Saturday, 8 December 2012

Story 45 - The Mind Robber

In which the TARDIS is about to be engulfed by lava on Dulkis' Island of Death. The Doctor finds that they cannot dematerialise and contemplates using the emergency booster unit. However, this could take the ship out of space and time altogether, and he is worried about using it. Jamie makes up his mind for him by throwing the switch. They find themselves in a white void - which is no time and no place. The Doctor orders that Jamie and Zoe do not leave the ship whilst he tries to sort out the power supply. Images on the scanner of their respective homes lead his companions to disregard his orders. The void is not empty - as there are White Robots present. The Doctor gets his companions back into the TARDIS and they try to move on. Jamie has a nightmare about a Unicorn, and the Doctor soon comes under a psychic attack. The ship appears to break up and the travellers are thrown apart.

The Doctor finds himself in a forest where the trees, when seen from above, are letters of the alphabet. They form a number of well known sayings. Jamie encounters a Redcoat soldier, and is rendered a faceless cardboard cut-out. The Doctor must reconstitute his face but gets it wrong - bringing his young friend back to life but with different features. They are soon reunited with Zoe, and then encounter the fictional character Lemuel Gulliver - from Jonathon Swift's novel - as well as a party of life-size clockwork soldiers. They are later threatened by a Unicorn, and Jamie is once again rendered faceless. This time Zoe makes sure the Doctor gets his face right. They realise that they are in a world where fiction is reality. They enter a cave system where Jamie becomes separated. He is chased by a clockwork soldier and is saved by the intervention of the Princess Rapunzel - climbing up her hair to a citadel. The Doctor and Zoe find a Minotaur and the Gorgon, Medusa, in the labyrinth. Jamie finds a room full of ticker-tape readouts of different stories - one of which is the experiences of his friends. If you believe the things in this place to be fictional, they cannot harm you. Everyone is reunited in the citadel and they confront the force that controls this domain.

In a futuristic control room, they meet an old man - the Master - who says he was transported here back in the summer of 1926. He had been a copywriter for the popular "Ensign" boy's magazine, and had fallen asleep one day and found himself here. He is being enslaved by the Master Brain - a computer which controls the Land of Fiction. The Doctor has been selected to replace the old man, and help lead a takeover of Earth. There follows a battle of wits between the Doctor and the Master, in which various fictional characters are deployed - such as Cyrano de Bergerac, Sir Lancelot, Blackbeard and D'Artagnan. The Doctor must be wary never to describe himself or his companions as fiction - or they will become such. The Master orders the White Robots to fire on Jamie and Zoe, who are attacking the Master Brain. The robots hit the computer instead and destroy it. The old man is freed. The TARDIS is reconstituted as the domain collapses.

This five part adventure was written by Peter Ling (actually episodes 2 - 5) and broadcast between 14th September and 12th October, 1968. The opening episode was written by Script Editor Derrick Sherwin. Due to his job, he could not be credited, and it is the only episode of Doctor Who not to have a writer credit.
His episode is one of the most remarkable in the series' history. The previous story - The Dominators - had been cut from six parts down to five due to scripting problems. Sherwin found himself having to make up the season's missing episode by writing a new opener to Ling's tale. However, he had very little money, no sets and no additional cast members. He therefore came up with a script set either in the TARDIS or a blank white set, with only the regular cast and some robot costumes reused from another production. Considering what he had available to him, he put together an imaginative and atmospheric episode. It is better than what follows - and what follows is actually very good.

As well as the difficulties of providing an extra episode, production on The Mind Robber was troubled further with the illness of Fraser Hines prior to recording the second episode. Scottish actor Hamish Wilson was drafted in as a last minute replacement and the face-removal business was added into the script. As much as we all love Frazer, Wilson does very well under the circumstances and it would have been nice for him to have had a bit longer in the role.
Ling devised the original story as he was working on the soap Crossroads and had discovered that a lot of people treated the characters as though they were real. What if there was a place where made-up characters really did exist? Fictional characters are limited to the lines and actions that are written for them - a form of slavery - and this led to the Master Brain's plans for the Earth. There are some wonderfully surreal moments to enjoy - such as the TARDIS disintegration at the end of part one, Jamie's transformations, and the various fictional characters who appear throughout.

Characters who appear include the Gorgon and Minotaur from Greek mythology, D'Artagnan from The Three Musketeers, Gulliver, and the fairy tale Princess Rapunzel. A wholly fictional character we see is the Karkus - a muscle-bound Germanic superhero who appears in the hourly telepress of Zoe's time. He has an  under-rehearsed fight with Zoe which is one of the more forgettable aspects of the story. He is played by Christopher Robbie - who will return to the programme as the hands-on-hips Cyberleader in Revenge of the Cybermen.
The Master of the Land of Fiction is played by Emrys Jones. He is one minute an eccentric and lovable old man, then suddenly transformed into a malignant presence as the computer influences him - a wonderful performance.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. The TARDIS splits apart. As Jamie and Zoe cling to the control console, the Doctor drifts away and they descend into a mist.
  2. Clockwork soldiers force the travellers into a black void. They are confronted by a Unicorn.
  3. In the labyrinth, the Doctor and Zoe come upon a statue of Medusa. It stirs to life. The Doctor urges Zoe not to accept it as real.
  4. Jamie and Zoe flee through a library. White Robots force them between the pages of a gigantic book which closes around them.
  5. As the Land of Fiction dissolves, the TARDIS comes back together.

Overall, a very good story. Like The Celestial Toymaker, it is a brave attempt to do something different - taking the programme into the realms of fantasy and the surreal. Just a shame that this story never actually happened...
Things you might like to know:

  • That's right - this story never happened. It was all dreamt by the Doctor and his companions. The next story begins with the TARDIS coming back together again, and the old Master is nowhere to be seen. The Doctor and his companions don't mention what has just happened.  It has been postulated that the White Robots and the clockwork soldiers are Jamie and Zoe's subconscious representations of the Cybermen and the Quarks. Everything that happens is all in their minds and does not actually take place. Discuss.
  • Zoe doesn't know what candles are in the later The Space Pirates - but she does here. Further proof this story doesn't happen?
  • As the Doctor shoves his companions into the ship in part one, the words "Producer Peter Bryant" can be seen on the TARDIS scanner. More proof this is all, quite literally, fiction?
  • One of those clockwork soldiers is played by Frazer's cousin, Ian Hines.
  • This story marks Bernard Horsfall's first appearance in Doctor Who (he's Gulliver). He certainly deserves a post of his own.
  • The White Robot costumes came from an Out Of The Unknown episode called "The Prophet". For The Mind Robber they weren't actually white - as B&W television couldn't cope with pure white. Three were yellow, and one grey.
  • The Master claims to be the writer of the Captain Jack Harkaway stories for the "Ensign" - which would actually make him Frank Richards - creator of Billy Bunter. (And was Mr Moffat thinking about this story when he created another Captain Jack Hark-...?).
  • Episode 5 - at just 18 minutes - is the shortest ever episode of Doctor Who.
  • The Doctor is on a hiding to nothing when he first tries to put Jamie's face back together - as Frazer Hines' features don't actually appear on the board.

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