This is one of the last of three throwbacks to season seven (the other two being The Sea Devils and Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and in my book it is the most successful in capturing what was so gripping about that first year for Pertwee. For a start it is filmed and performed with total conviction, you never doubt any of the material because it is treated in such a serious and dramatic fashion. It is blessed with a fantastic budget, which allows for some breathless action sequences. And it contains a genuine threat and one that that manages to scare effectively without resorting to rubber masks and messy deaths. Oh yes this is a powerful story all right.
There is one scene in Mind of Evil that guts me every time I watch it. It takes place at the end of episode three; the Doctor is re-captured by the Master is tied into the Keller machine by Mailer. It is a combination of the imagery and the ideas. The Keller machine has already been demonstrated as a mock electric chair torture device and seeing the Doctor manhandled by such a thug with a bloody great shotgun is terrifying. The clinical setting and the Master’s casual enjoyment of the situation added to Dudley Simpson’s forceful musical score combines to create a truly chilling moment and one that sticks in the mind.
I have always been a firm believer that the ‘real’ world has no place in Doctor Who (my disgusted reaction to rape/abortion/bestiality in Warlock) or if it must be involved it should be used only as a backdrop to highlight the fantastical elements. In my book Doctor Who is escapist fiction and helps provide a release from the terrors of the real world. Watching it is like hugging a comfy blanket when you are ill. Who wants to be reminded about terrorists/rapists/incest, the sick underbelly of society that festers out of control? Not me. But then a story like The Mind of Evil comes along which deals with nuclear weapons, prison riots and evils of the mind and it reminds me that the real world can be utilised effectively, it can push terrors to the surface that we would like to forget about. It is great television, scary and thoughtful and it almost makes you ache to think what other dramatic stories there are to be told in the hellish land we live in. Doctor Who with little imagination sounds a dire prospect but when illicit elements can be used this well I am willing to forgive.
There is a hell of a lot of gunplay in the story, the action quota being much higher than your average Doctor Who. Given the era it is set in you can be sure that the stunts will be successful and several sequences, the raid on the missile and the attack on the prison are breathtaking. Doctor Who violence never feels that real to me but this, criminals and soldgiers gunning each other down, strangling, punching, shooting at point blank range, it is painfully realistic. UNIT is still being treated as a vicious organisation, gone is the “we don’t actually arrest people” from The Invasion and now they are taking control of deadly missiles, protecting peace conferences and killing anybody that prevents them upholding the Queens peace. They scare me frankly, despite idiots like Henderson and Yates (both seem right nancy boys) because they have the right to take lives if necessary. Even Lethbridge Stewart takes a few of them out, posing as a provisions driver and storming into the prison grounds, he shoots somebody right in the chest on top of a building. I get that this is kill or be killed but it is still frightening.
Brr…that damn Keller room, could they have designed it any scarier? It’s like some high tech dentist room, cold white tiles everywhere. When Barnham is strapped to the chair and the camera zooms down from above as the machine throbs into life you cannot fail to see the death penalty similarities. The Keller machine itself is a brilliant idea, an evil intelligence that feeds on the evils of mind and uses your fears against you…now there is a chance to get inside your characters head and see what makes them tick. During one of several heart racing attacks by the machine the Doctor is confronted by the parallel world he saw destroyed last year in Inferno and it is touching to see it stills play heavy on his mind. Even better is the Master’s fear, a truly surreal moment where the Doctor appears as some laughing phantom, taunting the Master and suggesting his deep fear of losing to his foe. Once the machine becomes mobile it really takes on a life of its own, eating up brains aplenty and turning the screen a horrible crackly white colour that, combined with the victim’s deathly screams makes quite an impact. Maybe it was a mistake to make the machine so phallic looking but the ideas are what count and the performances, especially Jon Pertwee’s make the thing far more frightening than it really deserves to be.
Ahh yes Pertwee, the least impressive actor of the lot you say? I say rubbish and watch this story as an example of what he was capable of. His turn as the terrified Doctor is unforgettable, for the usually arrogant and insulting Time Lord to be so helpless and petrified and yet still maintain his dignity was not an easy job but Pertwee is superb, his achingly tired, almost drugged reaction to the Master’s abuse is haunting. To know that one of his hearts stopped suddenly makes the threat very real, even the Doctor cannot fight against this monster and it will never stop coming. I realise Pertwee enjoyed playing the dashing dilettante and he certainly impresses in his action sequences in other stories but this is his star turn, showing the Doctor at his all time weakest and yet still managing to fight. When he says, “How on Earth am I going to stop (the machine) now?” you know that things are bad.
