Doctor Who #221: The Mind Robber Part 5

"We obey our creator. That is all that is expected of any character."TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.12 1968.

IN THIS ONE... The Master of the Land and the Doctor have a battle of wits, pitting fictional characters against one another.

REVIEW: I haven't addressed how short this story's episodes have been - closer to 20 minutes than 25 as a function of stretching a four-parter into five episodes - but this one takes the record at 18 minutes, 16 if we cut out the credit sequences. That's outrageously short, and it seems to me there was plenty of opportunities to make it longer with the inclusion, for example, of a few more literary characters, a better thought-out conclusion, or an epilogue that got the Master of the Land back home. The ending, as it is, is ambiguous and anti-climactic. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

In Part 5, the characters are in rather meta-textual danger of becoming fictional characters... why I realize they already are. The Master's creative bankruptcy is apparent at every level, because when Zoe and Jamie are turned into fictions, their vocabulary becomes very limited indeed. And part of the conclusion's disappointment is that his manipulation of the Land of Fiction doesn't sound too literary. What IS fun, is the Doctor hijacking the system with his mind, allowing him to pit his favorite literary figures against the Master's. Gulliver, Karkus and Rapunzel (delightfully letting everyone climb her hair) all return, but Cyrano, D'Artagnan, Blackbeard and Lancelot are all summoned for a nicely staged sword fight on the ramparts of a fairy tale castle in space.

However, the finale fails when it comes to revelations and resolutions. The baddie is defeated by a mixture of jamming computer buttons, unplugging the writer and getting the robots to fire in the machine's direction. Any one would have done, all of them seems messy. The characters are left waiting for oblivion, until the TARDIS reassembles, undoing the damage seen in Part 1, but we never return to its interior. It's abrupt and mystifying. Speaking of which... There are frustratingly few answers at the end of this. Is the intelligence plugged into the Master a machine or something more? What the heck is its plan to kidnap everyone one Earth in order to use it as... what? The danger has all been personal up 'til now, so upping the stakes at the last minute and then not exploring it is just a waste. The real tragedy is that there was plenty of time to spare to give us a more satisfying ending.

THEORIES: Some fans of the show - though I have the distinct impression, not of The Mind Robber - have tried to write off the entire story as a dream sequence, citing, for example, the lack of any mention of it in the next episode or any other episode. The Master of the Land is presumably dropped off at an unspecified destination, but that is likewise not mentioned. Extra-canonical writers HAVE used the Land of Fiction, solidifying its place in the Whoniverse, though of course, viewers unwilling to recognize this broadcast story as canon, won't be quick to canonize the Virgin novels! For my part, The Mind Robber is no more whimsical or fantastical than The Celestial Toymaker, and a great deal more interesting and logical. And if Toymaker is canonical, then let us keep our Mind Robber.

VERSIONS: In the Target novelization, writer Peter Ling added an underground lake sequence, and Zoe transforming into Alice when she falls through the floor. The first episode (which wasn't part of his original script) is treated as a flashback in the body of the story. The original draft had a blonde Zoe, a mistake remedied when Ling was sent the tapes.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Frustratingly underwritten, it still has some nice imagery and cameos by literary favorites.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Highly imaginative, not only is The Mind Robber a nice change of pace amid all the alien invasion stories of the Troughton era, but it also bears deeper analysis. All it needed for the highest of recommendations is a better, fuller ending.