A less racist, more trippy take on The Toymaker and ultimately a literal write-off
Podcast: Play in new window | Embed
The Second Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, escape the volcanic eruption on Dulcis (and heartless mass-murder of all remaining Dulcian protagonists) by taking the TARDIS to The Land of Fiction, a parallel dimension of fictitious characters.
Controlling the parallel dimension is world-class plagiarist and alleged world-builder and writer of original works, The Master (not that Master), aka “The Master of the Land”. And controlling The Master (still not that Master) is a great intelligence (sort of like the Great Intelligence) and master-computer desiring world-domination (sort of like WOTAN) called The Master Brain.
The Master’s growing old, though, and wanting a fresh mind to take his place, The Master Brain now has its sights set on The Doctor.
Subscribe to us on iTunes now! We're dropping a new episode every week (pretty much), reviewing Classic Who, New Who and all kinds of bonus stuff from spin-offs and conventions to Doctor Who comic books.
Hello once again, podcast land! Today I’ve returned for another review! Today’s serial is “The Mind Robber”. I’m once again trying out a new format where I mix in facts with the review, just to keep things on the short side. So, without further ado, let’s begin!
A well-established drama series can afford to have a little fun and throw out the rulebook from time to time. And that’s especially true of Doctor Who, about which the show’s first producer Verity Lambert said, “You could do almost anything you wanted.” It’s this very flexibility of format that gives flight to The Mind Robber when it could have sunk like a brick, and makes it one of the great stories.
In an interview for Radio Times, even Wendy Padbury said, “That particular story was my favourite. It was very different from any other. It was so innovative and I just loved that. It was also quite scary, with toy soldiers, a forest of letters and the puzzles… it was a very interesting idea.”
Crossroads co-creator Peter Ling, who was subcontracted to write the story, suggested the move was something of a gamble by the Doctor Who script department. Perhaps it was, but sometimes a gamble results in the jackpot. What Ling brought to the adventure was an assertion that many fans of soap operas such as Crossroads are unable to separate character from actor – fiction from fact, in other words. It’s a wonderfully empowering premise.
But if the genesis was unusual, the evolution was traumatic. It was a six-part commission, slashed to a four-parter, before a rejigging of the preceding story, The Dominators, freed up an extra episode to be filled. Which is why script editor Derrick Sherwin ended up writing the opening episode of The Mind Robber (no writer was credited on screen for the only time in the programme’s history).
With the budget spent, however, all that remained were a few old props, the TARDIS set and the cunning of the writer. And despite its brevity, the opener is teasingly odd and unsettling, with its featureless landscape, a spooky pair of doppelganger companions, a genuinely anxious Doctor (“No, Jamie, no!”) the TARDIS disintegrating in the void, and the companions spin away, clutching the console as the Doctor spins off in another direction. Zoe’s screams make this cliffhanger even more eerie and unsettling. But I think the one thing everyone remembers is as Zoe and Jamie spin in the void, we get a glimpse of Zoe’s bottom in that catsuit. Really, ask anyone, and they’ll say that.
The humour is delightful, without whacking viewers over the head with it (a curse that made the show excruciating on other occasions). Examples here include Jamie’s exchange with a crestfallen Rapunzel, who tells him, “It’s a pity you’re not a prince: you’d have made rather a good one,” and Patrick Troughton’s magnificent “Sausages!” when telling the Master what his scheme will turn mankind into.
Then there’s Zoe’s tussle with the Karkus, who resembles a onetime opponent of Mick McManus. I keep expecting Kent Walton to introduce their bout with the words “Greetings, grapple fans”. I especially like the bit where Zoe kicks him up the arse. Their fight is such an astonishing event that Troughton looks absolutely dumbfounded, while Wendy Padbury is so out of breath she fluffs her next line.
Perhaps the Doctor isn’t at his brilliant best. Forgetting what Jamie looks like makes the Doctor appear uncharacteristically stupid, as does his volte-face regarding their whereabouts – after telling Jamie and Zoe the emergency unit will take the Tardis out of the space/time dimension, he later says, “Where in time and space am I?” But his climactic duel of wits with the Master – a kind of Neverending Story with freedom as the prize – more than makes up for this.
