Geekbat Tunes

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil-

Serial Title: The Mind of Evil
Series: 8
Episodes: 6
Doctor: Jon Pertwee 
Companions: Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney)

The Doctor takes a jaunty trip to a maximum security prison, and decides that it would be a wise idea to bring a naïve young girl along with him. In Stangmoor Prison, the Doctor and Jo are attending a demonstration of the Keller Machine, a miracle device that removes ‘evil impulses’ from the criminal brain, curing them. The test subject in the demonstration, Barnham, is nearly fried, rendered comatose when the machine overloads, and the Doctor’s skepticism (and the audience's) seems to be well justified.

In the mean time, UNIT is handling security at the First World Peace Conference- and doing a bang-up job of it, as the Chinese delegation is complaining first that sensitive documents have been stolen (well, maybe you shouldn't have brought top secret documents to a foreign gathering of rival nations…) and then that one of their delegates is dead. Things are looking better for the Keller Machine’s FDA approval than they are for world peace.

Concurrent to this, Mike Yates is leading a bomb disposal team in dismantling and destroying the Thunderbolt, a deadly nerve gas missile seized from terrorists. One can only hope that all of the competent UNIT staff were assigned here instead of the peace conference, because otherwise, judging from their overall success rates so far…

At the prison, a man is found dead next to the Keller machine, one of the demonstration audience, covered in rat bites and scratches… a vermin that his file shows he was terrified of. The professor in charge of the demonstration, a hydrophobic, soon dies too, of the apparent symptoms of drowning, next to the machine. The prisoners are growing restless and agitated, and the Doctor fears that a revolt may be in the works. His investigation of the machine is halted by the apparition of the world in flames, a haunting reminder of the terrifying fate of Earth he witnessed in ‘The Inferno.’ Fortunately, the attack is halted by Jo’s intervention before it can prove as fatal to the Doctor as it has for others.

When Mike Yates comes to fetch the Doctor for assistance at the conference, the Doctor decides the best approach is to leave the young woman that accompanied him at a maximum security prison by herself and return to the conference, leaving Jo with the agitated prisoners on the verge of revolt and the certified fear-killing machine.

At the conference the multi-lingual Doctor charms the Chinese delegates, while their security minister incapacitates Yates with her mental powers and turns into a dragon. She makes a move to assassinate the American delegate, but is thwarted… and a telepathic amplifier, both controlling her, and allowing her to project illusions relayed by the Keller Machine, clue the Doctor in to the culprit behind this dastardly scheme… ‘Professor Keller of Switzerland’ is none other than the Master, who is hiding nearby, observing the conference! In fact, he’s already overheard the UNIT plans to dispose of the Thunderbolt missile…

At the prison, Barnham wakes up- once a violent and loathsome criminal, he now like an innocent child… but he is the only one, as the other prisoners, led by the next-in-line for the Keller Machine, terrified of suffering the same fate, riot- taking Jo and the prison physician, Summers, hostage. The Master, aware that he’s been found out, arrives at the prison and supplies weapons to the rioting prisoners! The Doctor arrives shortly and is captured by the armed and dangerous prisoners, who now run the prison.

The Doctor is chained to the Keller Machine for execution-by-fear, as the Master gloats about his plans to steal the Thunderbolt missile with the aid of the armed prisoners, and destroy the peace conference with it, plunging the world into a state of war! For some reason! Unfortunately for the Master, the Keller Machine has been growing in power- and when activated, nearly destroys the entire prison. (The Doctor is menaced by visions of his enemies, including the Daleks, the Cybermen (one of only two appearances in a Pertwee serial, and never actually in person with this Doctor) and… the Zarbi…? Well, the Web Planet was horrifyingly bad, but… are the ‘Zaarrrrrr-beeeeee!’ really one of the Doctor’s greatest fears? …While the Master is menaced by visions of an all-powerful, indifferent, mocking Doctor that is clearly his superior.)

The Master barely manages to shut the machine off and revives the Doctor from the brink of death (something that, come Pertwee’s last season, will become rather a theme for him… this is the beginning of a trend!), enlisting his help (something that, in this season, has already become something of a theme for the Master, biting off more than he can chew and requiring the Doctor to bail him out of it).

