The Master is back again, and what present has he brought the Doctor this time? In his first story he brought the gift of killer plastic. Now he has a magic box.
We really do need to look at this in terms of magic to make sense of it. The same applies to a lot of Doctor Who stories, which have a veil of science covering a concept that is actually pretty inconsistent with rational (boring) scientific thought. The reason this story fits into that category is that the Keller machine removes evil. Good and evil are ideas of morality and faith. I don’t particularly have a problem with Doctor Who going down that route; it’s a very effective backbone of other genre series such as Buffy, and not so far removed from the human and Dalek factors in Evil of the Daleks, although that was a little more nuanced than a simple matter of good and evil, despite the title.
But science would instead look to things like aggressive tendencies, temper management etc. So if science did come up with a machine like this it would have to take the approach of wiping out the individual’s memories, or removing parts of the brain that govern anger, depending on what side of the nature vs nurture debate you take. The Keller machine is doing something very specific and different. Criminals are shown to have some kind of inherent “evil” quality, which it takes away.
Where you stand on that will depend entirely on where you stand on the idea that somebody can be born evil, or accept evil into their souls, etc. If you are ok with that then the machine will probably seem perfectly rational. If you’re not, then you’re probably going to take issue with this story, because the machine is clearly shown to be successful in what it does. But wherever you stand on that issue, there is something else to think about here, because the Doctor doesn’t seem to have any problem with a machine that removes something (whether we call it evil or are charitable and consider that shorthand for “aggressive tendencies”) from the human brain. For that matter, neither does anyone else, and this could have been the moment for Jo to step up. No, the Doctor has a problem with it because it’s not working properly. And if you are in agreement with him then I would respectfully suggest reading up on some moments in history when experimenting on the brains of the criminal or mentally ill has been attempted and look at where that normally leads.
This brings us to a huge problem the Pertwee era is giving us so far. The Doctor is being written and acted as a member of the elite, and not a particularly nice one at that, and we are moving further and further down the road of the Doctor as a member of a military organisation. The idea of UNIT when it was established in The Invasion and reiterated in Spearhead from Space was a group of scientists and other people assembled to investigate aliens, and because those aliens could pose a threat there had to be some military capability. If you strip away the alien investigations and just have UNIT providing security for a peace conference then you just have the army or a security company, with UNIT shoehorned into that role because you want the viewers to see the familiar faces. But the Doctor is already an unboxed madman in a box, with his arrogance spilling over into the realms of bullying and chauvinism. Here he is a madman who works for the army. If you try to describe the premise behind Doctor Who, we have never been further away from that. It’s great for Doctor Who to do new and different things, but not if that involves changing the Doctor himself into the opposite of what he normally is. He should be an anarchist who fights against injustice, not a soldier who doesn’t see a problem with lobotomy.
Where we find more hope for the character of the Doctor is in the other aspect of the Keller machine, the second magic trick that the magic box can perform: attacking people with their greatest fears. Unlike The God Complex we actually get to see what’s in the Doctor’s Room 11 this time, and it’s his last big failure. It’s the time when he lost, and a world burned. It’s the time when he couldn’t save anyone except himself. And although it was a distorted mirror image, it was the planet he loves the most that went down in flames, and the Doctor didn’t stop it. Showing that this most unshakable and self-confident of Doctors hasn’t simply moved on from that and it still haunts him is an important step on the road to the humility he will need to find in himself in order to fight his final battle.
Then we have the Master’s greatest fear, and it’s something very different: the Doctor laughing at him. For the thing that frightens somebody more than anything to be a person laughing at them, I would suggest that it has to have actually happened. I would also suggest that it probably has to have happened repeatedly, which opens up a particularly nasty can of worms. The most logical way to read the relationship between the Doctor and the Master, in light of this scene, is that their original friendship turned so sour that the Master became obsessed with the Doctor, and the reason that happened is that the Doctor became his bully.
And so all the puzzle pieces begin to slot together: where we started with the First Doctor as an anti-hero; the Doctor completely dominating his granddaughter’s life; his gradual character development into the heroic and kind Doctor we recognise; and finally his exile to Earth, being tied down to one place and time, forcing a relapse into his old arrogance and bullying tendencies. It won’t be long before the Doctor escapes from his exile and moves back towards the man he should be, but it is a troubling fact that when he doesn’t get his own way he starts regressing to that child who bullied his best friend. RP
The view from across the pond:
When James Bond is mentioned to one of the characters in the Doctor Who adventure game, The Gunpowder Plot, the character is confused. “Bond? James Bond?” he asks, rather comically. But Bond is no stranger to Doctor Who. Beyond Bond’s own frequent regenerations (that’s why he changes actors, right?), his attitude and adventurous spirit comes across pretty strongly in the Third Doctor. As if to make that point, writer Don Houghton brings us The Mind of Evil, a 6-part story about a peace conference that the Master wants to disrupt because… well, why not? The Master has the “dove” from Star Trek’s Day of the Dove locked in a box; it feeds off negative emotions just like Trek’s swirly monster. And the Master will use the most convoluted plot he can to sow the seeds of mischief!
The problem with this is that James Bond is an action hero who fights dictators and oversized evil organizations. He’s not fighting monsters and interplanetary threats on a limited budget. The Mind of Evil is a bit Manchurian Candidate or The Outer Limits: 100 Days of the Dragon married to A Clockwork Orange. It feels out of place in Doctor Who. Is it a commentary on prisons and evil thoughts in inmates, as it first implies or a spy-thriller? It suffers from plodding plotting: the pacing is too slow and there’s too much filler when more should have been happening. The Master is as villainous as ever and he’s still a joy to watch, especially when his fear appears onscreen as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, complete with “superiority pose” towering over him and laughing. But it’s not enough to carry the episode. Perhaps if he didn’t come up with a plan akin to a Gordian knot, it might have flowed better.
The worst part is, the concept of a machine that feeds on fear is really scary! Right in the first episode of the story, one man dies of being eaten by rats (though none are actually present) and another drowns (in a perfectly dry room). Conceptually, this is an idea that warrants more attention. Unfortunately the Mind of Evil is in two minds: a prison with the dangerous machine and a peace conference dealing with a James Bond-esque story of espionage. It’s a six-part story which would have been better as two loosely connected 3-episode stories. The result is a bit too non-Who for me.
It’s long and drawn out, not the concise piece of story-telling that often came from the 4 part stories. For a Doctor Who story, it doesn’t flow. Delgado is great though his rubber masks further my comment about Scooby Doo, Pertwee is in character (including getting upset with Jo for “disobeying” him at the start of episode 2… even though she saves his life by disobeying!) At the start of the story, his entire purpose seems to be in proving a bunch of scientists wrong. He’s far too belligerent! The Brigadier is his typically awesome self. Benton becomes a bit of a laughing stock. Yates gets to understand why the Doctor is a force to be reckoned with, when Venusian karate is demonstrated. The characters are all there, but the story doesn’t hold up no matter how often the clip is played of the Doctor asking the Brig to arrive “before the nick of time”! The point is that merging classic ideas into one spliced whole does not make a classic story on its own. To quote my favorite Vorlon from Babylon 5: “A stroke of the brush does not guarantee art from the bristles.” Fact!
To my mind, The Mind of Evil is the weakest of Pertwee’s many stories. Is that evil of me to say? ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Claws of Axos