Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Mind of Evil written by Don Houghton and directed by Tim Coombe

This story in a nutshell: Three plots vie for space filling up a six part serial with action, suspense and real life chills...

The Mighty Nose: In his two stories Don Houghton managed to capture the third Doctor beautifully by taking him to extremes of emotion and seeing how he copes. The usual unruffled Pertwee was facing Armageddon in Inferno and here he is tortured beyond reason and it is great to be able to see the weaker side of this bullish character. It makes him far more grounded. All this is odd because the first episode probably features the least likable characterisation of the third Doctor in the series and it takes for one of his hearts to stop beating for him to pull himself together and stop behaving like a twat. In the first episode the Doctor behaves like a playground bully, acting up in front of the CCTV, insulting the press (okay, I’ll give him that one) and deliberately and insultingly interrupting Kettering’s demonstration and throwing a bitchy look to Jo when he is admonished. Why he should behave this way is beyond me, unless his exile on Earth has become too much and he has decided to take it out on every single official he comes into contact with. Troughton could run rings around those in authority, but he was did so with a smile on his face and managed to charm his way into their good books by the end of the story. If had thumped the Doctor and thrown him out of the prison I wouldn't have been at all shocked. He takes the suggestion that he is not a scientist very personally. Frankly he is so tormenting you want him to be wrong about the Keller machine just so they can shove it in his face. Whilst the monsters chosen to represent the Doctor's fears are a little oddball (Daleks and Cybermen aside) it is great to see a reminder of of his adventures in space and time and that he is still haunted by his experience in the alternative world in Inferno. It is not like Doctor Who to reference stories in this fashion or to have emotional consequences spill into subsequent stories and the almost serial nature of the show during the Pertwee years is a real strength. I warmed up to the character when he attacked Mike Yates for no apparent reason. That really made me smile. His relationship with the Brigadier is no less spiky than usual, only agreeing to help him with his problems as long as his demands are met. Where his arrogance comes in handy is in moments like those where he is taken hostage by Mailer, casually telling him he was going into the prison anyway and pushing the shot gun out of his face. At this point the show is still trying to keep the tension between the Doctor and the Master as edgy as possible. With a backdrop of missiles, prisons and guns their rivalry seems more violent than ever and there is a real feeling that if he had the chance the Master would end his old friends life for good. The gravity that Pertwee brings to the role really comes into play when the Doctor is subjected to the Keller machine, there is no witty wordplay or casual insouciance - he is really, really scared and screams blue murder and the parade of nasties that is thrown at him. Afterwards he looks in a really bad way; sweaty, tired and close to death. The Doctor has been put in peril many times but it has never been played as real as this before. And then he has the crap kicked out of him by Mailer! He admits that he is physically and mentally tired. Divine retribution for his pomposity earlier, perhaps? In one scene he pretty much tells the Master to get off his adopted planet and stop causing trouble. He always has a better plan, its just a matter of figuring out what. I felt pangs of the Doctor/Jo chemistry when he comforted her in the cell and in the way he stroked her hair after Barnham died. Considering this is only only their second story together they are already working extremely well as an effective unit (hoho).  His parting riposte, 'I'm stuck here on Earth...with you Brigadier!' makes me heave with laughter! I usually find myself more drawn to the later Pertwee adventures because the character is much warmer and likable (from about Day of the Daleks onwards really) but I have to admit there is certainly a case to be made that the patience testing, strutting egotist of his early years as actually the more interesting interpretation.

