THE PANDORA MACHINE,
MAN HOURS &
'THE MIND OF EVIL' DVD (BBCDVD3269) RELEASED IN JUNE 2013.
Professor Keller has created a machine that can pacify even the most dangerous of criminals. But when the Doctor and Jo arrive at Stangmoor Prison for a demonstration, things start to go horribly wrong – especially when they discover that the Doctor’s old enemy Master is responsible for the machine.
What could he possibly want from the criminals? And what connects him with an impending World Peace Conference?
The Mind of Evil
30TH JANUARY 1971 - 6TH MARCH 1971
The Mind of Evil can be summed up with just two words: often overlooked. Since its transmission in 1971, Don Houghton’s six-part serial has existed only as monochrome film recordings of the original colour videotapes, which were of course lost in the BBC’s notorious purge, and as a result it’s had far less exposure than the UNIT stories that either survived in their original form or have been restored to something close to it for commercial release. A Spartan, black and white video cassette half-heartedly hit the sheleves in 1998, towards the back end of Doctor Who’s VHS release schedule, and even now that it’s been restored to full colour for the final bells-and-whistles DVD release of the Pertwee era, The Mind of Evil finds itself overshadowed by the looming, true high-definition release of Spearhead from Space on Blu-ray.
But a fairer epigraph for The Mind of Evil would include an extra word: often-overlooked classic, for ‘classic’ is exactly what this adventure is. Not only does it see the relationship between Jon Pertwee’s second-season Doctor and Roger Delgado’s second-story Master transcend from Holmes / Moriarity homage into something unique and beguiling, but it also showcases the qualities that made Katy Manning’s Jo Grant the Doctor’s most endearing companion to date as well as Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’s knack for balancing weight-of-the-world responsibility against dry wit and slapstick farce. With its Clockwork Orange connotations and thoughtful musings on crime and punishment in the wake of the death penalty’s then-recent abolition for murder in Great Britain, The Mind of Evil even manages to feel topical and zeitgeisty, which is really quite an achievement to say that no sod can fathom when it’s supposed to be set.
Quite fittingly, the DVD release’s special features feel every bit as temporally-displaced as the near-future feature; perhaps even more so. Whereas just a year is said to have passed between the end of the preceding Terror of the Autons and the opening of Episode 1, it’s been four long years since 2 | entertain put together the second disc’s documentary, The Military Mind. The deaths of early ’70s producer Barry Letts and actor Nicholas Courtney in the intervening years lend the retrospective ‘making of’ feature a bittersweet quality that feels entirely appropriate for an end-of-the-line release; a poignancy capped by the late Jon Pertwee himself, who offers Timothy Combe, the story’s director, vindication from beyond the grave by way of a championing letter that he wrote decades before his passing. I found this particularly pleasing as, especially now that I can enjoy it in full colour as originally intended, The Mind of Evil is clearly one of the classic series’ best-directed pieces.
Above: The late, great Barry Letts explores The Military Mind as he returns to Dover Castle
Whilst I can appreciate that Combe might not have been an ideal director from the point of view of a producer wondering where his budget has gone, as a viewer it’s hard to be anything other than overwhelmingly impressed; the complexity of many of his shots would stand up to cinematic scrutiny. Admittedly, Combe was dealt a cracking hand with the stunning, multi-level sets designed for the interior of Stangmoor Prison and the availability of the luxuriant Dover Castle where he shot its exterior, but otherwise he’s conjured up a lot from nothing. Whole else would have shot the alien Master puffing a cigar? It’s a ludicrous idea in principle, but incredibly stunning visually. Better still are moments such as the Doctor / Master segue in Episode 4, which is not only gripping in the cinematographic sense, but metaphorically expressive too - two sides, one coin. One complaint that I do have about The Military Mind though is its lazy use of monochrome clips from the serial, which really should have been updated following the recolourisation.
The next most substantive bonus feature is Norman Tozer’s 1971 tour of the recently-decommissioned BBC Television Centre, which I dutifully sat through for the better part of half an hour, all the while hoping that Doctor Who would get more than a passing mention as the Tom Tom star studied a day in the life of the “television factory”. Completists will welcome its inclusion; I don’t. Beyond that there is a stimulating edition of Now and Then, showing how the story’s locations have changed over the past 40 years, as well as the usual photo gallery and production subtitles, the merits of which I haven’t extolled for a long while. Looking back at my earliest Doctor Who DVD reviews, which are steadily being rewritten as they are superseded by those of their stories’ continuing revisitations, I’ve noticed that I never shut up about these back in the day, and The Mind of Evil DVD has reminded me why. Crammed with facts ranging from trivial – Barnham actor Neil McCarthy’s incongruous-for-a-big-man skills as a classical pianist, for instance – to enlightening – a line was cut from the script explaining that the Doctor once shared a cuppa with Mao Tse-tung’s grandfather, not the democidal dictator as many have inferred -, they’re such a fascinating compliment to the story that it’s sensible to turn them off if you’re actually wanting to enjoy The Mind of Evil, rather than unwittingly study it.
Hover over the above image above for an example of a production subtitle.
The DVD also boasts the obligatory commentary track featuring an ever-spinning roundabout of contributors, whose memories are all expertly probed by a man with rapacious moths in his closest, Toby Hadoke. Recorded in 2009, it’s already a little dated in parts as discussions often dwell on the merits of David Tennant’s Doctor and UNIT’s resurrection, but most of the contributions are confined to the making of The Mind of Evil. With Terrance Dicks on board, hilarity inevitably ensues, his funniest moment probably being his playful probing of the production’s nepotism chain, which flowed from him to his Crossroads writer pal and then on to the writer’s actress missus. Other contributors keep him on his toes though, as the tale of the costumier’s jailing just prior to production is only just outdone by Timothy Combe’s anecdote concerning casting an Oriental actor from his neighbourhood; sacking him; cutting him; and then hiding from him forever after, for fear of mutual embarrassment.
The six episodes themselves all look very good indeed, their recolourisation on a par most of their early-Pertwee peers and considerably more impressive than one or two. As this is such a visceral story, the colour really adds a lot to its texture, particularly when the extensive action takes us beyond the usual HAVOC havoc, as Royal Marines and RAF servicemen take on a UNIT guise to help storm Stangmoor Prison. The price paid is some barely-perceptible ghosting and a persistent haziness, as well as, most amusingly, the exposing of the occasional flaw. Why would UNIT have a bright yellow flower painted on the step of their mobile HQ? Not very military, is it?
As a story, The Mind of Evil is a real watershed for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, who discernibly starts to let go of the Earthbound angst that characterised his first season. At the Keller Machine’s demonstration in Episode 1, the exiled Time Lord is obnoxious and rude, yet as soon as he realises that the Master is around and trouble is afoot, his spirits visibility soar despite the danger; in fact, because of it. His opposite number shares in the Doctor’s evident delight – superficially at least, the Master revels in his great game with his old friend. He seems to be just as interested in luring the Doctor into meddling with his means as he does actually achieving his nefarious ends. Underneath though, it’s a different story, as Houghton’s script interestingly turns the mind parasite living inside the Keller Machine against the Master, betraying his feelings of weakness and inadequacy to the audience. The image of the towering Doctor, taunting and mocking the fallen villain, is in many ways an even more powerful one than the Doctor’s nightmares of fire and genocide.
At six episodes long though, The Mind of Evil is just as reliant on Jo Grant and UNIT as it is its two main-eventers; arguably even more so, as UNIT are given a more central role than usual due to the Doctor and Jo’s lengthy internment. I love how Houghton blends palpable tension with uproarious humour, particularly when it centres around the increasingly-fraught Brigadier, on whom world peace depends. Charged with handling security at the story’s focal peace conference, the old soldier finds himself so far outside his comfort zone that you can almost see the veins bulging in his forehead as his blood pressure soars. The scenes featuring the hypnotised and homicidal Captain Chin Lee house some of the Brig’s greatest comic moments, and the awkward scene that he spends trying to get a handshake out of Fu Peng, whom the Doctor has dazzled through his native chit-chat and casual namedropping, is right up there with ‘Cromer’.
Jo’s limb of the tale, meanwhile, is slower and gentler, but every bit as entertaining and even more important. The short, nervous and half-blind young assistant stumbles her way through the narrative fuelled by nothing but a gallant duty of care and a striking lack or prejudice, and ultimately it’s the relationship that she’s able to form with the Keller Machine’s first victim that saves the world. It doesn’t matter to Jo whether Barnham’s a sinner, a saint or an idiot; she sees only a lost soul in need of help. It’s not hard to see why Katy Manning cites this story as being her favourite Doctor Who adventure; it’s definitely one of her character’s best. Edgy, stylish, topical and remarkably prescient, The Mind of Evil is one of my firm favourites too.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2013
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