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26 March 2014

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

Day 450: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode Two

Dear diary,

The best thing about this story really is the locations and sets. I’ve said it before more than once (and don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll say it again plenty of times, too!), but the BBC really do excel themselves when it comes to producing the period stories. Today, I’m fascinated to learn that the ruined temple we see in this episode was provided by the BBC in the form of expanded polystyrene (and, supposedly, the people of Portmerion were so keen on it they asked if it could stay!), because it looks so perfect. Admittedly, I had thought that it was lucky to find such a perfect location right where they needed it, but I never for a second suspected it was anything other than real.

I’m also very impressed to discover that the orange grove from yesterday’s episode was all rigged up by the production team, too, with the fruit attached to the trees via wires. I mean, I was surprised enough that they’d found the location, but I never suspected! Maybe I’m simply foolish?

But then, Portmerion itself is proving pretty perfect, even without the BBC props department helping out. The chase early in today’s episode gives us plenty of opportunity to look around, and after that I just couldn’t help myself - I had to take a look at the ‘Now and Then’ feature on the DVD. Portmerion is best known as the location for The Prisoner, so it’s not completely unknown to audiences of archive telly. While I do own that series on DVD, I’ve still not found the time to get round to watching it, and I’m only a few episodes in.

Therefore, I’m most impressed by just how… European the setting is - You could take a pretty good guess as to where we’re supposed to be this week, even if the Doctor didn’t keep reminding us. Certainly, watching this story is making me want to visit the place (it’s only a few hours up the road - worth a trip!), and that doesn’t often happen with the series.

Something else that doesn’t often happen is me commenting on the musical scores for stories. To be perfectly honest… I’m not usually all that aware of them. Maybe that’s just me being ignorant, but it’s rare that they really stand out for me. That’s a good thing, though! The music isn’t supposed to be big and blaring and in-your-face, it’s supposed to be there to underpin the scenes and help add to the mood and atmosphere. Today, it simply can’t be ignored, though. Sarah’s tied to an alter. Cultists in robes gather around her, chanting and preparing her for sacrifice. She’s even been changed into the traditional white robes for the occasion. The tension is building, she’s going to be killed any minute…

But Dudley Simpson has chosen to score the scene with - what I’ve described in my notes as being - ‘comedy parp-parp music’. I just can’t take it seriously. Simpson has been providing scores to the programme since as far back as Planet of Giants, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as put off by the music as I am in this story. It’s perhaps worrying, because this marks the start of an unbroken run for his composing work on the series, which will last right through to the end of Season Seventeen and The Horns of Nimon. I’m dearly hoping that this won’t be the start of me not liking his scores generally, as it could make the bulk of the Baker years a bit of a chore. Still, he’s been composer for 39 stories before this one, so I’m guessing it may just be an off day!


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