Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil Review (or ‘A Very British Prison Break’)

Just when you thought we were done with the Black & White era of Doctor Who, one last story turns up.

No, The Mind of Evil wasn’t originally broadcast in Black & White, but any and all colour copies of the story are missing and so this is what we’re left with. But to be honest I think Black & White suits this story very well. It would seem

The Doctor meets The Keller Machine at the end of Episode 1.

wrong to have it available in colour.

As for the story itself, my brother seems to have a passionate dislike for it, and I’m not sure why. To quote him, when he saw I was watching it he said “Oh, the Mind of Evil…wank, wank, wank”. If that’s not Scottish Disdain then I don’t know what is.

Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil Review: What’s This One About?

The Master – posing as the Swiss Scientist Emile Keller – has donated a machine to a British Prison that removes the evil impulses of the prisoners’ minds. Well…I say removes, but the truth is it feeds on them. And it’s quite a handy machine, capable of tuning in on a person’s greatest fears and using that to kill them. So for example, someone who is afraid of water would drown in a dry room thanks to the machine, or someone with a fear of rats would die from being attacked by imaginary rats that actually leave claw marks on the person’s body.

The Doctor meets the Kellar Machine at the end of Episode 3.

No, that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

Also, the machine is capable of teleportation.

Anyway, apart from that, in a seemingly unrelated and yet convenient turn of events, the Master helps the prisoners take over the prison and uses them to hijack a nuclear missile which is being transported to its destruction by UNIT while there just so happens to be a World Peace Conference going on at the same time.

Thoughts – What’s The Point of The Keller Machine?

As you can see from what I’ve just written, there are a few different strands going on here, and they don’t really link up all that well. The machine is at the prison and the prison is where the Master plans on operating his Missile Grab from, but the machine and missile story-lines are unrelated. If anything, the Kellar Machine is a hindrance to the Master more than a help.

What he plans on doing with the machine is never really explained and even if he did have a plan it was pretty quickly ruined by the fact that the machine was out of control from

The Doctor & Joe meet the Kellar Machine at the End of Episode 4

about midway through Episode 2.

So that whole thing was a bit weird.

Really, this story was about the Master helping organise a Prison takeover. The Keller Machine only comes into play whenever there is a cliffhanger, and I would consider that to be a problem. As the story develops the Keller Machine is just the proverbial elephant in the (other) room that doesn’t in any way contribute to the development of the plot, and yet because Doctor Who has to have a cliffhanger every 23 minutes, the Doctor would incongruously just waltz back into the room where it is to nearly be killed again.

In fact, the breakdown of cliffhangers is

  1. The Doctor gets confronted by the Keller Machine
  2. A Chinese Guy gets confronted by the Keller Machine – remotely
  3. The Doctor gets confronted by the Keller Machine again
  4. The Doctor and Jo get confronted by the Keller Machine
  5. The Doctor gets a gun pulled on him (yay!)

And don’t think that’s all. In the absence of a Keller Machine cliffhanger in Episode 5, they have scenes with it either side of the conclusion.

That’s pretty lazy writing. Still, the Kellar Machine music is iconic, so that’s something.

A Very British Prison Break

The Doctor tries to stop the Kellar Machine in Episode 5 (have you spotted the recurring theme yet?)

As for the Prison Break storyline…well it’s all very British. If you’re a reader of my other blog posts you’ll know I’m currently watching Prison Break, and to say there’s a difference in the way the Prisoners act is an understatement. Not that that’s a bad thing. I actually think William Marlowe is superb as Mailer.

You can tell he’s a villain – a ruthless rogue – but he plays it with that wonderful Britishness that you could only get from a pre-80s BBC show. I think he’s supposed to be a bit common, but he’s still better spoken than most of the people on TV these days. He plays his part very well against both Delago and Pertwee and best of all, he plays his sense of underlying fear against the Keller process and Barnham superbly.

But just for a moment, I want you to imagine his part replaced by Robert Knepper’s Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell. Wouldn’t that just be amazing?

The Regular Cast and the Way They Play Off Each Other

So far I’ve written mainly negative stuff about the Mind of Evil as a story, but despite those flaws I like it very much. The reason for that is down to the way the regular cast play off each other.

