The Mind Robber part 1

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    Craig @craig

    Warning: features bagpipes, Zoe in a catsuit and Jamie in his kilt.

    This is story two of Patrick Troughton’s final series (he did three series in total). In the previous story “The Dominators”, in order to win the day The Doctor set off a volcanic eruption. At the start of The Mind Robber the lava is encroaching. To escape destruction the Doctor removes the TARDIS from normal space and time. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe then find themselves in a ghostly white void.

    We’re discussing this story one episode per week, as it was originally broadcast. If you’ve seen it before, for the convenience of anyone approaching this for the first time, no spoilers for subsequent episodes please.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    So far, so confused? I think the cast may have been a bit at this point as well, as due to production issues and writing on The Dominators @craig mentioned (as well as obligatory warning about bagpipe content 😉 ) The Mind Robber was extended to five episodes, and rehearsal times were pretty minimal by all accounts.

    Although I like it, I’ve got an established overview of the entire story, so it’ll be interested to hear from anyone watching it fresh. I think it does betray more than a hint of, particularly from Wendy Padbury as future computer specialist and maths whiz Zoe. She’s still a little inexperienced at this point and you can visibly see her look off for cues at times. Frazer Hines and Troughton are a bit more relaxed with a production botch-up at this point, and if Hines is in doubt, he hugs Troughton or just looks bewildered, which is Jamie’s ground state. 😀

    So to escape the boiling lava of soapy suds they have materialised nowhere. There’s a reference to the void, which could be associated with where 10 dumped all the Daleks and Cybermen in the future, and shares something in look with the interface of N and E-Space in Warrior’s Gate. All are said to be outside of the normal Universe, so all aspects of the same thing?

    The Doctor does have problems with Mercury switches, doesn’t he? Maybe inhaling the fumes from broken and hot switches is responsible for sending him a bit peculiar over the years.

    The luring out of companions, and their navigating the void is pretty obviously stretched out. If it had been four episodes, we’d be cracking along. The white robots are here, armed with what are obviously hypnorays of some description. What is it about swirling circles like these that scream “HYPNORAY”? I’ve never been able to find out if you can actually be hypnotised by visual clichĂ©.

    Although it’s been done since, this sense that the secure bolt-hole of the TARDIS is being invaded would actually work better in the period I think. Seeing the Doctor come under mental attack in his castle is just the start. As they fly away, and Jamie wakes up from unrealistically portrayed (Sorry Frazer) disturbed sleep, the unthinkable happens – but that would be telling.

    That is a very tight catsuit.

    All in all, I think the episode is OK, but it’s that great cliffhanger that grabs your attention. What are our heroes to do now?!

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Gosh, that’s a good episode.

    This is the one that had to be written in a hurry after The Dominators came in one episode short. In a hurry, with almost no budget. Oh, and no cast except the regulars.

    Oh, all right. You can have some extras. And we can get Emrys Jones to do a voice over… sets? Will a smoke machine do? And I’m sure we’ve got some white paint around somewhere. 😉

    But with all those constraints, it turns out to be a little cracker. The TARDIS, as @craig says, is about to be covered in lava. The always rickety TARDIS chooses this moment to boil its fluid links (Mercury vapour! Yummy!) and the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe frantically try and find a way of getting out before they become pyroviles. Unfortunately, it turns out that the TARDIS’s ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ mechanism is something that takes you entirely out of normal space and time.

    It’s to be suspected that the Doctor knows rather more than he’s letting on about the dangers of this. Firstly, there’s a timer on the device, secondly he’s making a beeline for the power supply to do some emergency repair work.

    Then the hallucinations start. Jamie sees Scotland. Zoe sees her home city. Zoe manages to convince Jamie not to go out, but when she’s left in the console room alone the hallucinations become too strong. She leaves the TARDIS. When Jamie finds she’s gone, the impulse to rescue her becomes too strong.

    What budget they had was wisely spent on special effects rather than set; the set is a white-ed out and overlit studio with some smoke. David Maloney pointed out that he managed to secure one of the best camera teams for this story; it shows. The selection of interesting and varied angles means that the scenes of Zoe and Jamie stumbling around in the ghostly void do look convincingly creepy. Meanwhile Patrick Troughton is acting his little socks off back in the TARDIS set, fighting off a compulsion to go and rescue Jamie and Zoe. He has to bring them back to the TARDIS.

