PertWeek: Revisiting THE MIND OF EVIL

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Dr. Moo faces his fears.

The Mind of Evil is an odd beast: despite being the second story of season eight it feels somewhat out of place and plays out like a story from the much grittier season seven. Which is a good thing.

Though this is in fact only the second outing for the complete so-called UNIT Family of the Third Doctor, the Brig, Benton, Yates, the Thirteenth(?) Master and Jo it never feels like it because since the preceding adventure, Terror of the Autons, everyone has gotten more comfortable with their characters and how they all interact with each other – and nobody is better than Katy Manning. She plays Jo as a much stronger individual than she was last time, far from the spoilt brat we met before, she has grown up and become smart and capable. We have scenes of her standing up to a gang of thugs with a level of confidence you wouldn’t normally expect from the female co-star of a 1970s BBC series.

As well as that, the relationship Jo shares with the Doctor is much better than ever and we get scenes when the Doctor opens up to her in a way he rarely had with his companions by this point – the scene where he tells her about his association with Walter Raleigh (“a very strange chap. Kept going on about this new vegetable he'd discovered”) during breakfast comes to mind – and all the seeds are sown for the great friendship that the two of them will share for the next few years. Stories like this one emphasise why Jo Grant is one of the all-time great Doctor Who companions and it’s not hard to see why Manning has cited this story as the one as her favourite of the sixteen she filmed.

While Manning is great the show truly belongs to Jon Pertwee showing off everything that makes the Third Doctor stand out. He’s at his most arrogant here, shouting at everyone like an angry schoolteacher on a Friday afternoon that’s just discovered that every single student has forgotten his or her homework. The Doctor’s wrath is inescapable here and so when things go wrong for him in this story (and it’s a six-parter so you can bet they do, and often) it’s hard not to feel like it serves him right.

Yet despite this we also get to see his vulnerable side, and I can’t help but think that the way he’s written as an arrogant, brash, early-Colin-Baker-esque arsehole is so that the vulnerability shows up more prominently. Whether that was the intention or not, the Doctor facing his fears does work as a nice set-piece and Pertwee plays the Doctor’s feeling of horror convincingly. He gives a standout performance when we see him trying and failing to ward off the flames – you have to wonder if the reason his fears take on that form is a reference to his failure two stories earlier.

One place where The Mind of Evil falls flat is in the Keller Machine. It’s certainly a great sci-fi idea to have a device that can remove the evil impulses from people but that actually turns out to be feeding on these evils instead, before taking that person’s greatest fears and weaponising them to kill the person. The Master (posing as a Swiss scientist named “Keller” which, in what I’m sure is just a coincidence, sounds like “killer”) has a scheme in this story to use this machine while he simultaneously recruits a rogue gang of criminals to hijack a nuclear missile and disrupt a peace conference with it, thus triggering world war three, destroying the world so that he can take over and rule it. Because ruling the world when nobody lives there any more is a foolproof scheme, right?!

But why exactly does he need to do this? Where does the machine factor into this plot? And isn’t it convenient that there just happens to be a peace conference going on and that there just happens to be a nuclear missile in the area at the same time? None of it makes any sense!

Yet somehow we can ignore the stupidity of the Master’s plot. That’s entirely because of the great Roger Delgado; he plays the role with such conviction and quality that it sounds credible and only really falls apart when you reflect on it afterwards. He has the suave sociopath thing down to a pat in only his second appearance – just as well because before the season’s out there are still three more to go. Season eight can be a little repetitive at times but never boring because Delgado is just that good. Some would say the Master’s later incarnations suffer through no fault of their actors’ efforts but because the original sets the standard ridiculously high.

And while he manages to deliver the evil side to the Master he also sells the Master’s fears just as well as Pertwee does the Doctor’s. And the Master’s greatest fear? The Doctor!

The pairing of Pertwee/Delgado is magical. They play off each other as though they are mortal enemies yet they can just as easily team up when they need to, as they do when they work together to defeat the rogue Keller Machine. The two of them do have a history and you get the impression that the Master wouldn’t want to kill the Doctor if he didn’t need to do it. Though they are enemies now it feels a lot like they weren’t always, something later stories would confirm. The concept of the two being both friends and enemies has been very much the case since the series returned with Tennant/Simm and Capaldi/Gomez playing with the idea in a deeper, almost sexual, way, but the original Pertwee/Delgado pairing has yet to be topped.

That’s because the two actors were genuinely close friends in real life. This shows in the chemistry between them and it saddens me to know that Delgado’s death robbed us of a story where the Master gave his life for the Doctor because you get the impression that’s always where their story should’ve taken them. We were robbed of it and because that story never took place we later got dross like Time-Flight and The King’s Demons. What a shame.

Another thing to recommend The Mind of Evil is the action. This story is like a James Bond thriller in its scope. We have a villain who wants to conquer the world, we have guns being shot, people strapped down to be killed, we have fast cars and helicopters. The production crew even have a real-life 100% genuine military MISSILE to play with! All of these things add a certain almost-Hollywood quality to the story making it one of the best looking to date (even more impressive given its status as a recoloured B/W conversion). Director Timothy Coombe famously went so over budget that he was never invited back again which is a shame given the dedication he put into making it. He does little things with camera angles and visuals to make the story come to life magnificently. He throws in some quick cuts and distortions when the Keller Machine attacks so as to create a palpable sense of menace.

And the soundtrack only adds to that sense of menace. Dudley Simpson surpasses himself here with his incidental music and sound effects being some of the best in the entire 53-year history of the show. The theme he gives the Keller Machine is the highlight in this area, serving the same purpose as the famous piece of music from Jaws: to tell you that there’s an attack coming any second now. The Keller Machine looks a bit crap and adds very little to the story as a whole but thanks to Coombe and Simpson it gets the kids behind the sofa in style.

The Mind of Evil is a decent and enjoyable story with Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and Roger Delgado all on top form and lots of Bond-style action. It’s such a shame that the plot is filled with so many conveniences and the Master’s scheme doesn’t make much sense because everything else works so well. This is a good story that is definitely worth your time watching but it could have been so much more.

When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.

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