I like to try to be as positive as possible about every Doctor Who story, so let’s start with this: the Quantel Paintbox effects shot is stunning for the time, and Brian Blessed is HUGE fun as Yrcanos. Without him to provide some form of entertainment, this would be simply unwatchable. Sorry, but it’s all negatives from here. I tried.
Peri is a lot of fun as a companion, entirely thanks to Nicola Bryant being brilliant, but unfortunately is the one who gets the roughest ride, existing almost exclusively to be the victim of men. Even more unfortunately, one of those men is the Doctor, who in his sixth incarnation has been subjecting her to mental (and initially physical) abuse right from the start, and never really stopped. The Mysterious Planet showed the potential of a relationship between Peri and the Doctor that worked a bit better, and now Mindwarp shows how well Peri could actually function within a broader companion role than simply being captured and getting rescued. A key aspect of a companion’s character should always be to learn how to step in and be like the Doctor when he’s not around. At last, Peri gets to do that, with the Doctor no longer a reliable hero, and she does it very well, right up until we get to that moment where things become too serious for her to win through on her own. This is normally the point at which we expect the Doctor to show up and help, but it never happens. Leaving aside the retcon later in The Trial of a Time Lord, we end this segment of the 14 week season with Peri dead, having been killed in the most horrific way. We’ll look at the retcon later in the week when we try to muddle our way through the overarching plot of the whole 14 episodes.
I have to acknowledge at this point that the death scene is extremely impressive. Nicola Bryant really goes for it, sells what has happened and makes it as disturbing as she can, which is all she could be expected to do with the material she was given. But disturbing at this point is the last thing we need.
When Doctor Who was taken off air between the last season and this one, the main criticism thrown at it was that it had become too violent. So it is something of an odd decision, just four weeks into the new run, to bring back the writer of Vengeance on Varos, one of the most violent stories of the previous series, and then have him do something similar but even more extreme, complete with body horror (and not just Peri: the Lukoser is also a huge step too far into that kind of territory). All the good work done by Robert Holmes with the Doctor and Peri’s relationship is undone immediately, the Doctor becomes her torturer, and finally she has her hair shaved off (note this is humiliation, not just murder) and another creature takes over her body. Some of the same themes in Vengeance are retrodden. After the Doctor tortures Peri on the Rock of Sorrows, Sil has this to say about it:
Just like in the old days. There’s nothing more enjoyable that watching people suffer.
But it’s not enjoyable for the viewers. Bizarrely we are taken to a place in the story where we simply don’t like the Doctor any more. This is not just one of those moments where we are a bit unsure of his motivations, only for him to do something brilliant and we say “ah yes, that’s what he was up to”. No, there is really no way to respond to what we are shown other than to thoroughly dislike the man.
PERI: What’s happened to you, Doctor? Why do you hate me so?
DOCTOR: I must do what I think is best.
PERI: I used to think that you were different, that you cared for justice and truth and good. I can’t bear to look at what you are now.
YRCANOS: Now, Doctor, it is your turn to die.
And at that point we just want him to kill the Doctor and make the idiot regenerate into somebody better, because any viewer who cares about what Doctor Who stands for has had enough.
A lot of this is blamed on the confusion over what exactly is going on here. Option 1: Is the Doctor bluffing, only to be snatched away before he had a chance to carry out some clever plan? Option 2: Is the Matrix lying? Option 3: Or is he just a nasty piece of work, perhaps affected by brainwashing? It is important to note that Colin Baker tried to find out how he was supposed to play all this stuff, and couldn’t get an answer so he was abandoned to act out a script that made little sense, unaware of his motivations at any point. Which is absolutely appalling, and I think we should remember that little of the blame of what goes wrong during the Colin Baker era is actually anything to do with Colin Baker. His work with Big Finish proves how amazing his Doctor could have been. But the fact that Option 3 above even feels like a possibility shows how badly the characterisation of the Sixth Doctor has already gone astray.
