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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

“Well, we’re nowhere. It’s as simple as that.”

When I first saw ‘The Mind Robber’ at the wee age of very small I thought it was absolutely brilliant. An atmospheric and fantastical tale filled with some unforgettable imagery. But I eventually grew up and with age comes cynicism. Now I can’t help seeing ‘The Mind Robber’ for what it really is; a load of old surrealist nonsense that could’ve only ever been produced in the 1960s.

That’s not to say ‘The Mind Robber’ is bad. The first episode is a triumph as the Doctor and his companions find themselves trapped in an empty void, haunted by strange visions and hounded by mysterious white robots. It’s a brilliantly low key and unsettling episode culminating in one of the series’ greatest cliff-hangers; the breaking up of the Tardis.

Visually the whole story is faultless. David Maloney, ones of the classic series' best directors, proves that just because you’ve got less than a child’s pocket money for a budget doesn’t mean that things have to look shabby. There are some brilliant ideas and fantastic images on display here such as the giant toy soldiers, the forest of words and a castle that’s fairy tale on the outside but sci-fi on the inside. Special mention must go to the BBC sound department for creating some truly unnerving soundscapes.

But there simply isn’t enough story material to sustain all five episodes. What starts out as surreal and atmospheric quickly becomes wearisome and infuriating by episode three. Once our heroes end up in the Land of Fiction they seem to aimlessly roam around, going from one tiresome puzzle to another before finally coming face to face with the rather lacklustre end of level baddie, the Master (no, not that one). And in the end he’s just the puppet of an unseen power with an absurdly convoluted scheme to, surprise, conquer the earth.

With only a few token sci-fi elements this is probably the closest Doctor Who has ever come to being pure fantasy, which is part of the problem. Since nothing is real there’s no threat, no tension. Anything that might harm our heroes, including a variety of mythical beasties, is easily vanquished by doing a unified Victor Meldrew impression (“We don’t believe it! We don’t believe it!”).

That said, the climactic battle of wits between the Doctor and the Master, involving an ever changing roster of literary swashbucklers, is terrific. But then things get muddle and confusing, stuff starts blowing up and before you’ve even got the foggiest idea what is going on the Doctor and co are saying ‘cheerio’ and are off to their next adventure as if nothing had ever happened.

Notes and Quotes

--In their battle The Doctor and the Master summon up Cyrano de Bergerac, D'Artagnan and Blackbeard. All three were based on real people.

--The forest of words looks more impressive when seen from ground level rather than from above.

--The Episode 1 cliff-hanger is an exceptional sequence but is still best remembered for the cameraman taking a nice long leer at Zoe’s bum. Sadly, for those with an appreciation for the male form, there are no gratuitous shots up Jamie’s kilt.

--The Karkus has to be the naffest superhero I’ve ever seen, and I've seen some naff ones in my many years of reading comics. The name is bad enough (as is the wandering accent) but that costume is truly absurd. I do love it when Zoe goes all Emma Peel on his ass, however, despite some rubbish fight choreography.

--Jamie’s unexpected change of appearance (and regional accent) was a last minute addition after Frazer Hines contracted chicken pox.

The Doctor: "Well, there is an emergency unit, but, oh no, I can’t possibly use that."
Zoe: "But this IS an emergency."
The Doctor: "It moves the Tardis out of the time-space dimension, out of reality."
Jamie: "Fine, reality’s getting too hot, anyway."

Zoe: "We're lost, aren't we."
Jamie: "No, I wouldn't say that. We're just er... well...um... You want to know something?"
Zoe: "What?"
Jamie: "I think we're lost."

Gulliver: "What became of my companions I cannot tell. They were all lost."
The Doctor: "Oh my dear sir, you and I are in the same boat."
Gulliver: "You have a stout ship?"

The Master: "We have no wish to destroy them, just... adjust their minds to suit our purposes."
The Doctor: "Sausages! Man will just become like a string of sausages, all the same!"

Gulliver: "We obey our creator, that is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise."

Two and a half Victor Meldrew impressions out of four.
--
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with this one, after watching it on netflix recently I was left with the feeling that I must have ingested some type of L.S.D and read some type of metaphysical 60's "you are in your own mind" tripe. Than being said gotta love the doctor and company chewing scenery in this one. I would go 1 out of 5 as a rating.

KennyTeeology said...

I noticed that this Doctor tends to "hide" behind Zoe whenever the toy soldiers or robots threaten the group. This Doctor also has Zoe go ahead of him while traveling through the labyrinth - after all, there might be a trap ;) To be fair, Zoe does give that comic-strip guy a whooping.