BBC HomeExplore the BBC

17 April 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

 
The Mind Robber

Production Code: UU

First Transmitted

1 - 14/09/1968 17:20

2 - 21/09/1968 17:20

3 - 28/09/1968 17:20

4 - 05/10/1968 17:20

5 - 12/10/1968 17:20

Plot

To escape from the volcanic eruption on Dulkis, the Doctor uses an emergency unit which moves the TARDIS out of normal time and space. The travellers find themselves in an endless void, where they are menaced by White Robots.

Having regained the safety of the TARDIS, they believe they have escaped - until the ship suddenly explodes apart. They then find themselves in a land of fiction, where they are hunted by life-size clockwork soldiers and encounter characters like Rapunzel and Swift's Lemuel Gulliver.

This domain is presided over by a man known only as the Master - a prolific English writer from 1926 - who in turn is controlled by a Master Brain computer. Now the Master is desperate to escape and wants the Doctor to take his place, while the Master Brain plans to take over the Earth.

The Doctor engages the Master in a battle of wills using a variety of fictional characters. Zoe and Jamie meanwhile succeed in overloading the Master Brain and, in the confusion, the White Robots destroy the computer, finally freeing the Master.

Episode Endings

The TARDIS is in flight, the travellers having apparently escaped from the void. A low, throbbing hum is heard which grows in intensity until it is unbearable. Suddenly the TARDIS explodes. The Doctor spins away through space while Jamie and Zoe are left clinging to the console as it is engulfed in swirling mist.

Escorted to the edge of a forest of words by the clockwork soldiers, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in a black void. Suddenly they see a white unicorn charging straight at them.

Exploring a labyrinth, the Doctor and Zoe find themselves facing a statue of the Medusa, which starts to come to life. The Doctor tells Zoe to deny its existence or it will turn them both to stone. Zoe is unable to do so. As the Medusa approaches, the Doctor desperately tells Zoe not to look into its eyes.

The travellers are taken to see the Master. Jamie and Zoe attempt to escape through a library but are caught by the White Robots and forced between the pages of a giant book, which starts to close on them.

The travellers and the Master all escape as the White Robots destroy the Master Brain computer. A mist envelops them and the TARDIS reforms in space.

Roots

Created out of Peter Ling's observation of Crossroads fans who believe that their favourite fictional characters are real, the script alludes to fairy tales, Gulliver's Travels, Edmund Rostand's Cyrano, Marvel style superhero comics, The Three Musketeers, Arthurian and Greek legends.

The children's sequence is largely drawn from E. Nesbit's Treasure Seekers.

Quotation from Little Women.

The Avengers (Zoe and the Karkus, plus a ticker tape machine from The House that Jack Built).

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

(Cyrano de Bergerac is treated as a fictional character (from Rostand's play), despite being historically real, as is Blackbeard.)

Dialogue Triumphs

Zoe : "They don't want us to find a way out... only a way in."

The Doctor : "Sausages! Man will become like a string of sausages - all the same!"

Gulliver : "We obey our creator, that is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise."

Continuity

The TARDIS has an 'emergency unit' which takes the craft 'out of the time space dimension. Out of reality.' [Outside of the universe, and thus into other dimensions like the Celestial Toyroom. Perhaps the Toymaker, or the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy), created the Land of Fiction. See also Logopolis).]

An emergency power booster and a relocation device (see The Krotons) are also mentioned. The Master of the Land of Fiction was a writer of pulp fiction (scripting the 'Adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway' in The Ensign), kidnapped from England in the summer of 1926. The Land of Fiction is controlled by the Master under the directions of a computer master brain, although the Master states that there is an 'intelligence' behind the Land. Its plan is to replace the ageing Master with the Doctor and transport mankind to the Land of Fiction thereby leaving Earth uninhabited for the master brain to 'take over'.

The Karkus (a Germanic superhero from the strip cartoons in the 'hourly telepress') is from the year 2000. Zoe is a follower of the Karkus' adventures. The Karkus' anti-molecular ray disintegrator gun is, according to the Doctor, 'scientifically impossible'. It promptly disappears. Zoe refers to her home as simply 'the city', which is briefly seen [It has been suggested that the White Robots and Tin Soldiers are Jamie and Zoe's subconscious representations of the Cybermen and the Quarks (if, as Derrick Sherwin intended, this is a 'dream story').

'The Master' might therefore be the Doctor's subconscious echo of the Gallifreyan renegade. The TARDIS reforms and returns to ordinary space and the next story starts immediately with no reference to the Master, who was going to be taken home. His non-presence indicates that episodes two to five of this adventure don't take place at all, and are a dream brought on by whatever is outside time and space. Thus, the TARDIS never really broke up.]

Location

The Land of Fiction.

Links

Trivia

The character Gulliver speaks only lines written for him by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels.

