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On First View: The Mind Robber

Guest contributor Antti Björklund continues the series offering a first time view on a Classic story.

doctor-who-mind-robber

In Doctor Who Magazine’s ”Mighty 200” poll The Mind Robber came at number 60. According to the results of the poll, it may not be the best-received Second Doctor episode. The story in itself is a deviation of what was then the normal Doctor Who episode. The TARDIS lands in a space that is outside of this world, that is inhabited by characters and beings from fantasy and fiction.

As with the other parts in this series, I will try and evaluate exactly how good the episodes are from the viewpoint of someone generally watching the episodes for the first time. I will try and make note what are the episode’s strengths and weaknesses.

The Characters

After the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, left the show in 1966 the role was taken up by Patrick Troughton. By the time The Mind Robber aired, Troughton’s Doctor had seen his original travelling companions leave and was accompanied by Zoe Heriot and Jamie McCrimmon.

The Doctor

mind-robber-troughtonPatrick Troughton is quite good as the Doctor. As others have pointed out, he is in some respects quite similar to Matt Smith’s incarnation. This is something I would tell someone who’s watching for the first time.Troughton’s Doctor is kind and respectful, but he can also show how fearful he is of some things. This is shown especially in the serial’s conclusion, where the Doctor genuinely feels fear for himself and his companions.

The Companions

mind-robber-Zoe-jamie-troughtonThe companions for this serial are Zoe Heriot, a scientist from the future, and Jamie McCrimmon, a Scottish piper from 1745.

Zoe, based on this serial, feels mostly like the generic ”damsel in distress” type of companion. She does have some merit, as in the scene where she recognizes one of the characters the group encounters as being a comic book superhero.

Jamie, on the other hand, brings some new insight into the story, mainly because of his back story. Being from the 1700s, he hasn’t got the same grip on some concepts that Zoe and the Doctor have. What he does have, however, is common sense.

The Monsters and Villains

mind-robber-white-robotThe main villain of the serial is the Master of the Land of Fiction – the Master for short. I found this villain and his actions quite straightforward and easy to digest: to save himself from the situation he’s in, and because he’s old, the Master must find someone to replace himself. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

I would class the Master under the category of ”mad scientist”, if I had to explain him to someone watching the serial for the first time. As a sort of police force the Master has robots. To be quite frank, I found these ”monsters” quite useless, as they were quite easy to run away from – unless the story needed for the characters to be caught.

The other monsters of the serial are all legendary and fictional characters. These include a Minotaur, Medusa, a unicorn and a comic book superhero from the year 2000. The setting of the serial – pure non-reality – makes, in my honest opinion, these monsters too easy to beat.

The Overall Story

The story seems, in itself, rather a mixed back. The basic concept – venturing outside this reality – is quite interesting. That said, I personally wouldn’t suggest this story as the first one to show to someone unacquainted with the show, as it is so different to the other stories in the show.

Conclusion

While it has a nice concept and some nice ideas, the story may not be the best story in Doctor Who’s history. Patrick Troughton is good as the Doctor; the villain and his plot are quite easy to understand when it’s finally explained, but the story in itself feels a little padded. The monsters are too easy to defeat, which does begin to feel repetitive after a while. That said, the serial does have its good points. One of these is the way how the change of Jamie’s actor is written into the story – one of the merits of the setting. Due to Frazer Hines contracting Chicken Pox in the middle of filming, another actor had to be got to play the part.

Next time, it’s the Third Doctor with The Time Warrior.

Step back in time...

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44 comments
LordRassilon
LordRassilon

The Land of Fiction is for some reason, poorly received in general; but I always loved this story. The enemy is part machine, part man, and part Great Old One, set in a Universe without normal laws. 


Now that I think of it, the Matt Smith quote 'I have walked in a Universe where the laws of physics were created by a madman!', could reference this; as well as the Antimatter Universe of Omega; although I think it is actually a reference to the Big Finish Zagreus story arc, and the Timeless Universe that Rassilon created, because Omega didn't create the Antimatter Universe, just the world, and the Land of Fiction was created by a higher-intellect of otherworldly nature, rather than a 'man', like the Celestial Toyroom.