The story even compromises the Master who made his debut in the previous story as a intergalactic showman, deadly certainly but with a knowing smile that informs us he will always be beaten in the end. Here there are no such pretences and when he infiltrates the prison with bombs and guns to release the inmates all that cuddly villainy drops away. Suddenly he is torturing the Doctor in the most perverse manner and stealing missiles to fire at a peace conference. In these post 9/11 days his plans seem more terrifying than ever, this may be elaborate fiction but there are some shocking reminders of some of the worst atrocities humanity has seen. There is a sinister edge to the Master in this story that we never saw very often (The Deadly Assassin, the end of the Keeper of Traken, Survival) but should have been exploited far more. Brought to such a deadly serious level the Master is quite the gripping villain, one you never doubt when he threatens, “I’ll put a bullet through both your hearts”.
If all people can rant on about is the co-incidence of the Keller machine and the Thunderbolt being dealt with in the same story then we should consider ourselves lucky. Come on Doctor Who thrives on bloody co-incidences like this all the time! The only trouble I have with the plotting is the repetitive nature of some of the events; the cliffhangers do feel very samey when there were some ripe moments to choose from (driving off with the missile for one!). But even these faults can be looked on as strengths when you realise how much more striking each machine attack is to the last, the way the familiar events build in tension ensure that the climax is very potent indeed.
Timothy Coome is a much-undervalued director and his work here maintains his flawless track record that began with the equally impressive Silurians. He manages to capture a scene as vividly as possible and create an atmosphere of terror as good as any of the celebrated Who directors. Touches like the cage rattling inmates during each Keller process, the ‘phantom’ Doctor looming over the Master, the close up of the bubbling creature with Summers disgusted reaction in the background, prove he is milking the story for every nightmare. He somehow manages to make the machine disappearing from a room the most alarming of moments, some fast zooms, drunken angles and fades he convinces the machine is bloody well pissed off and wants out! He handles the action with a nice touch of realism, laying off on the music so we can hear the men screaming their last screams.
This sort of thing would have put me off ever watching the show again when I was a kid so I can only imagine what the youth of then had to say. How Terror of the Autons managed to escape the 70’s as the biggest scare fest when this shocker was nestled next door is beyond me.
It remains one of my favourite Pertwee’s to this day mainly due to its clinical realism and unflattering glimpse at the real world. There is a remarkably polished feel about the show aided by the fact that it only exists in black and white helps immeasurably (no gaudy colours to get in the way of the scares!). I cannot reconcile how this is compared to James Bond as not one of those camp classics comes close to capturing the cold flavour of this story, yes they both enjoy plenty of action but in terms of atmosphere and terror the Mind of Evil wins hands down.
I must confess that on viewing ‘The Mind of Evil’ again, I found it to be something of a disappointment. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s rubbish; it just isn’t as good as I remembered. It does have several things to commend it, but I’ll get my criticisms out of the way first.
When I reviewed ‘Terror of the Autons’, I said that it represents a dumbing down of the series and the start of UNIT’s decline into farce. This continues here, although not uniformly throughout the story; most of the problems are confined to the first half. Firstly, it is here that the Brigadier is first made to look like a buffoon. The scenes with the Doctor and Fu Peng are mildly amusing, but they reduce the Brigadier to the role of comic foil and he looks like an idiot, unable to get a word in edgeways and the subject of contempt from Fu Peng. Suddenly, the intelligent, commanding and diplomatic military leader of Season Seven is a bumbling fool. Fortunately, he regains some credibility in the second half of the story, as he leads the assault on Stangmoor Prison, and in one of his finest moments shoots Mailer just in the nick of time to save the Doctor. UNIT also continues to suffer from the presence of Mike Yates, who remains an unconvincing character. In Richard Franklin’s defense however, Yates also benefits from the last three episodes, and doesn’t fare too badly in an action man role that sees him tracking the missile to the airfield and defiantly confronting the Master whilst tied to a chair. Finally, the thoroughly irritating Major Cosgrove further cements UNIT’s newfound reputation as a slightly camp and silly organization.
