Written by Peter Ling
Directed by David Maloney
Forced to make an emergency dematerialization from Dulkis, The TARDIS slips out of reality and The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves in a land of fiction.
I’m a literature nerd. A fun date with my wife is going to dinner then visiting a bookstore. I have more books than I do shelf space, and this problem is exacerbated by my employment at a bookstore. And while I don’t get to read as much as I would like, nothing excites me more than searching for a good book. As such, I am predisposed to love The Mind Robber. It is similar to an episode of Spaced or Community in which the savvy viewer tries to identify the tropes and characters, only in this story it would be popular reading from 1968. Sure modern viewers will still get the reference to Rapunzel and Lancelot, but how many modern viewers would know about Gulliver (beyond the Liliputians) or Cyrano or D’Artanian? How many would identify the very brief reference to Jo and Meg or twig that the children that offer riddles to The Doctor are inspired by Edith Nesbit? Thankfully, one does not need to identify all (or, indeed, any) of the literary references. In truth, they are rather broadly drawn and only serve to add flavor and mystery. Overall, The Mind Robber is just a really good story.
The story involves some sort of realm just outside the bounds of reality as we know it. This Land of Fiction needs a strong mind to run it and sustain it. The current Master (not to be confused with The Time Lord of the same name) can no longer sustain the world and a new mind must be acquired. This mind is, of course, The Doctor. Toward the end of the story, the Master Computer, which controls the world, decides to pull all humans from Earth to the Land of Fiction. In truth, this escalation of threat was a bit pointless. The story worked just fine without it. I was also a bit surprised that the story was fairly straightforward and didn’t really push some metaphoric meaning, but older episodes of Doctor Who rarely did. Naturally, it is easy to read meaning into the story. We could view it as a statement about the value of keeping imagination alive. We could see it as a meta-textual analysis of a fictional character (The Doctor) confronting his own fictional nature (which never happens). Or we can just view it as clever escapism, which is probably for the best.
While I think Douglas Camfield is my favorite classic era director, David Maloney would have to be a close second. The story moves along at a brisk pace and rarely lingers anywhere too long. Maloney does a good job of revealing the Toy Soldiers by degrees and handles the surreal aspects of episode one in a compelling way. At the hands of a lesser director, this story could have been plodding and dull. We could have ended up with another Edge of Destruction or Celestial Toymaker, both stories that had interesting premises but failed in execution. Thankfully, Maloney knows how to direct science fiction. He understands the genre and he will return to the show a few more times before this particular project is finished.
This story is also known for the disappearance of Frazier Hines for an episode and a half as he recovered from chicken pox. He was replaced with Hamish Wilson who played Jamie with a new face. Hamish did a great job and his Jamie feels like the same character, just with new energy. Most-likely Hamish saw this as an opportunity to gain exposure and put a lot of energy into it. I’m not saying that they should have replaced Hines, I just think it would have been good to consider Hamish for future companion status. Not that it really matters at this point.
Final Verdict: With The Mind Robber it feels that we can once more go anywhere in time and space rather than merely going to bases under siege. The story is imaginative and the performances are great. The truly is one of the better surviving episodes from Troughton’s era.