Friday, 27 December 2013

Mindwarp written by Philip Martin and directed by Ron Jones

The story in a nutshell: Visiting the sherbet dip planet, the Doctor and Peri both go out of their minds as horrid turd slug Sil licks some serious ass and the Time Lords kill everybody to protect their secrets. Doctor Who is finally on acid.

Dark Doctor: Oddly enough even in his darkest hour there are still loads of charming for the sixth Doctor in this story, showing how far we have come since The Twin Dilemma. He is piercingly and irrefutably told to shut up and stop being so naughty in the courtroom. 'Who else is there?' is his response to being asked why they should interfere. One thing that ran through his time on the show was the sixth Doctor’s expressive enthusiasm of machinery. Bask in his foot stomping hilarity when he loses his temper with the Valeyard. As soon as the Doctor realises what Crozier’s machine is for he tries to dismantle it, a defiant moral reaction. Colin Baker tries to summon the humour of his name sake by acting as though he has had one two many down the pub but these moments of giddy delirium where the Doctor has gone out of his mind are my least favourite of his, the only time I feel he was an embarrassment in the role (thank goodness it is contained to a couple of scenes in part six). His betrayal of Peri is played so broadly it feels very wrong, like he is a twinkling panto villain and enjoying his companions fear. You have to feel sorry for our Doctor (in the courtroom) trying to defend such damning evidence against his character. ‘I see my own interests. I put myself first!’ – you would have thought the Valeyard would be a little subtler in his character assassination than that. His quiet ‘Is Peri dead?’ at the beginning of part eight is quietly played and deadly serious. He describes Peri as ‘fliberty giberty…hopeless!’ and admits that he has enough feelings for her not to want to see her experimented on. I suppose that is some progress from The Twin Dilemma where he tried to throttle her. Look at his face when the guard captain gives him his weapon to cover Ycarnos, I always crack up at that bit. ‘We haven’t got time for you to go courting!’ - definitely my Doctor back. The last scene is possibly the Doctor’s darkest moment in this incarnation and Colin Baker is extraordinary; the Doctor’s reaction to Peri’s death is grief stricken, speechless, furious.

Busty Babe: I’ve got a secret confession to make, I really like Peri. I know she whinges on a bit but unlike Tegan she feels like a real person to me, a stroppy little madam with a privileged upbringing who is whisked off into a universe of horrors and excitement where every over despot they encounter wants to nibble on her bangers. Peri works for me because Nicola Bryant gives her some real pathos and humour and because she shares wonderful chemistry with both of her Doctors (but particularly with Colin Baker which has only been honed over the years in her audio adventure with Big Finish - they are a formidable team these days). I’ll probably be shot down for this but I actually prefer Peri to Ace because her dialogue is more realistic (anybody's dialogue is more realistic than Ace's) and you don’t expect that much of her so she often quietly surprises you whereas Ace was introduced as an amazing not Mel (there is no greater way to describe her) who was often drearily melodramatic and nowhere near as hip as she pretended to be. Peri is often forgotten amongst the wealth of companions but quietly she is one of my favourites and this is a superb final showing for her character.

‘Far out!’ She emerges from the TARDIS terrified that she might clash with whatever lives in a pink sea. Peri is getting on extremely well with the Doctor these days and there is lots of subtle touching and warmth between them. ‘Dirty old warlord!’ She sometimes wishes the Doctor never left Gallifrey, not (my God she’s even cracking jokes, what has happened to her?). ‘I think it just winked at Peri’ ‘Oh cheek!’ ‘There’s no accounting for alien taste…’ – seriously how well do these two work in this first episode? A sign that Peri has grown up she tells the Doctor she wants out of this adventure in a very adult fashion. How marvellous is it to find someone who thinks Peri is revoltingly ugly for a change? Throughout Peri and Ycarnos’ relationship is massively watchable, they bicker like an old married couple  but with much affection for each other. He calls her Perpeguilliam of the Brown and she she has to keep him and his aide from tearing each others throats out. Returning the favour from Vengeance on Varos, Peri attempts to murder Sil. If what we see is to be believed than Peri’s last words to the Doctor are an insult at what a disgusting person he has become. What a sad way to end their time together (although she does still try and save his life). I love the scene where Ycarnos and Dorff have a bitch fight over Peri, she certainly gives as good as she gets. If it is true and Peri and Ycarnos wound up married to each other there is nothing in this story that contradicts that possibility. Her stupidest ever line: ‘Nobody likes brain alteration!’ The scenes in the cell between Peri and Ycarnos are beautifully played and very sweet, Peri wants to go back to her own time and be around people she loves. Nicola Bryant goes out in real style, giving a very disturbing performance as Mentor Kiv and proving at the 11th hour what a versatile actress she is.