Another major weakness of ‘The Mind of Evil’ concerns UNIT’s transport of the Thunderbolt missile, which has a ridiculously light escort. The script bravely attempts to address this issue, but with even the person Yates discusses the escort with on the telephone in episode two expressing disbelief at the feeble security measures, this attempt is doomed to failure. I’m also rather dubious about the explosion at the end. The Thunderbolt is referred to as a nuclear missile with a nerve gas warhead throughout, and the Doctor further adds that it will take a nuclear explosion to destroy the Keller Machine. Now I’m no nuclear physicist, but the explosion at the end seems pretty small for a nuclear explosion, destroying as it does one aircraft hanger. And nobody seems remotely concerned about any nerve gas being released.
My final criticism of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is that it feels padded. Given that the three seven part stories in Season Seven seldom felt stretched out, this is particularly disappointing. ‘The Mind of Evil’ is repetitive; the Doctor undergoes several attacks by the Keller Machine, for example, and then there’s Mailer’s initial, unsuccessful attempt to take over the prison, which is no sooner foiled than the Master arrives to organize a more successfully attempt. Consequently, this is one of only a few six part Doctor Who stories that I think would have benefited from being two episodes shorter.
On the other hand, there are several things to recommend ‘The Mind of Evil’. Firstly, and most significantly in my opinion, it showcases the rivalry between the Doctor and the Master superbly. During ‘Terror of the Autons’ they only met on screen during the last episodes, but here they get far more scenes together, and it reveals something rather interesting. When I reviewed ‘Terror of the Autons’, I noted that the Master tends to allow himself to find an excuse not to kill the Doctor rather easily. Here, the impression is given that the Master desperately needs to let the Doctor see him win. It is interesting that he almost seems to be trying to impress the Doctor, and certainly has a degree of respect for him; after all, although as he says at one point, they are both Time Lords, the Master lacks the ability to deal with the Mind Parasite, whereas he clearly believes that the Doctor is more than capable of doing so. Even before he resorts to threatening Jo, he seems confident that the Doctor is underestimating himself. Of course, the revelation that the Doctor ridiculing him is his greatest fear speaks volumes about their relationship and it is also here that we get the first hints that the two of them used to be friends. One of their most interesting scenes together is when the Doctor lashes together his electronic loop to temporarily trap the Keller Machine; for a brief couple of minutes, they seem to forget their enmity, both discussing the scientific problem in hand, with the Master seeming genuinely interested in the Doctor’s solution. Even more interesting is the fact that whilst the Master often thinks twice about killing the Doctor, when the Doctor gets the chance to blow his enemy up at the end, he has no hesitation about doing so. In fact, the Master seems keen to show off and generally gloat in front of the Doctor throughout, whereas the Doctor seems genuinely angered by the Master. Given that he quite rightly blames the Master for bringing the Mind Parasite to Earth and given that the Keller Machine indisputably terrifies him, this is entirely understandable, but is an interesting contrast with his attitude in later stories. In summary, the Master seems to need the Doctor’s recognition of his achievements, whilst the Doctor appears to really actively dislike the Master throughout this story.
Another good aspect of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is Jo. Despite the criticism that I heaped upon here in the previous review, she undergoes something of a transformation here and becomes a capable, useful assistant, rather just an empty-headed companion. She shows considerable courage in dealing with Mailer and the Master, compassion in looking after Barnham, and the complete trust in and loyalty to the Doctor that tend to characterize here. In fact, she’s generally more forthright than I remember her, not afraid to speak her mind, and proving ready to fight when necessary (she holds Mailer at gunpoint in episode two for example, and doesn’t seem particularly scared by him) I still don’t find her convincing as a UNIT agent, but she does at least prove that she has potential as a Doctor Who companion. Jon Pertwee continues to satisfy as the Doctor. His increasing frustration at being trapped on Earth comes through well; he is even more irritable than in ‘Terror of the Autons’, frequently bad-tempered, and very entertainingly rude during Kettering’s press conference. This is topped off by the Doctor’s impotent fury in the last scene, when the Master telephones him to taunt him about his exile. Oh and full marks to Pertwee’s acting when attacked by the Machine; after gurning in ‘Spearhead From Space’, he manages to seem convincingly frightened here.
The direction of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is excellent, so much so that the Keller Machine, essential a box with a phallus, seems genuinely menacing, as it teleports around and sucks the life from its victims. In addition, Puff the Magic Dragon, potentially absurd, also looks quite good at the end of episode two and the start of episode three. The action sequences are also exceptionally good, especially the pitched gun battle between UNIT troops and the convicts in episode five. Overall, ‘The Mind of Evil’ is far from perfect but contains some memorable sequences and is well worth watching in spite of being slightly disappointing overall.