Delightfully surreal. Delightfully cool.
That pretty well summarises this classic "oddball story". Long before the bizarre tales of the McCoy era that were officially given this term by fandomn, we have "The Mind Robber". A tale that was years ahead of its time. Of course, it's still not the first true oddball story - that award goes to "Celestial Toymaker" but it's another fine example of just how great the series can be when the writers are allowed to just let their imaginations totally run wild.
Atmosphere and imagery have a huge role to play in this story. And most of the tone here is creepy. Really creepy, actually. Possibly some of the most chilling moments the show has ever produced. And a lot of it is done very subtly which is what makes it even more unsettling. Nice little touches like the Master of the Land of Fiction chuckling evilly after the Doctor tosses the book into the wishing well. Every time I watch that, even though I know it's coming, it still gives me the slightest of shivers. And that's a testament to how well-crafted some of those sequences are.
The overall "flow" of the story is another great strongpoint. Aside from the first episode (which I will gripe about at some later juncture), the way the plot unfolds is masterfully executed. Intrigue and suspense are distributed in perfect measures. Along with neat liberal doses of comedy to offset things wonderfully. The fictional characters weave in and out of the tale at all the right moments. Sometimes helping the plot out, sometimes just adding atmosphere. It's all done so stylishly that you can't help but become completely engrossed with what your seeing.
Even the leads seem to notice that they've got a very special story on their hands and are putting a lot more into it than normal. And "normal" with the Doctor/Jamie/Zoe team is already superb. But here, they shine all the more brightly. Of particular noteworthiness is Troughton, himself. I love the way he's made the Doctor genuinely fearful throughout the tale. The moment he finds himself forced to activate the special device in the console, we see him become genuinely skittish. He's a well-travelled man but, for once, he's going somewhere he's never been before at all and has no clue what it will be like. And he doesn't like that. The way he jumps moments later when Zoe goes to see him in the engine room is a clear indicator of this. This sentiment continues throughout his journeys in the Land of Fiction. Only as he fully understands what this dimension is about and what the plans of the Master-Brain are, does he revert to his traditional hero status and take proper arms against his enemy. And it was a gorgeous touch for Troughton to put into his performance that gave the story that much more of an edge to it.
Now then, let's tackle my one little "beef" with the story. If memory serves, The Mind Robber wasn't originally meant to be a five-parter and that first episode was added on almost superfluously. It's not quite a total piece of annoying padding. There is, again, a sufficient dose of atmosphere and creepiness. And it almost manages to sustain the episode. But not quite. I get just a little bit tired of Jamie and Zoe seeing illusions of home over and over again in order to fill in those few extra minutes. I recall on my first viewing actually being a bit less receptive of the whole thing because we had to wait a whole episode before getting into the real meat of the story. And if it wasn't for a few minor plot points that are made in episode one, you can almost start watching the story from episode two onwards. And, in my book, this problem is a big enough "taint" on the story to stop it from receiving the status of "classic" that so many of you bestow upon it. It's still an amazing story, but the blatant padding of the extra episode does work a little too much to its detriment.
But, aside from that one problem, we really have a magnificent story. Like a lot of other great Who stories - it is loaded with moments in it that remain forever etched in one's memory. The children gathering around the Doctor to taunt him with riddles, Jamie's fights with the red coat, the first time we meet the Master of the Land of Fiction and, of course, the climactic battle toward the end with the Doctor and the Master using various fictional characters as pawns in a duel. And these are just a few of the stronger examples of such moments. The story is loaded with these kinds of sequences. Making the whole adventure truly fantastic and incredibly creative.
And, just to really make the story great, all of Gulliver's dialogue is taken right from the novel. It's like the writers didn't think they could just impress us with their imagination, they had to show they were willing to actually do some real research too. How's that for "icing on the cake"?!