The scales are finally being balanced. Normally, when I post an UNSUNG CLASSIC about a New Who story, I follow it up immediately with one from Classic Who. Quite some time ago, I had written a review on Gravity from Series 10 and ranted about how it was one of the highest points of the season. But I had never followed with something from the good 'ole days when we still used terms like "seasons" instead of "series".
The Time has come, at last, to put the Universe to right (no doubt, all of you have been feeling out of sorts all this time and couldn't figure out why!). Our Unsung Classic from the Classic Series goes all the way back to the early days of Doctor Three.
PERTWEE LOVE (OR LACK THEREOF)
If you've bothered to read my New Year's Countdown from two years ago, you saw that I was not the biggest of Jon Pertwee fans (if you haven't bothered to read it but would like to, here's a link: http://robtymec.blogspot.ca/2016/11/book-of-lists-doctors-from-worst-to.html). As I emphasized in the countdown, there's no portrayal of the Doctor that I have genuinely disliked - but there are some that I like less than others. So please don't think I'm some gigantic Pertwee-Basher. I still love him. There's just other Doctors that I love more.
One of the main points I make as I discuss Pertwee in that post is that I do still think that Season 7 is an absolute work of art. Really, it's magnificent. Inferno is widely regarded as a Classic and all the other stories in the season are held in high regard. So, no Unsung Classics, here. Everything in Season 7 gets the credit it deserves. I do, however, go on to explain that I'm not happy with much else in the Pertwee Era after Seven reaches its conclusion. Most of the stories that we see after this are 6-Parters that can't really sustain themselves. It's a harsh thing to say, I know. Lots of people hold lots of nostalgia for Doctor Three - but I'm not one of them.
Before the Pertwee-Lovers get too angry with me, note that I said: "most of the stories were 6-Parters that couldn't sustain themselves'". Which implies that there are some Post-Season-7 6-Parters that do.
The Mind of Evil is one of them. In fact, it does more than just sustain itself. It's an excellent story that doesn't get half as much credit as it deserves.
Okay, let's get this out of the way first. Mind of Evil is not perfect. There are a few minor issues that need to be taken into account. Some legitimate problems, if you will.
But, you know what? Many of the stories Fandom labels as Classics have problems, too. Genesis of the Daleks, for instance, has one of the worst cliffhangers in the history of the show (Sarah Jane falling from the gantry). Or Talons of Weng Chiang uses the most blatant example of plot padding ever (Jago and Lightfoot trying to escape through the dumb waiter). No Classic is absolutely perfect. So let's accept that and move past it.
The most ludicrous stuff from Mind of Evil occurs in Episode One. There are victims of the Keller Machine who get scared to death by their chronic fears. That's not too far-fetched. Scare someone enough and it will cause heart failure. What is silly is how the victims show physical symptoms of their fear. Someone with a horrible fear of rats won't suddenly get scratch marks because they're hallucinating that rats are attacking them. Nor will someone who is afraid of water drown in an empty room with their lungs soaked. That's just silly.
Mentioning that Doctor Keller had a lovely Chinese woman as an assistant also seemed like some pretty forced exposition. Like we're trying just a little too hard with the writing to get the Doctor to connect certain dots in the plot points.
The only other instance that mars my enjoyment of this story is the notorious "Master slipping on water twice" sequence that enables the Doctor to make an escape. Water just isn't that slippery, folks. Couldn't the Doctor have just thrown the desk on his rival and pinned him underneath long enough to get out of the room? Seems like an easy fix, really.
PROBLEMS OUT OF THE WAY - ON TO THE GOOD STUFF!
With the elephant thoroughly acknowledged on it's appropriate table, we can get to the enormous amounts of praising that the story needs to have heaped on to it.
Mind of Evil is chocked full of what I like to call golden moments. Sequence after sequence that are all executed with an enormous sense of style. They're spread out all over the place. In the early episodes, we see great moments like the Doctor unable to contain his skepticism during the demonstration of the Keller Machine. Yates being reprimanded for grinning like a Chesire Cat. The Doctor getting on like a house on fire with the new Chinese delegate. Chin-Li evoking pathos as she tries to fight the Master's control as they sit in his limo.
In later episodes we get that wonderful moment where the Brigadier tries out his acting abilities as he poses as a delivery man. The actual storming of the prison by UNIT - a stunt sequence that still holds up quite well even to this day. And, of course, the classic line: "Thankyou Brigadier. But do you think, just once, you could show up before the nick of time?!"
The golden moment that truly wins me over, however, is the briefest of scenes where the Master rides to Stangmoor Prison smoking a cigar and listening to sinister music. For whatever reason, I adore that shot. This might just be Delgado's Master at his absolute best.
If Mind of Evil were nothing but a series of golden moments, I couldn't give it the Unsung Classic label. But it's so much more than that. For once, a writer decides to fill a 6-Parter with an adequate number of plot strands. There's barely any capture-and-escapes to mark time. Even the failed prison break serves an actual purpose. It gets the Master to recognize Mailer's ambitions and exploit him.
It's quite remarkable how well those various plot threads weave together to form a bigger picture and tell a somewhat complex story. Most impressive is the plotline concerning the actual Keller Machine. For most of the adventure, it seems to just be something that creates some extra danger. Only as we near the end do we see it has a better purpose than that. Once more, the Doctor uses a problem created by his enemy to hoist him by his own petards.
The other gorgeous thing that the Keller Machine Plotline creates is yet another golden moment. How can we not love it when the Doctor recognizes that Barnum is the key to immobilizing the Mind Parasite? It's almost impossible not to punch the air as he proclaims the title of the story.
KELLER MACHINE STUFF
What we remember most, of course, about Mind of Evil are the hallucinations the Doctor and the Master suffer when the Keller Machine attacks them. The Doctor, fresh from his adventures in Inferno, still harbors a great fear of fire. It's a nice piece of continuity that gets referenced because both stories come from the same author.
But we absolutely love the rogues' gallery of enemies that start swirling around the Doctor during later episodes when he's subjected to the Keller Machine. Who knew that Koquillion from The Rescue had filled him with so much terror?!!
Even better, though, is when the Master must face his greatest fear. The giant image of the Doctor looking down at him and laughing at him like he's the most inadequate of foes is sheer glory.
A LITTLE BIT SAD...
Before we can truly close the book on Mind of Evil, we must mention poor 'ole Barnum. A very lovely touch to the story. He's a more watered-down (and less-over-the-top) version of Tommy from Planet of Spiders. His sense of innocence is also put to great use at the most crucial of moments.
Unlike Tommy, Barnum meets a very sad end. Like the murder of Osgood in Death In Heaven, it gets us to hate the Master all the more. But it also creates the most tragic of conclusions for an Unsung Classic. It's almost implied that someone as innocent as Barnum had no chance of surviving in a world as harsh as our own.
Fortunately, we get a nice little coda where the Master taunts the Doctor, then the Doctor lashes out playfully at the Brigadier.
Regardless of the Tragedy of Barnum, Season 8 will continue to roll on. But it almost seems like Mind of Evil should have been been in Season 7.
It fits better there....
Other Unsung Classics: