thinking about archaeology

Dr Who and Stonehenge

Putting finishing touches to Foamhenge, Jun 2005

As has been widely publicised (you don’t get to film there with a large crew, floodlights and smoke machines without being noticed, even in the middle of the night in early February), Stonehenge features as a location in the new Dr Who series. This will start a new chapter in Stonehenge trivia: I think this is the first time the doctor has been to the stones (notwithstanding a claim in a 1965 episode by a Time Lord called the Monk to have put them there in 1500BC).

He did visit a stone circle in Cornwall (or the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, where the exterior sequences were actually shot) in 1978, in the series The Stones of Blood – all Druids and stuff, and, curiously, given the name of his new female companion Amy Pond, an archaeologist called professor Amelia Rumford (the archaeologist at Stonehenge is professor River Song, returning from 2008 and played by Alex Kingston). The Daemons (1971) featured an excavation by professor Horner (they’re all professors to the doctor) of a bronze age barrow in Wiltshire, looking suspiciously like the real archaeological tunnel into Silbury Hill from which the BBC broadcast in 1968.

So here’s a bit of new Stonehenge-Who trivia. In November last year Peter Bennett asked me what happened to Foamhenge, the full-scale model of a newly-built Stonehenge made for Channel 5 in 2005 (as distinct from the 2004 Foamhenge at Natural Bridge, Virginia, of which at the time we were all completely unaware). Bennett was a producer shooting Dr Who, and the writer had included so much Stonehenge in the script that it was impossible to film it all there. Perhaps Foamhenge could stand in?

Rising trilithons at Foamhenge

I replied, as I have said in response to a similar question from a music technology lecturer, that Foamhenge no longer exists. It was briefly for sale on eBay, but despite a few claims made to the media, noone bought it (transport costs were a problem). The haulage contractor who was temporarily storing it (in an outside railway cutting, I believe) eventually got rid of it – though there do seem to be a few megaliths still around (I think the National Trust in Avebury may have one or two, and English Heritage had one at Stonehenge in 2008). It was created by Crawley Creatures from carved and painted blocks of expanded polystyrene, in a big military shed in Bicester, for Darlow Smithson Productions; I was the on-screen archaeological consultant, and I spent some time looking very closely at the real thing. A lot of effort went into making it as true to life as we could achieve (bearing in mind we were imagining a complete monument and not a ruin, and that even now no detailed survey of the surviving stones exists), and it would have made a wonderful educational display inside some huge building. Sadly not to be – and as a consequence it would seem there’s less Stonehenge in Dr Who than might have been. One day I should write more about Foamhenge, it was quite a model.

Filming Dr Who at Stonehenge, Feb 2 2010 (photo Scootyboy)

3 responses

  1. akhen3sir

    One of the FH stones is in the garden of a nearby pub as it happens.

    A little chipped, perhaps, but still striking enough to give me a double-take when I first drove past it.

    Tell me, is it true all the FH trilithons were made the same size instead of getting taller towards the SW?

    April 5, 2010 at 7:13 pm

  2. mikepitts

    No (see the photo I’ve added to the post). The actual measurements used (heights above ground) were: 4.94m (stones 51/52, 59/60), 5.09m (53/54, 57/58) and 6.55m (55/56), all based on published measurements of the stones. In practice, however, it was difficult to see the difference between the pairs at the sides. It was a big thing to make, and in the rush I hadn’t noticed that available measurements seemed barely to reflect that apparent increase in height towards the central trilithon. Are they right or not? It just supports my long-stated point that a proper stone survey is very overdue.

    So where’s the pub? (And had you noticed the Stonehenge Inn at Durrington is on the market?)

    April 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm

  3. akhen3sir

    “Are they right or not” is a very good question indeed – I may have to take a long measuring stick with me next time there’s open access🙂

    The pub’s The George in Shrewton (http://maps.google.co.uk/?ie=UTF8&ll=51.196396,-1.89733&spn=0,359.953823&t=h&z=15&layer=c&cbll=51.199144,-1.901186&panoid=24Mt4i-gGWRKOnSlqZcGIg&cbp=12,85.33,,0,5).

    Hadn’t noticed that the Stonehenge Inn is up for sale – it’s seen better days, frankly, but could make a killing in the right hands.

    April 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

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