The Mind Robber is actually the episode that I tell people to watch, if they want a taste of Patrick's era, not only because it survives intact, but because it needs no set-up from any previous story to understand. It's entirely self-contained. SO much in fact, that the viewer doesn't even need to know what the TARDIS can do, because it barely features in the story (directly).


The companions are also two of the best of all time: Who doesn't love Jamie? (Zoe, was also absolutely fantastic, and gorgeous; and in fact, Wendy Padbury is still gorgeous.)


For those who love this story, there is a Big Finish sequel to it:

City of Spires

Wreck of the Titan

Legend of The Cybermen


This story, pairs the 6th Doctor (Colin baker), with Jamie again, starting with City of Spires, and Zoe joins in Legend of The Cybermen. If you enjoyed The Mind Robber, I highly recommend listening to that Big Finish arc.


P.S. Although not canonical, the fictional character of Gulliver, is considered by many to be the same person, as the CIA operative, and later Chancellor, Goth. The same actor presided over the Trial of The Doctor (The War Games), and Chancellor Goth (The Deadly Assassin). I would love to have him back for some voice acting.


lukashcartoon
lukashcartoon

One of the great twist about his episode is all of Gullivers lines come straight from the book. 

DaftDalek
DaftDalek

I think you've really underrated that story. It's one of my favourites in Classic Who and I think it's pure genius. The way they changed Jamie's actor, the brilliant first episode and in general the whole thing that you didn't know with what else the story will come up with.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

Have to disagree here. I can see where you are coming from, but I thought this was a well written, brilliantly designed story. What are you reviewing next? 

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

I thought this wa a brilliant episode. They could make anything they wanted and it wouldnt be too laughable because they were in the  land of fiction. And the tardis blowing up? that must have been scary in 1967

DavidSJH
DavidSJH

I really think this should be done in the new series

Polyphase
Polyphase

I can also never remove that image of Zoe on the console from my memory. Computer genius, Martial arts expert and a derriere to die for :)

Liana21
Liana21

It's so crazy, but that craziness is part of its charm, with all those book characters wandering around. I love the trick the writers got for the change of actor due to Frazer's chicken pox, it's so funny and imaginative. And I like Rapunzel flirting with Jamie.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

I recently watched this for the first time (on the Horror Channel) repeats, and rather enjoyed it. I like these slightly weird stories anyway, they give a nice change in tone and pace.

Polyphase
Polyphase

The way Jamie was substituted was inspired and I loved the way it was done with the cardbord cutout. I also like that when this happened Jamie yelled out "creag an tuire" which he says means Vodka & Tonic in Scottish Gaelic :)

RoastNewt
RoastNewt

A well-written article Finn, even if I completely disagree with you (it's actually one of my top three Troughtons, along with Fury from the Deep and The Enemy of the World). I must say though, I was quite surprised to read your assessment of Zoe here. I thought she was fantastic in this, as in all her serials, and the scene where she kicked the cr*p out of Karkus is probably her greatest crowning moment of badass! Hopefully seeing more of her stories might give you a better impression of her in future. She's particularly kick-ass in The Invasion and The War Games.

SEDAKRO XIV
SEDAKRO XIV

I've watched this so many times now I lost count after the 10th time. Certainly has to be my favorite serial from series 6 which I personally think is one of the best series of all time :-D

Antee991166
Antee991166

I have fondness for this story, but it definitely isn't the best Troughton story. Zoe in most episodes isn't just a damsel in distress and in stories like The Invasion and The Krotons she shows that she is in some ways more intelligent than The Doctor. In response to the padding, this story was originally going to be 4 episodes but had to be extended since the previous story (The Dominators) had production problems and had to cut a whole episode. Look forward to your next review! 

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

Yeah, I think the concept was really good, and the episode in itself was not bad, either... it was rather bizarre at times, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing, lol. I found that the first part was too long to set up, but then I tend to have that problem with a lot of Classic episodes. It did start to get interesting in the 2nd part...and kept getting better. I gave it a 7/10.

But still... poor Zoe... You don't know where you are. You don't know how you got there. You lost the people you were with. You know something is wrong even if you don't know what exactly. A door mysteriously opens in front of you with no one on the other side... and you just walk in? Sigh.... How daft is that? :P







floppy_who
floppy_who

I enjoyed this story when I first watched it on a BBC2 repeat back in 1992 and having caught it again more recently on DVD enjoyed it again.. On this basis it must be ok in my books!

