It’s one of the most famous cities in the world, and featured in one of the most famous Doctor Who stories ever. Here’s your ultimate guide to visiting Paris, the City of Death!
Paris is known as the city of love across the world. But to Doctor Who fans it will always be the City of Death. It’s appeared four times in the series’ history on television, not counting its cameos in various montages of the Earth in crisis.
But it’s best remembered as the chosen location for the show’s first ever foreign filming, when Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and the production team headed to France to film what has become one of Doctor Who’s most beloved stories. So for any fan visiting Paris, walking in the Doctor and Romana’s footsteps is an irresistible temptation. Here are some of the essential spots for any Parisian tour…
Hotel Victor Hugo
The first location on our list never actually appeared on screen in ‘City of Death.’ But if you really want a Doctor Who theme for your trip, where better to rest your head than at the very same hotel that the team used as their base in 1979? The four star Hotel Victor Hugo is a beautiful hotel on its own right, and depending on the room you choose, commands awe-inspiring views of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding Parisian streets.
And who wouldn’t want to have dinner and a drink in the same hotel restaurant featured in Douglas Adams‘ anecdote about turning up in Paris to surprise the exhausted cast and crew?
As a bonus, the hotel is located on Avenue Klieber, which briefly appears in ‘City of Death’ as our heroes dash around Paris.
Hôtel Amelot de Bisseuil
The most iconic location in ‘City of Death’ has to be the Medusa-headed doors of Count Scarlioni’s chateau. They feature in one of the most famous photographs of the Fourth Doctor, and it’s a must to have your photo taken, hand outstretched, in front of them.
Located at 47 Rue Vieille du Temple, these doors actually belong to the Hôtel Amelot de Bisseuil. With the current building dating from the 17th century, the luxurious hotel is currently undergoing renovation to (once more) open as a hotel, after being closed for several decades. At the moment, this means those celebrated doors have been removed for their own protection, but hopefully they’ll be back soon.
It’s also known as the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs de Hollande, and yet there’s no record of it being a Dutch embassy or ambassador’s residence, leaving the name a mystery. The re-opening has already been delayed a few years by the pandemic, but if and when it’s back in business, it will be well worth a visit inside too. Even though the interiors of Scarlioni’s chateau were filmed at Television Centre, its high painted ceilings, antique furniture and gold fittings will make you feel like you’re right there, plotting the end of human history. (There’s probably no time machine or Mona Lisas in the basement though.)
The Eiffel Tower
Paris’ most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower, is high on any visitor’s list anyway, even without the ‘City of Death’ connection. It’s difficult to describe just how impressive it is in person, and it’s well worth the extra money for tickets to the summit where the Doctor Who scenes were filmed. If possible, plan to go when the Tower opens at 9am as it can quickly get crowded on the top floor – especially if you hope to recreate some of Douglas Adams’ sparkling dialogue celebrating the absolutely marvellous city and its bouquet.
Do bear in mind, though, that it’s recommended you book your ticket as much as 60 days in advance as they sell out quickly, particularly for the summit with its lower capacity. Cancellations mean that tickets do become available again closer to the time, and you can even buy them on the day, but you’ll risk being stuck in long queues.
You’ll also want to leave more time to explore the Tower than you might expect. The lower levels actually host a number of cafes, restaurants and little shops (love a little shop), and those views really are hard to pull yourself away from.
Notre Dame and the Petit Pont
The Doctor and Romana only briefly pass by Paris’ most famous cathedral, Notre Dame, in the finished ‘City of Death’ due to most of the original footage proving unusable. But it’s also the site of more of those famous publicity photos, taken both in front of the cathedral and at the nearby Petit Pont bridge. You can also glimpse it over the Doctor’s shoulder as he and Romana have lunch at the cafe that’s now La Creme de Paris.
