Logopolis and Lovell

Jodrell Bank has popped up a few times in Doctor Who, perhaps most obviously in Logopolis when the Lovell Telescope was used as the model for the Pharos Project.

I date from the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era of Doctor Who so I’ve never been particularly happy that Jodrell played a role in triggering his regeneration into Peter Davison when he fell from the telescope during a fight with the Master.

This week I spotted some great tweets from @WhoSFX about the visual effects in Doctor Who and the Logopolis telescope model in particular:

Great stuff! But I noticed something a bit weird about the model that I’d never spotted before.

According to @WhoSFX,  designer Malcolm Thornton and director Peter Grimwade visited Jodrell Bank to research the Radio Telescope models. This was probably in 1980, as the Logopolis series aired in 1981 and was filmed in December 1980.

In 1980, the Lovell Telescope would have looked much like it does today – the only significant change to the structure since then being the upgrade in 2000/02 involving a replacement reflecting surface but not changing the appearance of the telescope. But the Logopolis model looks much more like the original so-called Mark I telescope before the major upgrade in 1970/71 resulting in the Mark Ia.

Mark I Telescope at Jodrell Bank
The Mark I Telescope at Jodrell Bank (now the Lovell Telescope) as it looked after completion in 1957.

There are two key differences between the Mark I and the Mark Ia:

  1. the addition of a new reflecting surface fitted above the original, resulting in a double surface which is still there today;
  2. the replacement of the original slim bicycle wheel girder below the bowl with a much more substantial double wheel girder which now carries much of the weight of the bowl.

Both these features can be seen in the present-day telescope – the double wheel girder (below the bowl and between the towers) is very obvious but the double surface can be identified by the “rim” seen at the edge of the bowl and not present before 1970.

Lovell Telescope today
LOvell Telescope todayThe Lovell Telescope today – looking very similar to how it would have done in 1980

Compare this to the Logopolis model. This features the original Mark I slim bicycle-wheel girder (which would not have been present when Thornton & Grimwade visited in ~1980). But, confusingly, it also features the “rim” that is only present in the post-1970 Mark Ia telescope and which would have been apparent when they visited.

The Logopolis model

The Logopolis model from @WhoSFX

There are a few other minor differences between the model and the real telescope.

The Logopolis model from @WhoSFX
The Logopolis model from @WhoSFX

Both feature diagonal struts extending from the inside of the two towers towards the ground. These were added after a freak gust of wind hit the telescope from the side in 1976, causing the towers to lean and sliding the load-bearing wheel girders to within less than an inch of the edge of the support on which they rest at the centre. Disaster was averted by turning the telescope through 180 degrees and letting the wind straighten things out! In the model these struts do not extend far enough towards the centre of the telescope.

When the load-bearing double wheel girder was added, a second circular railway track was built inside the original track to distribute the weight. Its absence from the model is consistent with the absence of the double wheel girder.

The model does feature the rooms at the top of each tower, but in the real telescope these extend farther down one tower (known as Green) than the other (Red). In the model, these rooms are the same on each tower.

Finally, the focus tower at the centre of the bowl looks similar to the real Mark Ia telescope in that it has something like the focus box at the top of the tower (in the original Mark I it was a much less substantial feature). However, in the model, the focus tower is about the same height as the edge of the bowl – it doesn’t protrude out of the bowl. This is a feature of the original Mark I, but the new surface of the Mark Ia was flatter and so the tower now sticks out from the bowl when viewed side on.

So all in all, it looks like the Logopolis model was an amalgam of features from the real telescope as it looked in 1980 and either old photos or models of the original pre-1970 telescope. Whether this was deliberate or not I’ve no idea and, of course, it was never intended to actually be the Lovell Telescope so ultimately there’s no point worrying!

We’re hoping to track down the original model. @Andydrewz says he spotted it in the Blackpool Doctor Who exhibition in the 1980s – if you’ve seen it anywhere more recently please let me know!

Note added 22nd March 2015 – as Mike Peel points out, the original Mark I version of the telescope did have some smaller, less extended diagonal support struts at the base of the towers – these are easier to see on this photo. It looks like the struts on the Logopolis model were based on these.