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Russell T Davies' Manchester (part 2)

We see a Salford University car park, he sees the setting for The Second Coming. Andy Murray continues his tour of the acclaimed scriptwriter's city

Published on January 15th 2009.

Russell T Davies' Manchester (part 2)

Last week, Andy Murray began his tour of Russell T Davies' Manchester – to read the introduction and first instalment click here. To get straight on with the location spotting, read on...

Pic 6: Chorlton Library
In 2003, Davies’ The Second Coming starred Christopher Eccleston as Steven Baxter, a humble Mancunian video-shop assistant who is revealed to be yer actual, honest to God son of, er, God. Some of the locations featured were instantly familiar. For instance, Baxter’s first public ‘miracle’ was conducted at the Maine Road stadium (albeit only because Man United’s bosses had refused permission to film at their grounds).

Less recognisable, perhaps, was this part of Chorlton where Baxter was seen spending his last night before his ‘revelation’. On her way home, his mate Judith (that Lesley Sharp again) was menaced by demons at this bus stop. We’ve all been there, especially since they opened that Wetherspoon’s.

Pic 7: Chorlton Precinct
Once Stephen Baxter’s divine nature was revealed, he arranged a secret meeting with a Vatican cleric in this greasy spoon in Chorlton Precinct. Evidently not even the Son of God can resist hot soup and a barm at these prices.

Pic 8: Salford University
With the world going crazy at the news of Christ’s Second Coming, the police took action and stowed Stephen Baxter away for his own safety. Initially, it was planned to film these sequences at a plush city centre hotel. In the event though, Baxter was shown confined to police headquarters, better known to generations of lah-di-dah students as the real-life home to Salford University’s departments of Music, Media and Performance. (At one time, Christopher Eccleston was himself a student at Salford. Not long before The Second Coming was made, a young Peter Kay studied here too, and went on to make a memorable guest turn in Davies’ Doctor Who.)

Pic 9: Salford University car park
Yes, it’s now a car park. But back in 2002 it was… a patch of waste ground. Directly opposite the Salford University building shown above, and just a stone’s throw from Red Productions’ Quay Street HQ, it became the location for perhaps The Second Coming’s most celebrated scene. For it was here that Stephen Baxter addressed a vast gathered throng, and the world’s assembled media, with his uncompromising assessment of mankind and his plans for its future.

Curiously, in the years since, visitors to this location have reported all manner of mysterious phenomena, such as TomToms vanishing from their glove compartments without trace.

Pic 10: St Ann’s Square (or, a CGI space station…)
In recent years Davies has moved his artistic focus to his original spawning ground. 2004’s Mine All Mine was shot in and around Swansea, areas he knew well from his youth. Doctor Who is made in Cardiff, as are its spin-offs The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. Davies has been writing in his pied à terre overlooking Cardiff Bay, the on-screen location of Torchwood’s HQ. It’s just one more example of Davies’ fiction being played out in his own neighbourhood.

The Manchester connection has far from been severed, though. It’s still where Davies calls home, and when Doctor Who came back in 2005, it was in the form of Salford’s own Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston’s top-secret first liaison with the Doctor Who team was actually held in Malmaison’s bar, and a few days later he conducted a screen test for the role at Davies’ one-time workplace, BBC Manchester. A couple of years on, Malmaison was the site of another key Doctor Who meeting – this time with John Simm, then in town filming Life of Mars, who duly took on the role of the Doctor’s deranged arch-enemy, The Master.

As yet, admittedly, Doctor Who has yet to drop in round these parts. Not that the idea doesn’t appeal to the head man: he once confessed to Doctor Who Magazine, “Oh, how I’d love to shoot on the streets of Manchester!” Certainly, living in the city has inspired the odd moment in the hit show. Once, while out shopping in St Anne’s Square, Davies spotted a brass band with each member dressed as Father Christmas, and was duly inspired to create the murderous robot Santas which menaced the Time Lord in a pair of Christmas specials.

There was also a neat nod to Davies’ adopted home in one of the first Doctor Who adventures he wrote. The Doctor took Rose into the far future on her debut trip in the TARDIS, to witness the final obliteration of the Earth – on reflection, not much of a first date. They watched the events from an orbiting space station, and arrived to hear the tannoy announcement, ‘Earthdeath is scheduled for 15:39, followed by drinks in the Manchester Suite.’ Thus, the spirit of Manchester outlasts the planet itself. Nice.

The Doctor’s 2008 Christmas Day adventure on BBC One was one of the biggest hitters in the festive season’s ratings wars. When Davies moves on from the show this year, he plans to work with Red Productions again, most likely on a projected drama about middle-aged gay men. Chances are, then, that if you’re passing through Canal Street in the near future, you might just find yourself making a cameo appearance in Davies’ new series…

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