Saturday, 24 February 2018
Inspirations - The Mind Robber
Working titles for this story includes "Man Power" and "The Fact of Fiction".
To fully understand where this story comes from, we need to go back slightly and remind ourselves about the production of the previous story - The Dominators. Script editor Derrick Sherwin had a major falling out with writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, partly over the merchandising rights to the Quarks but mainly because Sherwin just did not like The Dominators and did not think it stretched to six episodes. He basically rewrote Episode 5 himself in order to tie the story up early, and this led to the series overall being one episode short. The following story - Peter Ling's The Mind Robber - was a perfectly good four parter, revolving around a realm of Fiction where anything could happen, so Sherwin wrote an opening segment all by himself that would lead into it. He did not have any money for this beyond the salaries of the regular cast and the TARDIS set, so chose to feature just these elements. He was able to add a monster, in the form of the White Robots. These costumes already existed, having featured in an episode of Out of the Unknown called The Prophet. There, they had been darker in colour, so they were repainted different colours to appear white on B&W television. Other than the TARDIS set, the only scenery needed was a white cyclorama, then a black void for the closing sequence where the TARDIS appears to be torn apart - leading into the first episode of Ling's story.
Sherwin and his assistant Terrence Dicks had once worked on the Midlands set soap Crossroads, about a motorway-side motel, and one of their colleagues had been Ling. On a train journey between London and Birmingham, the trio had discussed possible storylines, and Ling mentioned the fact that a lot of people thought that soap characters were real, and would write letters to them. Having a domain where fictional characters were real provided the starting point for this story. Sherwin was keen to move away from what he called "jellies in space" type of stories, and this was more fantastical than the usual output. The last time this had been tried had been the late Hartnell story The Celestial Toymaker, whose domain had been filled with living toys and deadly children's games.
The bizarre nature of the Land of Fiction proved to be a godsend later in production when Frazer Hines fell ill and had to be briefly written out. The nature of the story allowed the production team to have Hines' absence written into the plot, as Jamie is turned into a faceless cardboard cutout after an altercation with a Redcoat soldier. The Doctor has to reassemble his features like a police ident-i-kit picture - and gets it wrong. We therefore get genuine Scot Hamish Wilson playing the part over two episodes. Wilson, from Glasgow, has a much broader Scots accent than the one that Hines uses, but then a new face might bring a new voice.
Once the Doctor and his companions get to the Land of Fiction we get to meet a number of characters who originate in literature. First of all there is Lemuel Gulliver, who can only speak the words that were given to him by his author, Irish clergyman Jonathan Swift. Gulliver's Travels was first published in 1726, and became an instant success. The book comprised four voyages for Gulliver, who started out as ship's surgeon before becoming a captain. The best known section is the first - the voyage to Lilliput. There then followed a voyage to Brobdingnag, then a voyage to Laputa, Balnibari, Luggnagg, Glubdubdrib and Japan, then finally a voyage to the Land of the Houyhnhnms. These latter are talking horses, and they share their land with a race of human-like people - the Yahoos, which Gulliver mentions in this story. Whilst Gulliver begins the story speaking Swift's lines, the script later called upon him to diverge from this, so Ling wrote speeches for him to say in Swift's style.
A group of children appear, dressed in Edwardian fashion. They do not seem to derive from any one specific book, but are similar to characters found in the works of Edith Nesbit - The Railway Children (serialised in 1905 then published in book form in 1906), Five Children and It (serialised in 1900, published as a book in 1902) and The Phoenix and the Carpet (a sequel to Five Children and It and published in 1904). The children we see in The Mind Robber are not from the Nesbit books, as there are six of them rather than five.
