Doctor Who #285: The Mind of Evil Part 1

"People who go on about infallibility are usually on very shaky ground, I think!"TECHNICAL SPECS: Not available on DVD until 2013, largely because of recolorization issues (the episodes only survive in black and white). I've had to use the Internet to see it. First aired Jan.30 1971.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Jo visit a prison where they're pumping the evil out of inmates. Then the mysterious deaths start, there and at a peace conference secured by UNIT.

REVIEW: We're back to black and white for the moment, but I don't mind. I think I rather missed it, to tell you the truth. Of course, it does mean that the opening episode of The Mind of Evil feels rather old-fashioned. It has a B-movie quality with its long presentation of the "Keller Machine" by amoral scientists about to learn a harsh lesson. Hard to say how much of this color would improve though. Writer Don Houghton's scientific chops are pretty thin, I'm afraid. In Inferno, he gave us the Earth filled with green ooze that turned people into green wolfmen with nary an explanation. In this serial, there's a machine that not only conducts moral lobotomies on people, but "stores" their evil inside a container. Now that it's more than 60% full, it's causing prison riots and willfully killing people by manifesting their greatest fears. I don't mean that it's causing them to see their fear, but actually manifesting them. A man is scratched by mental rats and another drowns, his lungs full of water, in a sterile room. Based on Inferno, I'm not even expecting an explanation for these magical effects.

The script also seems confused about UNIT's role. The Doctor makes the mission statement we heard from the Brigadier in Spearhead, but the Brig is busy providing security for a peace conference AND is in charge of transporting a missile. What do these have to do with strange and unusual threats to Earth? Still, the peace conference is just about the most interesting element in the episode, as the Chinese delegation (represented by the pretty but stern Captain Chin Lee) is plagued by theft and death. The mystery links back to the A-plot when we learn that the conspicuously absent inventor of the Keller Machine had a pretty Chinese assistant. Chin Lee (I keep wanting to write Chun-Li, you win, Street Fighter fans) has a mind control thing behind her ear and loses chunks of time, so she's the mystery worth watching here, not Professor Kittering swim-miming.

But while the whole presentation is Xposition Xtreme (and not a very convincing demonstration in story terms), the scene is kept alive by the actors. The Doctor makes a very bad student, always talking out of turn (we'll later discover he wasn't much better at the Academy), and Kettering unleashes some withering looks on him. The Doctor's greatest fear is shown to be fire, but I don't know where they're getting that. The fires of regeneration? Something that happened off-screen? Or not his greatest fear at all? (Where are the Daleks when you need them to make a key cameo?) Jo gets far less to do, though she's an affable cheerleader for the Doctor. Back at UNIT HQ, the Brig handles the Chinese with professionalism and diplomacy, while Yates shows himself to be a bit of a lad, eying Chin Lee and calling her a "dolly". Behind the camera, director Timothy Combe does a solid if unremarkable job, though I wish he'd restrained the sound effects (the annoying riot) and music (very farty this time around).

- The science in the A-plot is complete rubbish, but the actors do their best and the UNIT B-plot seems a more fertile ground to explore.


Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of the scene where we see the Master's greatest fear, soon to come.

LiamKav said...

Doctor Who monthly covered this story in this month's issue, and they drew a comparison with the fire in the Doctor's fear scene and Inferno, where he saw an entire planet on fire.

The Doctor's greatest fear came up in Matt Smith's last season as well, although they avoided showing it. I would have guessed that the Doctor's greatest fear would maybe be an inability to travel, to be stuck on Gallifrey doing some pointless civil service job for the rest of his life.

Quick question: Is this the first time a Chinese character has been actually played by a Chinese actor, rather than just putting makeup on a white person?

Siskoid said...

And Inferno is by the same writer, so that's a fair assumption. If being stuck on Earth is his actual greatest fear, he's already living it at this point.

Pik Sen Lim (the writer's wife, if you didn't know) IS the first Chinese actor to play a Chinese character in Doctor Who, or at least, a main character. She was born in Malaysia from Chinese parents. Marco Polo did feature Basil Tang as the office foreman (and later, a coolie in Weng-Chiang).

Zienia Merton was the first Asian to play a main Asian character (Ping-Cho) however. She is half Burmese on her mother's side.


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