on October 16, 2000
I came to Doctor Who through a series of novelisations published by Target in the 1970s and 1980s. These novelisations were fast moving, and exciting. When I finally saw the television programme I was distraught. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee had long since disappeared. The release of a number of these early stories on video has eased some of that childhood trauma.
Mind of Evil is compelling second season Pertwee. To Who afficionados, the second season means three things: The Doctor is earth-bound (which means the Brigadier and UNIT are involved); Jo Grant has joined the Doctor; and every story features a common villain, Roger Delgado's portrayal of the Master.
While all Pertwee stories were recorded in colour, this story is available only in black and white. Do not be put off by this. This actually heightens the atmosphere, and means that many of the worst excesses of CSO (or chromakey) are avoided. With no irritating visual distractions (aside from the operation of the mind and its impact on various cast members) the viewer is left to concentrate on the story - and while perhaps one or two episodes too long, this is superior Who.
The script is by Don Houghton, responsible for the classic Inferno (the first Pertwee season close), and there are a number of links between the two stories. Houghton's scripts tended towards social commentary more than his fellow scriptwriters, and here the effective storyline revolves around a prison, where prisoners are having their negative emotions drained from them (effectively lobotomising them). Houghton's observations on prisons, and recidivism are not the stuff of high criminology, but they are an effective attempt through what was thought of at the time as children's television to address larger issues. The lumbering state of those that have gone through the process offers its own comment on the need for balance in the mind.
On the sci-fi elements it hardly needs to be said that the Keller machine that operates this system is not all that it seems, and Professor Keller is a bearded gentleman familiar to most viewers.
This is a good introduction to Pertwee era Doctor Who. Pertwee is more restrained than some of his eye popping hysterics of his first season, and the UNIT members are an effective team - and in later episodes given a chance to act militarily. Katy Manning is still finding her feet as Jo Grant, but has started to work on the curious mix of vulnerability and resourcefulness that some found appealing. Best of all, though, is Delgado. He is a convincing villain - made to appear all the more malevolent in black and white. He oozes menace.
You may not hide behind the couch, but you will enjoy this story if you accept it for what it is - well written, but cheaply made sci-fi.
Admirers of this will enjoy Inferno, and The Daemons, two other Pertwee era stories.
The Doctor and Jo arrive at Stangmoor prison for a well-attended exhibition of the Keller Machine in the prison's Process Room. Professor Kettering presents: "We no longer execute our hardened criminals and killers.... Science has abolished the hangman's noose and substituted this infallible method."
The Doctor can't resist commenting, "People who go on about infallibility are usually on very shaky ground."
Kettering frowns, but continues, explaining discoveries that "anti-social behavior was governed by certain negative or evil impulses. Now this machine, the Keller Machine, extracts these impulses and leaves a rational, well-balanced individual.... The negative impulses are stored in that reservoir box there."
The Doctor: "Where do they go after that?"
Kettering: "No where, sir. I repeat, they are stored in that box."
The Doctor is more than skeptical and we are too. George Patrick Barnham, a violent offender, is brought in to receive his sentence of reconditioning in the Keller Machine. But something goes wrong. Barnham gives a howl of pain and has to be taken from the room unconscious.
The Doctor is disgusted, but he has hardly begun to worry about that when a technician, alone in the Process Room, dies a painful death. Before the results of his postmortem are available, we find out that more is afoot. The first ever World Peace Conference is being held in England, and UNIT is handling security. In addition, UNIT has to guard a nuclear missile with a nerve gas payload that is being transported through the countryside.
With all that on his plate, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart gets another headache. Captain Chin Lee, of the Chinese delegation to the peace conference, complains that important papers have been stolen from their rooms. If they are not found, the Chinese will withdraw from the peace conference.
What the Brigadier doesn't see afterwards, but we do, is Chin Lee burning the papers herself. But hold on, there's weird pulsing music playing as she does so, and she fingers a button-sized implant behind her ear.
Then the dead technician's autopsy results are available. He was scared of rats, and died of a heart attack with rat scratches on his neck. Next Kettering, alone in the Process Room, is horrified to see the Keller reservoir start pulsing, the music crescendos, and before you can say Jack Sprat, he's dead of drowning in a perfectly dry room. And he had a fear of drowning.
The Doctor is adamant that the machine must be turned off. He's in the Process Room trying to do so when the reservoir starts pulsing again. The Doctor tries to fight it but it's beating down on him. What terror will the Doctor see? What would scare him so bad his heart would stop?
And that's the end of Episode 1. This is quite a long setup - but you'll see that it's worth it. All the different threads comes deliciously together. If the Master should happen to show up - of what would HE be most scared?
I really like "The Mind of Evil". The convoluted plot is a doozy. Not even Jo's irksome chirping can throw me off it. "The Mind of Evil" first aired Jan/March 1971, six episodes of 25 minutes each. This is a review of the 2013 two-disc DVD release, the first time it's been on DVD. It was released on VHS in black & white (the only format BBC had kept). But this DVD will be in fully restored color. If you know about these things, the Chroma Dot color recovery process was used to restore the original color in episodes 2-6. Episode 1, however, had to be manually recolored frame by frame by Stuart Humphryes (AKA YouTube's Babelcolour). [Recommended youtube viewing: "The Making of 'The Ten Doctors Part One' by Babelcolour"] Also, of course, the DVD has digitally remastered picture and sound quality.
Trivia: Some exteriors, primarily for Stangmoor Prison, were filmed in and around Dover Castle. This serial went so excessively over budget that its director, Timothy Combe, was not allowed to be considered for any subsequent Doctor Who work. [See comments in Special Features 1 & 4.]
Extras for the 2013 DVD release:
DISC 1 Special Features
1. Commentary. Toby Hadoke (fan extraordinaire, also has a 1-man Dr. Who show) moderates, with commentators include Barry Letts (producer), Katy Manning (plays Jo), Terrance Dicks (script editor), Pik-Sen Lim (plays Captain Chin Lee), Fernanda Marlowe (plays Corporal Bell), Timothy Combe (director) and Derek Ware (stuntman and HAVOC founder). I thought this was a very interesting commentary.
Dicks: "I'm completely schizophrenic about UNIT. I think it's brilliant. I love Nick... and we both [Dicks and Letts] worked as hard as we could to get away from it and get the Doctor back into space."
Katy mentions that "The Mind of Evil" was one of her very favorite series. It's interesting hearing her talk in her real voice, and not in Jo's an-octave-higher voice.
Letts comments on how a lot of the single-line players and extras were stuntmen, rather than just actors, because "The Mind of Evil" has a lot of fight scenes. "Unfortunately, you had to pay these people as stuntmen, which was quite expensive. And to be honest, using HAVOC was one of the reasons this was one of the most expensive Dr. Who's that I ever did. And the sets, the prison set. Because originally, we intended to shoot the prison scenes on location. But no prison would let us do it. So, to build it in the studio, and to build a two-story set like that, and one that didn't wobble about all the time... it cost the Earth."
Other major expenses: 7 1/2 days location shooting, a helicopter added at the last minute, location shooting negative scratched resulting in re-shoot, the set-up and special effects for the teleporting Keller Machine
2. Information Text. Lots of interesting detail. "In the draft scripts, the Keller Machine was called the Malusyphus, implying that the process siphons off malice." (If you mangle the Latin a bit.)
The Chinese dialect the Doctor speaks (aka Pertwee attempts to speak) is spelled Hokkien.
The Doctor and the Master have to make an uneasy alliance in more than one serial. Having the Master stuck on Earth at the same time as the Doctor helps with one problem: "It was implausible to have a succession of alien monsters seemingly queuing up to attack [Earth]. In the 1971 series, all the threats the Earth faces are a direct result of the Master's machinations."
3. Subtitles in English
DISC 2 Special Features:
4. "The Military Mind: Making The Mind of Evil" (23 minutes) Commentators include Pik-Sen Lim, Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts, Fernanda Marlowe, Tim Combe and Nicholas Courtney (plays the Brigadier, d. 2011). This special was filmed before the colorization was complete, so all clips are in B&W.
Many things are covered, but there is quite a bit about the budget problem. Though Letts admits that "Tim's a very good director, indeed.", he isn't glowing about how the show went overbudget. Fernanda says, "In later years, watching it again, I realized how good it was... I'm not sure he [Combe] got the support he should have got."
And I was touched when Combe said, "I felt that perhaps there's been some misunderstandings.... I thought I'd be going on to do more Doctor Who's. But unfortunately, that was the last... I didn't have a sonic screwdriver to fix things up... I find it difficult talking about this right now."
But then, we realize the BBC had to have a budget, and something, perhaps, had to give.
5. "Now and Then: The Locations of The Mind of Evil" (7 minutes) Dover Castle, for one, looks the same. While watching this extra, I remember thinking, "Why didn't I notice that this storming the prison scene had a seriously ruin of a wall standing in the middle of a prison?"
6. "Behind the Scenes: Television Centre" (24 minutes) This is a TV show episode, presented by Norman Tozer. We meet him outside the giant BBC Television Centre, where, he tells us, "over 4,000 people" work on BBC TV shows. Over a 24-hour period, Norman visits different departments of different shows. In the sets department , we see a label indicating that a set is for "DR WHO - PRISON HOSPITAL". And then there's a model sitting on a table with a note: "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH OR REMOVE THIS MODEL". It's a scruffy miniature of the TARDIS.
7. Photo Gallery (5 minutes)
8. PDF material: Radio Times listings, 1971 Kellogg's Sugar Smacks promotion
9. Subtitles in English
10. Coming Soon Trailer. This is a trailer for:
The First Classic Doctor Who
.....Made in Colour
Becomes the First Classic Doctor Who
In High Definition
A Complete New Remaster of "Spearhead From Space" with Brand New Special Features Exclusive to the Blu-Ray release
Aside from a rather ugly colourization effort (I thought I was seeing some bizarre special effect at first, but no, just very blotchy results), this is a fun serial. Since I am skipping TERROR OF THE AUTONS (Story 55) until I can get it at a reasonable price (here is hoping for another DVD release to drop the crazy climbing "out-of-print" pricing), I find it a joy to finally meet inestimable Roger Delgado. And I must say, well deserved of his legendary status established by the innumerable clips and documentaries I have watched over the years.
Here is another observation: RESURRECTION OF THE DALEKS (Story 134) is touted as the "highest on-screen body count" in Doctor Who history, yet although I haven't gotten a full count in THE MIND OF EVIL, this must be right up there or pretty close, especially between the Prison Break and the pitched battle between the prisoners and UNIT, not to mention all the folks mentally slurped. (I tried counting during my second viewing with the audio commentary on, but lost track by the third episode.)
As for the extras... well, heh - I sort of wished they managed to stick the "Making of" on the first disc so I could just ignore the fluffy padding otherwise taking up the majority of the second.
Nevertheless, if you are skipping AUTONS like I am due to pricing, I'd certainly recommend picking up this instead as your first introduction to Delgado's masterful Master, as well as just an excellent story with tight directing, fine acting, and overall meaty plot.
on June 18, 2013
The short version of this review: The Mind of Evil is a five-star Doctor Who story, and the DVD is a nice three-star effort. Hence, four stars overall.
Now, to gas on a bit longer. Clearly one of the most underrated Who serials of all time, The Mind of Evil explores such interesting themes as the rehabilitation of criminals, brainwashing, Cold War politics, and self sacrifice. Timothy Combe's direction is well above average, the sets are convincing (by 1970s TV standards), and the acting is strong. The Keller Machine is one of the few Doctor Who monsters that truly creeps me out, and Roger Delgado's Master is arguably a top-five villain. (He's certainly super-suave and immensely cool.) In short, this is either a classic, or something close to it.
As for the DVD...well, it has a few shortcomings, mostly due to the fact that this is not a well-preserved story. For many years, The Mind of Evil existed only in a grainy, black-and-white format, despite the fact that it was originally filmed in color. (The BBC wiped the original color videotapes, I believe.) For this DVD version, the Who Restoration Team took on the unenviable task of colorizing the story and cleaning up the picture. The results are mixed. While the colors are fairly bright and attractive, the overall quality of the picture is a bit too soft. For this reason, I actually prefer the old black-and-white version of the story, which paradoxically looks less dated than the color version. (Besides, black-and-white is more atmospheric than color, and it suits this gritty story quite well.)
Meanwhile, the special features are fairly entertaining. A somewhat juicy "making of" documentary covers the serial's troubled production history. (Filming went overbudget, and as a result the director was never asked to helm another Who story, which is a shame.) Then there are the usual (somewhat duller) features, like a look at the filming locations and the inevitable trailer for the next DVD.
Mainly, I would recommend this purchase because the story itself is so strong. It's one of the most downbeat Who tales ever, and also one of the best outings for the Master. Great stuff.