Big Ben chimes no more! The London landmark's history

By Cameron K McEwan

Perhaps the most iconic clock in the world, Big Ben is about to be silenced. Its famous bongs will not be heard in the centre of London as restoration work sees the bell gagged for four years.

And, as Whovians may know, Big Ben (or “Elizabeth Tower” to give it its proper name – “Big Ben” is actually the name of the bell itself), has made numerous appearances in Doctor Who since the Sixties.

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Before we delve into the Whostory of Big Ben, did you know that only TWO Doctors have actually said “Big Ben” in a Doctor Who episode? Are you ready to find who they were?

Here are just some of Big Ben’s best Who moments.

The Sensorites

Back in 1964, the original Team TARDIS - the First Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian – encountered an exploration mission from Earth who have been held in orbit by the titular Sensorites. During a conversation with the traveling Earthlings, Ian asks if Big Ben is “still on time”. However, the explorers from the 28th Century aren’t aware of the London icon (in their time, the city had not existed as we know it in four hundred years).

Big ben dalek invasion

The Dalek Invasion of Earth

Later that same year, and still in the future, the same quartet find that the Earth has been invaded by the Daleks in the 22nd Century and uncover a dead London. And here we have the first utterance of “Big Ben” by the Doctor! On the city’s silence, the First Doctor comments:

“No sound of birdsong, no voices, no sound of shipping, and not even the chimes of old Big Ben. It's uncanny. Uncanny.”

1996 TV Movie

Incredibly, there are no more appearances or references to Big Ben for over 30 years! And even then, it’s not exactly a starring role. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from the landmark in the Eighth Doctor’s debut as the 90s end and 2000 is heralded in.

Man looking into hole of fire


When Doctor Who gloriously returned in 2005, so did Big Ben. Though not taking centre stage in the opening episode for the Ninth Doctor and Rose, you can see it during the night scenes as the dynamic duo race across Westminster Bridge on the pursuit of the Nestene Consciousness.

Spaceship flying over water

Aliens of London

BANG! Those naughty Slitheen arranged for the poor “Space Pig” to crash into Big Ben as a diversion to their own nefarious activities. It was an eye-poppingly wonderful stunt. What’s more, this is the second time the Doctor mentions the landmark by name.

The events of this tale are recounted in 2006’s Love & Monsters, and also referred to by Martha in 2007’s Smith & Jones and then again later that same year in The Sound of Drums, this time spoken by the Master.

couple hugging in front of big ben

The Empty Child

Another iconic moment for the building and bell. In WWII London, Rose gets to know Captain Jack Harkness over a drink and a dance in front of one of Big Ben’s clock faces.

Huge rock in sky hovering over building

The Christmas Invasion

In a neat nod to Aliens of London, this festive 2005 adventure shows the reconstruction of Big Ben after the Space Pig crash whilst the Sycorax ship hovers menacingly over London.

Spaceships flying over London

Rise of the Cybermen

The following year saw less of Big Ben but you’ll be happy to know that even in a parallel Earth, London still has its famous tower.

Man looking at TV

Army of Ghosts

Another brief look at Big Ben here in the Tenth Doctor’s first series finale. Before we knew they were Cybermen, the “ghosts” regularly gathered in formation around Westminster Bridge.

Big Ben at night

The Eleventh Hour

The Eleventh Doctor’s era was heralded in with a near-collision with Big Ben. The newly-regenerated Time Lord almost found himself on the wrong end of the tower as he lost control of an exploding TARDIS.

couple looking over city with spaceships

Victory of the Daleks

Just a couple of episodes later and we’re back to WWII again! The Eleventh Doctor and Amy are hanging out with Winston Churchill, as you do, when we glimpse Big Ben. This was shortly before the return of a familiar foe…

The Snowmen

Cheeky Clara, when she was dividing her time between being a barmaid and a nanny, had suggested to the children in her care that was born behind the clock face of Big Ben. She claimed it accounted for her “acute sense of time” – we think she was joking.

Drone shot of London city

The Day of the Doctor

If you look closely, really closely, you can see Big Ben as the Eleventh Doctor and the TARDIS fly over London during the opening moments of the spectacular 50th Anniversary Special.

Man and lady standing infront of big ben pointing at sky

Deep Breath

A T-Rex on the Thames can mean only one thing, an appearance of Big Ben! The dinosaur roared its way passed the building as it rampaged across London. To promote the debut Twelfth Doctor episode, Peter Capaldi and co-star Jenna Coleman took part in a photoshoot beside the landmark.

Overlooking london city

In the Forest of the Night

In the Twelfth Doctor’s first series we return to London to find it overrun with vegetation. And, for the eagle-eyed, there’s Big Ben sporting some greenery too.

Man steering Santas slay

Last Christmas

A rather beautiful one to end on, we hope you agree. With Santa and Clara by his side, the Twelfth Doctor pilots a sleigh across the London skyline, narrowly avoiding Big Ben. His joy is palpable though, as we discover, this was all a dream.

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