This Sunday’s episode of sci-fi anthology series Electric Dreams takes us on an unusual journey.
The adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story The Commuter is written by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright Jack Thorne, and tells the tale of an unhappy railway worker (Timothy Spall) who is transported to a seemingly perfect town called Macon Heights.
Of course, under the surface Macon Heights is not all it seems and hides a few secrets (which we won’t spoil here) – but one mystery we can definitely reveal is that the town shown on screen is actually a real place, albeit one with a different name and a very different background.
The episode was filmed in a town called Poundbury just outside of Dorchester in Dorset, England, as has more claim than most to being a ‘perfect town’ as represented in the episode.
In fact, the whole place was constructed on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall at the behest of Prince Charles’s Prince’s Trust, with the express purpose of building a high-quality environment for people to live in.
Building began in 1993, and additions have continued to be made over the intervening decades, and as of 2015 the town was home to 2,500 people and 170 businesses.
Prince Charles on a visit to Poundbury
“It is an ideal town, built to spec and on a fixed set of plans rather than emerged over time, so it does have this sort of strange feel,” director Tom Harper said.
Apparently Poundbury’s unusual aesthetic aided in the episode’s sense of unreality, as noted by cast and crew who found no need to “dress” the set to make it seem otherwordly.
“We did nothing to it,” Harper said. “I think we did lots to other places but very little to Poundbury, because it’s been built very recently and there’s already a sort of very artificial feel.”
“It’s such an amazing place,” actor Tuppence Middleton, who plays Linda in the episode, adds.
“I think what makes it so bizarre if that all the buildings are built as though they’re period buildings, but they’re newly built. So it kind feels like something isn’t right. You can’t feel the history coming out of the buildings.
“So it does feel like a set, which really helps for those scenes, because we’re in this sort of unreal world. It helped you remember you’re not doing some sort of hyper-realistic, gritty drama, because you’re in this quite eerie landscape.
“You don’t know what it’s making you feel, and you don’t know why you feel slightly uneasy about it. Because it’s so nice, there’s no need for it to feel weird. But it definitely adds to that…’
“It’s odd, and I think it’ll get less strange as it matures,” Harper concluded. “But at the moment it has a very weird feel.”
You heard it here first – if you fancy a weird and uneasy holiday, Poundbury is the destination for you.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams: The Commuter airs on Channel 4 on Sunday 1st October at 9.00pm