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JON PERTWEE is DOCTOR WHO in DON HOUGHTON'S THE MIND OF EVIL

Video review by Alistair Hughes

Dr. No (and the Mind of Evil)

A stylish and ruthless megalomaniac, aided by his private ‘army’ and an exotic female accomplice, seeks world domination by stealing a secret weapon to begin World War III. Political intrigue, action and use of advanced gadgetry ensues, culminating in a heavily-armed siege on the villain's stronghold.

Only one man can save the world, sent on this hazardous mission by a secret intelligence division of the British Government and aided by his own glamorous female assistant. Could it be ... yes - Who, Doctor Who, license to frill (wear them, that is).

Of course, the other resemblance that this story bears to those in a certain hugely popular film series (apart from the fact that the lead character has been played by several different actors) is that The Mind of Evil perhaps goes on a little too long.

However, this serial mixes three distinct storylines (the Keller Machine at Stangmore Prison, the Peace Conference, and the missile hijack), with some verve and skill, while also expanding upon the intriguing characters of the Doctor and the Master, and their surprisingly complex inter-relationship.

As opposed to the last Doctor Who serial I reviewed, Horror of Fang Rock; there is almost an over-abundance of plot and themes in The Mind of Evil, making it only slightly less enjoyable.

Thunderbolt

The ‘James Bond’ elements in this story come largely from the missile hijack plot strand, a classic Boy's Own scenario seen in many Bond films. Incidentally, when discussing this rather testosterone-charged thriller, it's interesting to note that the two threats to humankind, the Thunderbolt missile and the Keller machine, are both clearly phallic symbols!

The Master is out of his usual Nehru-collared jacket for this story, and appears as a very ‘Blofeld-esque’ villain, dressed impeccably and ensconced in the back of a chauffeur-driven black limousine, directing his carefully-formulated plan urbanely from afar. Only when his nemesis, the Doctor, becomes a fly in the ointment does the evil Time Lord become more actively involved.

The Master's rash tendency to explain his plans to a captive and seemingly powerless Doctor, who inevitably escapes and uses the information to defeat him, is surely another Bond villain hallmark.

This story's two main action sequences, the missile hijack and the storming of the prison by UNIT troops, further enforce the 007 imagery. To director Timothy Combe's credit, these ambitious sequences are genuinely exciting and, by the series' standards, grandly-scaled.

Although we don't get to visit foreign locales in true 007 style, an international flavour is implied by the World Peace Conference subplot. This also sets the scene for ‘Bondian’ espionage, infiltration and spying as Communist Captain Chin Lee unwillingly sets the stage for global war. (She is the Master's first accomplice of Chinese extraction, the second being the very similarly-named Chang Lee from the recent TV Movie.)

A final example of this story's closer relationship to a contemporary action thriller than science fiction is that the physical threat comes not from rubbery aliens, but armed killers, destructive weaponry and the darker side of the human mind.

On the Brigadier's Secret Service

Three interconnected plots, each with their own themes and issues, make up The Mind of Evil. The Keller machine and events at Stangmore prison plot strand is presented first, providing us with the closest thing to a monster that we get in this story. The machine looks singularly unimpressive, but the accompanying incidental music and sound effects create an impressive air of menace. In true Dalek fashion, the machine actually houses a shapeless creature within, this one resembling a ladle full of pasta. Appearances can be deceiving, as we know, and such an innocuous creature does manage to reduce the Doctor to the most broken state we've ever seen. "He's been beaten up", says the well-meaning Dr. Summers, "physically and mentally". The Master even has to resuscitate one of the Doctor's hearts to save his life - but only because the Doctor is still useful to him, of course.

Inevitably, moral issues associated with the rehabilitation of criminals are also raised. Kettering's description of a ‘subject’ of the Keller process being able to take his place as "a useful, if lowly member of society" immediately rings alarm bells as to the ethics of such a process. When the inmate Barnham undergoes the process, he is transformed into someone quite unable to lead a normal life.

“So what does that make him now?” Jo asks Dr. Summers.

“It depends how you look at it,” he replies, “an idiot - or a saint.”

The second plotline, the first World Peace Conference, provides us with some of the international espionage already mentioned. It also raises the spectre of the Cold War, and shows UNIT as a serious, if not always 100% effective, organisation. The Brigadier is in fine form, demonstrating rarely-used diplomatic skill and sharp deductive reasoning, forced to find his own answers while the Doctor is entrenched in the Stangmoor affair. Rather implausibly, the put-upon UNIT is also charged with the safe transport of a nuclear-powered missile at the same time, giving us the third story line. Another symbol of the Cold War, the missile provides the excuse for the elaborate hijack sequence, the means for the Master to rudely interrupt the Peace Conference and that ever-present abort/self destruct button to give the serial its typically Pertwee-era explosive finale!