Groovy Chick: I can't reconcile this Jo with the ignoramus in Terror of Autons and the faceless screamer in Claws of Axos. I can only think that she has been on an intensive training course because suddenly Jo is intelligent, level headed, resourceful and a real woman of action. Pretty much the perfect UNIT operative. From hopeless to adept in one bound. Perhaps Don Houghton didn't read the memo that the assistant was supposed to be a dippy audience identification figure and was still characterising the regulars in the season seven style? It says something about the Doctor's behaviour that it is only because Jo develops a relationship with Barnham (when he practically ignores the guy throughout) that they mange to figure out how to subdue the Keller machine. Watch her disarming a prisoner and holding him hostage with a pistol - it's like watching Emma Peel at work! Whilst being an excellent and comforting nurse maid Jo does almost murder the Doctor with an aspirin. I love the little kiss that Mailer blows Jo in the cell, very creepy and apparently unscripted. Jo manages to save the day by stating the obvious. It's a gift.

Pompous Military Idiot: How dashing does Nick Courtney look in this story? It's before his hair and waist line lost control and he slips into that uniform like a hand into a glove. After being sidelined for very good reasons in Terror of the Autons it is fantastic to see Nick Courtney getting such a generous piece of the action. We see him handling all manner of stressful and potentially disastrous situations without ever breaking a sweat. His relationship with his men is a very strong one and he finds the suggestion that his men take bribes extremely insulting. That's not to say he wont chew them out when they don't perform the duties they have been asked to do. I love the scene where he scolds Benton ('You're too delicate for intelligence work Benton you better go an lie down!'). You can't help but sympathise with him when he escorts the Doctor to the Chinese delegates room, he is trying so hard to be the professional investigator and the Doctor insults and ignores him and tries to send him off with an order for their dinner! Bless him, he's such a busy bloke that he can be seen sleeping at his desk (at least he has the gorgeous Corporal Bell to lay on some coffee). This is one of the few times we get to see the Brigadier as a proper soldier rather than a desk bound strategist. He thinks through his ambush on the prison, dons a disguise and fights his way viciously through to the Doctor. Nick Courtney's cockney delivery driver is a thing to behold. His embarrassed reaction to Barnham is priceless, not used to having to deal with peoples feelings. The Brig could never resist a big bang so he tries to blow up the missile from the ground and take the Master with it. Even he must have been satisfied with this one.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Tonight you will kill the American delegate.'
'You'll do nothing or I'll put a bullet through both your hearts.'
'I really would like to stop and watch your nightmares.'
'Inside is a creature that feeds on the evil of the mind.'
'Everything is a question of money these days, my dear Captain.'
'Thank you very much Brigadier! But do you think for once in your life you could arrive before the nick of time?'