Zoe's character is a little more than just a classic series screamer (her predecessor Victoria takes some beating in that department) and she gives the Cybermen a run for their money in the following story (the Invasion) so much so that some UNIT personnel ask the Brigadier if they can keep her..... Because she's "much prettier than a computer ".

Well... It was the 1960s.....

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Loved The Mind Robber! The story was grippring and although Frazer Hines got chickenpox and had to be replaced I thought the fact that the Doctor didn't get his face right was the funniest thing ever. It's just the sort of thing the Doctor would do!

supermoff
supermoff

A very well written article. I remember watching this episode and not liking it so much, but I feel encouraged to re-watch it now. :)

Baker Street is excited for Series 8!
Baker Street is excited for Series 8!

Great article, Finn! I personally love this episode - mad and brilliantly acted. It's a shame that one of the parts (I forget which) holds the title of the shortest episode ever, and I feel that the episode could've been way more popular had it had more time. But still, it's a great episode.


The Finn
The Finn

Sorry for the short article, which is in part because the episodes in this serial are between 18-22 minutes long. Hope you still like what I've written.

gwylock1
gwylock1

I stopped taking this review seriously as soon as I saw "Zoe" and "damsel in distress" next to each other. 

Liana21
Liana21

The catsuit was pretty cool, but my favourite is the plastic-ish outfit, I don't remember the serial now.

The Finn
The Finn

@Polyphase  I'd link it, but that might be an infringement of the rules.... XD

the_ponds_forever
the_ponds_forever

@Liana21 Me too! He was honestly very good as Jamie. P.S I always know it's you commenting Liana, You always have that photo (It's a lovely photo)

Liana21
Liana21

One of my favourite moments of Zoe too, along with when she makes blow up the computer of International Electromatics reception. She's awesome, she and Jamie are two of my favourites on a possible cameo on the modern.

The Finn
The Finn

@Antee991166  On the question of Zoe: I'm basing what I've written (naturally) on this story, as it's the one I'm reviewing. And I know about the background for the padding, but the finished product is what it is.

Antee991166
Antee991166

Also you have to keep in mind that the show was having a lot of production problems at this time, and wouldn't stabilise until the next season.

The Finn
The Finn

@TheDreamer  I just feel there's too many "it's not real! Say it's not real! You must believe it's not real!" solutions.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I really liked Victoria and yes she did scream a lot but she made a good team with Jamie and The Doctor.

And The Invasion was brilliant - I couldn't stop watching till I got to the end.It was a proper modern thriller with lots of memorable moments. I think it's my favourite Troughton story after The Web of Fear

TheDreamer
TheDreamer

@The Outer Space K9  Oh so that's why he turned into someone else, then! Interesting, lol. They did a good job working around the problem, for sure, lol. It was funny. :)

Liana21
Liana21

It's the exact moment when began my crush with Matt, for that I'm so fond of it.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I think I read somewhere that Troughton wanted more money the BBC didn't want to give it to him so they reached a compromise - making shorter episodes.

Rani Nose
Rani Nose

@TheDreamer @The Finn  At the risk of being redundant I'll make the same point I made last week.  

The way television shows were produced and watched in the 1960s was greatly different than how they are made and watched today.  The classic episodes were made under the assumption that viewers would only watch them once and that a week would go by between episodes.  As we all too sadly know from the missing tapes, the BBC literally considered this to be disposable entertainment.   


From our 21st century binge-watching and repeat-viewing perspective the repetitive nature of the old shows looks like bad writing and directing, but repeating ideas from week to week served a purpose.  The repetition was a continuity device.  It reminded the viewers about what happened before, and by doing so it reinforced the storyline.  If made today The Mind Robber would be something like Amy's Choice or The God Complex, where the Doctor and companions are trapped in some surreal situation where they don't really know what is going on until the last few minutes of the show.

The Finn
The Finn

@The Outer Space K9  That's not what I read. This serial was originally supposed to be four episodes, but due to some production difficulties with another story this story was made one episode longer, resulting in the episode lengths of this story varying from 18 to just under 22 minutes.