Escaping a volcanic eruption, the Doctor takes the TARDIS out of normal time and space but Jamie and Zoe are lured into a white void populated only by robots and illusions.
The Mind Robber is an example of how inventive Doctor Who could be in its opening few years. It is a gleam of light in Patrick Troughton’s final season on the show, one dogged by uncertainty about the show’s future, dropping viewing figures and an exhausted leading man. The main strength of this story is that it betrays none of the behind-the-scenes uncertainty to make a confident and assured story. Where parts of late 1980s Who carries this same sense of confidence, the difference is that the later confidence seems to have been misplaced.
If we move outside the TARDIS, we step into a dimension about which we know nothing.The Second Doctor
The first part of the story was cobbled together to make up for cutting The Dominators short by one part, and whilst the writer was not happy about this change, it works really well and evokes an unsettling and at times discombobulating feeling in the viewer, especially if they are unsure where the story is going next. The etheral noise that permeates the TARDIS, along with the images of Jamie and Zoe’s homes, set up tension. Then there’s the white void that the TARDIS finds itself in full of mysterious robots that menace both companions whilst the Doctor slumbers in the TARDIS. There is an air of uncertainty which leads beautifully into the first part’s cliffhanger of the TARDIS exploding and Jamie and Zoe being thrown into space clutching onto the console for dear life. It’s a striking and powerful cliffhanger to this first part that kicks off a bold and weird story.
I think that the story succeeds as it creates a world with rules which it largely obeys and knows when to find loopholes. The whole conceit of managing to defeat fictional foes by denying their existence is one that works well because the writer realises that it could potentially break its basic premise. The introduction of the Karkus, a character that Zoe knows but the Doctor doesn’t ultimately saves it – he knows that the weapon the comic book character wields cannot possibly be real, but because he has no knowledge of the character he cannot use this magic fix to get rid of the character. It would be easy in this story which is basically a celebration of the power of human imagination for Peter Ling to go wild and create an environment for the Doctor and his companions to occupy with inconsistent or not rules. Equally, he probably realised that the ‘it doesn’t exist’ get out clause will only be accepted so many times by the audience before it stretches credulity. Ling’s script bulges with some really good ideas and puzzles – I particularly like the ‘Jamie is safe and well’ and the ‘when is a door not a door?’ puzzles and the solutions to them – and while most of this story is utterly bizarre, it is great fun.
Director David Maloney also deserves a lot of credit for the work he has put into this from a directorial point of view. There’s a lot in here that could look awful in the wrong hands, like the Minotaur, which Maloney wisely avoids to keep out of focus and in the shadows as when we do get a full glimpse of the costume it is clear that it didn’t look particularly spectacular. Equally, Medusa is an early example of stop motion which really impressed me considering the time that this was made. Maloney is one of the powerhouse directors of the original run of Doctor Who and he plays a huge part in making this story as good as it is. Two members of the guest cast particularly stand out – Emrys Jones as the Master (but not that one) is superb as the writer taken out of time, whilst Bernard Horsfall is equally good as Gulliver, whilst a lot of the other fictional characters who appear in this story don’t really have a lot else to do.
The weird nature of this story means that Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor is completely out of his depth. It is rare for the Doctor to not know anything about what is going wrong, and this allows Troughton to go through a whole range of emotions from outrage to fear to joy. His and Zoe’s curiosity at being as close to a volcanic eruption is at a complete juxtaposition to Jamie’s understandable concern that the Doctor doesn’t know whether or not lava will damage the TARDIS. This is a nice reminder that the Doctor still doesn’t entirely know what his trusty craft is capable of at this stage. It’s difficult to picture another Doctor being in this story other than Patrick Troughton – perhaps Matt Smith! Obviously, for reasons outside of the story’s control, Frazer Hines does not give a complete performance as Jamie, but I think that Hamish Wilson does an admirable job filling in for him, even if he is either not aiming or trying to do a direct impersonation of Hines. I think that Jamie is at his best in the moments when he thinks he will be able to go home at the beginning of the story but he’s equally charming when flirting with Rapunzel after climbing the tower and Hines drives the narrative in the middle when things could potentially get a bit more bogged down. Zoe has less to do, except she does get to be in a poorly choreographed fight, but Wendy Padbury does do well with the material she is given.
Verdict: I really loved The Mind Robber. It is an inventive and utterly bonkers gem in this season of Doctor Who. 9/10
Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines and Hamish Wilson (Jamie McCrimmon), Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot), Emrys Jones (The Master), John Atterbury, Ralph Carrigan, Bill Wiesener and Terry Wright (Robots), Bernard Horsfall (A Stranger/Gulliver), Barbara Loft, Sylvestra Le Touzal, Timothy Horton, Christopher Reynolds, David Reynolds and Martin Langley (Children), Paul Alexander, Ian Hines and Richard Ireson (Soldiers), Philip Ryan (Redcoat), Christine Pirie (Princess Rapunzel), Sue Pulford (The Medusa), Christopher Robbie (Karkus), John Greenwood (D’Artagnan and Sir Lancelot), David Cannon (Cyrano) & Gerry Wain (Blackbeard).
Writer: Peter Ling
Director: David Maloney
Original Broadcast Dates: 14 September – 12 October 1968
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles for this story included The Fact of Fiction and Man Power, whilst the existing scripts of episodes one, two and three were titled Manpower, Another World and The Fact of Fiction.
- Hamish Wilson played Jamie in episodes 2 and 3 as Frazer Hines had contracted chicken pox.
- Episode One is the only broadcast episode of Doctor Who to have no writer’s credit, either on the broadcast version or in the Radio Times. Peter Ling was unhappy that the first episode was cobbled together by the production team after the decision was made to cut The Dominators down from a six-part story to a five-part one. Episode 5, as a result, is the shortest broadcast episode of Doctor Who.
- The Master in this story is not to be confused with the renegade Time Lord The Master.
- Both Patrick Troughton and Zoe Padbury cited this story as their favourite.
- This was the last story to have tele-snaps before the death of John Cura.
- John Atterbury also played an alien guard in The War Games.
- Ralph Carrigan had previously appeared in The Myth Makers, The Ark and The Macra Terror and would go on to make his fifth and final appearance in Doctor Who in The Invasion.
- Terry White also previously appeared in The Macra Terror.
- Bernard Horsfall would go on to appear as a Time Lord in The War Games, Taron in Planet of the Daleks and Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin.
- Richard Ireson would go on to play Axus in The Krotons.
- Philip Ryan would go on to appear as a Primord in Inferno.
- Christopher Robbie played the Cyber-Leader in Revenge of the Cybermen.
- David Cannon made several uncredited appearances in Doctor Who, in the stories The Romans, The Chase and The War Games.
- Gerry Wain also made several uncredited appearances, in the stories The Reign of Terror, The Romans, The Chase and The War Games.
It has to be the cliffhanger at the end of Part 1.
Would you mind taking that pop gun away? It does unsettle me so.The Second Doctor
Previous Second Doctor review: The Dominators