The Good Stuff: Listening to the DVD commentary I am pleased that Barry Letts chose to pour some money into the construction of the prison sets because they look very authentic and give the episodes a realistic base of operation. The clanging of cups on bars, screaming prisoners as a man is taken to the equivalent of death row and all the violence that comes with the prisoners taking over the asylum - this is not your typical Doctor Who setting. Michael Sheard is always a welcome sight and manages to turn would could have been the forgettable role of Doctor Summers into someone who handles the situation with a great deal of believability and pathos. The idea of the Keller Machine is intriguing (despite it's singularly unimpressive appearance) but surely the scientists must have realised that they were entering into very dangerous psychological waters by extracting all the evil impulses of the mind? Never mind the children, I found the sequences in the Process Room a little too much to bear. With its sterile and clinical atmosphere and punishment which looks exactly like an electric chair, I would question whether this is Saturday teatime viewing. Tim Coombe's choice of having Chin Lee burning the official papers in a playground full of excitable children was a creepy one, innocence and evil all in one shot. News of a peace conference is the first sign that things aren't going so well in the political landscape of Doctor Who on Earth and would be followed up effectively in Day of the Daleks next season. It might not be very subtle politics (this is hardly on the level of shows like The West Wing but nor is it trying to be) but it does give the story a contemporary feel. Kettering's drowning is very simply and effectively rendered with a rippling overlay of the sea and the pulsing machine - I always gasp for air during that scene and it looks even more daunting in the new colourised version. The idea of leaving a man with the mind of child, all of his darker impulses drawn out of him, is probably worse than death. It's handing him back to society as a simpleton, not able to engage or express himself adequately. A machine that can use your nightmares and phobias to attack your mind is terrifying, one of the most frightening concepts Doctor Who has ever presented. I love the leafy, autumnal locations. The cigar puffing, chauffeur driven Master is the epitome of cool. He would certainly have his moments of charm and threat in the future but never again would he quite capture that essence of cool. William Marlowe is not the obvious choice of actor to play the role of Mailer (considering he is a prison thug you would expect somebody built like a brick shit house) but he is absolutely perfect for the role, utterly convincing as a criminal nasty who would crack your skull open if he didn't like the look of you. When you see what Marlowe accomplishes here it is hard to believe he was wasted on such an unmemorable role in Revenge of the Cybermen. Watch out for the lighting during the sequence where Chin Lee prepares to attack the US delegate, it is highly atmospheric (the Dudley Simpson music is awesome too). Bombs, guns, gas masks, missiles, prison guards murdered en masse, bullets to the face, gut and back, blood ...what on Earth would Mary Whitehouse make of all this? 'Show our patient to the chair...' - the end of episodes three is absolutely terrifying in it's implications, it actually looks like the Doctor is being led to the electric chair but what he experiences is far more chilling. The organ of death kicks in as the Doctor is strapped into the torture device. The Master is so casually arrogant that he has the nerve to think that he can best the machine and it repays him in kind by haunting him with an image of the Doctor laughing at him, preying on his insecurities.
There's everything you need to know about the Master and his relationship with the Doctor in that one scene. To aim the missile at the peace conference has got to be the most vainglorious plan the Master has ever have to wonder what could have possibly happened to make him quite that twisted. In dramatic terms it would have been fascinating had he succeeded and we had witnessed the consequences of such a devastating terrorist attack. It is one of the few stories where I will cut Mike Yates some slack, after all he gets shot in the hand and still manages to grab a motorbike and and pursue the armed criminals and their missile booty. It feels like there are incredible resources on hand in The Mind of Evil to give the story some scope, the missile and the hangar would not look at all out of place in an early Bond movie. Design wise, the Keller machine is the least threatening device imaginable and yet somehow the director really sells the threat when it starts to teleport about and fry peoples brains out. The weird do-not-adjust-your-set effect used during the attacks looks wonderfully retro and dramatic. The Pertwee era really was home to some of the most impressive action sequences in the shows long history and the attack on the prison must rank as one of the most lavish (and expensive). Bullets fly through the air, people are shot at point blank range in the gut, fall down stairs, scale walls, indulge in vicious hand to hand combat...its a huge set piece, littered with corpses. The Master stands proud before the missile, finally achieving his status as a Bond villain. Coombe goes nuts when he tries to suggest the rage of the Machine that is caught in the Doctor's restraint, with explosions, props flying and disorienting camera work you've got a director who is willing to take risks to show a device breaking free of its bonds and screaming with frustration. Barnham calms the machine down because he has no negative impulses, such a simple idea but so obvious that it works a treat. The blobby, oozing, writhing mind of evil is a sight to behold.  'Acting Governor Benton here' 'Who?' - Delgado's look of bafflement is glorious. Barnham's death might seem gratuitous but it just goes to show what an utter bastard the Master is, running down the one man who tried to save him. Doctor Who has often shown that defeating the bad guys comes with a price, that saving the day isn't always a triumph. Because he loves to have the last word, the Master calls the Doctor up at the conclusion to point out that he has his dematerialisation circuit and he's saying tata for now. You've got to love that level of smugness.