    I pause to note that this seems to be one of the times when the Doctor’s usually latent telepathic abilities are being actively used.

    He succeeds in bringing Jamie and Zoe back, despite the robots. For a moment it seems that all will be well as the TARDIS takes flight. Except… TBC.

    [Yes, I believe that particular shot of Zoe’s extremely tight catsuit is deservedly famous – Wendy Padbury still gets letters about it.]

    What happens now?

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    BTW – Does anyone get the reference to Zoe looking like a “Wee McLarty(sp?)”.


    I’m indebted to you for posting just after me – I’ve removed my comment that rather spoilt the cliffhanger for the casual reader.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    it’ll be interested to hear from anyone watching it fresh.

    ::waves hand in the air:: Me! Me!

    I’ve heard some of the stories, so I have a vague idea what’s going on, but I’ve never seen this before. I didn’t feel that the void scenes were padding. Because I had no idea what happened next they felt very tense. Clearly the Doctor had to come out and rescue Jamie and Zoe and equally clearly he shouldn’t. Then the bit where they redressed Jamie and Zoe in white and they were cheerfully beckoning… arrgh!

    The ‘padding’, for me, was more at the beginning. I was entirely with Jamie on that one – never mind the fascinating close-up of volcanic activity, we’re about to become a TARDIS lava brittle!


    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @phaseshift – bugger. I changed it to reveal the cliffhanger after I saw your post.

    Can you use your Time Lord powers and edit it for me? Just remove the relevant paragraph. Thanks.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    No problem, as it was my mistake – I don’t know, the sites quite quiet, and we insist on posting at the same time. 🙂

    I agree with your post in that I think they deserve a lot of credit considering the how little time they had, and creation of the void in particular makes a virtue out of not-very-much. Some of the imagery is dream like and there is a disturbing atmosphere utilised. The first time I got to see it, I did wonder what the recreational drug of choice was in the BBC offices in the 1960s.

    I read an interview with Gerry Davis about the Celestial Toymaker which had similar problems, and I think it’s easy for me to forget what a massive rolling effort the 60s TV series were. A small disruption could soon steamrole into something much bigger, and spread its effect. A lot of sweat and creative thinking had to be done with next to nothing.

    padraig @padraig

    This is so good! I love it but i also really like the new Dr.Who. But it sucks that they ruined the music to the new modern Dr.Who theme.

    ConfusedPolarity @confusedpolarity

    Always looking for an excuse to watch a bit of the Second Doctor!

    The Mind Robber is a favourite of mine – I’ll state that from the off.  Episode One demonstrates why quite nicely – I just love this trio of Troughton’s Doctor, Jamie and Zoe.  They’re like three naughty kids let loose out of school!

    It’s typical Jamie that he should have to be the practical one, pointing out the risks of getting buried under the soap/lava flow while the other two swoon at how magnificent the spectacle is.  And the Second Doctor gets to show off both sides I associate with him – all that flapping panic when the TARDIS misbehaves and the grit when he finds himself having to “fight” the mysterious voice inside his head.  He’s got the silly side, but I never doubt the steel behind it, either.

    I’m always glad, when  I see this particular episode, that I’m not from Zoe’s time.  Not only does she have to carry off that catsuit (credit to Wendy Padbury, not every woman could do it! 🙂 ) but “The City” she calls home is, like all future cities in 1960s an 1970s sci-fi, horribly sterile looking and unappealing to me.  I rather like that she and Jamie are a bit dense – both see exactly what they’d most want to on the scanner, yet neither stops to question the fact, or wonder why the other one claims to be seeing something so totally different.

    Why is “Nothing” so frightening? I’m not sure, but the prospect of being “nowhere” and surrounded by nothing” does send a chill down my spine.  It’s surprisingly effectively portrayed to by making the companions run around a completely white studio.  There’s not a great deal actually “happens” in the episode, but I was still surprised how quickly it came to an end.  That’s the secret of good storytelling I suppose.

    Looking forward to episode two next week.  And while Zoe’s bottom always gets the credit at the end, it’s that last shot of the Doctor that sticks in my head!

    Anonymous @

    I hadn’t seen The Mind Robber until yesterday. Broad daylight, tiny screen, peaceful day. Totally unnerving. Zoe’s piercing screams (perhaps elicited as a result of over tight ‘skins’) aside, it was paranoia at its best with few low budget tricks.  The plodding robots and the white walls reminded me of Amy as she fought off ‘happy death’ whilst the Doctor and Rory were trying to match themselves with the puzzle of her time stream.