Of course, like the Rue Vieille du Temple location, Notre Dame is currently undergoing work, with the facade partly hidden behind boarding as it’s repaired and rebuilt following the 2019 fire. But it’s still an impressive sight, especially from the bridge.
Similarly, be aware that while La Creme de Paris is a neat place for a Doctor Who fan to have lunch, they’ve expanded their walls to cover what was once the outdoor seating seen in ‘City of Death,’ so it’s not quite the same experience. They also don’t serve bouillabaisse, specialising instead in smoothies and waffles (but they’re still “yum yum.”)
Galerie Denise René
In ‘City of Death,’ the Doctor has parked the TARDIS at an art gallery where celebrity guests stars John Cleese and Eleanor Bron make their cameo, mistaking the time machine for an art installation. But while the interior is (again) in-studio, the exterior is in Paris and is still recognisable to this day. Famously, the gallery was actually closed on the day of filming, leaving Tom Baker and some swift editing to sell the illusion that the Doctor is just opening the door as we cut away (and accidentally setting off the alarm in the process…)
The Galerie Denise René actually closed a long time ago, and its windows have since been covered with posters and fliers for local events. But its distinctive signage and windows at 196 Boulvard St Germain are still unchanged. It’s a nice stop-off point on a walk through the city, or to check on the TARDIS to make sure it’s still where you left it.
Boulvard St Germain
For the convenience of the ‘City of Death’ crew (and fortunately for fans retracing their footsteps) the Doctor, Romana and Duggan’s jaunts through the city largely fall in a straight line between Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower before looping around to cross the Seine and head back towards the Louvre. The Boulvard St Germain makes up most of the southern leg of this round trip.
Particular spots to look out for are in the areas of Cathédrale Saint-Vladimir-le-Grand (No 186), where the Doctor tries desperately to hail a taxi while wondering if no one is interested in history, and the stretch from Café de Flore (No 172) to the L’Ecume des Pages bookshop (No. 176) features prominently in the Time Lords’ exploration of the city too.
Once you cross the river at one of the many Parisian bridges and turn back the way you came, you’ll pass through the Place de la Concorde, with its obelisks and Egyptian statues, just like the Doctor and Romana. The railing seen in that distinctive shot (with the camera looking through its curves as the Time Lords stride away across the plaza) is still there and completely unchanged.
A significant portion of these scenes were filmed in and around the Louvre. The famous covered walkways of Rue de Rivoli, full of little kiosks and shops, is along the street heading towards the entrance. The black iron fence that they walk along, pausing to look at the sign for an exhibition about primeval history, is the fence of the Louvre complex itself, which includes a network of buildings and large gardens. And, of course, we see the two heading towards the main entrance itself too, although some Osiran seems to have parked their Pyramid spaceship there in the years since…
Moreover, the Louvre houses the Mona Lisa itself – the painting at the heart of ‘City of Death.’ There are some things to be aware of, though. The real Mona Lisa (if it is the real Mona Lisa) is actually a rather small painting, and the area around it is very busy at all times, so don’t expect a lot of time to get a really good look at it. But what could be a more perfect place to get your own Mona Lisa postcard? (Well, apart from the Eiffel Tower where Duggan buys his, but they don’t seem to sell them there. We checked.)
Also, unlike most of the main museums in London, entry into the Louvre isn’t free, so expect to pay about €17 per person if you want to actually go inside and explore. If you’re booking in advance you also need to pick your day and entry time when buying your ticket.
However, once you’re in, it’s vast enough to lose yourself in for a whole day. Even then, you’ll probably come away without having seen everything. So do your research beforehand and decide what you want to see, and leave yourself plenty of time!
With the Metro, Paris has one of the oldest and most efficient underground railway systems in the world, its tunnels connecting every corner of the city with rapid and frequent transport.
In ‘City of Death,’ the team famously had to undertake a spot of permit-free guerrilla filming on the network to capture the Doctor and Romana on the metro and on the platform. They use the No. 1 line, with its views of the Eiffel Tower, as the Time Lords discuss their plans for lunch. And all credit to Baker and Ward for hitting their lines with perfect timing; any flub would have resulted in another train journey back and forth to capture the moment they pass the Tower again!
