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27 March 2014

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

Day 451: The Masque of Mandragora, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It’s somewhat strange that it’s taken this long – fourteen seasons! – before anyone has brought up the question of how everyone the TARDIS travellers meet seem to speak fairly perfect English! It’s been the case right from the very start of the programme (the Tribe of Gum didn’t have brilliant sentence structure, but they were otherwise perfect BBC English), yet no one has ever thought to bring it up before. The Doctor’s assertion that it’s a ‘Time Lord gift’ which he shares with his companions doesn’t quite chime with the 21st century programme’s version of this skill (where it’s a function of the TARDIS), but I suppose you could argue that the Doctor shares it via his ship.

It’s also somewhat unusual that Sarah only thinks to bring it up once she’s under some kind of hypnotic control. Then again, I suppose that you may not initially think to ask the question when you’re out and about among the stars. When the TARDIS rocks up on Exxilon, or Metebilis III, or Skaro, you’re too busy being caught up in all the wonder (and all the running!) to wonder how you can understand all these different alien species. Arrive in Italy, only a few centuries before your own time, however, and it’s a more glaring anomaly.

I’m sorry to say that this story still just isn’t grabbing me in the way that I’d like it to. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I’m finding myself far more distracted by all the trappings of the sets, the locations, and the costumes, and I’m not being swept along with the story at all. That said, I really am distracted by all the of dressings in this story – I seem to be discussing it every day, but there really is some great work on display. After today’s episode, I watched a bit of the ‘making of’ special feature on the DVD, and was blown away by just how much work designer Barry Newbury puts in when he’s given a Doctor Who serial to work on. It was true of the Brain of Morbius, when he talks of giving thought to a whole new style of architecture for this alien world, and it’s just as evident here, when he talks of looking at paintings of the period and picking out specific details to use in his sets.

The effect of the temple being restored is also very well done. It’s a variant of the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ trick, as far as I can tell, which has been used in theatre for decades, and was at its first peak during the Victorian period. It creates a lovely effect, and brings to life another beautiful set in the form of the temple itself, which is another example of great design. Because the effect is based on such an old technique, it’s simply being presented here as a matter of course, thrown into the background of the shots with Tom Baker. As such, it comes across as even more effective – they’re not drawing attention to it, it’s just something that’s happening.


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