The Bad Stuff: Would the Doctor really have to suggest to Dr Summers that he performs a post mortem? Dudley Simpson's Chinese theme isn't exactly subtle but perhaps I shouldn't say that in case i give more credence to the ridiculous book recently published that suggests that Doctor Who is outwardly racist. Occasionally thoughtless perhaps, but racist? Give me a break. 'Pity she's quite a dolly!' - are we supposed to buy Mike Yates as an army lad lusting after female diplomats? It has been pointed out that the two storylines are strenuously linked by the co-incidence of a 'rather attractive Chinese girl.' Maybe so, but can you imagine the padding if one of the three storylines (the Keller Machine, the machinations in the prison and the peace conference) was excised? The Master's mask and boiler suit disguise are really lame...I would say that he is just not trying any more but this is only his second story. A US delegate whose greatest fear is a dragon from Chinese mythology? Takes all sorts, I suppose. The missile backdrop is hideously unconvincing. It's nice to have it confirmed that despite sterner competition the Doctor's greatest enemies are Koquillion, Zarbis and War Machines.

The Shallow Bit: Jo wears a flattering, tight fitting roll neck. She makes distressing orgasmic noises as the machine attacks her.

Result: It makes you wonder if Houghton had a clue that his hard hitting thriller was going to be nestled into the somewhat more cuddly season eight because it really is the odd one out this year, one last gasp of season seven. Whilst a lot of the material might go over children's heads, nightmarish and adult imagery makes this one of the most grown up Doctor Who adventures and for ages I was pleased that it was trapped in black and white because it only enhances the gritty direction and realistic atmosphere. However the recent colour recovery has proven me wrong (plus the 18 month job of recolouring episode one, one frame at a time - bravo to Stuart Humphries for his dedication) and spruced up on DVD it looks more polished than ever. Monstrously over budget it might have been but every penny of that overspend made it on screen and I can't think of a time when action felt quite this rough and ready on Doctor Who, where every punch and shot has consequences. Because of its multiple plot lines it never really flags even at six parts (despite a very repetitive cliffhanger where the organ of death kicks in and the Keller machine does its thing) and like the previous season all of the performances impress. Tim Coombe laments the fact that he never went on to direct any more Doctor Who stories and after his imaginative and stylish work on this and Dr Who & the Silurians I can only concur with his sentiments. If it was something as mundane as a  balance sheet that robbed us of further adventures of this quality it dud move on Barry Lett's part. The Mind of Evil is also Roger Delgado's finest two and half hours as the Master (some would say that was the Daemons but he just oozes class in every frame here), projecting a sense of danger and unpredictability that we wouldn't see in the part again for a long time. There's something very right about the Master utilising a gang of unsavoury criminals to do his bidding and the shots of him with a weapon of mass destruction within arms reach are classic moments of the era. In contrast the Doctor is an anti-hero for the first few episodes; abrasive and unlikable but come the point where he is being strapped into a torture device and is almost killed by his own demons you are sympathising with him like never before. A totally unique step into a more mature world which I found gripped me throughout: 9/10


Paolo said...

Very nice review, thank you. The Mind of Evil is one of the few stories which I have never been able to get into - I have only ever seen ep 1, which is odd since Pertwee is my favourite Doctor. You have inspired me to put aside a few hours and give it a proper viewing this weekend :)

I did like the reference to this technology in the Doctor who unbound story "Sympathy for the Devil" as a what if, should the Doctor not been present during these events.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review as always, but I miss audio-reviews a lot or probably you have heard already all the audio-stories about the Doctor? :)

Anonymous said...

Think the American diplomats nightmare of the dragon was meant to be a visual interpretation of his fear of a powerful nuclear china and his failure in the peace talks leading to a war with them and possible communist domination of the world . But I could be wrong.Great review though .

Zaphod said...

The Doctor makes insulting remarks in Kettering's presence because the Doctor is correct in his mistrust of
the process and also because Kettering is pompous.

Excellent review. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Doug Horton said...

One of my favourite Doctor Who stories. When I see a story like this - with the multiple plot threads, the inventiveness of the threat, the characters and action - I feel that modern Doctor Who could learn a lot from stories like this. Don Houghton wrote two of the best classic Who stories and Timothy Combe was an inspired director. Bravo.