Doctor Who #220: The Mind Robber Part 4

"When someone writes about an incident after it's happened - that's history. But, when the writing comes first - that's fiction."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.5 1968.

IN THIS ONE... Zoe fights a superhero and the Doctor meets the Master... of the Land.

REVIEW: Visually less arresting than the previous episodes as we move into more modern literatures for inspiration, we should at least be happy that the Doctor didn't use the same trick on the Medusa he did on the Unicorn last time, i.e. "disbelieving the illusion". Unable to dispel the creature that way, he is offered two choices and rejects the one narrated for him by the Master's teletype machine, preventing that predetermined choice from turning him and Zoe into fictional characters. Ok, he doesn't fall into the trap of acting "as written", but he still plays by the story's rules by using a mirror against Medusa as Perseus did. Is that not also acting as a fictional character? There's a failure, or at least a confusion, of concept in Part 4. We finally meet the Master of the Land and his distracting spittle, and he's a prolific writer of boys' fiction plugged into a machine/entity that forces him to imagine worlds of fiction. But is he more a reader than he is a writer? After all, he's processing other people's books and guiding other people's characters. Muddled message? Or satirical jab at television scriptwriting? The writer Peter Ling, too, is using other people's characters and worlds (doubly so in this story), and having his writer looking for a replacement because he's burned out, speaks to a writerly fatigue caused by quotas and taskmasters, leading directly to creative bankruptcy.

Speaking of creative bankruptcy, the episode introduces a superhero of the year 2000 called Karkus, somehow the most prescient of creations. Comics fans, think back to that time 32 years in the future for the program, but only 12 in our past. A time of anti-heroes with unpleasant yet meaningless names, and in the movies, finally coming off the fashion of wearing bodysuits or armors with muscles drawn on them. That's Karkus all over. He looks like a Kevin O'Neil character, something out of Marshal Law. Of course, the joy of Karkus is that Zoe wipes the floor with him, with a crazy series of judo throws and wrestling holds. She's so cute and tiny doing this! I love it, and it's mostly well executed.

Ultimately, this is a story about stories, and how Doctor Who stories are told in particular. So of course, the companions must be put in some danger at the end. Not unlike the Master of the Land, sheer volume and expediency means the same old tropes must be trotted out. It's knowingly done, and "closing the book" on Jamie and Zoe is a fun fairy tale idea. But doesn't the writer and his patron Intelligence know that the biggest Doctor Who trope of all is that the Doctor always wins?

THEORIES: The implication is that the Master is supposed to be Charles Hamilton, at one point considered the world's most prolific author, who wrote a variety of serials under different pen names, including the Greyfriars School stories, St Jim's, Rookwood, Herlock Sholmes, The Rio Kid, and Ken King. Hamilton wrote some 100 million words in his lifetime, a lot more than the Master's measly 5 million word "record".

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Not quite as remarkable as the previous three episodes visually, but look, Zoe throws a superhero around. Who doesn't love that?


Craig Oxbrow said...

And of course, O'Neil draws the Karkus in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969. (And the Second Doctor as well.)

Sadly, he didn't reappear when the Eighth Doctor and Izzy smashed up not-2000AD-at-all in The Company Of Friends.

Siskoid said...

I really late on my reading of the League of Extraordinary Characters Stolen From Other Others ;-) I gotta check that out!

And I thought for sure In the Company of Friends would riff on Karkus, and was disappointed as you were that he wasn't used.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Just for one panel, I should add...

Siskoid said...

Where is IDW's Karkus series?!

Unknown said...

Just watching this episode now for the 1st time and immediately noticed The Masters spittle!!!!! Couldn't believe their budget was so low they couldn't cut the take to wipe it off! Had to check online to see if someone else out there noticed it. Thank you for confirming we DID see it-the Masters spittle is REAL unlike Medusa in her inflatable pool raft dress.

Siskoid said...

Post-production editing in those days meant high costs to rent the single machine that could rewind tape and make cuts which the sports broadcasters used for instant replay. And you'd get access to it in the middle of the night and have to pay double overtime to some technician, and it took forever. That was the status quo for a LONG time on Doctor Who.


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