Thursday, 17 May 2018
Inspirations - The Mind of Evil
The Mind of Evil is the second, and final, story to be written by Don Houghton. His first - Inferno - has gone on to find a place in the top 20 greatest ever Doctor Who stories (according to the 50th Anniversary poll in DWM. The Mind of Evil registers a creditable 76th place). Houghton was given the task of writing another story featuring the Master, as he had been left stranded on Earth at the conclusion of the previous story. This he achieves - though, of course, the Master wasn't in this story as originally drafted.
The villain of the piece was to be a scientist named Keller - an idea that survives into the televised version as an alias which the Master has used. Keller has created a device called the Pandora Machine (one of the working titles for the story), which is used in prisons to absorb evil intent from convicts. Keller also wants to trigger a war between the USA and China, and he has his Chinese assistant kill her own ambassador, leaving the US ambassador's ID at the scene of the crime to incriminate him. Houghton's wife, actress Pim-Sem Lim, read the scripts and suggested that the build-up of evil in the device might be used to attack a peace conference. In other drafts of the script, the professor's device is called the Malusyphus Machine, rather than the Pandora Machine.
One of Houghton's inspirations was a previous script of his own but for another show - Ace of Wands. This was screened on ITV between 1970 - 72, as a rival to Doctor Who. The second season story Nightmare Gas featured a villain named Thalia and her brother Dalbiac who steal a gas called H23. This puts people into a deep sleep in which they suffer terrible nightmares featuring their worst phobias, which prove fatal exactly 23 minutes later. The Keller Machine in the Doctor Who story starts off by killing people using their phobias - drowning for a scientist and rats for a journalist. For the Doctor it is fire - linking to Houghton's first story for the series. The Doctor tells Jo about seeing a planet destroyed by fire - the parallel Earth. He will later see a collection of some of his old alien foes, as he tries to subdue the creature which lives within the machine with an electrical cable. Charmingly, some of these creatures are hardly terror-inducing. We see a Zarbi, for instance, and Koquillion. The latter might be explained away by his previous visit to Dido, rather than the one we saw in The Rescue. Ice Warriors, a Cyberman and a Dalek also feature.
Most interesting is when we see what it is that the Master fears the most. He sees a massive image of the Doctor looming over him - and laughing at him.
The phobia-inducing element is quickly forgotten in the second half of the story, as convicts and prison officers simply drop dead when the machine attacks them.
One of the things which Houghton wanted to explore in both his draft version and the finished programme is the ethics behind capital punishment. Is it okay to do a bad thing for a good reason, basically. Capital punishment ended in the UK in 1965, with the last hangings taking place the year before. (It remained a legal option in Northern Ireland until 1973). Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged - in 1955. Since its abolition, there have been numerous attempts to reintroduce it, generally from the right wing of the political divide, albeit in a more targeted form - e.g. only for those who murder children, or police officers in the course of their duties. A number of high profile miscarriages of justice (such as Timothy Evans) and the Derek Bentley case have ensured that efforts to bring back hanging have failed. There have been a number of people sentenced to long prison sentences since the law changed who would have been hanged, but who have subsequently been found to have been innocent.
After abolition in 1965, a number of offences did remain on the statute books which were punishable by death. These included treason (until 1998), espionage (until 1981), piracy with violence (until 1998), and arson in a naval dockyard, ship or warehouse (until 1971). The army retained the right to execute soldiers for offences such as mutiny until 1998. A working set of gallows were maintained at Wandsworth Prison in South London until 1994.
Prison reform has been a major campaigning issue since the late 18th Century in Britain. Two important figures were John Howard - who is remembered by the Howard League for Penal Reform - and the Quaker Elizabeth Fry. The latter is one of only two women to have featured on British bank notes, apart from the Queen (the other being Jane Austen).
