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6x02. The Mind Robber
Writers: Peter Ling and Derrick Sherwin (episode 1)
Director: David Mahoney
Script Editor: Derrick Sherwin
Producer: Peter Bryant

Synopsis: In a desperate attempt to escape the oncoming lava on Dulkis, the Doctor takes the TARDIS out of time and space altogether. He and his companions subsequently find themselves in the Land of Fiction, whose mythical inhabitants range from a unicorn to the explorer Gulliver to a band of toy soldiers. Determined to unravel the secret of this strange place, the Doctor discovers that a kidnapped comic book author known only as "The Master" has been forced by an alien intelligence to oversee a project to transfer all of Earth's population to the Land of Fiction, where they will become fictional characters themselves.

Review: "The Mind Robber" has its positives and its negatives, but it certainly doesn't suffer from lack of originality: there are very few scenes in this serial that could be mistaken for a scene from any other entry in the Doctor Who canon. The script rests on the premise that taking the TARDIS "out of reality" places it in the Land of Fiction, where characters from novels and comic books appear and where the Doctor and his companions can escape threats by reminding themselves that they are fictional and thus banishing them from existence. This is a concept that might seem better suited to The Twilight Zone than Doctor Who, but the script takes the idea and runs with it, and in fact it only stumbles when it introduces some more traditional sci-fi elements.

The TARDIS crew's experiences in the Land of Fiction are sometimes eerie (Jamie's hallucination of Scotland), sometimes darkly humorous (the Doctor having to reassemble Jamie's face, and then Jamie actually being played by a different actor for a while because he gets it wrong), and sometimes just flat-out weird (the discovery that they are surrounded by letter-shaped trees that spell out various aphorisms). The first and second episodes are probably the best, maintaining a consistently surreal, mysterious tone that keeps the viewer guessing without going too far and just resorting to arbitrary strangeness. Later on, things take a more overtly comedic turn with the arrival of the Karkus, a futuristic comic book character, and the Doctor's match of wits with the Master as each exercises his power over the characters of the Land of Fiction. Fortunately, the latter sequence is sufficiently entertaining (The Master: "And then the Karkus turned his gun on Jamie and Zoe and pulled the trigger...." The Doctor: "But the power was out!") that I can forgive the shift in tone, and something of the dreamlike quality is preserved with images such as Jamie and Zoe being enveloped by a book as the Master briefly turns them into fictional characters, or the children from Episode 2 reappearing out of nowhere to taunt the Doctor when he's trapped inside a replica of the TARDIS.

I've heaped plenty of praise on Troughton in previous reviews, but his talents are particularly evident in "The Mind Robber," as his whimsical and slightly panicky nature makes him the ideal Doctor to wade through all this absurdity. (Consider a line like, "Oh no, now his *face* is gone!" Now ask yourself if it would be half as funny coming from Hartnell or Davison or even Tom Baker.) Zoe, who didn't make much of an impression in "The Dominators," is much better here, displaying her keen intelligence in helping to decipher the maze in Episode 3 and realizing that they needed to overload the alien computer at the end. Aside from the Doctor and his companions, the only "real" character here is the Master (no, not *that* Master), who is effectively portrayed as a kind old man and a popular comic book author who's been coerced into this strange role.

There is, of course, a certain irony in the fact that the Doctor and his companions face the threat of being turned into fictional characters, when they are, in fact, already just that -- fictional characters. Whether this is meant to emphasize any particular theme, I'm not entirely sure: one might argue that the mental battle between the Doctor and the Master is meant to celebrate the creative process, or that it's subtly satirizing Doctor Who and other works of fiction for their arbitrary contrivances, or possibly both. And it is probably not an accident that a character like Gulliver -- an explorer just like the Doctor -- shows up, or that there are references to the world of serialized comic books. My own instinct is that the script is meant to acknowledge the roots of Doctor Who and its status as a work of fiction, but that it doesn't really offer any specific commentary on this subject.

What I did find rather disappointing about "The Mind Robber" is the ending, in which we discover that an alien intelligence is plotting to take over Earth and transfer its population to the Land of Fiction. For one thing, it strikes me as unnecessary: the serial was doing just fine without the introduction of yet another Alien Plan To Conquer Earth (TM). But more importantly, it has the effect of taking away the sense of mystery without actually explaining anything. I'd have been perfectly happy to see the serial remain 100% fantasy, perhaps ending with the TARDIS crew escaping but the Land of Fiction still intact, leaving all of them wondering how this strange place ever came to exist and how it really works. Instead, we have the alien "master brain" overloading and destroying the Land of Fiction, but conveniently reassembling the TARDIS so the Doctor, his companions, and the Master can escape (talk about a deus ex machina!). The serial ends with a lot of unanswered questions, such as how exactly the process of turning someone into a fictional character works, or why the Doctor and Jamie and Zoe can banish threats by reminding themselves that they aren't real, but instead of emphasizing the theme of the unknown and using these unanswered questions as strengths, the script side-steps them in favor of a fairly superficial conclusion.

But despite the lackluster ending, "The Mind Robber" is still a success. It may get by on style more than substance, but the imaginative plot and skillful use of imagery make it a winner, and it's easy to see why it's remembered as one of the better Troughton serials.

Other notes:

- "The Mind Robber" is a good example of how external constraints can spur creativity: script editor Derrick Sherwin added the first episode, where the TARDIS crew discover a strange white void outside, when "The Dominators" was (mercifully) shortened from six episodes to five, and Jamie's change in appearance was necessitated by Frazer Hines' illness.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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