The Mind RobberBookmark and Share

Monday, 6 September 2004 - Reviewed by Joe Ford

Every season of Doctor Who has a class act in it, one that shines above the rest despite how good the rest are. Troughton Who is a little more fortunate than the rest, in his last season he was graced with three absolute belters, The Invasion, The War Games and this (and people say it was his weakest year! Hah!) and it pains me to tell you that The Mind Robber just edges those two out for the top spot (by the merest smidgeon). 

It is an acknowledged classic, you see it turning up in top ten polls all the time and I have yet to see anybody have the audacity to pan it (now there’s an invitation if I ever I heard one…). Following on from the awkward and dreadfully slow The Dominators just what is it about this story that tickles everybody’s toes…

Personally I blame the sound FX. Huh? The sound FX! Aren’t they fab in this story? Just listen to the creaky, electronic hum the White Robots make…they might already by fairly menacing in appearance but with this nerve tickling noise tacked on they make an instant impression. And how about those Toy Soldiers? Brr…that harsh, gear grinding noise every time they get close…I watched it this morning with all the lights off and was scared witless. Even more subtle sound FX, the alien hum that penetrates the TARDIS, the creaking door as Zoe peers inside, the Master Brain as it grips the Masters mind and gives him instructions…some times a Doctor Who budget cannot convincingly wring all of the atmosphere out of the script and the sound FX and music have to give it a push, the sound design for this story is nothing short of amazing and injects a lot of tension and fantasy into the finished production. 

Even better the story seems to have been supplied with a limitless budget because although the story demands a lot from the production team they manage to magic up a startling number of convincing sets, costumes and genuinely impressive FX. How can anybody forget the TARDIS snapping open in space? Or the console flying through the vortex with Jaime and Zoe clinging to edge? The sets too are extraordinarily detailed; I adore the maze set with all the flickering candles and cobwebs but they also manage to pull off an exterior fairytale castle with terrific scope. And all the fairytale characters look authentic, the BBC always excel at costume drama and creating the likes of Gulliver, Sir Lancelot, Blackbeard is a piece of cake. 

Or maybe is just the way director David Maloney puts it all together, his polished direction is the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned. An A-list director with the likes of Camfield, Harper and Maritinus, he refuses to let the story sink into whimsy and continually gives it a delicious edge, despite the absurdities the story throws at us we are convinced there is real danger. There are too many scenes to list that make me glow with affection, the aforementioned TARDIS explosion, the shot of Medusa in the mirror, Jaime scaling the walls of the castle, the close up on the White Robots eyes as they destroy everything in the final episode…it is a visual treat, never failing to satisfy. And may I just mention that regularly mocked Mintoaur scene is outstandingly directed, in the hands of a less talented man this could have been farcical but with only the briefest of glimpse at the costume (because it’s the ONE costume that is rubbish), scary growls and close ups of the Doctor and Zoe backed into a corner filled with skulls as a shadow grows over them…it is supremely dramatic in the strangest of ways. 

It would be a little unfair to Peter Ling to suggest that the hastily written first episode is the best of the bunch because his four episodes in the world of fiction are full of magic and spellbinding action. But that initial episode is a joy to be sure, one of the most atmospheric openers ever (and given episode one of any story is pretty wonderful) and a tense exercise in working with very little. It’s the old Who adage, the imagination soars because the budget lacks, the imagery conjured up is some of the scariest in the shows history (Jaime and Zoe zombified and treated with positive/negative effects, the TARDIS swamped by molten lava, the ship exploding…) and easily the most surreal. 

But all the clever starts in episode two and the writing is clearly the work of an extremely imaginative mind. Tricks such as the face changing game to escape the horror of Frazer Hines going ill. The forest they are hiding in constructed off words which form sayings. Zoe trapped in jam jar! The picture writing. The unicorn…and that’s just in one episode! Things get more and more insane as we meet all number of characters from fiction (Medusa coming alive is a supremely scary moment), lots of lovely tricks crop up (“It doesn’t exist!”) and the story refuses to compromise its fantasy nature, climaxing in a classic era moment when the Doctor and the Master conjour up all manner of fiction characters to fight each other and rescue/kill Jaime and Zoe. It is one of the least predictable stories I have watched, once you accept that ANYTHING can happen you just sit back and let it wash over you. 

Of course this review has been stalling this moment, the secret weapon behind The Mind Robber and why it is so damn watchable (and why it could never be repeated again despite many ‘oddball’ attempts)….the Doctor, Jaime and Zoe. What a trio, so relentlessly entertaining the five episodes are like a breath of fresh air. They are like three hyperactive children, wrapped up in each other’s company and living the thrill of their adventures together to the full. I can’t think of any other regulars I would love travel with more. 

Whereas The Enemy of the World contained Troughton’s best and most versatile performance, The Mind Robber is his best ‘Doctor’ performance by a million miles. Maybe it is just because we can watch this story in full but you get a real chance to see how much he gave to the show. He is breathlessly active throughout, every line a comedic gem, every movement impossible to drag your eyes away from to see just what he will do next. Troughton never stops entertaining, you can see why he was so tired after each story what with his puffing and shouting and laughing and pouting. 

“That noise…that vibration…it’s alien…”

“No no no no no no! Not both together one at a time!” 

“Would you mind taking that pop gun away it does unsettle me so!?” 

“If we step outside the TARDIS we will enter a dimension of which we know nothing. We shall be at the mercy of the forces…”

“I have yet to see a robot that can climb!” 

(and most brilliant of all…)

“But all the power had been used on the Soldiers and it was useless! Ooh you’ll have to do better than that!”

Jaime and Zoe are such fun and work just as well apart as they do together. This the first real classic Zoe gets and it exploits all of her strengths and failings. She was daft to leave the TARDIS in the void and to leap to her death in the darkened house (and even worse is her monumentally stupid moment where she walks through the castle detector beams) but who could imagine the story without her and the Doctor being all brainy in the tunnels and leaving Jaime out or her hysterical tussle with the Karkus…Wendy Padbury is divine in this, her scream as shrill as they come and she is clearly full of enthusiasm for the story. What a cutie. 

Talking of cuties…Jaime! Now I promised myself I would never, ever use this word but somehow it seems embarrassingly apt…phwoar! How gorgeous does he look in that black top? Plus Frazer Hines is playing the role to excellent comedic effect; his face every time the Doctor tells him to shut up so he can discuss something brainy with Zoe is priceless. Despite Hamish Wilson’s fabulous attempts to fill his shoes for an episode I was beaming when Frazer returned in part three. His delivery of some of the lines is priceless (“Whose the yahoos!”). 

Their chemistry is delightful; the fun they are sharing beams from the screen and envelopes the audience. Simon is not very fond of black and white Who but was captured halfway through episode one and watched the whole thing with me declaring his love for Jaime, his affection for the Doctor and clasping his ears every time Zoe let out another ear piercer. 

Maybe the story is bit anti-climatic (pressing a few buttons is hardly a spectacular dénouement) but it is the journey that matters and the truth of the matter is that The Mind Robber entertains for five dazzling episodes, it makes you laugh (“For heavens sake don’t do anything rash!”), it clutches your imagination (“You did this before! That’s how Jaime’s face got changed you got it all wrong!”) and frightens you too (the book closing on Jaime and Zoe is the most terrifying things I have ever seen, it still chills me to this day!). 

And as an example of what Troughton is capable of, the story is worthy of an Oscar.

FILTER: - Television - Second Doctor - Series 6