Deathly Hallows was filmed in Pembrokeshire’s Freshwater West, while you may have seen Marloes beach (just along the coast from Freshwater) feature in the trailer for the upcoming Snow White And The Huntsman (if you have’t yet, you can below – it’s well worth a gander).
One of Wales’ most famous (and bonkers) locations is the town of Portmeirion, the home to Patrick McGoohan’s Number Six in The Prisoner . It also provided the backdrop to Who ’s “The Masque Of Mandragora”. On a more theatrical note, Noel Coward was inspired to write the play Blithe Spirit while staying there, possibly after running away from a large, spooky ball.
Remember the kiddie show Ivor The Engine ? That little train couldn't get more Welsh if it painted itself yellow and called itself a daffodil, and the series is happily in SFX territory because it featured Idris The Dragon and his squeaky Welsh vowels.
(Oh, and speaking of daffodils, the Autons used them as weapons in “Terror Of The Autons” – watch out if you see any being worn today, because they may squirt plastic goo and choke you to death.)
More Welshness on the next page…
Also without the land of Cymru, we wouldn’t have…
Catatonia and their song “Mulder And Scully” .
Sergeant Major Zero in Terrahawks , voiced with so much cheeky Welsh enthusiasm by Windsor Davies.
Shirley Bassey’s Bond themes, or Tom Jones’s for that matter (without whom Mars Attacks! would have been so much duller).
Russell T Davies or new Who (which means in turn we wouldn’t have had Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper)
Terry Nation or the Daleks
Richard Burton’s smooth vocals on Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds
John Rhys Davies channelling Welsh miners as Gimli in The Lord Of The Rings
Talfryn Thomas in Survivors
Gareth Thomas in Blake’s 7
Timothy Dalton as Bond
Christian Bale as Batman
Author Alastair Reynolds
The brilliant fourth book in The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, The Grey King (which for non-Welsh kids still contains the best description of how to make that double-L sound – as in Llangollen – that you’re ever likely to find)
Return Of The Jedi director Richard Marquand
Monty Python ’s Terry Jones
Yeah, but apart from the dragon, Doctor Who , Tom Jones, the Daleks, a ton of pretty locations and velvety-voiced actors, what has Wales ever done for us?
SFX loves Wales. Happy St David’s Day!
(And try as hard as we could, we couldn't find a leek/sci-fi connection…)