The machine is blockaded in a lecture hall, to be starved by lack of victims. It overcomes this limitation by developing a teleportation ability (necessity is the mother of spontaneously developing superpowers, as they say) and attacks the Doctor and Jo as the Master departs with his Convict Army, taking the missile convoy with ease. A defeated Mike Yates pursues the Master to a nearby airbase, but is captured before he can report the stolen missile’s location.

The Doctor manages to escape the machine, which is drawn to the greater evil of the convicts. The Master and the Doctor construct a machine to subdue it, but with its growing power, it will not be contained for long.

Meanwhile, the Brigadier makes a raid on the prison, sneaking in with soldiers disguised as a repair crew while a second team tunnels from underground. The raid is a spectacular success, with the Brigadier himself stepping in to save the Doctor from an inmate with a gun and murderous intent at the last minute. The Doctor responds by chastising him as a fool and revealing that the missile is not at the prison. (This was the moment, I think, when I decided I didn't like Pertwee… the ungrateful git.) The Master has escaped and goes to ready the missile… but so has Yates, who calls in and informs the Brigadier of the missile’s location.

The Keller Machine overcomes the Time Lord-inspired jammer and attacks Jo and the Doctor again… but the arrival of Barnham, the childlike victim of the demonstration, shuts it down. The Doctor realizes that the complete lack of evil impulse in Barnham counteracts the machine, neutralizing it- and that with this control, they can use what is revealed to be an alien organism within the machine, the true power of the supposed ‘Keller Machine,’ against the Master.

The Doctor makes a deal with the Master via phone- in exchange for the Thunderbolt missile, he will return the Master's de-materialization circuit, absconded with during the end of the Auton business. The Master agrees, but this is a ruse- while the Doctor brings the circuit, he also brings the Keller Machine organism and Barnham. When he and Barnham step back from the ‘trade,’ away from the Master and the Machine, the Keller Machine reactivates, attacking the Master. However, the innocent, good-hearted Barnham charges in to help the Master- his presence deactivates the Machine, and the Master repays his kindness by running Barnham down with his escape van, killing the ex-con, and escaping with his de-materialization circuit. UNIT detonates the Thunderbird missile, ending its threat and taking out the Keller Machine and the organism within in the blast.

Though war has been averted and the prison riot halted, the Master has escaped, regained TARDIS functionality (which the Doctor is still denied), and a good man has been killed. It seems, as the Master calls the Doctor to gloat before leaving to resume roaming the cosmos, that the bad guys have truly won this round.

Though I could hardly know it at the time, this serial is more or less the prototype for all of the Pertwee clichés: The Doctor being a jerk to UNIT but then needing their ‘thuggish firearms’ to be his rescue at the end, The Doctor appearing dead and being revived miraculously at the last minute (this iteration is without the optional ‘Weeping Companion’ attachment), the Master grabbing hold of the ultimately powerful alien creature, then finding it far too powerful for him to control… it’s all here, laying the pattern for everything to come.

The Mind of Evil (or The Pandora Machine, as it was almost known… which sounds a lot more like an original Star Trek or Trek Animated title) is... not exactly what I'd call slow-paced (it certainly moves along at a brisker clip than Ambassadors of Death), but it does take its time in developing- as six-parters are wont to do- perhaps a little too much time to properly build the suspense it's trying to. The last third, however, is practically a different story- far better paced, and more attention-grabbing; it rescues the overall product.

This six-part throwback is also entirely in Black and White, the original color prints having been destroyed along with all of the lost Hartnell and Troughton classics. (Note from Andrew, 2013: They just put a color version out on DVD). The change in pigmentation helps this to feel a little more classic, and helps one to realize that the film and production values may not have changed so much for the Pertwee era as they originally appeared to- the addition of color just made it seem that way. Viewed in monochrome, they still look fairly similar to Troughton's era.

The central tenant- a creature that feeds on evil- seems almost more spiritual or theological than scientific, (and like the Keys of Marinus, treats evil as a set of specific impulses that can be skimmed off the top off the mind like dross- as opposed to a part of human nature, or a series of choices- if only evil was a tangible thing that could be removed from man, instead of something generated by specific choices and nurtured by our sin nature- life might be quite a bit easier...) and the methodology of death- bodies spontaneously generating H2O to fill up lungs or skin spontaneously splitting to mimic rat bites- is likewise more supernatural than plausible physics. (As the hero, the Doctor did NOT spontaneously develop first-degree burns after his first nightmare, I notice…)

Still, the overall story does build the mystery (a little bit- though it's pretty obvious from the start) and the developing plot nicely. And the action-packed finale, with the creature assaulting people in the halls, the UNIT invasion (featuring some more impressive sharp-shooting by the Brigadier), and the end confrontation, is a fun and exciting ride.

The Master returns here- I suspected I'd soon stop noting that in these serials, as I suspected it would be a common occurrence- and then, the elegantly set-up co-exile, courtesy of the stolen de-materialization circuit, leaving the master as a permanent nemesis for the Doctor, was suddenly broken at the end almost as an afterthought! I was quite surprised and dismayed- we shall see how this turns out. The Master does return here, though, with a great entrance. His involvement in the story is a bit more suspect, though- I'd considered, and rejected, the Master as the secret identity of the machine's 'inventor'- as the warden references it as being installed a year ago (perhaps I misunderstood and it was 'last year?')- surely it hasn't been THAT long since Terror of the Autons? A year-long time-skip between serials is somewhat abrupt...!

The Master's nightmare is cleverly and effectively shown to be an all-powerful Doctor, hovering above him in absolute triumph... a nightmare cleverly fulfilled in the New Series' Third finale, Last of the Time Lords. He is oddly subservient, obedient, and friendly with the Doctor towards the end, while they are working to contain the creature- it felt a bit off. However, he is smugly confident in the final confrontation, as befits him well.

I feel sorry for poor, child-like Barnum, who was simply trying to do his best- defending the Doctor in an almost zombie-like manner after he and Jo were hauled inside (and the poignant moment where the Doctor paralyzes him with his Venusian karate to prevent him being hurt by the villains), overcoming his fear to help with the device, and in the end, allowing the Master to escape and getting killed all because he instinctively went to help whoever was in need. Just like the last serial, a poor dupe with a good heart caught up in the Master’s machinations and dying because of it. Poor fellow… Barnham, to me, felt like a trial run (in retrospect) for Tommy in Planet of the Spiders. Same character type, but much better executed the second time with the benefit of experience- and seeing in Tommy what they were TRYING to do here gives the character a bit more poignancy, if only imagined.

(Meanwhile, his task-master, the harsh Dr. Summers is in fact Michael Sheard- Admiral Ozzel to Star Wars fans, and a well-known thespian of the time making a cameo).

One thing I didn't understand at all in this story was WHY in the world Jo continued to hang about the prison
for the entire serial (and why in the world did pairs of guards keep playing chess in a condemned man's cell with their back to him???)- after the second prison break in 10 minutes, one would think they'd start evacuating the civilians... Still, Jo was a fair sight better in this serial than the last- coming up with ideas, being useful (and considerate), staging a couple of nice prison breaks, being surprisingly aggressive in breaking the hostage situations twice in this serial, instead of being a passive prisoner… even beating the Doctor at checkers. She’s on the ball, putting up a very good showing; she even has a very sweet scene sharing a late ‘breakfast’ with the Doctor and bonding with him, reminiscent of the conversation with Victoria in Tomb of the Cybermen or the heart-to-heart with Vicki in the Crusades- a first real acceptance, and a very sweet bond.

The Doctor... well, it's no fault of Mind of Evil's, but this serial is really where I realized the Jon Pertwee just doesn't do it for me as the Doctor. It's not that I dislike him, he's a nice fellow, but as the Doctor, he doesn't have anything to 'look forward to,' as my wife noted- not Hartnell's gruff or giddy statements, not Troughton's manic comedy or elastic face- no quirk or routine to sit there saying "I can't wait for the part of the episode when he does his shtick," nor any real standard comedic moment- his humor is minimalist and fairly dry, and his character rather even and by-rote; he's not unpleasant, but thus far, he seems rather... bland. A bit dull. Not unlikeable, but, like Liz, not very able to stand out in the crowd. Perhaps that's why I find myself looking more forward to scenes with the Master than with him. It's unfortunate, but I think he's my least favorite Doctor to date. Plus, he’s a real jerk to anyone in the military, and I don’t like that. Not at all.

On his merits in this episode, though... well, he still doesn’t fare so well. He’s at his most interesting in the action scenes against the machine (and I’d have liked to see the barrage of his former enemies in color!), but he’s rather bland and uninspired, and most of all… a grumpy ingrate. The Brigadier saves his life with a nick-of-time entrance and sharp-shooting victory, and the Doctor gives a grumpy “Can you, for once, show up BEFORE the last moment?” Okay, begrudging witty banter between friends, no problem… the Brigadier is surprised (with a great expression) to find out that the stolen missile isn’t there as he surmised- “Except for missing the Master and the missile, you’re doing quite well, Brigadier…” the Doctor dourly quips. The one whose life the Brig saved less than a minute before. And he continues like this for the rest of the serial- yelling at the Brigadier for not realizing that he has an alternate plan for the exchange for the Master (despite having given no indication whatsoever that he did, and not having had one until a minute or so before, given to him by Jo, no less…) He’s just kind of a jerk. Not very likable, not very funny- and unfortunately, no out-of-character writing ala ‘Doctor Who And The Silurains’ to blame it on this time. Which is a pity- I wanted to like him. I’m hoping he’ll find a better niche, because right now… he’s not doing so well. Still, kudos to his reactions to the various fear images, and for the continuity of the parallel Earth’s fiery demise from ‘Inferno’ being the source of his initial fire-based nightmare. (In addition, based on his performance in the first few serials, I genuinely believe that he’d have blamed a parking ticket for Bessie, a flat tire, or a bad economy on the Keller Machine, too.) Okay, it’s not all bad- he had a nice escape from the Master, at least…

It’s the Brigadier, along with Jo, that fare the best in this serial. The Brig here is competent, clever, cool, confident, no-nonsense, skilled, and funny. He deduces the lie in the Chinese Delegate’s story easily, (apparently, the entire Chinese delegate subplot was written to pad out the episodes, which were too short for a 6-parter, and designed to showcase the writer’s wife, Pik-Sen Lim, who is the dragon-woman in this serial) with no prompting, instigates a great raid on the prison with more of his signature sharp-shooting and 45-degree instant-turn-and-shoot maneuvers, saves the Doctor’s life with a last-minute shot- all standard Brigadier-type functions. Plus, he plays the delivery driver in the ‘Trojan Horse’ operation, struts around like a peacock proud of his cleverness, and has a great comic double-take and deflated little “oh…” when he discovers that his guess had been wrong, great little comedic touches and fun scenes all, with the Brig acting out of character (or, more accurately, pretending to be another character)… all very UNexpected, and a major treat! We also have great scenes just after Yates’ escape and when Benton is assigned to the prison where the Brigadier bonds with and shows concern for his men- wonderful, humanizing moments shared with our recurring-but-minor UNIT characters. His plans work out (minus finding the missile), he’s level-headed and helpful, and gets a chance to stretch his character muscles in a way that he hasn’t been able to since Inferno.

Speaking of which, Yates gets a great turn here, escaping with gusto, breaking out cleverly, demonstrating great fighting skills, and even verbally sparring with the Master- I LIKE this kid! Sergeant Benton, the one actually ON payroll, doesn’t have much to do- a brief, slightly-comedic (but not all that funny) segment, but really, a minor presence this time around.

Effects were a mixed bag. The device dispatched victims in the latter serials with a unique overexposed/static effect that I am curious as to the look of in color. There was a wavy transition- rather overused- that was fairly stock (though I am curious how it was accomplished non-digitally), a scene in which the machine was breaking out with a VERY odd skewing, point-of-view, dancing-cameraman movement, and a lot of superimpositions. All fairly stock stuff, nothing groundbreaking, save perhaps for the unique look of the static.