Distinguished actress Sylvestra Le Tousel, then acting as Sylvestra Le Tozel, plays one of the children.

Although the Master is never named, it is strongly implied that he is Frank Richards, creator of the popular Billy Bunter character of children's fiction. The Master states at one point that he wrote the adventures of Captain Jack Harkaway in the Ensign comic; in reality, it was Richards who wrote these stories. (Peter Ling himself had also written for boys' comics.)

The costumes used for the White Robots had been black and borne identification numbers on their chests when originally seen in the Out of the Unknown play The Prophet. They were repainted for The Mind Robber but were not in fact white; rather, three were yellow and one was grey. The reason for this was that pure white tended to be too bright for the monochrome cameras in use at the time, causing picture flaring. (For the same reason, the TARDIS control console was painted pale green rather than white.)

Myth

Hamish Wilson, who played Jamie in Episodes 2 and 3, is Frazer Hines's cousin. (He isn't, but Ian Hines, who played one of the Clockwork Soldiers in this story, is Hines's brother.)

Goofs

In episode one, as the Doctor pushes the 'white' Jamie and Zoe into the TARDIS, the words 'producer Peter Bryant' can be seen on the scanner).

Shouldn't 'nowhere' be black (i.e. no photons)?

Fashion Victim

Zoe in a lamé catsuit.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Patrick Troughton

Jamie - Frazer Hines

Zoe - Wendy Padbury

A Stranger / Gulliver - Bernard Horsfall

Blackbeard - Gerry Wain

Child - Barbara Loft

Child - Sylvestra Le Tozel

Child - Timothy Horton

Child - Christopher Reynolds The surname of these child actors was spelt 'Reynolds' on the closing credits of Episode 2 and 'Reynalds' on the closing credits of Episode 5.

Child - David Reynolds The surname of these child actors was spelt 'Reynolds' on the closing credits of Episode 2 and 'Reynalds' on the closing credits of Episode 5.

Child - Martin Langley

Cyrano - David Cannon

D'Artagnan and Sir Lancelot - John Greenwood

Jamie - Hamish Wilson

Karkus - Christopher Robbie

Princess Rapunzel - Christine Pirie Christine Pirie also contributed, uncredited, a voice-over reading of an extract from Little Women in Episode 3.

Redcoat - Philip Ryan

Robot - John Atterbury

Robot - Ralph Carrigan

Robot - Bill Wiesener

Robot - Terry Wright

Soldier - Paul Alexander

Soldier - Ian Hines

Soldier - Richard Ireson

The Master - Emrys Jones

The Medusa - Sue Pulford

Crew

Director - David Maloney

Assistant Floor Manager - Edwina Verner

Costumes - Martin Baugh

Costumes - Susan Wheal

Designer - Evan Hercules

Fight Arranger - B H Barry

Fight Arranger - John Greenwood

Film Cameraman - Jimmy Court

Film Editor - Martyn Day

Incidental Music - stock

Make-Up - Sylvia James

Producer - Peter Bryant

Production Assistant - John Lopes

Script Editor - Derrick Sherwin

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Jack Kine

Visual Effects - Bernard Wilkie

Writer - Derrick Sherwin Derrick Sherwin, as Doctor Who's script editor, received no credit for writing this episode, which thus became the only episode in the series' history to feature no writer's credit on screen.

Writer - Peter Ling

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'We may be in a place where nothing is impossible.' A visually astounding serial (especially in the first episode with its white void). The combination of disturbing images (Jamie having his face taken away), superb literalism ('When is a door not a door?') and set pieces (the mental battle for control of Jamie and Zoe) makes this is one of the most memorable stories of the era.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Doctor Who, with its highly flexible format, was able from time to time to present a story that could be considered 'experimental'. The Mind Robber is a good example of this. It is often compared to the third season story The Celestial Toymaker (and also to the eighteenth season story Warriors' Gate, although in that case the main similarity seems to be that the action takes place partly in a white void). Both adventures pit the Doctor and his friends against some initially unseen and intangible force; both involve them being forced to solve puzzles; and both present the possibility of the Doctor having to stay in his adversary's domain as the ultimate threat. Both also fall more clearly into the category of science-fantasy than of science-fiction, although they do have a firm science-fiction basis.

Writing in Ark in Space No.7 dated May 1983, David Owen felt that The Mind Robber worked better than The Celestial Toymaker 'since the Doctor and co are left to deduce exactly where they are, and what the rules of the game are. This draws more on the Doctor's mental resources and hence makes for a far more interesting story, as he solves riddles and puzzles, such as replacing Jamie's face. Quite a stroke of luck that Frazer Hines should be unavailable during this story, since the necessary rewrite is indistinguishable from its surroundings...'