Other characters encountered by the Doctor and his companions include the mythical Unicorn, and a couple of beings from Greek Legend - the Gorgon Medusa and the Minotaur. For the background on the former, see my recent post on the Sarah Jane Adventures story Eye of the Gorgon. The Minotaur legend states that King Minos asked Poseidon to give him a pure white bull that he could sacrifice to the god for becoming monarch. Minos liked the animal so much he decided to keep it, sacrificing one of his own bulls instead. Poseidon was offended. He made Minos' wife Pasiphae fall in love with the white bull. She got architect Daedalus to build a wooden bull which she could climb into. The resulting offspring was the Minotaur, which had to be kept in the Labyrinth which Daedalus also constructed, with his son Icarus. Fans of The Horns of Nimon will have a rough idea of what happened next. The Minotaur was slain by the hero Theseus. Some versions of the legend have the creature with a man's head on a bull's body, similar in appearance to a Centaur.
Jamie gets chased by clockwork soldiers and ends up meeting the fairy tale character Princess Rapunzel. The most famous version of her story appears in the collection of the Brothers Grimm, but the original story can be traced back to the Italian tale of Petrosinella, written by Giambattista Basile in 1634. He may have got his inspiration from an even earlier source - in 11th Century Persia. The basic story of Rapunzel is of a beautiful girl who is locked away in a tower by a witch. Her mother had craved for some rapunzel (a green leaf used in salads) during pregnancy, and her father had stolen some from the witch's garden. One day a prince comes along, and the only way he can rescue her is for her to lower her long hair down that he might climb it like a rope.
There is one character who is wholly fictional to the Doctor Who universe, created just for this story. That's the Germanic musclebound superhero Karkus. Again, this feeds into the plot as the Doctor knows everyone else is fictional and therefore can't harm him, but he has never heard of the comic strip creation. Zoe reveals he derives from the hourly telepress of her times.
Whilst the whole story has revolved around fiction and fantasy, there has to be a scientific explanation for all of this. The Doctor finally meets the Master of the Land of Fiction, who is a human being enslaved to a super-computer known as the Master Brain. Nothing of its origins is explained, but we do know it wants to conquer the Earth by transplanting its population to the Land and making them all fictional. The Master is based on the writer Frank Richards - the pen name of Charles Hamilton. Amongst his many creations was Billy Bunter - linking us back to The Celestial Toymaker, which featured the Bunter-ish character of Cyril the schoolboy. Hamilton is supposed to have written a record breaking 100 million words in his lifetime. Richards was just one of many pen names he used whilst writing over 5000 stories for various periodicals.
The Master wants the Doctor to take his place here, which he naturally declines. This leads to a final duel between them in which they summon up some other literary characters. These include D'Artagnan - hero of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (1844). The fictional character of D'Artagnan was based on a real commander of the King's Musketeers during the reign of Louis XIV, Charles de Batz de Castelmore d'Artagnan (1613 - 1673). He has to fight Cyrano de Bergerac, who is also based on a real person - Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (1619 - 1655) who was a noted libertine writer and swordsman. D'Artagnan turns into Sir Lancelot - from the Arthurian myths, first mentioned by the French writer Chretien de Troyes in 1170 - whilst de Bergerac is transformed into Blackbeard the Pirate. The latter is an odd choice for a fictional character - Long John Silver from Treasure Island or Captain Hook from Peter Pan being more obvious candidates. Edward Teach (or Thatch) did appear in fictionalised form, such as in an 1835 novel by Matilda Douglas, but his fictional existence has been primarily one of film and television.
There is a strongly held belief among fans that the events of this story never really took place. Everything that occurs in parts 2 - 5 are all in the Doctor's mind, as he comes under mental assault in the TARDIS in the first episode. The clockwork soldiers are supposed to be representations of the Cybermen, and the White Robots the Daleks. We only have the soundtrack to the opening episode of the next story, but it seems to pick up with the TARDIS being brought back together again, with no mention of the Master, who leaves the crumbling realm with the Doctor and his companions after the White Robots attack the Master Brain. This is used as an excuse for why Zoe later fails to know what a candle is in The Space Pirates, when she is perfectly familiar with them here. The programme itself becomes fictionalised in the first episode, as the Doctor pushes Jamie and Zoe back into the TARDIS after they became lost in the white void - and you can clearly see "Producer. Peter Bryant" on the ship's scanner...
Next time: things get back to normal as the Cybermen return for yet another invasion attempt, but get sidelined by one of the best villains the programme has ever produced, and it's the first appearance of the Brigadier and UNIT...