But none of that matters because we got a HELICOPTER!!! Moving! In video! And, by a quirk of fate, in Black and White! Hooray for another surviving copter clip! In addition, the Dragon-suit was impressive, though odd, and while it felt a little surreal, it was nicely constructed- and it’s unexpected full-body appearance to the Doctor and Co. (whom you would expect to see through the illusion instead of sharing in it) adds to the shock value of the scene. Oh, and kudos on the ‘artful’ transition in Episode 4, fading from the Doctor’s face to the Master’s.

That said, the budget for this episode went so far over budget (partially due to the aforementioned copter sequence) that the director, Timothy Combe, was actually forbidden from consideration for directing any future Doctor Who work- he was, in essence, blacklisted for being too spendy. One place that said budget was NOT lavished on, however, was the music- which was, in a word, AWFUL. Not grating, like in the Silurians, but it sounded like a synthesizer on demo mode, and various bits- like the anthem played as UNIT storms the prison, are wildly inappropriate. Someday, perhaps we’ll find a Pertwee serial with a decent score…?

And lastly, as usual, the disassociated story notes that don’t fit anywhere else…

-In irony, this episode mocks the foolish scientists who claims that modern science has made capital punishment outdated. Though I’m certain the Doctor would agree with the sentiment, just not the Keller machine method, I find it a good illustration of the foolhardiness of this movement- a rare accidental conservative message in a science fiction show.
-The American ambassador had another strange accent, which sounded like a slightly-mellowed version of Milo Clancy from The Space Pirates- less pronounced, but from the same branch of slightly-texan-british-attempting-amercian. It’s been long enough that I must poke through the archives to remember if Peter Purves fell prey to this same odd hybrid accent in The Chase…
-The use of the prisoners making noise every time the device activated, even when they didn’t know it was being used, was a nice, creepy plot device that added to the eerie atmosphere and the strange, almost omnipresent-seeming power of the Keller Machine.
-Why, oh why, does the Doctor actually bring the real de-materialization circuit to a fake exchange, opening the door for the Master to somehow abscond with it? Why not a fake, or why not disable the circuit first…?
-We have a nice little comic roll in the form of Major Cosworth, who is so enthusiastic and prone to stating the obvious that one can tell that the Brig is slightly unnerved by him. It’s a very subtle humor, and very well-played; the kind of layering we’ve rarely received from performances in Doctor Who, and an excellent bit of comic business precisely BECAUSE it isn’t overplayed or oversold. Another nice subtle moment belongs to the Doctor (who does deserve some due)- being cast into his cell for the second time in Epsiode 5, one harkens back to the first incarceration, where he struggled, paused on the threshold, and was pistol-whipped into submission, clubbed on the back of the head. This second time around, as he enters willingly, the same guard raises his pistol to repeat the gesture- and the Doctor glares him into lowering his hand without incident. It’s a small moment, not lingered-on or emphasized, without a closeup or musical cue to highlight it- but it’s an excellent character moment and detail to watch for.

Great Moments:
The Brigadier’s last-minute rescue!

Overall, Mind of Evil would have rated as an average, middling serial- but the fun and action-packed last two episodes bump it up to a final total of 3.75 out of 5 Tumbling Autons; not quite highly-recommended (save for that last third), but still highly enjoyable overall. The Doctor, however, had better find a way to become more likeable and more interesting whilst dodging the Claws of Axos; we can always hope that this serial was simply a Silurian-style bad-characterization story, and that all will be well next serial… this one is clearly a headliner for The Brig, Jo, and Yates, however- if they were all a bit lukewarm last serial, this is the one that really makes me like them! But the Master gone…? Just when I thought I had the direction for this ‘gentle reboot’ worked out, they pull the rug out from under me! Where will they go next…?

Everything about this episode screams ‘contemporary,’ with the only high-technology provided by the Master based on an alien life-form. Contemporary 1971, for sure.

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