Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Second Doctor’s week, featuring Tomb of the Cybermen and The Mind Robber. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Second Doctor, also look at the War Games.
The Mind Robber is the second story of Season 6 of Doctor Who. It was the first story which David Maloney directed, and the first to feature the Land of Fiction.
The most interesting Doctor Who episodes are usually the weird ones, which is why I found The Mind Robber particularly compelling. Escaping from a volcanic eruption, the Doctor activates an emergency unit which moves the TARDIS out of time and space into a void of nothing. This is the first thing I found interesting – the concept of nothingness. It’s a tough one, because even imagining “nothing”, we (or at least I) picture something akin to the blackness of space. However, even that is “something”, so is real “nothing” actually possible? These philosophical discussions are put aside in favour of odd White Robots, but that’s okay.
Jamie and new, sparkly 21st century companion Zoe are lured outside into the nothingness, which is really more of a big white room, and the Doctor manages to get them back to the TARDIS, but before they can return to “reality”, the TARDIS explodes. And to the Land of Fiction they go. It’s a great concept, and a great way to work in all kinds of beings, including a unicorn, Gulliver, Rapunzel, and the Karkus, a comic strip character from “the year 2000”. Zoe gets to do some fighting and yells at the Doctor a little, which gets her my vote of approval. Eventually it turns out the Land of Fiction is being controlled by a Master Brain which is also controlling the Master (not the same Master who is the Doctor’s nemesis), a human writer who is the source of the creativity.
All in all, a fascinating idea which is at times downright spookily executed, and near the end, the Master and Doctor have an interesting fictional battle featuring Blackbeard, D’Artagnan, Sir Lancelot and Cyrano. It’s a good time.
If there were any episodes from the classic Doctor Who which influenced Steven Moffat’s writing of the new Doctor Who stories, The Mind Robber would certainly have to be among them. It is a very strange story, a little bit drawn out, but still very well written, and also rather unnerving. Another good Second Doctor story, again as it is complete, and also because it is well constructed. As an interesting aside, it received poor reception at the time because it was considered far too scary and unnerving for children to watch at the time.
The story is primarily set in the Land of Fiction, after the TARDIS has an emergency unit take the ship away from danger by moving it out of reality itself. After the adventurers step outside the TARDIS, things start to get very strange and eerie. Fantastical creatures, including unicorns, Medusa and “future” comic book characters, come to both aid and harm the companions, and a world of riddles keeps the companions constantly having to be on the move. Behind it all is a mysterious Master (not to be confused with the Time Lord who calls himself the Master, who appears as a Third Doctor villain), who seems to be able to see the companions every move. Although the plot could probably have been shortened down to a four-part story, it was still quite well written ,with everything explained quite neatly at the end.
An interesting occurrence in this episode was due to an actor issue. Jamie’s actor became ill, which necessitated a replacement actor, with some quick screenwriting covering up this change. In the story, it works quite well: Jamie’s face disappears and the Doctor must reassemble it. Spoiler: he gets it wrong. Considering it is the Land of Fiction, it makes more sense than had it been in the real universe. As an amusing aside, the war cry that Jamie yells before his face changes is loosely translated from Scottish Gaelic to mean “vodka and tonic”. There is a different companion from Tomb of the Cybermen: 21st century Zoe replaces Victoria. She is much feistier than Victoria was in Tomb of the Cybermen, and isn’t impressed when the Doctor forgets what Jamie’s face looked like.
As another interesting aside, The Mind Robber may be a dream sequence. The Doctor falls asleep almost at the beginning of the episode, after which point everything goes haywire. In the original script it was also supposed to be very heavily hinted at, with blurred camera shots. The following episode, The Invasion also was supposed to start with the Doctor asleep in his chair, whilst the TARDIS takes itself away from danger. Whilst it is up to the viewer to decide if the events were real or imagined, it is still an interesting concept, and may have influenced Steven Moffat’s episode in the 11th Doctor series involving the “Dream Lord” character.
Stay tuned for next week’s instalment of Doctor Who Sunday – we’re looking at Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) episodes Spearhead From Space and Sea Devils.