Slimy Snake: Whilst he made an instant impression in Vengeance on Varos it was clear that the make up needed a little perfecting. That has been done and the final effect in Mindwarp is seamless, you can't really tell what is is costume and what is make up.  Every line out of Nabil Shaban’s mouth is a little gem and I have endlessly quoted lines from this and Vengeance to unsuspecting friends over the years (‘Money! Moneymonamonamonamoney!’). He’s such a fantastic suck up that if you are looking for ways to lick up to your boss simply watch this story, copy and paste (‘Long may that day be postponed, great Kiv!’). Sil is purely a comic creation these days (he was somewhat more sinister in his debut) but who cares when he lights up the story so much whenever he appears. The one thing that remains consistent is how thrilled he is at watching Peri being tortured. He finds it extremely useful to have a Time Lord in his employ, helping him to pick and choose which companies to finance and get the greatest return on. He sulks like a petulant child when things don't go his way. It really upsets me that to this day we never learn what happened to the poor old slug. Big Finish have come to the rescue there with the lost story Mission to Magnus being dramatised (seriously give it a listen, it is a camp classic!) and a fourth adventure is in the pipeline early in 2014. I can't wait. He's the best original creation of the sixth Doctor's era by a country mile.

Sparkling Lines: This is an extremely witty script…
‘Then where will you be, hmm? Dead! No worse than that…poor!’
‘Unless you want to add your own despair to the sea of sorrows…’
‘Half my fortune if you give me a five minute start!’
‘I’ll scout ahead!’ ‘We’ll all scout ahead!’
‘Die well, my lady.’
‘His name is Dorff and you are scum!’
‘What is more important, my well being or your wealth?’ ‘A trick question magnificence…’
‘And so they took it upon themselves to act like second rate Gods!’
‘You…killed Peri.

The Good Stuff: I have always had a love/hate relationship with Mindwarp, finding that with each successive viewing my opinion shifts dramatically. Frankly I have never known quite what to think about this story and I think Mindwarp quite likes it that way. Half the time it can't make up its mind what is the truth or not. However today I think I have finally made up my mind…with a few caveats.

Any story that can open with a model shot that good and music that moody can’t be all-bad. It might be my favourite musical score in the classic series’ run, go and listen to the haunting music as we approach Thoros-Beta. Irritatingly, it seems to be the only soundtrack from the classic series that isn't available as an isolated score. Th surface of Thoros Beta might make your eyes bleed but it is still the most dazzlingly psycadelic alien world ever seen in Doctor Who. People tend to forget how good JNT’s stories can look and the image of the TARDIS materialising in an electric pink sea with the ringed planets dominating the sky remains unforgettably innovative. The dialogue might be perfunctory but there is some real talent in that courtroom between the actors (Jayston, Bellingham and Baker) of making it dramatic. How dark and under lit is this story? Coupled with a moody score, twisted themes and some uncomfortably bold direction and the overall effect is electrifying in parts. Brian Blessed! Christopher Ryan! Nabil Shaban! What an impressive cast! Blessed in particular puts a smile on my face from his first appearance to his last, so bold and brash (and yet capable of great moments of subtlety) that he can even blow Colin Baker off the screen. The Lukoser manages to go from being frightening to sympathetic in the same introductory scene, that is some confident shifting of tone. The first episode is practically plotless but proves to be one punch the air moment between Peri and the Doctor after another. When Ycarnos starts smashing up Crozier's laboratory, he rushes to protect the pulsating brain. The sets this week are genuinely impressive; future tech that looks like future tech and not an embarrassing tinfoil wrapped vision of the future, strobe lights capturing the action in sudden flashes, mist rolling through the caves…it really feels as though Peri has fallen down the rabbit hole into a sick, twisted Hell. Peri chained to the rock is really nasty, especially that first sudden cut to the waves slashing at her body. Giggling Sil coming into focus from Kiv’s POV always makes me chuckle, Mindwarp can cut from the horrific to the childish in a heartbeat. ‘RETREAT? I AM KING YCARNOS OF THE KRONTEP!’ – man Ycarnos rules. Why couldn’t this cuddly bear have been a companion? Imagine him and the sixth Doctor rattling about the universe? They would have to give out ear plugs wherever they visited. He certainly would have livened up season twenty-four (‘You’re obsessed with dying Ycarnos, I don’t know what’s wrong with you…’). The end of part three feels extremely dramatic, odd considering we have seen a hundred cliff-hangers of this nature before that left me shrugging my shoulders. Ycarnos is capable of moments of surprising gentleness and depth amongst all the entertaining bellowing, making his character one to watch. The atmosphere in the last episode is stifling; it really feels like the hand of fate is closing around Peri, even more so than it did with Adric in Earthshock. The ancient ‘wizened one’  is a lovely character (‘Thank you’ ‘For your life it was nothing’ ‘No...for not shouting.’). Brian Blessed really underplays his reaction to Dorff’s death and it isn’t sentimental in the slightest and thus extremely poignant. The Doctor being taken out of time is one of those wonderful 'oh shit' moments when you suddenly realise that he isn't going to be able to sort this one out. There were plenty of times when this happened with the fifth Doctor but his replacement has been so hands and it has never happened to him before. His enrage importance in the courtroom shows how he is desperate to get back there and get his hands dirty. The revelation that Crozier can offer immortality frightens the Time Lords in a way that forces their hand in order to protect their secrets. It is another example of their interference this season (we haven't yet learnt of their hand in the Ravalox affair). All these examples are stacking up to make the Doctor's violent condemnation of his own people in The Ultimate Foe really impact.  Sil’s ‘I wish you could have found a more attractive one’ is perfectly timed. Is this one of the most dramatic denouements in Doctor Who? I was left breathless at the twists and turns and especially at Peri's grisly fate.

The Bad Stuff: The first scene continually points to The Mysterious Planet for answers, bringing up plot points and in jokes which aren't relevant to this story. It works if you take this as a 12-part story but if you are only dipping into the series it is completely alienating. Can you imagine anything more 80’s than the Doctor and Peri walking across a garishly luminous beach in garish luminous clothes? What is Martha’s dad doing on Thoros Beta? Peri’s scenes with Matrona are so outregously camp they move somewhere beyond  movie – that can pretty much be levelled at the whole of episode two actually. Peri’s butch ‘Yes my Lord’ might be a new nadir of the Colin Baker era. As good as Mindwarp is in place, it descends into moments of head shaking embarrassment on occasion. The dance of the Alphan slaves is hilarious. Tuza is a wooden character being brought to life by a wooden performer.

The Shallow Bit: What’s the verdict on Peri’s grown up look with permed hair and clothes that cover her skin? The end of part one looks as though Colin Baker is masturbating. Not a good look for the show.

Result: One of the most impressive casts gets to play about in Philip Martin’s menacing and playful script. Mindwarp has a really wobbly second episode (which in isolation really doesn't add anything to the development to the story and could happily be cut out with relatively few alterations to other episodes) but after that things just get darker and more twisted and climax on one of the most dramatic last episodes of Doctor Who ever. The mixture of humour and horror reminds me of Rob Shearman’s work, it's uncomfortable but enjoyably so (if you are as twisted as I am). Mindwarp is also a visual treat with sets, effects, lighting and music all exceeding the already pretty high average of eighties Who. Peri is given a remarkably good send off, in this story she is  funny, commanding, mouthy, sweet and her fate is breathtakingly climatic. Nicola Bryant has always been game but she throws herself into this with everything she has. Her one scene as Kiv is gob-smacking. I’m not going to pretend that Mindwarp is a Doctor Who masterpiece, there are some woefully embarrassing moments that cannot be ignored but taken as a whole it is dark and delicious, funny and eccentric, unpredictable and entertaining. An unforgettable ending to an underrated tale, this has been one of my greatest surprises during my marathon re-watch: 8/10


Michael said...

Typo in the last para... ass instead of add.

Great review Joe. As much as I get disgruntled about your opinion of my favorite doctors (five and eleven), I do appreciate your enthusiasm for Six. I watched all through the eighties and enjoyed Colin Baker's era at the time. Later I learned to dislike it from other reviews and whovians. I also liked Peri and enjoyed there only being one companion instead of two or three. Sil was a great villain. NuWho could learn something from the use of this slippery foe.... Use a good villain well and sparingly rather than just once and never to return, or bringing them back ad nauseum.

Paul said...

One of the most fabulous/disturbing things about Mindwarp is that the last time we, the audience, see Peri is when she is strapped to the table, terrified, conscious and knowing what is about to happen to her. After that it's not her, it's Kiv. As companion exits go that's worthy of the horrors you get from HBO! Strong stuff when you think about it...

HellBlazerRaiser said...

MINDWARP is one of my top five favorite Classic DW stories.

I loved Peri. (I'm also a Sixth Doctor fan; he got a raw deal from the "fans" during his tenure, but Colin Baker kicked ass in the role.)

I was 7 or 8 when I first watched this story on PBS and her "death" was devastating. D-E-V-A-S-T-A-T-I-N-G!!!

I cried when my beloved Tegan (YES!!! I am one of the "those" fans who loved Tegan!!! :-) ) left, but I sobbed uncontrollably when Peri was "killed." It was at least 10:30PM on a Saturday by the time MINDWARP ended, so I had already stayed up past my bedtime. My parents couldn't figure out why I was so upset and they had no clue who "Perpugilliam Brown" was.

Great write up for the story as always.