The eleventh season of the world’s longest-running science fiction show, Doctor Who, was partly shot in South Africa.
For three weeks in January, the hit series filmed with Out of Africa Entertainment, a local production company that has serviced an impressive list of international TV series, including Emmy winners like Generation Kill, Emmy nominees like The Prisoner and Wallander, the multi-award-winning Book of Negroes, and BAFTA winners like Call the Midwife and The Devil’s Whore.
“The crew over there are extraordinary,” says Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who’s Thirteenth Doctor – a super-smart force of nature, who can change appearance (and gender) by regenerating when near death. “We were so well looked after.”
Doctor Who moved from winter in Sheffield to the peak of South African summer – during a drought. “It was amazing,” says Jodie. “It was January and it was freezing in the UK and it was boiling in South Africa.”
So hot that Tosin Cole, who plays Ryan Sinclair, one of the Doctor’s new friends, got sunstroke. “I was really sick. Sunburnt as well,” he adds. “It was hot.”
This was particularly challenging because of their wardrobe. “I was wearing a Barbour jacket and a scarf, in forty-degree heat,” says Bradley Walsh who plays Graham O’Brien, another of the Doctor’s new friends.
“We said, ‘We’ve got to take these off.’ And Ray Holdman the costume designer said, ‘I’m telling you now, remember where you’re going after this, back to Wales. Night shoots. If you take this off now in this scene, you’ve got to have it off in the next scene as well [for continuity]. And it’ll be cold. So think about it.’ So we just had to sweat. It was intense.”
“We were so cold filming episode one that we all agreed we would not moan when we got to South Africa that it was too hot, and we didn’t,” says Mandip Gill, who plays Yasmin Khan, the Doctor’s third new friend.
Chris Chibnall, the new showrunner, said they came to South Africa because they wanted scale.
“We created a couple of different worlds in South Africa; we went there because there’s a different sort of scale, different types of landscapes. So just variety, really. It looks amazing,” he said.
“Some of the locations, as you can see from the trailer and you’ll see in the episode, are amazing,” says Tosin. “It’s a beautiful country.”
“We filmed in some of the most amazing locations, like just miles and miles of sand,” says Mandip. “It was absolutely beautiful.”
“We were filming in locations that as a tourist I don’t think you’d necessarily get to see and that’s mind-blowing in so many ways,” says Jodie.
“Just the elements and nature and the epic landscape serving the story was great; they made our job a lot easier.”
For Bradley, some of the South African footage felt “like Lawrence of Arabia; like David Lean shot it. It’s extraordinary – and the landscape there lends itself to that.”
But it wasn’t all work and no play for the cast. “The food was amazing,” Tosin raved.
“They have a version of sticky toffee pudding at this restaurant called The Codfather in Cape Town and it was to DIE for. We’d just come from the gym and nobody was having dessert and I was like, ‘Nah, that’s so nice’, and I had to have two!”
For Mandip, there was one downside to all the feasting. “I thought I could run okay until I went to do ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] and realised my legs were chafing,” says Mandip. “I’d eaten way too many marshmallows in South Africa and put on a couple of pounds… So the next time it came to running I made sure my legs were apart. It looked really good though!”
Tosin also loved the nightlife. “I listen to a lot of house music and afrobeats and stuff like that,” he says. “I’d heard so many good things about the scene in South Africa and I thought, ‘Seeing as I’m out here for free, being paid to be here, why not?’ And it was a great experience.”
Asked if he’d like to return, Tosin said, “A hundred percent. It’s beautiful, the food and the music. Obviously they have their issues with the townships and so on but it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been and I’d love to explore a bit more.”
The first episode of season 11 of the show that has won more than 100 awards in its 55-year run is now streaming first and only on Showmax in South Africa, with new episodes coming express from the UK every Monday.