MindwarpBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

It is said by some that an infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite amount of typewriters will eventually reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare; one can only guess therefore at how few monkeys with how few typewriters it would take to reproduce 'The Trial of a Time Lord' Episodes Five to Eight, also known as 'Mindwarp'. I'd been rather enjoying 'The Trail of a Time Lord' on this reviewing, until I was forced to sit through this tripe, which is to Season Twenty-Three what a cheese-grater is to a penis. 

Before I launch into an attack on the main body of this dross, I'll discuss the overall impact it has on the actual trial. In this regard, it actually has some merit; the decision by the Time Lords to remove the Doctor from time and space at the critical moment that they choose, and their rather dubious reasons for doing so (that Crozier's experiments pose a threat to the future of evolution throughout the universe) adds to the growing suspicion that they have an ulterior motive for placing the Doctor on trial. Indeed, the end of Episode Eight sees a furious Doctor announcing, "No, there's something else going on here… I was taken out of time for another reason and I have every intention of finding out what it is". As the Valeyard's assault on the Doctor becomes ever more vicious, it also becomes even clearer that his real motivation runs far deeper than a desire for justice, and the realization by the Doctor that the evidence presented by the supposedly infallible Matrix is being tampered with adds further intrigue. 

In addition to the plot developments, both Jayston and Baker continue to impress in the trial segments, and whilst Baker is often accused of being particularly hammy in Season Twenty-Three, I still like his Doctor here. The look of relief on his face at the start of Episode Eight when the Valeyard tells him that Peri is still alive is impressively performed and of course has extra poignancy with foreknowledge of Peri's apparent demise. Baker also conveys anger well during the episode's climax, as noted above. Unfortunately however, there are two problems with the trial segments during these episodes; the first is that Philip Martin's diabolical script extends to the courtroom, with lines as bad as "This is… not a debating society for maladjusted psychotic sociopaths", and the Valeyard's embarrassing description of the next piece of evidence as the Doctor's latest "frightening adventure". Worst still, the trial scenes become deeply intrusive here, distracting from the action on Thoros-Beta (hang on, what am I saying? This can only be a good thing, surely?). By the time that the Doctor and Peri enter the caves and have been attacked by the Raak, there have already been three trial scenes. And there's another straight after the Raak's death. 

Anyway, onto 'Mindwarp' itself. There are many promising elements in 'Mindwarp'; with sea-monsters augmented so that they can operate machinery, a wolf-man who cries for help, and the notion of brain transplantation against the body donor's wishes, the potential body horror here could rival that of 'Revelation of the Daleks' and more appropriately, 'The Brain of Morbius'. Unfortunately, after the eighteen-month hiatus, Doctor Who had its teeth pulled, and what we actually get is a gaudy sub-pantomime runaround. Fans of this story might point out that 'The Horns of Nimon' is a gaudy sub-pantomime runaround and that I like that, but 'The Horns of Nimon' is amusing whereas this is just facile. It doesn't help that the plot is actually very slight and there is bugger all else to compensate; everyone spends four episodes either working to save Kiv, or chasing up and down corridors, and it's always a bad sign when what is effectively a four-episode story drags interminably. 

The weak plot is undermined still further by the diabolic script. It's hard to believe that Philip Martin would follow the excellent 'Vengeance on Varos' with such tepid scribbling, unless I suppose you've read the almost unbelievably silly 'Mission to Magnus', in which case you might just conclude that Martin is the Doctor Who writer equivalent of a one-hit wonder. The jury's out until I hear Big Finish's 'The Creed of the Kromon', but it's not currently looking good for Martin. In addition to the crass dialogue that blights the courtroom scenes, here we get lines such as "nobody likes brain alteration" and "stop gyrating your throat". And of course almost every piece of scripted dialogue that Yrcanos gets, but I'll come to that later on.

