on 8 October 2009
Jon Pertwee's second year on DOCTOR WHO is generally less well regarded than his first, which is odd because it ends with a story which is widely regarded as something of a DOCTOR WHO classic - THE DAEMONS. Maybe the fact that the main villain in this year's run of stories is always the Master has something to do with it, but in THE MIND OF EVIL, that has yet to become the established form and so it remains a cracking story in its own right, stylistically rather a throwback to the more "adult" styles and themes developed in the previous year, and as it might be some time before this story does come out on DVD due to the amount of restoration work required, this is a very welcome audio release to have.
In story terms it would seem that about a year has passed since the events of the previous story, the season opener TERROR OF THE AUTONS and the Master (in the guise of one Professor Emil Keller) has set himself up as the inventor of a seemingly widely used "humane" alternative to capital punishment, the Keller Machine which is in reality an alien mind parasite that lives off the evil sucked from men's minds. Or something. Anyway, the Doctor wants to attend the demonstration of this machine at the notorious fortress prison at Stangmoor, which is where the story begins. Meanwhile, UNIT are trying to dispose of an illegal nerve gas missile whilst trying to keep things calm at a particularly delicate World Peace conference.
Over the course of these six episodes (squashed tightly onto 2 CDs) DOCTOR WHO shows its most action packed side with the plottings of the Master as he tries to juggle his dealings with the Keller machine to get control of Stangmoor in order to get his hands on the missile. Never one for a simple solution, that Master. There's plenty of action and more than one bizarre assassination along the way - men drowning in bare rooms or being scratched to death by imaginary rats (very Orwellian!) - and it all rattles along to a relatively sensible conclusion where the various story strands are woven together. Also, it's never handled in a particularly gruesome - or nightmare inducing - way and remains firmly within the boundaries of general acceptable taste that the programme always aspired to and the moral code the Doctor always maintained remains intact despite this unusual rather gritty "real world" intrusion into the series' style.
Some people find Jon Pertwee's Doctor to be hard work and it's true that he can be a bit blunt, authoritarian or even pompous at times, but his ability to take control over a situation and general air of anger at the stupidity on display by the human species is pretty strong stuff. People more used to more recent interpretations of the role might need to be reminded that, given time, you can warm to him, and his stories are never less than entertaining. For a lot of people of a certain age, he will always be fondly regarded as THEIR Doctor.
Nicholas Courtney as the rather avuncular Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart gets one of his finest scenes here as he disguises himself as a delivery man in order to gain access to a prison overrun by its inmates. Katy Manning who plays the Doctor's companion Jo Grant provides her usual sterling support and in fact Jo's character was rarely better served than in this her second story. Richard Franklin as Captain Yates and John Levene as Sgt Benton cement their respective places as popular supporting characters. There are also excellent guest performances from some television stalwarts like Neil McCarthy (who gives a lovely and rather touching performance as Barnum, one of the criminals sentenced to be a victim of the machine), Michael Sheard (as a rather likeable Doctor) and William Marlowe who, as Mailer plays one of the nastier characters that was ever to be seen in the series.
Richard Franklin performs the (sometimes quite complex) narration very well, helping to smooth over the more visual aspects of some of the strong action sequences, of which there are many, for this was the story that rather defined on-screen action in the series, an element which does sadly rather get lost in the audio format. Three episodes to a disc does mean that the enjoyable little interview with him is very brief and is tucked away in 2 short bursts at the end of each disc and doesn't tell you very much.
The audio format does generally serve this era of the series very well as it allows you to enjoy the strong stories without being distracted by the shortcomings of the studio production, but sadly the "action" aspect of this particular story does mean that it is less well served here, but as an introduction to early 1970s DOCTOR WHO, it's still quite a lot of fun and worth a go.