*Gasp!* A Patrick Troughton story that’s entirely live action?! I forgot such a thing exists… The Mind Robber is an odd story, to put it mildly: fictional characters brought to life, funky 50s robots, Zoe doing some sort of karate, a superhero called “The Karkus”, someone else playing Jamie for two episodes, and more! Does it hold together? Is the odd episode count of five parts a good or bad thing? Let’s find out!
To escape from the volcanic eruption on Dulkis, the Doctor uses an emergency escape switch which moves the TARDIS out of normal time and space. The travelers find themselves in the land of fiction, where they are hunted by life-size clockwork soldiers and encounter characters like Rapunzel, the Karkus, and Swift’s Lemuel Gulliver…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Jamie wonders where all the sets have gone as Zoe realises they’ve walked into the wrong building.
The first thing to say is that the idea of a “Land of Fiction” is easy to dismiss as “too fantasy” but as you watch the story it is very much sci-fi (not that Doctor Who is ever strictly sci-fi only anyway, but I digress) as it is eventually revealed that the Land of Fiction is controlled by “The Master” (not that one…) who is hooked up to a computer that turns his imagination into real matter within a white void between dimensions. It’s a best of both worlds compromise. Now obviously if it was someone from modern times hooked up to the machine there’d be all sorts of copyright infringing characters running around but luckily The Master (played by Emrys Jones for the record) is from 1926 so all the characters are either fairy tales or from books that have gone out of copyright! Hooray!
Anyway the story is a good laugh (well, maybe not episode 1 but I’ll get into that later…) as The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe walk through forests and an old castle encountering fictional characters and dodging retro white robots and large marching clockwork soldiers. It a Troughton run-around but with very odd enemies and a unique setting. A fun twist comes when Jamie is turned into a faceless cardboard cut-out and The Doctor has to reassemble his face by using bits of photos and gets it wrong, leading to Hamish Wilson playing the role for nearly two episodes. This was actually a clever work-around after Fraser Hines fell ill during production, so it always makes me laugh that they just happened to be doing a story where something like that can be thought up on the fly.
Those are, um, quite some robot designs they’ve got there…
The Doctor and his companions also begin to influence the Master and the machine he’s hooked up to, as evidenced by the arrival of “The Karkus” (Christopher Robbie), a superhero “from a comic in the year 2000” that Zoe was a fan of. It never ceases to put a smile on my face because not only is the name crap, the costume so, so terrible and the German accent unnecessary but in his first appearance Zoe kicks his arse with some basic karate throws until it submits to her will. Bizarre in a truly funny way. After some Greek mythology including a minotaur in a maze (which retroactively both turn out to be real, not that the Master knew that!) and a great stop-motion Medusa showdown the end comes when The Doctor is also hooked up to the machine and begins to verbally duel with The Master, each writing lines of dialogue that begin to happen in front of them until The Doctor manages to engineer a scenario where he can pull The Master free of the machine. Everyone heads back to real space in the TARDIS…
The Master (of the Land of Fiction) makes sure everyone knows he’s evil… like all the time. No subtly here!
“The Mind Robber” does occasionally dip into the dull for me. I appreciate the more experimental storytelling but there are moments where it’s just The Doctor, Jamie or Zoe explaining what we can already plainly see and often it’s just a fictional character appearing and saying “hello”. Actually, a fictional character saying “hello” badly, because for some reason the fictional characters brought to life all act like it’s a children’s panto. I assume this was intentional, but man it’s… mildly off-putting.
Also I enjoy parts of Episode 1, which takes place entirely in a white void or inside the TARDIS, and appreciate it was cobbled together in a rush when they were suddenly given 5 episodes to work with rather than four, but there is no getting around the fact that not a lot happens for long stretches. Plus as much as it’s fun to laugh at Zoe deciding to put on a skin-tight bodysuit and then crawl on top of the TARDIS in compromising positions when it starts to explode is just … weird in retrospect.
“Doctor, what have ya done with me face?” “I accidentally changed it! What have YOU done with you accent, Hm? What about that?!” “Ach, I don’t knooww.”
The story picks up from the cliffhanger at the end of “The Dominators”, while the image of the TARDIS reassembling that ends this story also starts the next episode, the first episode of the eight part epic “The Invasion”.
The Doctor returns to the Land of Fiction in the Fourth Doctor audio “The Crooked Man” and Sixth Doctor audio trilogy “City of Spires”, “The Wreck of the Titan” and “Legend of the Cybermen”. The Seventh also arrives there in two New Adventure books, “Conundrum” and “Head Games” (wouldn’t expect those to turn into clickable links any time soon!). Speaking of the New Adventures Bernice Summerfield meets the Second Doctor in the middle of this story in the comic strip “Time and Time Again”.
Also as mentioned The Doctor will go on to meet the actual Greek Minotaur in the Third Doctor TV story “The Time Monster”. Plus the alien race known as the “Nimon” also strongly resemble the creature, they appear in the Fourth Doctor TV story “The Horns of Nimon” and the audio “Seasons of Fear”, plus an off-shoot of the Nimon race appears in the Eleventh Doctor story “The God Complex”.
The Doctor uses Rapunzel’s hair and the strength of the Karkus to climb down a castle… Man this story’s weird…
The Mind Robber deserves a lot of praise for doing something unique and new, especially in an era that had very much got itself stuck in the “base under siege” format. That being said there are moments where it’s not that interesting, or some of the acting is a bit… off. Not perfect, but definitely worthy of praise and a watch when you want a bit of an easy-going laugh.