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25 March 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 449: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Secondary Console Room has always been something of an anomaly as far as I’m concerned. When I think about the TARDIS in the classic series, it takes the form of the open, white, sterile space. Oh, sure, it goes through a fair few iterations over the years, but it always boil down to the same distinct template – the big white roundels and the large, hexagonal console in the centre. Once you reach the Eighth Doctor, things start to become a bit more flexible, and we have huge Jules Verne inspired cathedrals, or coral shells, or bright, orange monstrosities, but in the original series, there’s only one style of console room.

Except that there isn’t! I think it’s my lack of familiarity with this period that makes this room seem like such an anomaly for me (I don’t think I’ve ever watched any of the stories in which it appears, only odd clips of them like Sarah Jane’s farewell in the next tale). It’s also slightly strange to see how we end up with it, literally coming from a brief scene at the start of the episode where Sarah wanders the corridors of the ship and opens doors at random. It’s a lovely touch that earlier Doctors have their own effects scattered through the room (I can assume that the Third Doctor may have tried to jump-start the ship from here when in the earliest days of his exile, maybe in an attempt to bypass the Time Lord’s lock down), and I’m glad that we don’t spend too much time exploring the place before we’re caught up in the adventure.

And what an adventure to be caught up in! The TARDIS being sucked into the Helix is a beautiful effect (is it Mirrorlon, the same technique used for the Ice Warrior’s sonic weapons?), and then when the TARDIS rives at the bottom of the spiral, allowing the Doctor to step out into a mostly empty black void, it’s very effective. I’ve never seen this story before, but I have used some images from the production when doing design work before. There’s a lovely shot of the TARDIS against the CSO background which is perfect as an image of this era’s new prop: it seems obvious to me now that it was to be transplanted on another image for the episode, but I’d always assumed that the heart of the helix was a plain white void, which didn’t look very good! It’s always great when these kind of pre-conceptions of stories are overthrown, especially when they’re as good as this.

And then we’re off to 15th century Italy! I know that this story’s locations are filmed in and around Portmerion in Wales, but it’s easy enough to forget that fact when you’re watching the story, because it makes such a good stand in for Italy. We’ve not seen all that much of the town itself yet, mostly the surrounding areas, but they’re all uniformly lovely. Orange groves, and country lanes… I’m looking forward to watching the location work expand as the story goes on.

Ah, yes, the story. That’s the one thing which isn’t quite grabbing me yet. Due to the slightly odd nature of this episode, it feels almost like we get a false start with the Doctor and Sarah getting snared in the helix – when we cut to a hunt on horseback about ten minutes in, it feels like the opening scene of a new episode. But nothing in here yet feels very fresh or exciting. It’s portents and death, and there’s a sparkler floating around having hitched a ride in the TARDIS… I don’t know what it is, but something’s lacking for now. Still, it’s early days and we’re off to a good start.


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