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8x02. The Mind of Evil
Writer: Don Houghton
Director: Timothy Combe
Script Editor: Terrance Dicks
Producer: Barry Letts

Synopsis: The Doctor becomes suspicious of the Keller Process, a new technique that supposedly removes all violent and negative impulses from the minds of criminals, and discovers that it is the work of the Master, who has brought to Earth an alien parasite that feeds on the evil impulses. The Master is also plotting to plunge the Earth into world war by staging murders at a peace conference and attacking it with a stolen illegal missile.

Review: It's now been several weeks since I actually watched "The Mind of Evil," so I may be a bit fuzzy on some of the details, but I'll try and recall it as best I can (with the help of a plot summary from I do remember thinking when it was over that it seemed like a good compromise between the dark, ambiguous style of Season Seven and the superficiality of "Terror of the Autons," which was so insistently "light" that it just about floated away. In fact, if this is to be the standard for the rest of the Pertwee era, I imagine I'll have very few complaints.

We received some broad hints about the relationship between the Doctor and the Master in "Terror of the Autons," but in "The Mind of Evil" we learn a little more about their rivalry. It's now clear, as I had initially suspected, that the Master cares far more about humiliating his enemies, particularly the Doctor, than he does about the actual success of his schemes. In this serial, he fails in his attempt to trigger a world war and take over the Earth in the resulting chaos, but he hardly seems to care. At the end, he's still gloating because his TARDIS is now fully functional while the Doctor is trapped. We seem at his weakest not when he's actually defeated, but when the Keller Machine attacks him and his fear is manifest in an hallucination of the Doctor laughing at him: the idea of having to admit that his ruthless amorality does not make him superior to the Doctor is what frightens him more than anything. And if the Doctor's reaction to further encounters with the Master at the end of "Terror" seemed a little too glib, the final episode of "The Mind of Evil" more than compensates. Faced with the possibilities of either letting the Master go and allowing him to wreak havoc on other planets and civilizations or tricking him and using the Keller Machine to kill him, the Doctor chooses the latter (though the Master does eventually escape with his life). For the Doctor, especially this Doctor, to make this decision indicates that he's convinced that the stakes are high and that no other option remains, and it underscores the fact that the Master is a very serious adversary and not just the cartoon villain that he sometimes seemed to be in his debut.

The handling of UNIT in "The Mind of Evil" is also a step up. I doubt that Jo Grant will ever really manage to fill Liz Shaw's shoes, but she doesn't have any obvious screw-ups this time, and she and the Doctor seem to be developing a friendship. Don Houghton's script also does some nice work with the characterization of Lethbridge-Stewart, Yates, and Benton -- the latter takes a little ribbing when it seems as if he passed out on the job (in fact, as we later learn, he was attacked by the Keller Machine), but he gets a chance to redeem himself later by leading the assault on Stangmoor Prison, and Yates proves his competence and bravery by keeping after the Master's goons by himself when most of his team has been waylaid in a firefight. At the same time, the geniality doesn't extend to the point of lax discipline (the Brigadier famously barks at Yates for "grinning like a Cheshire Cat" at one of the Doctor's sarcastic comments). The Doctor/Brigadier relationship still isn't back to what it was in Season Seven, and the Doctor does seem rather ungrateful when UNIT saves his and Jo's lives with their assault on the prison, but again, at least some of the banter (such as the Doctor's lament at being stuck on Earth "with *you*, Brigadier") seems like good-natured ribbing rather than the childish bickering that we had to endure in the previous installment. And while the more ambiguous coloring of UNIT in Season Seven may be mostly a thing of the past now, there's still a slightly subversive element in that the missile they're destroying seems to be one that the British government had kept illegally.

Don Houghton proved himself adept at suspenseful plotting with "Inferno," and he does it again with "The Mind of Evil." The character of Mailer, much like Reegan in "The Ambassadors of Death," is a villain with low ambitions by Doctor Who standards. He's more effective than Reegan, however, because he and the Master are, to some extent, on level playing fields: neither of them particularly likes or trusts the other, but they need each other to achieve their goals (starting the world war in the Master's case, and escaping the prison in Mailer's). Mailer's self-centered ruthlessness adds a needed dose of danger and unpredictability, especially since so much of the plot revolves around power changing hands at the prison. The increasing frequency and randomness of the Keller Machine's attacks, meanwhile, also recalls "Inferno" with the sense that something truly powerful has been unleashed and that the situation is rapidly spinning out of control. It doesn't resonate quite the same way since it is the Master, and not a well-intentioned but obsessed human scientist, who is responsible for this, but it keeps the viewer's attention all the same. While the longer Doctor Who serials have sometimes been criticized for dragging, it hasn't been a problem so far in the Pertwee era, with the two four-part Auton stories actually being the weakest to date.

I must admit, however, that I suspect Houghton of a certain sleight-of-hand with some of his plot mechanics in "The Mind of Evil." Maybe I missed a detail somewhere, but given that the Master's hypnosis is so effective and that his plan revolves around assassinations and then the missile strike at the peace conference, I'm not sure that he needed the Keller Machine at all. (It's used in an assassination attempt, but certainly other methods for that would have been available.) In fact, its only real purpose in the plot, as far as I can tell, is to stir up the riot at the prison, which does help the Master in putting a group of loose convicts at his disposal for the missile heist, but I saw no indication that he had planned it that way. Its presence seems due more to Houghton's reported interest in the themes of A Clockwork Orange, as reflected by the character of Barnham. After having all his negative impulses removed by the Keller Machine, Barnham is harmless and free of malice, but also ineffectual in a rather childlike way. He's not as compelling as the infamous main character of Clockwork, but then such an individual would probably be out of place on Doctor Who, and he does provide an interesting twist in that he's able to neutralize the Keller Machine since he no longer has any negative impulses for it to feed upon.

While there are some convenient coincidences here, none of it is illogical per se, and I can't complain too much since the story kept me sufficiently occupied that I didn't really think about this until it was over. After a rocky start to the new season, this is an encouraging rebound that bodes well for the rest of the UNIT era.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four)

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