Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil (DVD)

When will I get promoted to brigadier?

Every classic character has to have a nemesis—Holmes/Moriarty, Batman/Joker, you/your boss. We all love the Daleks and their ilk, but on Doctor Who, when The Doctor must really match wits with an enemy who’s also an equal, that’s when you bring in The Master.

Of all the actors to play The Master, the one who truly defined the role was Roger Delgado (Underground), who saved his best icy glares for the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee, Worzel Gummidge) in 1971’s The Mind of Evil.

The Doctor (Pertwee) is a Time Lord, currently living on Earth as a consultant to the United Nations Intelligence Task Force, a.k.a. UNIT. He and his sidekick Jo (Katy Manning) are visiting a jail where a new technology is being introduced. This device can remove all evil and negative impulses from prisoners’ minds, preparing them to rejoin society. Everyone applauds the machine as miraculous, but The Doctor is skeptical.

Elsewhere, at an international peace conference in London, a number of murders have been committed. The Doctor’s old foe The Master (Roger Delgado) is lurking around in the background. What do the murders, the machine, and The Master have in common? That’s the mystery The Doctor will have to solve.

The stats: “The Mind of Evil” ran in six parts, in January-March 1971. It is the second story arc of the show’s eighth season.

As most Whovians already know, the third Doctor spent a lot of time on Earth, in exile. That’s were we spend the entirety of this episode. Part of this was an attempt to keep the show’s already-tiny budget manageable, because alien planets and the distant past are expensive to produce. The other reason, some believe, was to make the show more like The Avengers (the Emma Peel one, not the Hulk/Thor one), which was hugely popular at the time. Whichever the case, there’s no time travel/space action this time around, with this episode strictly stuck somewhere between detective show and spy movie. There is a little bit of the ol’ rubber monster action at the end, but it’s not much.

I can see absolutely no reason why this story had to be six chapters long instead of the usual four. It feels overly long, especially in its middle episodes, as there’s a lot of sitting around talking. It takes the characters forever to sort out what the audience already deduced—that The Master is behind it all. When chapter four ended with another cliffhanger and I realized that meant I still had another hour to go, it made me feel very, very tired. For those patient ones, the finale pays off with a rather impressive gunfight, again showing the episode leaning more toward cop shows than sci-fi.

There are also some interesting character moments, as both The Doctor and The Master have confrontations with their inner dark sides as they face the scary brainwashing machine. For The Doctor, the machine exploits a lot of the horrors he’s witnessed in his many lifetime(s). Pertwee gets a great scene where The Doctor reminisces seeing an entire planet destroyed in flame, and he later suffers at the hand of the machine, complete with references to past enemies. As for The Master, the machine gives us a rare look inside his thought process. He dresses all in black, and he has a goatee and an English accent, so of course he’s the bad guy, but it gets tricky figuring out just who this guy is and what he wants. His hallucination when hooked up to the machine is telling, as we get an illustration of why The Master longs to prove himself superior to all others, especially The Doctor.

This is where reviews normally praise the hard-working folks restoring these old shows for DVD, and while their efforts are appreciated, the visuals on this one are pretty rough. There’s this orange haze constantly flickering in and out of the picture, so you’re trying to watch while the screen goes normal-to-orange-to-normal-to-orange-to-normal on you. According to the never-wrong-about-anything internet, the episode originally aired in color but was released on VHS in black and white, and this DVD was recolored from those tapes. Sound fares better, in 2.0 stereo. Subtitles will be a big help for those struggling with some of the thicker accents.

Par for the course, Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil set comes with an abundance of bonus features, looking back not just on this episode, but also the history of English TV in general. The commentary features a variety of participants, including the director, actors, and even the stunt coordinator. Featurettes contain interviews with those involved in the making of the show, and a look at the filming locations today. A vintage featurette, made in 1974, takes us behind the scenes at the BBC of the time. There’s also a production notes subtitle option, and PDF materials including Radio Times listings and an amusing Doctor Who-related cereal ad.

A solid Doctor Who adventure, with some nice character moments and a fun action finale. If only it wasn’t so unnecessarily loooooong…

The Verdict

No need for a mind-wipe, this one’s not guilty.

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