On the downside, The Mind Robber is a bit of a jumble. Principal writer Peter Ling has thrown into the mix a large number of disparate elements from all manner of works of fiction: nursery rhymes, Gulliver, clockwork soldiers, Rapunzel, a superhero called the Karkus, a unicorn, pirates and so on. And yet the whole thing works despite this. The reason may be that the fictional characters play no real part in the plot; they are, cleverly, just characters that appear, interact with the time travellers (or just say their lines) and then vanish when their usefulness is over.

It is puzzling, however, that some of these supposedly fictional characters actually existed (Blackbeard and Cyrano de Bergerac for example); and it is never explained where the White Robots come from, although to give the production team the benefit of the doubt this could perhaps be a supreme piece of cleverness as they (or at least their costumes) were originally created for one of the BBC's Out of the Unknown plays and so could be considered fictional as well. (Interestingly enough, a later Out of the Unknown, Get Off My Cloud, featured both the TARDIS and the Daleks... The blurring of fact and fiction continues.)

The opening episode is generally considered the most memorable, and rightly so. It works incredibly well - especially considering that it was a last-minute addition (necessitated by scripting problems that had seen The Dominators reduced from six episodes to five) and that it was constrained by the fact that no guest cast or additional sets could be afforded.

The 'white featureless void' is very well realised, and the use of subtle mixes between shots adds to the impression of a place devoid of landmarks. The camerawork is, indeed, some of the best ever seen in the series. John Peel, writing in Oracle Volume 2 Number 7, dated April 1979, remembered the impact of this episode:

'The first episode had me unsettled, with most of the action centred in the TARDIS and weird images filling the minds of the two companions... whilst the Doctor strove to repair the [ship] before it was destroyed. Then... the TARDIS exploded, whirling fragments carrying off the Doctor and his companions...

'I was hooked. I didn't miss a single moment of this story, and it easily ranks as the veritable classic... of the Troughton age in my mind... It was a story where literally anything could happen, where nothing was what it seemed and there was no way of guessing what would happen next...'

After this wonderful opening, things do go downhill slightly. Amongst the problems are that the ground-level sets for the 'forest of words' in which the travellers find themselves, although quite effective as such, simply do not tie up with the overhead view (a shame, as this was a nice idea); that the route Zoe suggests taking to the centre of the labyrinth does not match the route as seen on a map of the tunnels; and that the Karkus can be regarded only as a complete joke or perhaps, to be more generous, as another good idea that just didn't work out.

Perhaps more fundamentally, despite the fact that the episodes are somewhat shorter than normal (in fact, some of the shortest in the series' history - the last one is only about eighteen minutes long), the story contains quite a bit of material that comes across as padding. The ending is also somewhat rushed and confused: the White Robots, having been told to destroy, destroy their controller; the Doctor and friends are then engulfed in mist; and the TARDIS reforms. End of story, and not terribly satisfying.

The BBC's Audience Research Report on the final episode suggests that, in common with most other fantasy-orientated stories, The Mind Robber was less than well received by contemporary viewers:

'It seemed that this episode only served to confirm the growing feeling that the element of fantasy in Doctor Who was getting out of hand. This was one of the most far-fetched they had yet seen, most of the sample said, and, with the exception of a few who considered the ending a "bit of a let down" to a promising adventure, the remarks of those reporting also applied to the story as a whole.

'For many, Doctor Who was clearly something watched "for the children's sake" rather than from personal inclination. Never one of their favourite programmes, it had now deteriorated into ridiculous rubbish which could no longer be dignified with the term science-fiction, they declared. This latest adventure, with its weak storyline, was too silly for words and, in their opinion, Doctor Who had had his day.'

'Just under a third' of the sample were reported to have considered the story 'an enjoyable fantasy,' commenting favourably on the idea of a 'master mind' being able to turn people into fictional characters. 'On the other hand, several who welcomed the theme as a refreshing departure from "the more usual punch-up" between the Doctor's party and their current enemies thought the action terribly disjointed and difficult to follow and, although they personally found the story one of the best for a long time, ended by condemning it as far too complicated for younger viewers - who were, after all, its main audience'.

It must be said however that, despite its arguable shortcomings, The Mind Robber remains a hugely enjoyable story, and one that stands up to repeated viewing. It contains at its heart a sound idea, and the writing is highly inventive. The introduction of a 'different' Jamie - again necessitated by circumstances; in this case the fact that Frazer Hines had succumbed to chicken pox and could not appear - is truly innovative, and Hamish Wilson does a pretty good job of playing the Scot for two episodes.

Peel summed up the feelings of many when he suggested that the story stands as a milestone in Doctor Who's history: 'It had been years since Doctor Who had aroused this kind of interest in me, and this story ranks among the best of my... memories [of the series]; weird sets, superb humour (when the Doctor meets Rapunzel, he asks to use her hair to climb down; she says "You may as well, everyone else does..."); strange twists and a brilliant writer.'

< The DominatorsSecond DoctorThe Invasion >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy