Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Mind Robber

Part One

"Who are you?"

You can tell it's DVD- the opening titles look so much cleaner than they did last story. The restoration team have done a magnificent job here, although arguably it's now more obvious just how much of the TARDIS wall consists of cardboard roundels. And, once we zoom in on it when things start to go wrong, just how tatty the console is.

This is only the second Troughton story, after Tomb, that I thought I knew quite well before the Marathon began. But as soon as the TARDIS starts going wrong my reaction is entirely different from watching in sequence- of course, the fluid links have been on the blink since The Wheel in Space. And this may explain why the TARDIS is suddenly vulnerable to outside forces- it's weakened in its current, mercury vapour emitting state. Oh, and Troughton speaks of a "power room". I don't remember hearing of this before.

Jamie's criticism of Zoe's Dulcian-inspired fashion sense is, of course, entirely correct, so she changes into a skintight sparkly catsuit. Mmmm...

Things start to get creepy as the Ship tries to persuade the TARDISeers to go outside. It's The Edge of Destruction again, except this time there may really be a malign outside force. But why is Zoe so keen to get back to her (unnamed) home city? She's only been on board the TARDIS five minutes.

Zoe slaps Jamie. And then things start getting really creepy with the white robots, the white TARDIS and the white Jamie and Zoe. The ending is excellent, surely the ultimate cliffhanger. And on top of that, er, a certain shot of Zoe towards the end...

That was excellent. It shows just what The Edge of Destruction could have been like if it'd been good...

Part Two

"This is like exploring a maze in the dark."

As strange as last episode was, it at least harked back to something the series had done before, whereas this episode is utterly strange and disorienting. Yet it remains gripping throughout because the familiar characters are a still point for all the surreal events to hang upon, and because it feels we can trust the story to eventually resolve itself. If last episode was The Edge of Destruction done right, I suppose we're now more into the territory of The Celestial Toymaker done right.

I like the way Jamie pauses in front of the redcoat and stands still to deliver his line before attacking.  But this is excellent, and really establishes a mood with elements from fairy tale and fiction which should be reassuring but instead are menacing. Bernard Horsfall is good as a certain character, who I won't name as I'm not supposed to know who he is yet.

Part Three

"Are you a woodcutter's son?"

"No, I'm the son of a piper."

"Oh, how very disappointing. Well, I think you ought to go. Goodbye."

I like these scenes of the Master, from behind, in his nifty little lair with the monitors. In fact the whole thing's extremely well designed, so much so that you don't mind the budget nature of much of it, or the clearly limited size of the sets.

And it doesn't just look good, it has substance. Great as the set pieces are, the story isn't just a string of them- the plot's always moving onwards underneath, which is a huge contrast from these pieces in The Celestial Toymaker.

Frazer Hines is back! Yay! But our heroes are lost in a labyrinth. And the string's run out. Yes, Doctor, that's right- split the party. If there's one thing all my years of playing D&D have taught me it's that's a really good idea.

Real thought has been put into the fantasy elements- in spite of the fantasy traqppings this is far from throwaway stuff for kids as could have been the case given the subject matter. Instead we get great concepts such as all of Gulliver's dialogue coming from swift's pen.

I love Rapunzel, and her wonderfully fourth wall-shattering dialogue.

Part Four

"Why, Sir, the Yahoos!"

The Medusa scene is well resolved, and subtly helps develop the audience's understanding of what's happening while it's at it. We see the White Robots again, and the TARDISeers are reunited. But there's one thing that's bothering me by now: is it me or has the Doctor changed during the last couple of stories? Some of the depth to the character- the Machiavellian streak, the ends-justifies-the-means attitude- hasn't been in evidence recently, and this story has really made me notice. I hope this isn't permanent, great though Troughton is.

With the Karkus the Doctor and Zoe reverse their roles- this time it's Zoe who knows it's fiction. And as for the bit where Zoe fights the Karkus in her sparkly catsuit- well, I've certainly seen worse scenes... Interesting that she's apparently from "the year 2000", or at least can remember it. That would place The Wheel in Space fairly early in the 21st century. I love the Karkus' dismissal: "We won't be needing you any longer. Run along." Much of the dialogue in this story is really quite witty, not something it seems to get credit for.

The revelations soon come thick and fast- our heroes risk becoming fictional characters (oh, how postmodern!) if they make a wrong step. And the Master wants the Doctor to replace him. Oh, and for the first time in a while, apparently, "resistance is useless."

I love the book cliffhanger!

Part Five

"Man would become a string of sausages!"

I'm loving this story. It's such a breath of fresh air to see something that's innovative and done well, especially after such a long string of base-under-sieges.

Yet again the Doctor shows his intense dislike of mind control as the fictionalised Zoe and Jamie lose their free will. His escape from the Master's clutches is great, but naturally it's Rapunzel who gets the best line; she agrees to the Doctor using her hair to climb down as "everybody else uses it, so I don't see why you shouldn't."

We get an epic ending as fictional characters duel against one another, and it's Zoe who saves the day by realising the computer is overloading. This is a great story for her.

Overall, that was great! Well structured, witty and bursting with ideas. Doctor Who has taken a real creative risk with this story and it's really paid off. An easy 5/5.

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