Doctor Who (Classic): S06E02 “The Mind Robber”

Season 6
Directed by David Maloney
Written by Derrick Sherwin (Episode 1), Peter Ling

Welcome back to classic coverage of Doctor Who and where we last left off (not counting a brief detour into THE FUTURE), I was just wrapping up where I had left off in my initial run through the show.  The point where I had stopped to restart the series and do these reviews here.

The last episode ended with the new volcano erupting on Dulkis and the Doctor and his companions narrowly escaping with the help of an emergency unit that moves the TARDIS out of the time-space dimension and out of reality.  They are transported into the unknown and when they check the scanner, Jamie and Zoe each see their where they grew up.  Yet, when Zoe is tempted out (and Jamie who chases after her), all they find is blank walls.  Back inside the TARDIS, though there’s something that keeps trying to break into their heads, a power that grows more and more overwhelming until the TARDIS explodes.

That first act for the serial certainly has some cheesy acting, mental attacks are almost always ridiculous when depicted even in much higher budgeted film than this, but it’s the first first episode cliffhanger in a while to feel fresh.  It’s a more experimental episode that is unlike the rest of the story, but it does set it up perfectly.  The episodes here are than shorter than normal, running 21 minutes for the first two before dropping down to 19 minutes for the next two and 18 for the finale and that quick pace is welcome here since it all does get rather silly.

The three are all split up with an unseen force watching over them and charting their progress.  The Doctor is tested with riddles by schoolchildren while Jamie gets turned into a cardboard cutout which The Doctor mistakenly puts the wrong face on (magically transforming him into another actor) to get around Frazier Hines having chicken pox.  It allows Hamish Wilson to play him in the second episode (and part of the third) and it emphasizes how much of Jamie’s role is in Hines’s performance since replacement Jamie is painful to watch.  The lines are all recognizably his, but his performance is so broad and forced.

The whole serial is more cerebral and full of puzzles including a maze, but too often, the middle is awful repetitive with too much of the same situation of introduce fictional character, have them attack, one person believes they are real while the other doesn’t, unbelieve them away.  It doesn’t matter if it is the Medusa, a unicorn, a superhero, or a minotaur, the basic setup and payoff is essentially the same each time.  The variety in villains, while a nice change from the usual set up, is an illusion.  That being said, watching Zoe wrestle a random superhero type while wearing her shiny skin tight catsuit was certainly an amusing sight and there’s some charm to be had in the intervening chapters.

The whole place is a world of fictional characters who only exist so long as the Doctor and his companions believe they exist.  It is powered by an aging author from Earth who has been kept prisoner and brainwashed to help imagine the world into existence and The Doctor is desired to replace him in the role.  It all sets up a final storytelling battle in the final episode that is fantastic, bringing in even more characters and creating a tense, even battle of the minds in the final moments.   It’s ridiculous, but in the way the show excels at leading up to its conclusion where the villain is literally defeated by just hitting buttons randomly.  It’s also probably the most juvenile serial of the show to date, even more so than when it was ostensibly trying to be a children’s program.  It’s uneven, but the quick pace and book-ending episodes make it worth a watch.

Grade: B-

Stray Observations

– Frazier Hines’s brother Ian has a small role as a toy soldier
– The fictional characters who appear in all are Gulliver, Rapunzel, Medusa, D’Artagnan, Sir Lancelot, Cyrano de Bergerac, Blackbeard, the Minotaur, and the doubly fictitious Karkus (being that he is a work of fiction within a work of fiction
Little Women also gets a shout out in the form of a passage read from it
– The robots were used twice before they made their debut as servants of the computer and the Master of Fiction.  They originated on a show called Out of the Unknown as well as appearing in an episode of Thirty-Minute Theater
– No one actually dies in this serial, the first time since “Fury from the Deep” and only the third time overall
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The computer and fictional world self-destruct and the TARDIS reconstructs itself as The Doctor, his companions, and a no longer mind controlled Master of Fiction huddle together hoping for the best.

Next Up: Three weeks from now coverage continues with “The Invasion”, but more importantly, on October 7th, I will be starting up coverage of new episodes of Doctor Who, posting reviews after they air in the US.  As to what time threads will go up, they will go up when the reviews are finished, there will be no live threads posted though I will try to get them up as soon as possible after the episode ends *curses the BBC for starting Doctor Who back up in October*.