Doctor Who #217: The Mind Robber Part 1

"What does he mean, we're nowhere?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: The Mind Robber is available on DVD. First aired Sep.14 1968.

IN THIS ONE... Landing nowhere, Jamie and Zoe go off into the whiteness, and the TARDIS splits apart as they clutch the console tightly and scream.

REVIEW: Not another TARDIS malfunction episode!!! Except... This one's really awesome and visually impressive. I didn't expect the story to start on Dulkis, but we do, and we actually see the TARDIS get smothered in lava. Shunting the machine to a place outside the universe (possible at least since The Toymaker), the TARDISeers find themselves literally "nowhere", a vast white expanse that finds a way to draw them in. On our sharp modern televisions, we can of course see the studio walls, but that doesn't take away anything. The camera work keeps Zoe and Jamie small and lost. There's the bit with their costumes all in white, some groovy white robots (stolen from another show), and the TARDIS blows apart as the companions cling to a console spinning through nothingness. Zoe screaming her little head off in her curvy, sparkly new costume is one of the very best screams ever done on the show, and memorable for a variety of reasons. And for the visuals alone, the episode bears seeing.

Where similar set-ups (The Edge of Destruction, The Web Planet, etc.) have focused on TARDIS weirdness and failed, The Mind Robber's emphasis is on the characters and what draws them to the whiteness. Whatever entity is behind this tricks them by playing on their greatest desires. For Jamie and Zoe, there's a longing for home (with sweet bagpipe music underscoring the Scottish Highlands), and for Jamie at least, that would seem motivation enough. His open face and smile and protestations that the white is just mist speak to that. Zoe's just come aboard, so while her home city is a welcome sight, it's her curiosity that gets the better of her. As for the Doctor, he knows it's a trap and tries his best to block the telepathic assault, but is drawn out of the TARDIS when he sees his friends in danger/mind controlled. Did you notice? When he walks back into the TARDIS, it's white instead of blue. Is it the real TARDIS then, or a copy made of this dimension's "stuff"? Maybe we shouldn't fear the TARDIS destroyed after all.

So what's going on? I believe it's worth using a little hindsight and what we know of the rest of the serial to decode Part 1. We're about to discover that we're in the Land of Fiction, a place outside the universe where imagination becomes reality, a mind-space that needs out heroes to exist and thrive. The whiteness then is akin to the blank page - or in this medium, television's snowscapes of static - a place of potential only waiting for your imagination to give it shape. And it is quite clearly using the travelers' imaginations against them - watch for Jamie's unicorn nightmare to come true. When we see Jamie and Zoe all in white, it is an image of them becoming part of the fiction, becoming characters instead of people. And as they become characters, they become a plot device, one that traps the Doctor. In effect, their jeopardy forces the Doctor to participate in the story and become a part of it. And someone else is in control of the story.

THEORIES: When the TARDIS comes under attack, there's a sort of alarm that soon merges with the telepathic attack. Might this be an early concept for the Cloister Bell?

REWATCHABILITY: High - Visually brilliant and highly dramatic, Part 1 features iconic imagery and taps into meta-textuality. Not bad for something cobbled together to cover the shortening of The Dominators.

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