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Saturday September 23rd 2023

Doctor Strange | 2016

Doctor Strange film location: Great Scotland Yard, Westminster, London
Doctor Strange film location: the Ancient One bends space into fractal patterns: Great Scotland Yard, Westminster, London

As the DC universe strains to include the otherworldly powers of Superman into the grounded world of Batman, the Marvel universe now has to accommodate the ‘magic’ powers of Dr Strange. The filmmakers niftily redefine the use of magic as dimensional travelling and shifting.

The film’s conceit involves three ‘dimensional doors’ leading to and from  ‘Kamar-Taj’, seemingly in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, which are fortuitously found in the photogenic cities of London, New York and Hong Kong.

Most of the film, though, was shot in the UK at Longcross Studios, Chobham Lane, Longcross, southwest of London in Surrey.

Doctor Strange film location: Whitehall Place, Westminster, London
Doctor Strange film location: Kaecilius and his zealots burst onto the streets of London: Whitehall Place, Westminster, London

When Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) steals pages from the Book of Cagliostro and is challenged by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in the Sanctum Sanctorum of ‘Kamar-Taj’, he bursts through a door which appears to be that of the National Liberal Club (a frequent interior location, seen in The Elephant Man, Highlander and Trance among other productions) onto Whitehall Court, and is followed by his henchmen along Whitehall Place, in the heart of Westminster, London SW1.

As they storm along Northumberland Avenue, the Ancient One confronts them at the junction with Great Scotland Yard, which suddenly begins to disintegrate into complex swirling fractal patterns.

Doctor Strange film location: Northumberland Avenue, Westminster, London
Doctor Strange film location: the Ancient One strolls away after the confrontation: Northumberland Avenue, Westminster, London

Kaecilius makes off through another portal and the Ancient One calmly strolls off along Northumberland Avenue toward Trafalgar Square as heads turn in mild curiosity.

Fantasy fans may recognise that Great Scotland Yard was also home to the red phone-box entrance to the 'Ministry of Magic' in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

Doctor Strange film location: West End Avenue, Upper West Side, New York
Doctor Strange film location: Stephen Strange drives out of his condo garage: West 86th Street, Upper West Side, New York

Over in ‘New York’, successful but arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is living a luxurious life in his luxury pad is atop the spanking new (as in 2011) condo at 535 West End Avenue at West 86th Street on Manhattan’s prestigious Upper West Side.

Doctor Strange film location: West End Avenue, Upper West Side, New York
Doctor Strange film location: Stephen Strange's condo: West 86th Street, Upper West Side, New York

Strange leaves the city via the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River and is soon careering along a stretch of Route 97 called The Hawk’s Nest running alongside the Delaware River, a few miles north of Port Jervis, New York on the Pennsylvania border. The dramatic name is derived from the birds of prey that nest in the area.

He’s not only exceeding the 25mph cautionary speed limit for Hawk’s Nest but is distracted by his mobile devices. Don’t!

A moment’s lapse of concentration sees him veering off the road, plunging down toward the Delaware River and the accident which is to change his life.

Damage to his hands ends Strange’s career and status as a neurosurgeon. The future looks bleak until he is prompted to visit Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who tells him that there is hope from a mysterious teacher in ‘Kamar-Taj’.

Desperation overcomes Strange’s scientific scepticism and he heads of to Kathmandu.

After locations had been chosen, but before filming began, Nepal was struck by a disastrous earthquake in April 2015. Nearly 9,000 people were killed and many historic buildings damaged. The production went ahead to help rebuild Kathmandu’s tourism and commercial infrastructure.

Strange is lost among the throngs of Thamel, a commercial neighbourhood and centre of the tourist industry since hippies began to flock here in the Sixties.

Randomly asking directions, he crosses one of the bridges leading to the temple of Pashupatinath, a sacred Hindu site on the banks of the Bagmati River in the eastern part of the city.

This sprawling collection of temples and ashrams had to be rebuilt in the 15th century by King Shupuspa after the original buildings were consumed by termites.

Shots of the city include Swayambhu Stupa, another ancient religious complex atop a hill west of Kathmandu, and Patan Durbar Square in Patan, just to the south of the city.

The ‘Kathmandu’ street, which leads into the ‘Kamar-Taj’ courtyard, was built back in the UK studio.

The ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ was also filmed in the studios, but the vaulted chamber in which Kaecilius and his followers read from the Book of Cagliostro and get facial reconstruction courtesy of Dormammu, is Exeter College Chapel, part of Oxford University.

It’s the fourth oldest college of the University, dating back to 1314 and inspired the fictitious ‘Jordan College’ in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials – filmed as The Golden Compass.

Doctor Strange film location:  West 4th Street, Greenwich Village, New York
Doctor Strange film location: Strange stumbles onto 'Bleecker Street': West 4th Street, Greenwich Village, New York

From the Sanctorum, Strange stumbles through one of the ‘dimensional doors’ to find himself at ‘177A Bleecker Street’ in New York – the address of the Sanctorum in the comics.

Bleecker Street is not cobbled or, more correctly, paved with Belgian blocks. He’s actually on 12th Street at the southeast corner of West 4th Street in Greenwich Village. That impressive doorway is completely fake, masking a blank wall.

Back in the Sanctorum, Strange finds himself challenged by Kaecilius. Adopted by the 'Cloak of Levitation', Strange escapes with companion Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) into the ‘mirror dimension’ of New York, outside the Carlton Hotel, 88 Madison Avenue, Midtown Manhattan.

Kaecilius and his zealots are not far behind, chasing along a fractured version of Madison Avenue, at East 30th Street.

On East 32nd Street, as he runs toward Madison Avenue, Kaecilius begins spectacularly to fold up space.

As the street rears up, Stan Lee puts in his cameo on the bus, chortling at a copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors Of Perception.

That glass skyscraper which seems to be on 32nd Street, up which Strange and Mordo appear to run, is entirely CGI.

Doctor Strange film location: Ropemaker Street, City of London, EC2
Doctor Strange film location: the Ancient One falls from the 'Manhattan' high-rise: Ropemaker Street, City of London, EC2

The Ancient One is mortally wounded by Kaecilius. Despite the best efforts of Strange, she falls from a Manhattan high-rise only to plummet to the sidewalk outside Costa Coffee on the south side of Ropemaker Street, just east of Moor Lane, in the heart of the City of London, EC2.

The conflict moves to its final stage and the confrontation with Dormammu in Hong Kong – and the ‘Dark Dimension’. A few scene-setting shots were filmed on the streets of the Chinese city, but the demands of the complex reverse-time battle meant that most of the sequence was shot on an elaborate ‘Hong Kong’ street set, boasting more than 80 functioning neon signs, built on a service road at Longcross Studios.