Pandora will be back much, much later as an inspiration for a Doctor Who story, her tale being a favourite of the young Amy Pond. She was the first human woman created by the Greek gods. Women were created as a punishment for humanity, thanks to Prometheus stealing the secret of fire for us. Zeus was so angry that he ordered Pandora to be created from the earth so that she and her descendants could bring strife to men. She is responsible for all the evil in the world, according to a legend first written down by Hesiod some time around 700 BC. Her curiosity led her to open a jar (later mistranslated as a box) which contained hunger, disease, reality TV etc. The only thing remaining was hope.
Houghton's chief villain in the Nightmare Gas storyline for Ace of Wands was a woman, but there is no indication that the Doctor Who character (pre-Master) would have been one.
The Mind of Evil does have a female villain - at least until it is discovered that she is an unwitting pawn of the Master, enslaved by his hypnotic powers and a link to the mind parasite in the machine. She is Chin Lee - and she is played by the author's aforementioned wife. Director Tim Coombes was looking for an actress to play this character but without much luck, until the obvious candidate was pointed out to him.
UNIT also gets a female member of the team - the short-lived Corporal Bell. Contrary to popular belief, she was not married to William Marlowe, who plays the criminal Harry Mailer in this story. He was married to Catherine Schell when this story was made.
The Brigadier gets another new recruit in Major Cosworth. He was only ever intended for this one story, as Captain Yates had already explained the odd organisational set-up within UNIT in the previous adventure.
If it seems odd that Sergeant Benton should be expected to go under cover in his civvies, tailing Chin Lee through Mayfair, then that's because John Levene wasn't supposed to be in these scenes. Another actor was supposed to play the undercover man, but he fell ill and withdrew at the last minute. This is a case of serendipity, as we later see Benton wanting to make amends for this previous failing.
Later, the Brigadier has a go at disguise - playing a delivery driver. There is something just so wrong about seeing the Brigadier saying the word "nosh".
This would be the last story to be written by Houghton. He was exhausted with having to perform rewrites, and had lots of other work lined up anyway. He would go on to create the Scottish lunchtime soap Take the High Road, write a Sapphire & Steel storyline, and contribute to the Hammer Films legacy by bringing Count Dracula into the London of the 1970's, as well as temporarily relocating him to China in The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.
Sadly, this would also be Tim Coombes' final contribution to the show. He had worked behind the scenes on a number of Doctor Who stories, before getting to direct The Silurians. Producer Barry Letts had been unhappy with the material he had filmed at the Dover Castle location, as it didn't feature any close-ups - necessitating expensive reshooting which led to budget problems. You'll spot Coombes in the reshoots - being killed more than once by UNIT troops as he wears glasses in some shots, and no glasses in others, to bulk out the numbers.
Before we go, we should mention the fan debate about the chronology of this story. Some like to think that a whole year has elapsed since Terror of the Autons, giving the Master time to set himself up as Keller and drain the badness out of all those criminals in Switzerland. Can we cope with the Doctor, Jo, et al having no adventures worth broadcasting for an entire year, however - and the Master putting up with the Doctor holding his dematerialisation circuit all that time? Another school of thought is that the Master was setting up the whole Keller thing before the events of Autons, and this happens only shortly after the Nestene defeat. Okay - yet Autons implies the Master has only just come to Earth.
A third notion is that this does happen just after Autons, and all the Swiss stuff is actually a lie - the Master hypnotising people into believing it happened.
We also have the question of how the Master got hold of the mind parasite in the first place. Surely it would have gone the way of M. Creosote on eating a waffer thin mint on first encountering the Master - an embodiment of evil. Remember his TARDIS is grounded, so he hasn't popped off to another planet to fetch it - it must have been with him throughout the whole Nestene gambit.
Switzerland? Might be famous for yodeling, thigh slapping dances and intricate engineering, but not so much for the sort of minds which the parasite might find appetizing. Actually, it makes sense. Where better to take the creature if you want to keep it weak and docile through starvation?
Next time: the Master has got his TARDIS working again, but guess what? Two new names arrive behind the scenes, who will prove to have quite an impact on the programme...