6.2 – “The Mind Robber”
Escaping from Dulkis, the TARDIS crew are shifted sideways into the Land Of Fiction. Can The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë escape from the Clockwork Soldiers & White Robots, or will The Doctor be destined to become the new Master of the Land?
If any one classic series story could be seen as being New Who in tone, it’s this one. No, wait, hear me out before you join up with the Adric fans and create a lynch mob to hunt me down and do unspeakable things to me like cut my hair short or make me wear tracksuit bottoms. In this story, we see several ideas (albeit in a early form) that several New Who writers would go on to use (especially that virtual unknown Steven Moffat).
“The Mind Robber” is a little bit trippy, even for the 1960’s. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoë escape from a volcanic eruption on Dulkis, the Fluid Link on the TARDIS fails (always the way, eh?), causing The Doctor to use the emergency unit to take the TARDIS out of time/space dimension. This gives The Doctor time to repair the TARDIS yet all is not what it seems. The white void is calling to Jamie and Zoë and tempts them outside where they are met by the White Robots. The Doctor rescues them and moves the TARDIS elsewhere but it is under attack and soon explodes, leaving our heroes to float around in space, only to suddenly disappear into the fog. Split up, The Doctor finds Jamie (who now has a new face due to The Doctor getting a puzzle wrong) and Zoë and find themselves in a land of words, with school kids, a traveller, Greek myths and clockwork soldiers sent to help or hinder their travels in the Land of Fiction. Eventually, all leads to the lair of the Master (no, not that one) who reveals his plans – he wants The Doctor to take over from him so he can take over the Earth with mankind being trapped in the Land of Fiction. The Doctor and the Master engage in a battle of wills using all the literary characters they can muster to fight for them. In the confusion of the fighting, the White Robots attack and destroy the Master Brain Computer that controls the Land of Fiction. This event allows not only the poor writer to go home but also our three TARDIS crew members to escape back to the reformed TARDIS and carry on with their adventures.
So this story, although seeming to be a bit odd compared to the other stories of the era (“The Celestial Toymaker” is the only other story that comes close in terms of sheer bonkersness), it has several iconic scenes that stick in the minds of not only those who saw it in the 1960’s, but of fans who would see it later on in the 1980’s and 1990’s during repeats. The two that are burnt into fandom’s minds are the TARDIS exploding, leaving the TARDIS crew to float in the blackness of space. The other is, of course, Zoë’s bottom. I’ll let you take a moment to think upon that image. Go on, I’ll wait…done now? Good, I’ll continue. This story has several good cliff-hangers, such as Jamie and Zoë being trapped in the book and Medusa reaching out to The Doctor and Zoë. It shows that the writer of the story had a vast imagination and knowledge to fit together all of these disparate characters into one story. The mind who brought us this story is Peter Ling, in his only writing credit for the show.
It’s a shame that Peter Ling did not write any more stories as this one only shows us a glimpse of what he could have done for Jon Pertwee or even Tom Baker. What Ling brought to Doctor Who was something we take for granted in New Who but which was wonderfully imaginative and unique at the time – transforming ordinary harmless things into something sinister. Ling wrote into this story Clockwork Soldiers who relentlessly hunt our trio, Clockwork Soldiers being something a child may have owned as a toy in the 1960’s. This idea pops up again in New Who on two occasions, in Moffat’s “The Girl In The Fireplace” and Mark Gatiss’s “Night Terrors”. Ling also weaves classic icons of literature into the story, such as Gulliver, the Minotaur, Unicorns and others who children of the time would have read about at home or in school. He took what children of the day would’ve seen as normal & safe and turned them into totems of terror that could bring nightmares to their dreams. It’s something that we see Moffat and co doing all the time in New Who with statues, shadows and clocks, but the concept began here. Ling also blended the old of literacy with the new of technology, leading to the machine behind the scenes of the Land of Fiction in the Master’s lair, adding a science fiction element to this fantasy story.
This was the first directorial outing for David Maloney, who would go on to direct many stories from Classic Who and we can see some of his style coming through already. He makes do with the budgetary constraints Doctor Who stories were lumbered with at the time, such as taking the White Robots from another show and having them repainted yellow and grey so that they wouldn’t flair up on the cameras. “The Mind Robber” was originally a 4 parter but was made into 5 parts due to issues from the previous story “The Dominators”. Derrick Sherwin would step in to write a completely new episode 1 to fill the void. This extension of the story would normally make the story feel padded in any other circumstance yet, due to having to re-order the episodes, the timing of each episode was reduced to the 20 minute mark, meaning that the story flows quicker despite being 5 episodes long. It’s also gives us the first purely TARDIS based story with the main crew that we’ve seen since the first season story “Edge of Destruction”.
Now we get to the cast. For the best part of these 5 episodes, it is truly down to our three heroes of The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to lead the direction of the story. By this point they’ve now worked through several stories together and know how to play off each other; The Doctor and Jamie especially come off like an old married couple by this point. The additions to the cast come in episodes 2 & 3 with Hamish Wilson taking over as Jamie while Frazer Hines was off with Chicken Pox. He play’s his version of Jamie as well as could be expected for someone portraying a character that children (and adults) had grown to know over the previous two years. Also of note here is Bernard Horsfall playing Gulliver. Although the lines of Gulliver are written from the book, Horsfall doesn’t merely read them in a flat way but in such a way that makes you believe him to be Gulliver (or a very well read Chancellor Goth as the books would lead you to believe). Emrys Jones plays the Master Of The Land Of Fiction. His part is a double one, between that of the evil ruler and the old confused man taken from his own time. The others in the story play smaller parts and while they do help the flow, there isn’t much of an impact in their performance to distinguish them from one or another.
“The Mind Robber” is a rather interesting story to say the least, sometimes looked upon as being a bit too “out there”. Although suffering from production issues, the actual story and acting behind the characters is great and makes for some really good viewing. Despite being five episodes long, at no point does it feel padded like the previous story. In the end, “The Mind Robber” gets a solid 8/10 from me.
Written and edited by Alexander James Wilkinson