Authentic, at least, for a show that’s usually filmed in Cardiff. That’s because it was shot on location in Almeria, Spain, the setting for countless spaghetti westerns.
Filmmakers began flocking to Europe’s only desert back in the ’60s. The first film shot there was ‘Ojo por Ojo’ in 1957, which received a wide release and so brought Almeria’s landscapes to a wider audience. The first Almeria-set western was ‘Tierra brutal’ in 1961.
The heyday of Almeria’s film scene was the era of Sergio Leone: most of his Fistful of Dollars trilogy was shot at ‘Mini-Hollywood’, a wild-west set and now tourist attraction.
Almeria was also used in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, doubling for Aqaba in the famous scene where Lawrence’s rebels capture the town from the land, rather than, as expected, the sea.
More recently, it was the setting for the desert scenes in 1989′s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (remember the sequence with Indy on horseback, in which he battles a tank?).
Now it’s the turn of another screen icon to land in Almeria. “Location shooting at this level is such a blast of fresh air for the show – wide open spaces and wide open skies!”, says Steven Moffat, executive producer of Doctor Who. “We have snowy mountains for the series opener, New York for the finale and along the way a full-blooded Western shot on location where all the best cowboy movies come from – Spain.”
(Those snowy mountains, incidentally, were the nearby Sierra Nevada in Granada, which the crew apparently lucked on while scouting the area.)
There are three wild-west towns left in the desert outside Tabernas, Almeria. Doctor Who shot at Fort Bravo and Mini-Hollywood, now called El Oasys, which was used for the Leone films. I visited Mini Hollywood in 2003, and it proved to be one of the most memorable places I’ve been – and not just in Spain. I loved the desert and could happily have stayed longer – I took some of the most striking pictures I’ve ever taken there.
Mini Hollywood itself was suitably convincing, especially with the barren cliffs behind, although closer to, you noticed Pepsi vending machines on each porch – not exactly what you’d expect.
Mini Hollywood was – and still is – home to a rather sorry zoo, with bedraggled animals sitting in cages in the heat. I visited in April, a decent enough time of year to go to a desert, and even I felt scorched when the sun came out.
I didn’t get to Fort Bravo while I was there, although I got very close while walking through the desert – it’s down a very long dirt track from the main road. Fort Bravo boasts a western town and a Mexican town, as well as an elaborate saloon. It’s open to the public and stages shoot-outs and horse rides for visitors.
The third wild west park in Tabernas is the Western Leone set, which may still be open to visitors, though information on this is pretty scarce.
A visit to Spain’s wild west is well recommended, though you’ll probably need a car (when I went, I took a local bus and had to ask to be left off outside Mini Hollywood). There are signs the Almeria tourist board is waking up to the area’s potential, having published a Spanish-language guide (PDF) to Tabernas’s film history, with some fairly detailed instructions on where to find the locations in Indiana Jones and the Dollars movies.
(**By the way, this is not the first time Doctor Who has filmed in Spain: the 1985 serial The Two Doctors starring Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton was shot in a very hot-looking Seville, a trip for which the budget was apparently so small, the cast had to pay their own expenses. And the year before, they shot Planet of Fire in Lanzarote, where the volcanic landscape played a very convincing alien plant. End of geek facts.**)