Eventually I’m going to have to get around to writing about The Twin Dilemma, which was the point at which I stopped watching Doctor Who as a child, only returning to the show when the Doctor had regenerated once again. Subsequently I have found plenty to enjoy, watching Colin Baker’s stories, but I am still very glad that I made that decision, because I really wouldn’t have wanted to watch this kind of sadistic, cynical rubbish as a child. Peri’s entire time with the Sixth Doctor objectifies her, and it’s pretty revolting. Doctor Who had forgotten how to be family viewing and instead was appealing to… well I don’t know who this was aiming for to be honest. The cancellation of the Classic Series seemed like such an injustice at the time, but in retrospect we should probably be very grateful that we got the McCoy era at all, and Doctor Who had that golden opportunity to redeem itself before the axe fell, laying the groundwork for the show that would eventually return. Because it’s a miracle that it was allowed to continue after this point. Doctor Who was sick, and there wasn’t a Doctor around to heal it any more. RP
The view from across the pond:
For the next piece of damning evidence during the Trial of a Time Lord, the Valeyard decides to use the events of Mindwarp to illustrate just how the Doctor’s interference is detrimental to the universe. Like a marksman, he’s targeting the Doctor for execution. But his choice of evidence is a bit like a marksman using a kaleidoscope sight while standing on the bridge of a George Clooney’s ship during The Perfect Storm. That’s because taking the Doctor out of events causes more people die, including his companion, while leaving him in potentially could have stopped the Frankenstein’s monster that Crozier was in the process of creating. The Valeyard then uses Time Lord tech to create an assassination that will be perfectly timed to maximize destruction. This is supposed to implicate the Doctor?!? I’d call that pretty damning evidence against the Valeyard, far more than the Doctor. All the Valeyard needed was his VHS copy of Warriors of the Deep where everyone dies except the Doctor and his companions and he’s partly responsible for wiping out what looks like the very last of the Silurian race! Maybe that was a better choice and a better example of genocide!
Of course, it’s possible that the Valeyard had a different idea in mind. Realizing the Doctor must have picked up his coat from a guy named Joseph, he decides to use psychedelics to his advantage hitting the courtroom with such an overabundance of mental stimulus that all they want to do is kill the Doctor. The Doctor lands on the technicolor nightmare world of Thoros Beta. Though the colors are mind altering on their own, at least Peri is out of that idiotic outfit she wore in the previous story (although this one is only slightly better and her hair is still all “80’s business woman”). The Doctor’s clothes naturally clash with everything in the universe with the exception of a Broadway musical, so that was nothing new. Compounding the visual assault with King Ycarnos’s mighty voice and his squires annoying baying, along with the sinister psyco-laugh of Sil’s and the sanity of everyone in the courtroom must have been strained to the limits. If the Valeyard had said “kill the Doctor and I’ll turn this off” I’d be amazed if the jury didn’t pull out pitchforks from their dimensionally transcendental robes and stab the Doctor on the spot!
That all said, I was a sucker for this story when it aired. The show has never been about the visuals so the story carried us as it usually did. And the literal mind-warping finale blew me away so much back in ’86, that I must have watched it a dozen times. Plus I think Brian Blessed is marvelous. I loved Prince Vultan when I saw Flash Gordon six years earlier and I still can’t get Vultan out of my head. Ycarnos is Vultan without wings. “Who wants to live forever?” He’s a walking, talking megaphone of awesomeness. But the plot of Mindwarp centers on what seems to be a very minor life-extending plan, to transfer a mind of a patient into the body of a dead member of his own species. Let’s talk about evil plans: Crozier wasn’t planning on using living members of any other species. That came about afterwards when Lord Kiv got all hot and bothered by Peri. Short of the use of Peri, was this the sort of thing that required Time Lord interference? Where were they during The War Games, prior to Troughton’s Doctor giving them a call? How about getting involved even during the very next story when genocide was on the table? No… the big threat to the Time Lords is transferring a mind into another body! (Morbius clearly wasn’t as big a problem as the slugs on Thoros Beta!)
When you take Doctor Who as a straight-up adventure, it’s almost always fun. When you apply thought to the stories, you hope they hold up. While I did enjoy this one, it does not hold up to logical analysis. There are better reasons for the Time Lords to get involved in the Doctor’s life. There are better examples of his wanton disregard for the non-interference policies of his own people. And there are less mentally assaulting stories from which to get our examples.
I think I’ll get a list together for the next time the Doctor is on trial. Maybe I’ll get a few of those regenerations if I make my case well enough! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Terror of the Vervoids