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Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Mind Robber in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Mind Robber in the UK

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Region 2 DVD. pub: BBC BBCDVD 1358. 1 DVD 5 * 20 minute episodes 99 minutes with extras. Price: 5.98 (UK) if you know where to look). stars: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury, Hamish Wilson and Emrys Jones.

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To my mind, there were three surreal 'Doctor Who' tales. The first, 'The Celestial Toymaker', was in the Hartnell period and not available. The second, 'The Mind Robber', which I have here. The third, I'll leave for another time.

Back in the 1960s, recording 'Who' was very much hand-to-mouth with episodes being shown for over ten months of the year and recorded for eleven months. As a consequence, budgets could become tight and the opening episode here was a filler with just the main cast in the TARDIS having to evade the lava flow from the previous story, 'The Dominators', which had a multitude of problems and was cut back by an episode. The Doctor (actor Patrick Troughton) side-steps time and isn't quite sure where they are. Outside the TARDIS, it's a white void but that isn't what his companions, Jamie McCrimmon (actor Frazer Hines) and Zoe Heriot (actress Wendy Padbury), see, believing themselves to be home. The Doctor succeeds in rescuing them but then the TARDIS explodes and they are left clinging to a spinning console that leads directly into the main story.

That sequence is one of the most strongly remembered of the 1960s series and even watching it again today, together with the explanation of how it was done still holds up remarkably well. Then again, how many other 'Who' stories do you know where the TARDIS explodes. None. Hence why it's so important even if it is surreal and only the police box aspect explodes. Then again, it's not in regular time and dimensions but in a fantasy world which they discover is in a land of fiction.

As such, the story itself could become very surreal. The writer, Peter Ling, was not a Science Fiction writer or fan but used the things that appealed to him and made it work. He had the faith of the production team because they'd worked with him in the past. Just in case anyone out there doesn't know, Ling with Hazel Adair were responsible for the long-running ITV soap opera 'Crossroads'.

With the companions lost to him for a while, the Doctor has to unravel where they are and what is going, evading regular-size toy soldiers and more dangerously armed robots (sourced from the BBC series 'Out Of The Unknown with a paint job) as well as meeting such as Gulliver, Rapunzel, Medusa and the Karkus (a fictional super-being from Zoe's time period). Things turn for the worse when Jamie is turned into a cardboard cut-out and the Doctor re-assembling his face gets it wrong. Frazer Hines at the time had developed chickenpox and rather infect the entire crew was sent home for a week and was replaced by Hamish Wilson for an episode and a half. Other than Romana, Jamie McCrimmon is the only other companion holding the distinction of being played by two actors. Eventually it becomes a game of wits or should it be writs (?) between the Doctor and the Master (actor Emrys Jones), not the villainous Time Lord, but a 20th century pulp writer controlled by a computer who wants a replacement.

This is still a rather compelling story and it's only with the audio commentary with Hines, Padbury, Wilson and director David Maloney where the shortcomings are pointed out. Personally, I don't think they have anything to apologise for as a strong story will always hold together. Considering that all the stories at the time were recorded with minimal editing it's even more remarkable that it held together so well.

The extras give a further look into how things were done plus a look at companion Jamie from the actor who played him, Frazer Hines. There's clips from several early stories that aren't available anymore and a lot of insight into the BBC TV scene at the time.

'The Mind Robber' is definitely worthy of your consideration, especially so as there are so few of the Troughton period available to be seen.

GF Willmetts
November 2009

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