Friday, 20 January 2012

45: The Mind Robber - Fantastic. Because Or In Spite Of Production Constraints?

Written by: Peter Ling.
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot.
Monsters/Villains: The Master (Of The Land of Fiction), White Robots, Clockwork Soldiers, The Master Brain. 
Brief Synopsis: In order to escape a volcanic eruption, the Doctor activates an emergency unit which moves the TARDIS out of normal time and space and into the Land of Fiction.
Rating: 8/10.

Now that was more like it. After the rather disappointing start to season 6 with The Dominators, we're back on track with something truly unique and entirely different from anything that has gone before it, or that will follow. There are numerous reasons to love The Mind Robber and those only multiply when you learn what difficulties were surpassed when making this adventurous serial.

The first issue was the addition of an extra episode. Due to the shortening of The Dominators from six to five episodes (thank goodness) the entire first episode (which is brilliant by the way) was cobbled together by Derrick Sherwin and the production team. 

In order to escape the volcanic eruption on Dulkis the Doctor activates an emergency unit that moves the TARDIS out of the time-space dimension and according to the ships instruments they are nowhere. Zoe, who has changed into the infamous lame catsuit, is curious to explore what's outside but the Doctor rebuffs her saying "If we move outside the TARDIS, we step into a dimension about which we know nothing. We should be at the mercy of the forces outside time and space as we know it. We must stay in the TARDIS"

Left alone in the console room Jamie and Zoe are each tempted outside by being shown images of their homes; Jamie of Scotland and Zoe of her home 'city.' Together they manage to withstand temptation but when Jamie goes to get the Doctor, Zoe goes out into the white void and vanishes. When they return Jamie runs out to rescue Zoe and also vanishes, leaving just the Doctor in the TARDIS who seems to come under some kind of mental attack. 

Jamie and Zoe find each other in the white void, but they're lost. Again they see their homelands and suddenly are surrounded by white robots who mesmerise them. Back in the TARDIS a voice tempts the Doctor to save his companions. Finally he too succumbs, goes out and vanishes too. In the void the Doctor steps out of a white TARDIS and drags a white costumed Zoe and Jamie back in to the ship and the trio safely dematerialise. Everything sees to be normal until all three feel an alien vibration, and begin to loose concentration. Shockingly we see the exterior of the TARDIS break-up and Zoe and Jamie cling to the ship's console falling through blackness. 

This is definitely up there with the best cliffhangers ever! Interestingly due to the additional episode each installment of this story was particularly short. Each one comes in between 22-19 minutes in length with episode five being the shortest episode of Doctor Who ever at just 18 minutes.

Issue number two came when the actor who played Jamie, Frazer Hines, contracted chickenpox and wasn't well enough for the recording of episode two and some of three. Fortunately this was The Mind Robber so some rather unusual methods could be used to fix this little problem. Jamie is wondering through a strange kind of forest when he sees a Red Coat, gets shot and turns into a sort of cardboard cut-out. 

Meanwhile, Zoe goes through a pair of large white doors and falls into a giant pit. The Doctor comes across a strange character who claims to be from 1699, who tells him about the Master who has brought them here. We then get another one of those wonderful yet tiny references to the Doctor's history when the stranger tells the Doctor, "The Master holds articles of impeachment for treason and other capital crimes." To which the Doctor replies "Treason again. Really?" Suggesting that the Doctor committed treason before. He is  then surrounded by children who taunt him with jokes and riddles. They seem to test him and threaten him with a sword which he manages to turn into a dictionary when he realises that it is an anagram. 

Hamish Wilson as 'Jamie.'
The Doctor hears Jamie and comes across his cardboard cut-out. He finds a locked safe and a wishing well and manages to link this all together to deduce that "Jamie is safe and well." Frazer Hines' absence is then dealt with in the most peculiar way. Jamie's face is missing and the Doctor has to compile it from bits of faces. He comes to life, but the Doctor got it wrong so he appears differently. He's also portrayed by a different actor! Welcome Hamish Wilson, who will be playing 'Jamie' for a little while.

The Clockwork Soldiers.
'Jamie' is telling the Doctor that the TARDIS broke up when they hear Zoe's voice and find the white door. 'Jamie' wants to bash it in but the Doctor cracks the riddle and realises: "When is a door not a door? When it's a jar." This is both literal and a literary as a giant jar appears and they help Zoe out. 

Not just any trees!
The Doctor fears that they may be in a place where nothing is impossible. 'Jamie' climbs one of the trees in the forest they're wandering through and realises that it's a letter S and all the other trees are letters and words too. They continue to traverse the forest of words until they are captured by giant clockwork soldiers who lead them to a black void where they are charged by a White Unicorn.

The trio refuse to believe it exists and like Jamie before, it too turns into a cardboard cut-out. They escape the black void once again 'Jamie' is shot by a Red Coat, the Doctor has to do the same face making and the normal (Frazer Hines) Jamie is back with us. They enter a house and find a maze, ball of twine and a Minotaur. 

A rather jolly looking Minotaur.
Once again they come across the stranger, who the Doctor finally recognises as Lemuel Gulliver who only speaks the lines Jonathan Swift wrote for him in the novel Gulliver's Travels. This helps the Doctor to realise that they have entered the land of fiction.

The stranger was Lemuel Gulliver played by Bernard Horsfall.
Meanwhile a clockwork soldier chases Jamie up a rock face and into the citadel, which he scales using Rapunzel's hair, while Zoe and the Doctor face the Medusa, whom they best using a mirror.

An incredibly creepy Medusa design.
Then a comic book hero from the year 2000, the Karkus, shows up and get's his ass kicked by Zoe. In the end he submits and agrees to take them to the citadel. Once inside the white robots arrive again and the Master invites the three travellers for an audience. 

The Karkus.
Surprisingly the Master is not malevolent and evil, but a writer from 1926 who wrote the adventures of Jack Harkaway and was selected by the Master Brain to be it's source of imagination. He remains unnamed throughout the piece but it is strongly implied that he is the great children's author Frank Richards; a pen-name used by Charles Hamilton when writing the famous series of Billy Bunter stories. The Master tells the Doctor that he wants him to take over as the Master of the land of fiction. He also says of the Doctor, "You are ageless, you exists outside the barriers of time and space." Rather tangentially I thought I'd share a rather tenuous personal link I have with story: I can't help but get excited every time I see my own rather unusual name (Emrys) in the credits of Doctor Who every time I see:

Emrys Jones as The Master.
Jamie and Zoe try to escape, but are caught by the white robots and fictionalised by being shut inside a giant book (a rather novel idea). The White robots move in on the Doctor but he escapes by climbing to a higher part of the citadel. The TARDIS appears and Zoe and Jamie get the Doctor inside, but it turns into yet another cardboard cut-out and the Doctor is attached to the master brain computer. The Master reveals that the Master Brain wants the people of earth brought to the land of fiction leaving their planet free to be taken over. The Doctor fights him when he learns that the computer feeds off his thoughts giving him power equal to that of the Master. 

When then get a battle of imaginations. The Master calls the clockwork soldiers, but the Doctor calls the Karkus. The master calls Cyrano de Bergerac but the Doctor calls D'Artagnan to fight him off. The Master turns Cyrano into Blackbeard the pirate but the Doctor turns D'Artagnan in to Sir Lancelot and wins out.

Cyrano De Bergerac.
Blackbeard the Pirate.
Sir Lancelot.
The white robots close in and are about to kill the Doctor, when Jamie and Zoe rather tenuously save the day by "pressing lots of buttons" on the computer causing the Master Brain to overload. The Doctor removes the head piece connecting the Master and all four depart as the white robots fire their disintegrators. The computer is destroyed and everyone is returned to their rightful places; the Master supposedly to his home and the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie to the TARDIS which we see reforming.

The White robots were loaned from another show called Out of The Unknown.
Some consider the events of The Mind Robber to be just a dream. For example, the changing of Jamie's face could be construed as a manifestation of the Doctor's regeneration trauma. Also, Zoe recognises candles, despite not knowing what they are in a later story: The Space Pirates. Most significantly, despite the Master being with the TARDIS crew at the end of the story, his absence is not remarked upon at the start of the following story. In fact, none of the events of this story are mentioned or referenced again which could indicate that the TARDIS crew may not even remember them properly.

The 6th Doctor, Jamie and Zoe would end up taking another trip to the Land of Fiction in the excellent Big Finish audio Drama 'The Legend of the Cybermen.' If you liked the Mind Robber it's well worth a listen.

Click to purchase.
I really enjoyed The Mind Robber even if it does lose steam a little in the last two episodes. I have no idea if this story is so strong, vibrant and different because of all the issues the production team faced, or in spite of them. Either way it is a wonderful story and fully shows Doctor Who at it's best. When it's pushing the boundaries and experimenting with the format each week. The more Troughton and Hartnell I see, the more I love it. These episodes are quickly becoming my favourites, because although they were not always wonderful, they were always different. At this point the programme still didn't know exactly what it was and although some structures and formulas were becoming apparent, The Mind Robber proves that Doctor Who can be anything and everything.

Join me next time for the rather epic-ly long The Invasion.

1 comment:

Barry Shitpeas said...

I'm not sure that I
agree with your assertion that, “at
this point the programme didn't know what it was yet”. I certainly
would agree that Doctor Who is not an easy programme to categorise,
but certainly by the Troughton era you can see a number of formula
elements that have appeared before and would appear again over the
subsequent years. For example, “The Mind Robber” is
much like “The Celestial Toymaker,” in that both stories involve
an authoritarian power taking the Doctor and his companions back to a
time of childhood innocence, and then getting really annoyed when
they reject it. See also “The Happiness Patrol” and

now I come to think of
it, “Love & Monsters.”