The Mind Robber, from 1968, is the second adventure in season 6 of Doctor Who. Starring Patrick Troughton as The Doctor, together with Frazer Hines as Jamie, Wendy Padbury as Zoe, and supported by Emrys Jones as The Master and Bernard Horsfall as Gulliver.
Escaping from the volcano of the previous adventure, The Dominators, the Doctor is forced to move the TARDIS out of time and space completely. They’re nowhere but, whilst he’s fixing things, Zoe & Jamie see their home on the TARDIS scanner.
Before he has time to stop her, Zoe goes outside to find her home city, only it isn’t there. Jamie rushes to get her back, but finds himself in a white void of nothing.
The Doctor is lured outside also, when Jamie & Zoe are threatened by white robots. He’s able to get them to safety, but a mysterious voice in his head drives him to distraction and causes the TARDIS to explode…
In the next episode, Zoe is trapped, Jamie ends up with someone else’s face, and the Doctor meets Gulliver travelling around a forest of … words. An army of life-sized toy soldiers force them into the path of an oncoming unicorn.
Realising the unicorn can’t be real, it isn’t. They then find themselves meeting Gulliver again in a maze, one that has a Minotaur ready to pounce on them. They recover Jamie’s real face but get separated in the maze. Jamie climbs a high mountain into a castle window thanks to a rope fashioned from Rapunzel’s hair, whilst the Doctor and Zoe come face-to-face with the hideous Medusa.
Having concluded that they’re in a world where fiction becomes reality, the Doctor realises the solution to all of these threats is for them to convince themselves that they don’t exist. That works until the Karkus turns up ready to kill. Zoe knows he’s fiction, but the Doctor’s never heard of him.
He can’t say he isn’t real, if he doesn’t know that he isn’t. Zoe has to despatch the Karkus by fighting him in one-on-one combat.
The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are brought to “the Master” – a man kidnapped from the early 20th century by a race that prizes his imaginative creativity. The man is getting old, however, and he’s chosen the Doctor to replace him. The Doctor refuses, until Jamie and Zoe’s escape attempt is caught in the Master’s fictional narrative.
The Doctor tries to escape, to get to the alien computers and rewrite the fiction, until he realises that doing so would trap himself in the world of fiction also. The Master forces him to be integrated into the computer, which the Doctor turns into a battle of wits. He frees Jamie and Zoe, who dupe the white robots into destroying everything.
The Mind Robber is an odd story in that it feels like a lot of imaginative ideas that have nowhere to go and, just when you convince yourself that there’s no narrative there, the writer presents the plot.
The plot itself, however, changes. At first the “Master” wants the Doctor to replace him because, apparently, only humans and human type people have the imagination that can be used by the unnamed alien race.
Then the plan becomes one in which the entire human race will be captured in the same kind of way, to provide even more imagination to the aliens.
Then, all of a sudden, it becomes about occupying Earth once the humans have been removed. Not sure why the aliens suddenly want Earth. There’s nothing to suggest that they need it. The relatively coherent plot of needing humans’ imagination works to the story, but taking over a deserted Earth does not. Not sure what happened there.
Season 6 doesn’t have the best reputation in Doctor Who, filled as is with relatively unremarkable stories like The Krotons, The Space Pirates, The Dominators, and slow-moving stories like The Seeds of Death, and the story-without-end which is the 10-episode The War Games.
However, The Mind Robber tends to escape the (in my opinion, unfounded) scorn of this season – presumably by virtue of being ever changing and never actually having a single story thread.
There is well-known trivia about this adventure, such as Frazer Hines catching chickenpox during filming requiring the hasty “face change” puzzle to allow Hamish Wilson to stand in for him, and The Mind Robber originally being four episodes long, with a fifth episode hastily added because The Dominators ran short – so we have a sparse opening episode. Each episode is also shorter than the usual duration, which has the odd effect that all five episodes fit into the same duration as a regular four-part adventure if you watch them all in one sitting.
All in all, The Mind Robber is an oddly quirky adventure. It shares the off-the-wall imagination of the William Hartnell story The Chase (particularly the “haunted house” episode), whilst being quite unlike the majority of adventures in the series history.
Next time … The Krotons.