Nevertheless, The Mind Robber is brave, pioneering, mad television, and all the more praiseworthy for wading through the treacle of adversity to reach the screen. So, I think it will get a 3.55 from me. This story was so wonderfully strange, and I’m glad it survived the junkings intact. I really feel this story is underrated and comes in quite low on certain Top Who story lists, if it makes them at all. Many Season Six serials suffer from the problems the production crew had to go through as Troughton was on his way out, amongst other problems, such as with the aforementioned Dominators. But this serial made do with what it had, and I like that. I also liked the sharp left turn Episode 1 took as it ended. First time I watched the serial, I was thinking to myself “What? What the heck just happened?” as Jamie and Zoe hang onto the Console for dear life as it spins away into the darkness. Just so fantastic.
Next time, the TARDIS crew has returned to Earth, as the Doctor and co. uncover a sinister plot to invade the Earth. Now, the Doctor must race against time to defeat not only a madman who wants power, but one of his most feared enemies. But, he won’t be alone. Next time, “The Invasion”. See you soon!
> Forgetting what Jamie looks like makes the Doctor appear uncharacteristically stupid
I actually got a smile out of this; it reminded me of how Twelve is with faces: in “Last Christmas”, when Clara is old and wrinkled and white-haired, he can’t see the difference; later, when she restored to youth and asks “Am I young?”, the Doctor replies “No idea” and has to get a mirror so she can check for herself.
And this exchange from “The Caretaker”:
DANNY: I’m not a moron, Clara. And he’s not the caretaker. He’s your dad. Your space dad.
DOCTOR: Oh, genius. That is, that is really, really brilliant reasoning. How can you think that I’m her dad when we both look exactly the same age?
CLARA: We do not look the same age.
DOCTOR: I was being kind.
This serial is best described by three words: Really, really, trippy! This is the most outside the box episode thus far in Doctor Who. It is like The Celestial Toymaker, but done well. In my opinion this serial lays the groundwork for many episodes to come: the Fourth Doctor’s trip to E-Space, the entropy wave in Logopolis, the void during The Battle of Canary Wharf episodes, The Pandorica, the bubble universe in The Doctor’s Wife, The God Complex, and most recently Heaven Sent. I can’t say enough praise to this serial. The one issue I take is that some of the fictional characters are not as fleshed out as others. I like Gulliver, but very few of the others. I also think that they should have connected this Master to one we all know, maybe an earlier regeneration. I could watch this serial over and over. I can’t say it enough; I love this serial: 4.8
Hey guys, it’s Davis here! I guess now is a good time as any to start sending in reviews again. Probably better than any, because the Mind Robber is not only one of my favorite Troughton serials, but one of my favorite Classic serials so far! The first episode is a little bit bland, but it picks up quickly with one of the best cliffhangers I’ve seen yet. I can’t even imagine what viewers in 1969 were thinking when the TARDIS blew up. Of course, it’s famous for other reasons too, but lets not get into that. I absolutely loved the surreal nature of this episode and the constant fictional events and riddles that were thrown at the Doctor and co. They were also insanely creative in recasting Jaime for the week that Jaime was out sick (I believe it was the chicken pox). Really, the only negative aspects were the somewhat dull first episode and Zoe screaming a lot towards he beginning. Though she redeemed with her fight scene a little bit later on. Overall, I give this serial a 4.6. And that’s only because I know something better is coming soon.
Hello from Canada, Who Back When! Long time listener, first time reviewer. You guys are fantastic and I hope you keep this up through every Doctor Who episode and audiobook (and book!!??) there is. I wish you had been podcasting back in 2009 when I watched every last reconstructed episode, because it sure would have made it less painful. But on to the Mind Robber. I thought this serial was great, kitschy fun. I’ve loved all the “sideways” episodes… including Edge of Discrushion. Pardon my terrible taste.
To keep this brief, here are some point-form thoughts:
-Really? Fluid links and mercury vapour again? How have they not been poisoned and driven mad by now? Maybe this explains some of the Doctor’s weirder quirks. Too much mercury vapour.
-Could they possibly have shown more of Zoe’s ass in that sparkly catsuit? Made sure to catch it in the weekly recap, too, if I recall correctly.
-I love how often Jamie and the Doctor just seem to clutch at each other. I kind of ‘shipped them by the end of their run together.
