Companion: Peri Brown
Written by: Phillip Martin
Directed by: Chris Clough
Background & Significance: "Mindwarp" is a bit of a hard thing to talk about. Thinking about it now, it's hard for me to elucidate on all the things I have to think about without going too much into them. Maybe that's because I've changed my mind on what, exactly, I think about it since my initial viewing.
The first time I watched Mindwarp, I checked out mentally halfway through episode one when we have the re-appearance of "supposedly fan-favourite" alien Sil. Really, once you add him, the story becomes something I'm not interested in. Sil, whom you might remember from the insanely controversial "Vengeance on Varos" back in the infamous Season 22 (Colin Baker's premiere season), was a little annoying slithering alien who laughed and was "funny" and gross and... yeah. I've decided that I don't like weird alien slugs. Just don't like them. I can think of ONE time when they were used well in Doctor Who, and even then, I didn't have to look at them.
Martin, I find, is interested in wholly different things than I'm interested in. By my count he's done only three Doctor Who stories (the third being a Big Finish audio called "Creed of the Kromon") and all three seem to share similar qualities and interests as they relate to Martin. Unfortunately, I can't say I tend to agree with them. All three stories share forced genetic mutation (and all three to a female companion no less), suffer from stories that feel overly long, weak dialogue, and weird alien characters who are obsessed with money and capitalism.
This serial is also significant for being the final work Eric Saward contributed to the series. After this story, he quit due to "creative differences" and "hatred of JNT" and Robert Holmes's recent illness which would prove to be fatal in just a short time. The interesting thing is that most people tend to look at this era and blame JNT and while I don't think JNT is without blame... But man. I don't think that's the case.
Check out his infamous post-departure interview he gave. That is Saward.
And oh boy do I just want to talk about him a bit.
If "The Mysterious Planet" explored a story from The Doctor's past, "Mindwarp" explores a story from The Doctor's immediate[ish] present. So let's... yeah. Let's go through this story. It's a doozy and a long one, but I think it gives rise to some solid discussion. Hope you like it.
So let's get to it!
And then there's Crozier himself, who's actually kind of awesome. But that's just because he's a driven guy and not so much a villain as a smart man with an insatiable curiosity.
And then we have Colin Baker, who... despite everything (I'll explain in a minute) really KILLS the material he has. Which brings us to the flip side, which is a discussion of the eponymous "Mindwarp".
So at the end of the previous episode, The Doctor’s mind gets scrambled by the brain scrambler, which leads to some complications. They escape (with some help from Yrcanos) and then get away. But quickly, Yrcanos and Peri find out that The Doctor’s brain is, in fact, scrambled or addled or whatever (which is fine, I mean, it’s called “Mindwarp” for a reason), but Yrcanos is on a mission and he needs guns. So he, Peri, and The Doctor all make for a gathering of guards where they can find pistols and the like and then The Doctor (who’s been acting loopy) turns on everyone and starts acting totally weirdly out of character and teams up with Sil (so you know it’s out of character) and starts acting like a total a-hole.
“I was very confused by it, but I had a very different problem, especially in ‘Mindwarp’ because there was a point when I said to Eric Saward, the script editor, ‘When I’m tying Peri to this rock and threatening to torture her, am I doing it for some subtle reason of my own, because I think I’m being watched or whatever, or because I’ve been affected by the mind probe, or is the Matrix lying?’. Those were the three alternatives as I saw it. He said ‘I don’t know, you’d better ask Philip Martin’, so I got in touch and gave him those three alternatives, he said ‘I don’t know, Eric wrote the trial stuff, all the Matrix stuff was added after, by Eric, you’d better ask him’. So I went to John Nathan-Turner, he said ‘Oh, whichever you like’. This is the level of involvement at the time. Eric was going through his own problems at the time, disagreeing with John Nathan-Turner on all sorts of things. I felt that was all very sloppy, it was all cobbled together a bit. The stories were written independently, and the trial theme was put on top. I felt it was the Matrix lying, so I really was torturing Peri. But it was very difficult. You expect the writers to know what’s happening, but that’s not always the case.” [source]
Part three is another part three in which nothing really happens. Kiv is placed in a replacement body, but Crozier realizes will not hold. The Doctor hangs out with Sil a bit and they bond over mutual love of capital investment (The Doctor gets a cut). Peri runs around with King Yrcanos as they attempt to start their revolution to overthrow The Mentors of Thoros Beta.
Because Peri's being here is all The Doctor's doing, all of what happens is, essentially, The Doctor's fault and something he needs to take responsibility for, a fact which, when you start to examine it, is not negated by The Doctor’s claims that “That isn’t what happened”, which he claims is due to record tampering with The Matrix, which The Inquisitor describes as "impossible".
I've youtubed the ending, because I think it's powerful. Colin Baker rocks it. And The Valeyard has never before been so powerful and so domineering.
Bring on the nonbelievers. I will lesson them some knowledge. Make them watch.
Final Thoughts!: It's rare for me to have a change of heart about certain stories, and yet here you go. Despite myself, I REALLY like "Mindwarp".
But you know what? The rest of it is insanely solid. I love the immense scale of tragedy. I love the death of Peri (except for the bit where they retconned it, thereby robbing this story of its power just a few episodes later). I love Brian Blessed as Yrcanos. I love Colin Baker despite everyone's still-standing-opinions that he's a terrible Doctor. Seriously. What is that? Screw that. Seriously. Where are all the Colin Baker haters and why in god's name have they not seen this? Bring them here. I'll show them a kickass Doctor.
Not only that, but can we have more really really silly characters like King Yrcanos on the show? Cuz he's just fun and a total riot. I wouldn't mind a spin off series of his adventures. Okay, maybe not. But I would like him to come back at some point because he's is just so ridiculously awesome it's amazing.
While initially thinking that "Mindwarp" jumped the rails in the beginning, it really brings it back in the end. I really find myself more or less ambivalent to about half of it and unabashedly love the second half. It's a fantastic "darkest moment" for The Trial arc and helps throw The Doctor's entire nature and existence into contrast. That is, of course, what's on trial here, right? The Show? The people's ability to show this week to week?
In the end, I don't even care so much about all the little things (but they are enough to drag down this story's quality when I talk about it). All that matters is the excellent story in here that shines through just enough to keep it racing through my mind.
And if that doesn't speak to its quality, I have no idea what will.
Next Time!: 6th Doctor! More Trial! A FUTURE Story! A New Companion (Controversy!)! Plant creatures! MURDER IN SPACE! And, of course, more Valeyard! This Monday, Cassandra's back as we head into the home stretch on our two week Trial coverage with "Terror of the Vervoids"!