In the previous review of the Dominators, I mentioned how the poor standard of writing and plot resulted in the story being reduced from six episodes to five. The problem with that was that they needed to add an extra episode onto a different story.
In what must go down as a real stroke of fortune for the production team, the next story – The Mind Robber – was the perfect one in which to do it, and so episode 1 is set pretty much entirely in the TARDIS set, but for a couple of scenes set in what is essentially an empty studio set. And yet it works.
The potential problems for the story didn’t stop there though, as Frazer Hines was laid up with chicken pox for a week. Usually this would result in the character of Jamie being written out for a week and a call for frantic re-writes.
But because it’s the Mind Robber, they can simply hire an actor that looks and sounds absolutely nothing like him to take his place and have it work as part of the wacky script.
How? Read on MacDuff…
Doctor Who – The Mind Robber Review: What’s This One About?
To get away from the volcanic eruption on the island on Dulkis, the Doctor takes emergency precautions and removes the TARDIS from time. But in the white void the TARDIS is hijacked by an unknown force and is blown up.
The next thing they know, the travellers find themselves in a world of fiction controlled by a Master Brain where anything goes. As they look to find a way out and back to the TARDIS they travel through a forest of words, a labyrinth and a fairytale castle, meeting famous fictional characters such as Gulliver, Rapunzel, The Madusa and Cyrano de Bergerac along the way.
Thoughts – Anything Goes Because It Can
The key to the Mind Robber is the randomness of it all. By setting it in a world of fiction, anything goes and as it happens, it usually does.
If you stopped to question the flow of events it would make absolutely no sense. For example, how and why did the TARDIS blow up? How does changing Jamie’s face also
change his height and accent? How can they suddenly go from being in the centre of a deep labyrinth to outside at the base of a mountain leading up to a castle? Who exactly is the enemy in this story and why do they want to take over the Earth?
But these questions ultimately don’t matter all that much. As a viewer you accept it because it takes place in a world where anything and everything goes. Yes, there are a few things that are just sloppy in the way its written but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The thing is that by placing the story in this setting, the extraordinary becomes ordinary, but not in a bad way. A forest of words? I can see an entire story being based on a premise like that, but here it’s just glossed over as something a bit different in the landscape. The Minotaur? That’s just something to pre-occupy the Doctor and Zoe half way through episode 3. But it works because you accept it as a smaller segment of a larger whole.
The easy comparison to make with this story is The Celestial Toymaker because of its ‘land of fiction’ elements, but the Mind Robber is so far in advance of the William Hartnell story, both in terms of plot and realisation. Indeed, throughout the entire run of Dr Who there has never been anything truly comparable to this story, and that’s a shame because it’s exactly the sort of thing that Dr Who can do really well.
Regular readers may recall that I said a similar thing about the Enemy of the World. When Dr Who goes out of its Man vs Monsters comfort zone, it can excel. But it rarely ever does leave it, and that’s a shame.
Another area where the Mind Robber succeeds is in its casting.
The great Bernard Horsefall makes his Dr Who debut as Gulliver (from Gulliver’s Travels). The way he performs the role, both in terms of line delivery and physical performance, is so good that you just couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. And the way it’s written so he can only speak lines written for him in the book is genius.
Christopher Robbie will come back to Dr Who in a few years and play The Greatest Cyberman in History in Revenge of the
Cybermen, but in this story he does a wonderful turn as a hammy comic book hero from ‘the year 2000’ – The Karkus.
The Master (no, not that one) is a very clever character as well. Up until episode 4 all we see of him is his back to camera as he belts out menacing instructions from his base, and yet it turns out he’s a genial old man being controlled my a computerised brain.
And having the basic ‘enemy on the ground’ being rather wonderful looking toy clockwork soldiers is brilliant.
The only problems I have with the casting are that the kids that the Doctor meets can’t act (but that’s par for the course with British child actors) and that the girl playing Rapunzel kept stumbling over her lines. It maybe won’t surprise you to know that imdb has this as her only acting role.
Random Observations – Including Things That Don’t Even Make Sense Here
- The Doctor tells Jamie and Zoe to say that the Minotaur, Madusa and the Unicorn don’t exist even when they don’t necessarily know it to be true, and yet the Doctor refuses to reciprocate when it comes to The Karkus. Hypocrite.
- Zoe is from the year 2000? Wow, the people in the late 1960s really did have unrealistic expectation levels for technological advancement. Also, in a bit of sloppy writing she identifies her home town as simply ‘The City’. Doesn’t it have a name?
- The bit where Zoe suddenly decides she’s off and walks through a light gate alarm she knows only too well will go off and get them caught is very poor. It’s just an excuse
to move the plot to its final stage, but it’s done so clumsily.
- And why is she so determined to have a look at Madusa knowing what will happen to her?
- At least though she’s in an outfit that actually suits her, which makes a change from the Dominators.
- As the replacement Jamie, I think Hamish Wilson is fantastic. Not necessarily in a ‘he’s a good actor’ kind of way, but just because of his brilliant (and genuine) Scottish accent. His delivery of the line “We don’t stand a chance” at the end of Episode 2 is the most passionately delivered line in the show since Josef Furst’s “Nothing in ze vorld can stop me now”
- From the file marked ‘They wouldn’t get away with that these days’, the production team achieved the effect of the Unicorn not by getting a white horse, but by painting a brown horse white and adding a horn to it. Stick that up your pipe and smoke it Morrisey.
- The White Robots suffer from that problem that befalls a lot of Dr Who ‘monsters’ – they suddenly decide to destroy everything – including themselves – at the end for no good reason.
- The security system of the castle really leaves a lot to be desired. The Doctor manages to fool them into thinking he is the Karkus by putting on a very loose German accent and simply saying he that’s who he was.
- It’s never explained why the TARDIS blew up or how it brought itself back together again. I wonder if this is an issue with adding an extra episode, and had that episode never been added, how would the story have even started? How would they have got to the land of fiction?
- Then again, Episode 5 is the shortest Dr Who episode ever at a mere 18 minutes long. With other episodes only being around the 20 mark, maybe we shouldn’t give them credit for writing a 5th episode after all. Maybe they just added 5 extra minutes of plot and cut the length of the other 4 episodes to suit.
- I really don’t know why, but a line from one of the little children has stuck with me for years. Incongruously a child asks ‘Is it a game’ not once, but twice. Yes, I know I’m sad, but I’ll occasionally just answer a question my brothers asks with ‘Is it a game?’. It annoys him every time so it makes it all worthwhile.
- The sound and picture quality in Episode 5 is almost too good.
- There’s a sequel to the Mind Robber with Jamie, Zoe & The Sixth Doctor done by Big Finish Production. It’s called Legend of the Cybermen. No, I know it doesn’t sound like a sequel to the Mind Robber, but it is. It’s just that Big Finish have decided to include the Cybermen and/or Daleks in EVERYTHING because Nick Briggs loves himself and his supposed ability to do their voices. Coming Soon from Big Finish Productions – Pudding of the Daleks – a sequel to the Ambassadors of Death.
- And for those of you who read the Dominators review, have you spotted the difference with the corresponding picture here?
Doctor Who – The Mind Robber Review: Final Thoughts
While not without its flaws, the Mind Robber is a daring and well put together Dr Who story. Often the best ones are the ones that try to be a bit different and move away from the standard format. If there were another 10 stories like this it most likely wouldn’t stand out, but since it’s almost in a category to itself, it does.
This is one of the classic Dr Who stories and I’d urge you to see it if you haven’t already.