Everything works. The Doctor has varied and deep relationships with Jo, The Brigadier and the Master, The Brigadier works brilliantly alongside Yates & Benton and the Master

And no, this isn’t the same as the picture from the end of Episode 4; this is Jo & the Doctor meeting the Keller Machine in Episode 6.

seems to work well with everyone.

My favourite of those relationships is definitely the Doctor & The Master. They play off each other as mortal enemies and yet they are just as easily able to work together, like when they join forces to try to harness the Keller Machine.

Just like in Terror of the Autons, they seem to not mind too much when the other is winning their proverbial game of chess and you can believe that there’s a long backstory between them. Certainly you can appreciate that they probably used to be good friends.

The writers have to take credit for it as well, but mostly it’s down to the chemistry between Pertwee and Delgado. Already you can tell that it would have been a far better conclusion to the Master had he been killed off saving the Doctor at the end of Pertwee’s reign, as was the plan before Delgado’s unfortunate and untimely death. At the very least we’d have been saved from a load of crap JNT Era stories as well as John Sim’s ‘Wackyness’. But then we wouldn’t have got that 90 seconds worth of Derek Jacobi…

Random Observations

  • The first thing to ask is how much time has passed between the Terror of the Autons and this story? Based on the fact the Master hasn’t been able to travel in his TARDIS, it has to be at least a couple of years to allow time for him to have set everything up with the Keller process. If that is the case I like that, because sometimes you get the feeling the passing of time in Doctor Who is too rapid. As I’ve said before, if you actually time it, the Fifth Doctor only lasted about two-and-a-half weeks in real-time before regenerating.
  • You knew I was going to say this…why is the Doctor afraid of Koquillian? And a Sensorite? And a Zarbi too? But most of all Koquillian and a Sensorite!
  • And why was his initial ‘greatest fear’ Fire before changing to a variety of inoffensive monsters?
  • I actually wish the story did exist in Colour now to see if they used colour photos of those old monsters (Writers Note in 2014: They didn’t. I was gutted)
  • And I see at this point they haven’t completely forgotten how to do a Dalek voice.
  • Barnham is a wonderfully unnerving simpleton. I’ve already mentioned the way Mailer reacts to him, but Benton also reacts amusingly. Best of all though is the Brigadier’s reaction. He just stares at him with a mixture of confusion and contempt before turning back to the Doctor and asking who the hell he is. That bit cracks me up every time.
  • Speaking of Barnham, I didn’t like the way they killed him off. For one thing it seemed like it was for the sake of it and for another thing, that he died from the Master lightly bumping him while starting up his van made no sense.

    And just for a change, here’s Nicholas Courtney providing the definite facial expression for a combination of confusion and contempt.

  • Also, there’s a great line in Episode Six where – before the cut away from Jo looking after Barnham – she asks him “What’s your other name”. Totally random.
  • I also love the Brigadier’s ‘Common Man’ act.
  • One other thing – and it’s another one of these issues that bugs me in all of TV. There’s a scene where Barnham has to stay with the Keller Machine to nullify its threat, and Doctor Summers comes in to get take him away. Rather than calmly and concisely explain why Barnham has to be there, Jo just starts shouting ‘No, you can’t’ at him. If she had done the former, there would be no problem. But that sort of thing happens an awful lot in TV generally.

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil Review: Final Thoughts

So my brother doesn’t like this story, but I do. I can see the issues with it and I can appreciate them, but I think the quality of the performances from the ensemble cast more than make up for it.

But from a plot point of view, it does leave a bit to be desired.

Still…it’s worth a couple of hours of your time.


4 Responses to Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil Review (or ‘A Very British Prison Break’)

  1. Aidan says:

    I do wonder whether I would like this story as much as I do if it had survived in color as the black and white look really does lend this story a grittier atmosphere. There are, as you point out, lots of very valid points against this one but somehow – in spite of those points – I enjoy it anyway.

  2. Zaphod says:

    It’s great fun to watch and I think it is fine in black and white.

  3. Darren says:

    You can take a look at the colour restored frames from these episodes here:
    Darn clever these boffins!

  4. […] From Space Doctor Who And The Silurians The Ambassadors Of Death Inferno Terror Of The Autons The Mind Of Evil The Claws Of Axos Colony In Space The Daemons Day Of The Daleks The Curse Of Peladon The Sea Devils […]

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