A four part Fourth Doctor story written by John Dorney? Yes please! A handy effect of the FDAs being split into two four-story boxsets is getting to hear a four-part story straight away, rather than waiting a month in between halves. This story has a lot of things similar to popular neo-noir and far future set stories like a Blade Runner or a Total Recall, but manages to be pretty unique at the same time… oh and really good too! Let’s take a look!
It used to be fun, Mind Running. Hopping into the heads of total strangers to see what they saw, feel what they felt. But one by one the Mind Runners are dying in a wave of suicides. And no-one on the planet Chaldera knows why.
The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive in the city that covers all of this dying world as it prepares to evacuate its people, and they immediately find themselves involved in a mystery. Who or what is responsible for the wave of death? Is it the motorised cult known as the Digitals? The enigmatic Mr Shift?
Or did all the victims attempt to run the Night Mind, the demonic consciousness of legend that is so twisted and evil that it drives mad all who touch it?
The TARDIS crew are about to find out.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Tom Baker) – The Doctor has decided to show Leela the Big Apple itself, New York! It’s a shame about all the blue-skinned people, lack of landmarks and the killing, but apart from that… No wait, it’s not New York is it? Oh well.
Leela (Louise Jameson) – Leela is out of her element more than usual in this large planet-wide city, but her instincts can’t be dulled so easily…
K9 (John Leeson) – Now repaired and fully operational, K9 is ready to serve his master in whatever way he can.
Jacinta (Sarah Lark) – A Mind Runner who fears for her life when she sees her old ally committing suicide… She thinks… Or is she trying to convince herself?
Ralph (Alex Wyndham) – A fellow Mind Runner and close friend of Jacinta. The two decide to go on the run after Mind Runners begin to disappear…
The Shift (Andy Secombe) – Once a brilliant scientist whose teleportation experiment ended in his atoms being dispersed. Plus side? The ability to shift between solid, liquid and gas. Negative side? Loss of sanity.
Taraneh (Josette Simon) – A member of the local police who is still under the impression that the Mind Runner suicide rate being up is nothing more than coincidence… She might be a bit off on that prediction…
Cain (Justin Avoth) – Perfectly normal Vice President. Yep, nothing unusual about him at all! … *ahem*
I didn’t even end up talking about the “Digitals” in the review… well, there one is, on the cover.
I have to say to start off that The Mind Runners Part 1 is completely different to The Demon Rises Part 2, the story taking so many twists and turns during its runtime, including lead villains. This is definitely a good thing, and in fact I feel it’s a rare four part story that I’m pretty sure could have been extended to six without much issue (but I’m fine with four!). The world building done in the first half of the story is great, building a new and weird world full of futuristic technology and recognisable current day transport, with the titular Mind Runners being a great concept and a nice, almost Phillip K. Dick-esque idea to play with.
The Doctor and Leela are on fine form, especially the Doctor, who does a few shouty speeches which we don’t always get to hear, including one at Jacinta for taking too long to lament the death of her brother in a rather precarious situation. The duo of Jacinta and Ralph are a fun, if not plain, duo and it says a lot when I’m glad they both actually survived until the end (I guess I’m just used to Nicholas Briggs and his rebellious couples where one dies to inspire the other…)
Probably my favourite part of the story however is The Shift. He has a comic book villain origin and so kind of feels out of place, but Andy Secombe is so gloriously sarcastic and playful in the role that I just loved it. He really was a Marvel villain in the middle of a neo-noir novel, but somehow it works, probably just because he’s that good. I was properly shocked that he killed Taraneh at the end of Part 2 (a good thing I never read the cast list for The Demon Rises, really…) and I liked how in the end he wasn’t even the final foe.
Yes, the “last boss”, so to speak, is the planet itself. Cain turns out to be an avatar for the city-planet of Chaldera itself, and he / it wished to absorb the entire population before the planet was completely devoid of resources. He very nearly does, too, if it were for The Shift, ironically. Shift, by the way, is still alive, as the smile-inducing final scene points out. Don’t have any issues with the character returning down the line, that’s for sure.
My only real complaint was that all the inhabitants of Chaldera are given a slight artificial modulation to their voices, I guess to make them sound more alieny, but listening to it for two hours straight was a bit much. It started to blend in the end, but for so many cast members it would have been better to just go with regular voices, I feel.
The Shift being all shifty… Hahahaha..?
Not really any to speak off. The Doctor has encountered sentient suns and planets before, but other than that, it’s stand-alone (another reason it should be praised, really, building the whole alien society from scratch).
The Mind Runners / The Demon Rises is a great example of science fiction, let alone Doctor Who. It feels quite modern at times, but also feels like something released to capitalise on the craze of neo-noir stories like Blade Runner in the 70s and 80s. Either way, it’s a fun twisty tale that keeps your interest for the whole runtime, and you can’t ask much more than that.