What can salvage is a slight plot is decent characterisation complemented by good acting. Sadly, there is little of either here. The Doctor's apparent treachery throughout Episodes Six and Seven might be intriguing, were it not for the fact that Colin Baker delivers his worst performance in the role to date, and here he really is hammy. He delivers the line "Now I'm just like you Sil" with an painfully exaggerated grin, and his brutal interrogation of Peri, which could have been disturbing, is actually so embarrassing that, in defiance of all probability, it makes me fondly yearn for 'The Twin Dilemma'. Then there's Sil. It's hard to believe that the character who was so effective in 'Vengeance on Varos' is here reduced to mere comic relief, and it's doubly unfortunate since 'Mindwarp' is about as amusing as receiving bill from the Inland Revenue. His sadistic gloating over the Doctor at the end of Episode Five is rather good, but aside from that he does nothing except kiss Kiv's arse and deliver witless lines, and although Nabil Shaban seems to be enjoying himself, I find that I am not. And the redesigned costume he gets is a bit crap too. 

Elsewhere in the acting stakes, we are presented with the really rather discomforting fact that in a story filled with silent black slaves, every non-white actor cast here is really, really bad. Trevor Laird's Frax and Alibe Parsons' Matrona Kari are both incredibly wooden, whilst Gordon Warnecke's Tuza is merely trying far too hard. Meanwhile, Patrick Ryecart is often praised for his dignified portrayal of Crozier, but he's far too laid back to be convincing, except during Episode Eight when he rants about how he has discovered the secret of immortality, at which point he delivers his lines in such a way that he sounds like he's gargling with shit. Which considering the script, is in a sense true I suppose. It also doesn't help that silliness surrounds his character; he's the most unconvincing surgeon ever, as he sips tea in the middle of operations, and allows his clearly confused patient to attend business meetings minutes after having brain surgery. It also strikes me as a bit of a leap from brain transplants to mind transference, although as they are both currently the stuff of science fiction I perhaps shouldn't quibble. 

Fortunately, Nicola Bryant does reasonably well out her final story, forced to strike out on her own once the Doctor seemingly betrays her, and she gets some great moments such as when she knees Frax in the groin and of course her constant placating of Yrcanos. Bryant also does well with Peri's death scene (I'll talk about massive cop-outs when I get to Episodes Thirteen and Fourteen in case anyone is wondering), managing to seem reasonably sinister once Kiv takes up residence in her body, and seeming genuinely frightened as Crozier and Matrona Kari prepare her for the operation beforehand. She even manages to come out of the dire scene in which she teaches Yrcanos about love without too much embarrassment. Which brings me, inevitably, to Brian Blessed. 

Brian Blessed is a great actor. I know this, because I've seen the Avengers episode 'The Superlative Seven'. Unfortunately since appearing as Richard IV in Blackadder, he's been typecast as an over-the-top, shouting, eye-rolling buffoon. Which is exactly how he plays Yrcanos in 'Mindwarp'. So astonishingly hammy is Blessed here that he makes me remember Stephen Thorne with fondness, as he bellows his way through a script that has him uttering such verbal diarrhoea as "Vroomnik!" and "Slugs!" at every opportunity. Amusingly, Peri at one point tells Yrcanos that he'd like Earth because it is full of "lots of actors playing over the top" (incidentally, for some reason Peri's introduction of herself as "Perpugilliam of the Brown" always puts me in mind of the South Park episode in which the kids discover the fabled "brown note"). Every time Blessed flares his eyes and nostrils, I cringe, and every time he grabs somebody's lapels and shakes them I, erm, also cringe. It is a truly horrendous performance that must rank amongst the worst in the series' history. 

As for the production, the fact that director Ron Jones fails to elicit any decent performances from his actors whatsoever tells you all you need to know. On the other hand, the sets are quite well designed and I also rather like Richard Hartley's incidentally score, which often seems to get panned by critics, although, as with Glynn's score for 'The Mysterious Planet', it frequently becomes intrusive. There isn't anything else really worth mentioning, except the hideous costumes. It's a sign of how tacky things are that Matroni Kari, an assistant during a surgical procedure, is dressed as a cheap hooker. But then I suppose this is appropriate to the story really; rather like the special effects used to colour the surface of Thoros-Beta, 'Mindwarp' is crass, tacky and a complete waste of time and money.

FILTER: - Television - Series 23 - Sixth Doctor