Tony has always had a warped mind.
Mindwarp, the second story in the Trial of a Time Lord season, was many things: unsettling in its portrayal of a justice system clearly prone to corruption while hailing itself time and again as the bastion of purity; confusing in the degree of its faffery in tunnels; monstrous in its conceits of brain transfer and the ruling elite of Thoros Beta swanning about like a slug-bodied Bullingdon Club, twisting the destiny of the cosmos to their will, and the genetic make-up of innocent creatures to their service; terrifying in the violation and extermination of Peri, the Doctor’s American companion and the Doctor’s apparent change of personality and refusal to save her. If you’re going to release an audiobook version of that story, it also presents you with a handful of strong vocal performances to deliver – Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor in both high dudgeon in the courtroom and increasingly slimy co-operation with the Mentors in the actual story; Michael Jayston’s silky malevolence as the Valeyard; Nabil Shaban delivering the unique vinegar-wine voice and tongue-waggle of Sil. Oh – and then there’s Brian (or as it’s now correct internet etiquette to call him, BRIAN!) Blessed as King Yrcanos, whose job it was to stomp about, smash things and shout. A lot.
In the end, the job of voicing this second instalment went to Colin Baker, following Lynda Bellingham’s reading of The Mysterious Planet, which, partly thanks to a workmanlike adaptation by Terrance ‘The Guv’nor’ Dicks, and partly thanks to Bellingham’s own professionalism, made for a surprisingly enjoyable handful of heartbeats.
Arguably, Baker has a harder job, given the sheer vocal range of the characters in Mindwarp. And Philip Martin, writer and noveliser of Mindwarp, is not Terrance Dicks by any means. Nevertheless, Martin’s Target version of the second Sil story doesn’t deviate wildly from the on-screen version, and nor does it try to cram acres of extra weirdness in. Martin has earned himself the reputation of a dystopian prophet of Who, forecasting the arrival of reality TV in Vengeance on Varos, and here giving us a treatise on both the monstrous – and marvellous – capabilities of brain surgery and genetic manipulation and the dangers of a judicial system that considers itself entirely above reproach or examination. He does just enough in terms of adding reasons for the notably garish colour-schemes that saw the light of day on-screen on Thoros Beta, without allowing such details to overpower the story that he delivered in the episodic version. There are also some useful gracenotes on several of the characters that perhaps due to time or narrative pacing never had a chance to be more fully explored on-screen. Patrick Ryecart’s slightly bizarre, clipped delivery of Crozier the genius surgeon is, if not explained, then at least given a context, Martin telling us that Crozier has no interest in anything outside his work, his mind being entirely focused on the potential that his genius could unlock. Matrona Kani too, played on-screen by Alibe Parsons, gets a light touch of Martin’s backstory brush, and so does the Mentor Kiv in terms of his youth and rise to power. These touches are, as we say, just enough to make you feel like the novelisation of Mindwarp delves deeper than the TV version, but never impede the progress of the story.
Perhaps interestingly, what the novelisation does show up is quite how much time is spent faffing about in various tunnels, drinks parties and business meetings in the story, and whereas on-screen, some sequences felt overlong, in the novel, they seem positively torturous – the run-up to the Raak incident takes forever to deliver, and the malarkey of Yrcanos, Peri and the Lukoser tramping about, finding Tuza’s rebels, and the ammo dump, and then being captured feels in the novel like it takes up quite a number of afterlives. The novel, far more than the on-screen version, makes you feel at a point halfway through that really it should be coming to an end any moment – and then doesn’t, as one group of characters or another finds another tunnel to tramp down and a reason to tramp down it.
So – heavy going, then?
On some levels, yes – but then on some levels, Mindwarp was always going to be heavy going – its themes of enforced brain manipulation and surgical alteration, its claustrophobic setting, and the lack of redeeming qualities in most of the main characters was always going to make it a story on which to embark with a certain amount of trepidation.
Colin Baker, on reading duties, certainly earns his money this time out. Whereas with, say, The Two Doctors audiobook, you come away thinking that perhaps Frazer Hines would have delivered better value for your audiobook money, having proved himself a ridiculously good mimic with a staggering capacity to ‘be’ Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, this story has such a diversity of character-voice, it’s difficult to imagine anyone getting it universally right. Baker makes a solid fist of it though – his Sil, while in no way coming close to Nabil Shaban’s definitive version, gives you enough vocal character-notes to make you want to slip in the DVDs and watch the original at work. His Yrcanos is better, perhaps unsurprisingly for the man whose Doctor was himself prone to explosions in a very loud voice. And to most of the other roles, including some of the key female voices in the piece, Baker gives a believable quality that reminds you of the on-screen version. Crozier, as perhaps is only right given the greater detail we get on the man here, is a departure from Ryecart’s clipped, pack-ice delivery, and Baker makes a couple of accent choices that add new, if slightly surprising depth to the piece. The chief guard we encounter, Frax (played on-screen by Trevor Laird) has Baker reaching back to his youth for a Northern accent, while Tuza, the would-be Alphan rebel originally played with little in the way of character by Gordon Warnecke, gains a certain rakish potential and romanticism here by being rendered in a Spanish accent, Baker perhaps drawing a parallel between the Alphans and the Basque Separatists that were much in the news when Mindwarp was broadcast.
Baker also does a good job in ramping up the tension, so the audiobook of Mindwarp maintains the sense of the TV version, of a situation spiralling up and up out of control towards a point of unavoidable tragedy and horror. The Sixth Doctor as written here gives us very few more clues as to his mindset during the sequences where he acts as though he’s turned evil, Martin continuing to fudge the issue with talk of a vagueness, a blank in the Doctor’s mind, but Baker, no stranger to articulating psychobabble during his time on the show, carries the sense of that vagueness lightly, convincing us as listeners of a Doctor suffering from mental torture while giving us no clue of the bombshell that’s coming, meaning when it hits, he convinces as a Time Lord with the ground ripped from under him.
Overall, the audiobook version of Mindwarp’s novelisation suffers by comparison with the audio version of The Mysterious Planet, which took a fundamentally light and fluffy Robert Holmes story, handed it to Terrance Dicks to turn it into a sprightly, brightly lit novel, and then gave it to Lynda Bellingham to have some fun with. In audio as in video, MIndwarp follows on like a slab of heavy, dark, meaningful material, both a surgical and a societal horror story with a noticeable change of every conceivable gear. The novelisation, lacking some of the tricks of TV which helped push the pace along, reveals the padding that turns Mindwarp from a clutch of dark ideas into four episodes worth of TV, but does so at the cost of feeling like you’re spending most of the story in corridors off the main events, whispering about what’s going to happen next.
That said, an energetic Colin Baker does well to juggle the many bizarre vocal demands of the story, from Yrcanos to Sil via the Lukoser, Baker barking and whining like the professional he is when called on to render the man-dog equerry to Yrcanos.
Is it worth buying on its own, without the other three audiobooks that make up the season? Only if you’re a hardcore Philip Martin fan, really, as otherwise, you’ll get more from the DVD of the original than you will from the audiobook. If you’re doing a marathon audiobooking session through the Trial of a Time Lord season, you’ll find it harder going than The Mysterious Planet, but Colin Baker gives a nuanced, highly committed reading that make it as immersive an experience as it could ever have been without the vocal talents of other key players, like Jayston, Blessed and most particularly Nabil Shaban to bring the wonder that is Sil to life.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk