Monday, 10 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Mindwarp

The Doctor and Peri arrive on Thoros Alpha
"Ok. Today prudence shall be out watchword; tomorrow we will soak the land in blood."

The second adventure in Season 23 doesn't exactly live yp to its predecessor. Despite bringing back a fun villain from an earlier serial and bringing in Brian Blessed of all people, the script's characterisations of many characters, especially the Doctor, is off-putting. However, this also a serial that uses the Unrealiable Narrator trope - something Doctor Who never done before - and that perhaps puts the episode into perspective. Regardless, cover your eardrums and prepare the sickbags as I venture into Mindwarp.
     The Valeyeard introduces the escapade that the Doctor was in prior to the previous serial, presenting it as "The Present". The Doctor and Peri arrive on Throros Beta, a weapons manufacturing planet. Throughout the inital introduction to the scenario the Valeyard keeps interupting it to point out really unimportant things as a case for the prosecution, and it kills the sense of wonderment dead. The pair venture into some caves and are attacked by a plastic suit, who they accidentally kill, and they're then arrested by the guards who rule the caves. Trying to escape from the guards, The Doctor and Peri inevitably make their way towards the laboratory of Mentor Sil. Sil, played by Neil Shaban, was the villain in the previous season's Vengeance on Varos (which I'll be reviewing in November) and here his costume is a lot more convincing. The first episode ends with The Doctor being stuck into one of the machines that Sil's scientist, Crozier, uses to "pacify" business partners.
     And here's where the serial gets weird. Mindwarp, for the first time in Who, uses the Unreliable narrator technique, and thus everything we see after this point is being manipulated in some way by The Valeyard. This provides food for thought, but it certainly doesn't make watching the core episodes any more bearable. As part of this, Colin Baker is forced to play the Sixth Doctor as a selfish, traitorous megalomaniac. I think one of the cleverest things about this issue is that with the public (and private) animosity towards the character at the time, the viewers were incredibly likely to accept that this was who Colin's Doctor was, and thus the idea of manipulation would be more of a shock.
"What is... love?"
      Luckily, The Doctor is saved from braindeath by a previous patient, the barbarian warlord Yrcanos (BRIAN BLESSED), who then escapes. The Doctor, however, betrays them and the other two are left to escape into the tunnels. As The Doctor helps Crozier with his experiments, Yrcanos and Peri run into his former squire, Dorf, who through Crozier had been cursed with Lycanthropy. Crozier, meanwhile, is working on Sil's orders to help save his superior Lord Kiv (long-time Doctor Who monster actor Christopher Ryan, who played some Sontarans in Series Four), whose expanding brain was threatening him with death.
      The Doctor manages to capture Peri, and just as it appears that his betrayel has been a ploy of some kind (as the Trial!Doc suggests) The Doctor reaffirms to Peri his selfish motives. Trial!Doc works out that the situation is being manipulated, but both The Inquisitor and The Valeyard insist that The Matrix cannot lie. As I say, to me this made the manipulation all the more obvious when I first watched it, but Colin one of my favourite Doctors. On original broadcast I suppose it was much more likely for us to perhaps believe the Valeyard in this case.
Fishy business
      We go into cliffhanger with Yrcanos preparing to kill The Doctor, but Peri saves him, insisting that he wasn't always that way. Here the episode splits into two unbalanced subplots; The Doctor watches over as Crozier transfers Kiv's brain into a different body temporily and Yrcanos, Peri and Dorf wander through the tunnels trying to build the resistance movement from Thoros Alpha. Despite how comparatively little happens in that latter subplot, the characterisations are just so enjoyable that they more than make up for it. In fact, the storyline for The Doctor feels very much like padding which, while mildly entertaining, contributes little to the story. The Cliffhanger sees one of the guards appear to kill Peri.
      The last episode feels rather like an enigma, as The Doctor's personality reasserts itself. At the Trial, The Valeyard admits that Peri was only stunned - another hint towards his manipulation of the evidence. The Doctor springs out Yrcanos from his prison, and stirs up the Alphan resistance once again. But alas, all is too late - he is removed from Time by the Trial and Peri is used as Kiv's next host. The Time Lords reveal that because of The Doctor's (supposed) manipulation, Crozier had changed the rules of Life and thus they manipulated events to stop it. Yrcanos kills everyone and the episode ends on the Trial!Doc's slightly tearful, slightly angry proclamation that he will see justice done.
      Mindwarp is stuffed full of good and bad performances. Sil is played wonderfully by Nabil Shaban but unlike in his original story he doesn't get much to do besides padding. Brian Blessed is over the top, as usual, but also strangely sentimental and despite his penchent for death is far more easy to support than this episode's interpretation of The Doctor in the core episode. And again, it worked at the time. What better way to disprove the interpretation of this Doctor's selfishness by letting the audience believe that they're right and then proving them wrong? I'd also just like to mention Peri's death, which is perhaps one of the worst handled final companion moments in the show's history. The villains were eventually pointless, and the story's only survivors are The Doctor and Yrcanos, so any of that fun character developmentis rendered worthless.
Bye bye, Peri.
      I like Mindwarp for its undertones rather than what's overtly on the screen. On its own it's a confusinly jumbled serial which lags in the middle and commits characterisation suicide, but with the Trial underlaying it the serial becomes a deep examination of our main lead and his public persona. It's a shame that so many good performanmces and performers went to waste, but the episode is an entertaining watch if you've seen the whole Trial and know all of what's to come.


NEXT TIME: Mutated Petunias and misshaped human sexual organs in Terror of the Vervoids.

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