    The continuous vibration in the character’s heads (the companions and the Doctor felt this with equal intensity) worsening by the second was awful. The idea that this torture might never end was as terrifying as the ‘nothingness.’ As a child I’d been frightened by simple things 🙂 Not torture or corporeal robbers but by endless corridors, mazes, incomprehensible numbers leading to infinity like the steady relentless march of Roman warriors by the thousands. The vibration was like post-war psychological terror-tricks.

    The confusion and terror arose from not quite knowing who was who: and what they were really thinking. The most seminal of suspense and horror tales involve subtle nuance and almost imperceptible changes to main characters: when only three are on screen, the prickly feeling intensifies. As the Doctor speaks following the companions rescue and ‘safe’ return to the TARDIS, you get a sense that the Doctor’s voice, wooden and monotonous, is being cultivated for some other dark purpose: reminding me a lot of Midnight, actually.

    Even the Doctor’s cheery countenance coupled with perplexity is upsetting as we generally see a confident Doctor. Perhaps Troughton’s MO was to be the ‘confused professor’ with his snappy “quiet”every minute when more recent Doctors have tended  to companions when they sense something unusual. The 1oth asked: “yes, what is it, what do you see?”, though this could’ve been a nod toward more reciprocal respect for companions or females. Here, rather,  the Doctor wanted to fix or avoid (‘a-void’ geddit? good grief. No coffee yet!) an immediate problem the likes of which he suspected before the companion forced down the ‘big button’. And, he wanted it sorted without interruption (“Jamie: quiet please”).

    Maybe there was the odd contrivance springing from few rehearsals?: Jamie conversing with Zoe whilst rubbing chin: “yes, ah this is the right way, but I’m not sure; we could be..ah..lost?” Rubs chin and moves head right to left.

    What I liked a lot was the simple use of language and the now underused ‘pause’ to intimidate the viewer. The Doctor, asked by Jamie, “are we in the TARDIS then?” responds with a “yes, yes we are…….Possibly”. Lovely pause with all sorts of scary void preconceptions.

    Getting back to the confused professor, even though I’d seen Troughton in a few and less well known episodes, I’d never seen him quite so exasperated and annoyed! Tired of being interrupted by the ‘young children’  arguing in the TARDIS, I can sense that he was vulnerable: just an ordinary man fazed by a confusing situation and helpless, too. At times, calling desperately for Jamie to listen, he’s plaintive, even whiney!  As Jamie skips out of the TARDIS, the Doctor calls after him flinging his hands down by his side, holding his legs together and almost stamping down with both feet like a middle-schooler. Such is his own frustration and terror of the ‘nothingness’ which he knows holds something. And, far worse than a void: I found it very effective indeed.

    21 minutes of quick paced action-except, as others have noted- at the beginning where the lava is approaching like a lethal walking washer spewing soap suds. Everything white and without the depth of greys and blacks we’re used to in these early dramas. But what a cliffhanger: Jamie hanging on for dear life, a glimmery Zoe screaming hell for leather as the TARDIS breaks into pieces like a space station avulsed by meteorites. And then the Doctor…..Can’t wait. Bring it on!

    Kindest, purofilion



    wolfweed @wolfweed

    ‘We are Nowhere!’ Very creepy!

    We get to hear ‘The flowers of the forest’ on the bagpipes a couple of times before we will hear it again in Terror of the Zygons.

    The screams in this episode are simply bloodcurdling.

    Funny how a void can become so iconic…



    Clarty is an old Scots word for: dirty, filthy, caked in muck. Hence ragamuffin.

    McClarty is also a real surname, derived from Laurence. Funnily enough it’s their clan whose motto is ‘Creag an tuirc’

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    I have no idea why I hadn’t made the connection to “Clart” (as in “I’ve fallen in the clart”), as we used it a lot as kids, as a less offensive version of “Shit”.

    I am indebted to you sir, for solving a twenty-odd year old conundrum. Doffs Hat.

    Arbutus @arbutus

    Agh! I wrote the following last week and never posted it. My life has become a bit of a maelstrom lately, and when there are too many disparate things going on, I get terribly confused. I’m not ADD but you wouldn’t always know it!

    Yes! I love this. Isn’t amazing what can be accomplished very simply in terms of sets and so on? There’s a great creepy atmosphere established here.

