This is the latest in a series in which I choose one serial per season which is unusually well-made and/or innovative. It’s also intended to serve as a recommendation of where to start for people unfamiliar with the show in general or with the classic series in particular. Today I’m discussing an adventure in the Land of Fiction.
It says a lot about The Mind Robber that when given an extra episode with no guest actors, sets or costumes it not only worked, but provided an excellent opener to the story.
The previous serial, The Dominators, had been cut from six episodes to five, with the final instalment becoming the first episode of The Mind Robber at the last minute. This meant that Episode 1 had an Episode 6 budget – no money to hire actors (other than the regulars), build sets or design costumes. So Episode 1 features just the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe along with some robots played by extras wearing costumes brought up from the BBC stores, and is set in just the TARDIS and a white, featureless void.
The other four episodes follow the TARDIS crew as they meet various fictional characters including Lemuel Gulliver, who (almost) only speaks in lines from Gulliver’s Travels, Rapunzel and Karkus, a character from a comic book in the distant future (the year 2000). The Doctor is also teased by a group of schoolchildren, deciphers a word puzzle and is forced to recreate Jamie’s face from the eyes, noses and mouths of various people. (He fails, making this one of the few serials which could get away with having one of the regular characters played by a different actor for two episodes).
Eventually the Doctor comes face to face with the Master (no, not that one) who rules this domain, known as the Land of Fiction, and wants the Doctor to take over his job. The Doctor (obviously) refuses and engages in a battle of wits with the Master which takes the form of a swordfight between another bunch of fictional characters.
The Mind Robber has some fun moments but is often confusing, disturbing and even frightening, especially when Jamie and Zoe are hypnotised by the Master (still not that one) into believing that the Doctor is an evil villain who must be killed, and the cliffhanger at the end of Episode 1 comes as one hell of a shock..
This is another of those serials (like The Celestial Toymaker, and many others) in which Doctor Who does something unusual and in doing so gives us something unusually good. Unfortunately the reaction of viewers when it was originally broadcast wasn’t so positive – it seems they’d rather have a normal Doctor Who story than any of this ‘rubbish’.
The Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who often gets passed over in favour of other periods in the show’s history – at least in part due to the large number of episodes which are missing – and The Mind Robber is a serial which I feel deserves far more credit than it often gets.
Next time: the Doctor travels into a parallel universe in Inferno.