Whoraker

This is the Doctor and the Master's second showdown, and one of the most insight-giving encounters. The Keller machine kills its victims by terrifying them to death with their greatest fear, while feeding on the resulting fatal emotional trauma. When the Doctor is attacked by the machine he initially sees flames, and we discover that his experiences on the alternative earth during the story Inferno have affected him more deeply than we would have thought possible. "Some time ago, Jo, I witnessed a terrible catastrophe - an entire world just disappeared in flames. This machine picked that memory out of my brain and used it to attack me." In the later, almost fatal attack, the machine adds images of the Doctor's past foes to the hallucination - although it comes as quite a surprise to find that he was petrified of Koquillion!

A real revelation comes when the Master is attacked, and is menaced by a giant image of the Doctor, pouring mocking laughter down upon him (footage which Pertwee seems to have had immense fun shooting). It makes perfect sense that an inferiority complex would motivate so much of the Master's hatred towards the Doctor. (An intriguing reciprocation occurs in the opening moments of The Time Monster, when the Doctor has a nightmare featuring, that's right, a giant, mocking Master!)

While both Time Lords are recovering from their ordeal, we are treated to an astonishingly subtle, but striking fade from the Doctor's face to the Master's identically-positioned features. I can't help but wonder if there was anything significant implied by this startlingly regeneration-like shot.

Doctorpussy

Bloopers

Episode One: Professor Kettering is killed in a dry room by a fear of drowning. So when his body is examined, why are his lungs full of water?

Episode Three: The Master says that he intends to steal a ‘nuclear’ weapon to destroy the World Peace Conference - but the Thunderbolt is in fact a nerve gas missile.

Episode Three: During the Doctor and the Master's fight in the prison governor's office, a jug of water is knocked over, causing Roger Delgado to slip in the puddle.

Episode Four: A muffled female sneeze can be heard in an office scene with no female present.

It's well-known that the budgetary over-run on this story precluded Timothy Combe from ever directing Doctor Who again, so obviously this story is big. Not a lot of effects, bar the superb missile explosion at the climax, but plenty of expensive hardware and transportation. On show is a limousine, a helicopter, missile tranporter, motorcycles and lots of butch extras rioting and firing guns. Beyond the obvious spectacle, a consistent air of menace and danger seems to pervade the entire six episodes, something which the fact that they only exist in black and white seems to enhance.

The performances are robust and competent. Particularly convincing is William Marlowe as hardened convict Harry Mailer, ostensibly under the direction of the Master, but only just. This uncertain hold is also true of the Master's control over the Keller machine, which, of course, he quickly loses altogether.

The two Time Lords spark off each other as well as ever, urbane civility turning to a desperate struggle at the drop of a hat, and then back again. The Master forces the Doctor to come up with a way of dealing with the rampant machine at gun-point, but still wishes his adversary luck with genuine sincerity.

Unfortunately, Pertwee's various ‘terrified’ reactions to the psychic onslaught of the machine do border on a House that Dripped Blood-style performance at times. But perhaps this story does need a little lightening up. We also see the Doctor's facility with languages, as he speaks Hokkien to the delegate Fu Peng, Cantonese to Chin Lee, and some kind of Chinese incantation to ward off ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ in Episode Three.

Jo is at her most capable ever, actually foiling the first prison riot almost single-handedly, or footedly, with a karate kick. Indeed, her leather outfit does bring a certain other ‘avenging’ female British agent to mind. Nicolas Courtney is very convincing as the man in a difficult job under a lot of pressure, but then he unleashes a truly dreadful cockney accent and boiler suit on us in Episode Six!

One final element worth mentioning is the time span implied in The Mind of Evil. The Master, in his guise as Emil Keller, had apparently installed the machine in Stangmoor over a year before the events seen in this story, and treated 112 ‘subjects’ in Switzerland before that! It is remarkable that this untelevised gap between Pertwee stories has apparently yet to be exploited in novel form.

Who to a Kill

So once again the world is saved by a stylish, unorthodox and terribly British secret agent. Democracy is saved from the menaces of Communism (or a hypnotised Red Chinese captain, at least) and an evil genius with a deadly master-plan. The weapon of destruction is itself destroyed, but the uncertainty of the demise of the ‘master villain’ is borne out when he threatens to return to menace the world again for the sequel. ‘Our man Who’ is stirred, but not shaken, and concludes the adventure with a characteristic quip before the familiar theme music heralds the credits.

Of course, I might be overdoing all these James Bond connections. Perhaps The Mind of Evil is really just Doctor Who meets Porridge.

This item appeared in TSV 58 (September 1999).

Index nodes: The Mind of Evil