    I was reminded watching this of the simple reality that not every companion would work well with every doctor. We’ve seen this in lots of cases over the years, and I was reminded of it watching Jamie (whom I love) and realizing, having been watching the First and Ninth so recently, that he would not have worked especially well with either of those. I suspect that either of them would have thrown him out of the TARDIS first chance they got! But he was the perfect companion for the Second Doctor: at times he acts with as much authority as the Doctor himself, although it doesn’t always end well. But this Doctor doesn’t always get it right, either, so there’s a great balance between them. Being of a less authoritarian nature than his earlier incarnation didn’t make the Doctor a completely new person, and he must have found frustrating his inability at times to get his companions to do as they were told!

    Very interesting thoughts, @purofilion, about what frightens us. I was struck by your childhood fear of corridors and mazes. When I was young, I used to have a recurring nightmare about ending up on a department store escalator that was taking me down into a dark basement, and my horror at the bottom on finding that there was no “up” escalator! Being lost, being powerless, these are pretty basic fears, I think; which is part of what makes this story so creepy.


    ScaryB @scaryb

    Not a lot to add, that hasn’t been brilliantly covered already by all you clever people above 🙂

    This was always one of my favourite stories, and completely creeped me out watching in the 60s.  The destruction of the TARDIS was shocking- the safe haven, gone.  She could get moved, kidnapped, hidden, but she was usually impregnable.  I wasn’t aware of any of the production problems, it just struck me as a story that really stretched the imagination. As @Purofilion said, “nothing” is a very scary concept; and the whited-out scenes, and the mist, and sense of space sell it well.  Filmed in b/w, it recalls spooky film noir, classic Hammer horror, yet it’s all just a little off kilter.  Interestingly one of my other favourites which lives on in my memory (when some others are remembered only by the title and a couple of scenes) was the equally low budget Edge of Destruction.

    Jamie and Zoe is probably my fav ever companion-team (tho Amy and Rory come close), and although Zoe is still finding her feet, Frazer Hines and PT are completely at ease with their roles by this time. They have a great chemistry.  As @confusedpolarity says, Troughton encapsulates excited kid, authoritative, uncertain in just a phrase or a a look. Loads of little nuances. Including decidedly sneaky looking at times!

    And delighted to hear @bluesqueakpip‘s comments, that it still has the power to thrill for someone coming on it fresh.

    <sigh> Zoe was probably the companion I most wanted to be (or Jamie!). Sadly I had neither her brains nor her ability to work a glittery lurex catsuit! (Not even close đŸ˜„ )

    ScaryB @scaryb

    Great ending. Love the close up the Doctor at the end – is he still fighting off the mind control, has he been taken over, is he aware at all of what’s happened to the TARDIS and his companions? Is what’s happening to them real or a dream? If it’s a dream can you be hurt in it? ( like Amy’s Choice).  What’s really going on?


    Anonymous @

    @scaryb and @arbutus  I agree: very atmospheric. This idea of what provokes us, the primitive fears of the ages was explored with Tennant in The Satan’s Pit where Tennant, losing rope, is about to fall in. He wonders whether it’s the need to see what’s at the bottom or whether, more primal, it’s the instinctive urge to jump or even fall. I recall being in Toronto and stuck in a Holiday Inn some 20 stories up. Parents were having dinner, I was doing Maths H/W, and, rather bored, my eyes kept flickering to the glassed in balcony….

    I was under an almost irresistible pressure to wander onto the balcony and simply, jump off. I was interested. I wasn’t disassociated, or stupid, or depressed. I knew I’d die but I felt as though the urge was very strong.  Fundamentalist Christians would assume Satan was stirring up nasty spells and psychologists would have me sectioned. The next day my parents who were packing suitcases, simply said “well, don’t actually try it will you?” in a distracted and careless tone! Holy Shit!

    All very interesting as The Mind Robber demonstrates: the endless sense of space: or senseless end? The idea of someone or something pulling strings and watching everything they do; masterminding choices; deliberating ‘punishments’. Hell it seems is closer than we think. I don’t imagine stunned fear, bloodcurdling screams and chaos, just wretched repetition, a white-out, walking in circles; like the Truman Show when the main character sees the same things over and over and can convince no-one of his sure belief. He can tell something isn’t quite right. As @scaryb said: “off kilter”.

    Kindest, puro.

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