The main stations seen in ‘City of Death’ are Dupleix and Trocadéro, both glimpsed as the Doctor and Romana’s train rumbles through the network and they discuss their philosophical destination, and Boissière, where they get off and walk along the platform before emerging from under the station’s classic art deco Metropolitan arch. While most of the pair’s meandering through the city actually holds up pretty well, geographically, the Doctor does seem to take them well out of their way on their metro journey. But then, it is pretty easy to get a bit lost in Paris.
Be aware, though, that like London’s Tube network, the Metro is standing room only during peak commuting times, and it’s still pretty busy for rest of the day. So while it’s a brilliant way to get around the city, if you’re hoping to get any photos, you’ll need to pick a quieter time.
And it’s definitely worth investing in a Navigo travel pass for your stay in Paris. Tickets are actually very reasonably priced, but if you’re regularly hopping on and off, it soon adds up.
Dernier Bar Avant la Fin du Monde
What better way to finish your day in Paris than with a meal and a drink at the famous Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde? No, this SF and fantasy-themed bar at Avenue Victoria (which name translates to ‘Last Bar Before the End of the World’) isn’t featured in ‘City of Death.’ But it is home to the TARDIS cocktail, made with Vodka Hypnotiq, Fever Tree ginger beer and Blue Curaçao, with the option to choose a role playing game to accompany your meal. Keeping to the day’s Douglas Adams theme, you can even order their version of the infamous Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Sadly, though, it’s their other branch in Lille that includes a full scale TARDIS Police Box.
Although ‘City of Death’ is the only Doctor Who story to have been filmed in Paris, four other stories share it as a major setting, and the real world equivalent of some of their settings are nice optional extras for your Parisian visit. For instance, much of the action in 1964’s ‘The Reign of Terror‘ follows our time travellers to and from the legendary Conciergerie prison, and parts of this building (‘the ante chamber to the guillotine’) are still used by the French courts today for less gruesome purposes, although some of the complex is open to the public for tours.
You can also book tours of the Paris Hotel de Ville (City Hall), where the Doctor and Robespierre have their debate about the bloodiness of the latter’s revolution, and where the revolutionary leader is last seen being led away after being shot in the jaw to prevent his trademark eloquence swaying those sent to arrest him.
The First Doctor returned to Paris later to witness the beginnings of the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre in the slightly erroneously named story ‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve.’ Highly fictionalised, few of the locations are places you can actually visit. But while you’re near the Louvre, you might want to check out the memorial statue at the Oratoire du Louvre, the nearby church. It’s dedicated to Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, one of the main characters in the Doctor Who story.
Similarly, the tear-jerking Doctor Who episode ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ wasn’t filmed in Paris, and Cardiff doubled for the Musee D’Orsay both inside and out. However, the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit which the story recreates for its emotional climax does exist, so it’s well worth a visit to do one better than Matt Smith and see the real paintings in person (hopefully with no monsters hidden in the details.)
Finally, the Thirteenth Doctor story ‘Spyfall’ returns to the Eiffel Tower (albeit as an in-studio recreation) for another rendezvous between the Doctor and a fellow Time Lord, this time the villainous Master. Unfortunately, the real life equivalent of the house at 3 Boulvard Richard Wallace, where Noor Inayat Khan hides the Doctor and Ada, probably isn’t worth a visit. It’s now a trainers shop, with no sign of its heroic WWII history.
It’s impossible to cover every Paris location that appears for a shot or two in ‘City of Death’ in detail, so this article covers the essentials. But which is your favourite ‘City of Death’ location, and which one would you most like to see?
Bonus points if, like us, you took your Lovarzi scarf with you on your to visit Paris… the City of Death!
Doctor Who scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!