-I thought their solution for dealing with Frazer Hines’ absence for a week was brilliant, and I’m impressed at their casting of fake Jamie.
-I found myself wondering throughout this episode if they really stuck entirely to real Gulliver quotes for his lines, and if so, how much extra trouble that conceit caused some poor writer.
-The animation of the Medusa was a definite highlight, and looked pretty awesome, even today, but it must have been really eye-grabbing in the ‘60s.
-A definite low point, however, was what a slow learner this serial required the normally intelligent Zoe to be. How many attacks by fictional characters does it take to see a trend in how you defeat them?
-It made me laugh that the Doctor apparently keeps up with boys’ magazines from the 1920s.
-The (pseudo-)Master was a great villain, and one I would have liked to see again in new Who, had this ended differently.
I’m on Twitter @DoctorZedd
Hi Ponken (thanks JD),
On my first watch I hated this one. Now I like it more and more each time I see it. Let’s face it though, it’s as much Sci-fi Dr Who as The Celestial Toymaker is, only this is better in almost every way. The story is fun, the characters likable and the sets truly imaginative and varied. But it’s more fantasy than sci-fi.
The handling of the fictional characters is such a fully realized concept that I couldn’t wait until the next time each would appear on screen. It’s ironic to say that, because they are written with such perfect two-dimensionality that it is immediately apparent that all is not quite right with any of them. Gulliver would be a perfect Dr Who companion in a comic book. The Karkus is Flash Gordon on steroids, and Rapunsil is both innocent and regal, I melt every time she gives that half-smile. The children are so well coordinated in their delivery that they at once act both like individuals and as a single character. Even the robots / guards have their own personalities by not having any at all. The fight scene at the end is epic and should have been longer.
Next we have the “real” characters. Jamie’s replacement does an outstanding job of playing the character in the same way that Richard Hurndall perfectly takes up William Hartnell’s role in the Five Doctors. The Master was also most believable and enjoyable in all three of his distinct personalities, although it must be said that the first time I watched this after seeing later episodes left me quite confused, as I was never sure if it was supposed to be the same as the Timelord Master (which of course it isn’t). The three majors here carry this episode and work so well together as to rival WH, Ian and Barbra in their compatibility. You just know that these people were great friends off-set, and it really shows in their work on camera.
There are some downsides. The letter forest is a little bland and dark. There’s also little real action for much of the time, and the concept is truly wonky, even for a children’s show that is supposedly grounded in science. However there’s enough to keep you guessing that I can get past those things most of the time.
It’s worth noting that this concept of being nowhere and no-time will be revisited in Logopolis and other stories but is never represented the same as It is now. I’m not a huge fan of the totally farcical fiction-land Dr Who stories. It’s why I never liked this episode before. However there’s just enough pseudo-science here to make me happy, and so much left unexplained at the end that I find myself wanting more…someday. It’s just soooooo not Doctor Who, and yet only Dr who could have done this story.
I can’t tell you all what I would retroactively change with this story because I would be creating a history for myself and get trapped, so instead I’m just going to give this a “purely fictional” 3.4
Ponken, actually i totally agree, the concept of the letter forest is amazing and I’m jealous because I would never have thought of something so imaginative if I were writing it. However the execution left something to be desired. At the very least they could have made the floor white and the walls more defined visibly. Black on gray was just to dull. – and no offense taken at all. Cheers!
Troughton is my favorite Doctor and “The Mind Robber” is my favorite story EVER. Reminiscent of “Warrior’s Gate” which hooked me on the show. Episode 1 is added on and builds tension for the story by tempting companions outside the TARDIS into unreality, the additions of the White Robots, the destruction of the TARDIS and the concurrent amazing view. The main story is imaginative and, like the first episode, takes advantage of the problems surrounding it by recasting the ill Frazier Hines to add to the overall surrealism. Despite the overall consistency of the solutions to the trials the Doctor and his companions take if analyzed holistically and the logical incomprehensibility of the villainous computer’s master plan, these elements add a kind of charm to the story as our heroes’ ordeal moves from situation to situation until the climactic battle of wits between the Doctor and an anonymous paperback writer called the Master, because he is in charge of the nonexistent characters populating this unreality. In short, it’s great fun!