Top positive review
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Dragon of the Mind
on 15 October 2014
A brilliant return to the style of Jon Pertwee's first season, with political intrigue and UNIT action, plus the greatest supervillain of them all and a thing of pure evil - and now all in colour again! 5*
It's a terrific six-part story for the final release of the Pertwee era, with superb action scenes, extensive location filming with a genuine missile borrowed from the RAF and great direction by Timothy Combe, excellent performances from the UNIT `family' and the large, talented guest cast, very impressive sets, lighting and soundtrack and a truly evil `monster' that turns its victims' deepest fears against them.
The colour restoration is astonishingly good, re-coloured by merging the surviving mono film with residual colour signal that was left within the mono material - the same `chroma dot' technique as for `The Ambassadors of Death' and with visibly better results. Perhaps the original materials were better, or the technique has been improved; either way the results are remarkable. Apparently episode one had to be restored manually, frame by frame, and it looks the best of all! It must have taken ages to do but the results are certainly worth it and the soundtrack is also excellent.
Cold War tensions and `summits' were never far away in 1971, so UNIT have a lot of topical problems on their plate managing security at an American-Chinese peace conference, a banned nerve-gas missile to dispose of - and the Doctor is worrying about prison reform? Yes, and with good reason, because down at the old fortress that is now Stangmoor Prison, the Doctor and Jo are witnessing the first British test of the `Keller Process', a supposedly humane machine that extracts evil from the mind of a criminal, leaving behind a limited but law-abiding citizen. And the Doctor is right to worry. It seems the Keller machine has a mind of its own - a Mind of Evil ...
Jon Pertwee is on top form as usual, whether facing down the villains, reassuring Jo, bantering with the Brigadier or winning the confidence of the Chinese delegation - naturally, he speaks every dialect imaginable *and* is on personal-name terms with Chairman Mao! The Doctor knows everyone! Katy Manning plays Jo Grant perfectly as an active, capable UNIT agent in a very good script for the character, foiling a prison riot and saving the Doctor from his own fears. Her compassionate `adoption' of the `processed' convict Barnham (Neil McCarthy) is touching.
The story has some wonderful UNIT moments, not just the famous, no-quarter-given storming of Stangmoor Prison (aka Dover Castle) but also the interplay between the characters, anti-espionage on the streets of London with Sgt. Benton in mufti (a good story for John Levene) and the Brigadier organising everything, ticking off the hapless Benton in a good-humoured way and endlessly talking to all and sundry on the phone. Nicholas Courtney has a superb story as the Brigadier, a very well written part and great acting; even the phone scenes are a delight - he really convinces you that there is someone on the other end of the line and *listens* to the other half of the conversation. All the UNIT personnel have well written parts in this story and Richard Franklin sees plenty of frontline action as Captain Yates (including doing his own motorcycle stunt work), but the crowning delight must be the Brigadier tricking `is way inta the prison as a Cockney van driver, wonderful, even if his smart check cap is more `country weekend' than `van man' - he still looks like a posh Army officer, but in overalls!
You don't have to be a Time Lord to work out that Professor Keller, inventor of the evil machine, is actually the Master, gloriously played by Roger Delgado at his most stylish, puffing on a fat cigar as he cruises round London in a black limo complete with shades-wearing chauffeur. His scheme is simple megalomania - start the Third World War, destroy everything and take over the remains. Exactly how he intends to rule the ashes all by himself is never explained (I assumed he meant to use the controlling power of the Keller Machine in some way) and perhaps even he doesn't know - because of course the Master is a genius but also completely mad ...
Some six-parters fade a bit in the middle for lack of material - not this one! Don Houghton's second (and sadly, last) `Doctor Who' (following the superb `Inferno', which is referenced in the cliffhanger for episode one) has more than enough ideas to last the course. The Master has two entirely separate schemes to start Armageddon; it's typical of him to have a backup plan but either strand would have made a good story on its own; the script only fully connects the two strands at the very end so our attention is needed to follow events, but it's all great fun to watch.
Plan One is to spread murder and suspicion at the Peace Conference, by projecting the power of the Mind of Evil, so the Chinese Communist `dragons' and the American `imperialists' destroy the world in their mutual xenophobia. Pik-Sen Lim gives an excellent performance as Captain Chin Lee, as does Kristopher Kum as her new boss Fu Peng, the replacement Chinese delegate (the first one doesn't live long enough to appear on screen!) The American delegate almost goes the way of his earlier Chinese counterpart, but the Doctor's suspicions of the Keller Machine help him make the connection and pull the plug on the Master's link to the conference. Unfortunately, as this part of the story ends, Chin Lee and Fu Peng just fade from the script, which I found disappointing. The Chinese contribution to this story is a very strong part of the first two episodes and I'd been hoping for a joint East-West mission to hunt down the Master, who threatens the whole world.
Plan Two is to free and then recruit the convicts of Stangmoor as a private army to hijack the `Thunderbolt' missile and fire it at the Peace Conference. Each side would blame the other and the final war would begin. Naturally, the Master tells his new allies (lead by smart thug Mailer, a first-rate guest performance from William Marlowe) that he wants to hold the world to ransom, not destroy it. But he has two problems: the Doctor is his prisoner but UNIT are on the way - and the Keller Machine is on the rampage. The Master needs the Doctor's help to control it, but it's too strong - it's hungry, it grows by feeding on evil and it's in a prison full of serious criminals ... you just know it will eventually turn on the Master, and when it does, the sight of what *he* fears most is a brilliant psychological highlight. There's also a superb and most intriguing scene when the Master thinks he has accidentally killed the Doctor - is that concern we see? Surely these two are friends not enemies? The Master's changed attitude doesn't last once the Doctor recovers, but perhaps it's a clue to their past.
THIS PARAGRAPH GIVES AWAY THE ENDING: It all ends with two episodes packed with classic UNIT action and quite tough battle scenes with the HAVOC stunt team hard at work again, complete with another expensive helicopter and a big special effects bang of the `Thunderbolt' missile, which also destroys the Keller Machine. This looks good but was slightly unsatisfying as we'd been told a mere explosion wouldn't end the evil. Obviously the Doctor is using the nerve gas warhead to destroy the Mind of Evil, very appropriate but a line in the script to say so would have been helpful - perhaps the idea of the Doctor using nerve gas was deemed too evil to spell out?
Thanks for reading if you've made it this far - this is a great story for the final Jon Pertwee era DVD and the last `new' (to me) story with *my* Doctor that I'll ever see, 43 years since I saw the first one!
Definitely five stars; to give this fine DVD release any less would seem almost ... evil! 5*
A very good set of Special Features:
On Disk 1: The commentary is enjoyable and interesting right through the six episodes, with director Tim Combe joined by Katy Manning, Pik-Sen Lim, Fernanda Marlowe (UNIT Corporal Bell) and producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks and stunt arranger Derek Ware of HAVOC.
On Disk 2:
`The Military Mind': cast and crew reassembled at Dover Castle in 2009 for this short (23 minute) but excellent `making of' feature. For any `Doctor Who' fan who lived through the UNIT years, it's surprisingly moving
`Now and Then': revisits the locations as they are today - interesting because like `The Military Mind' it uses clips from the unrestored, mono materials - an astonishing feat to produce the excellent colour DVD from that.
`Behind the Scenes: Television Centre': A very interesting 25 minute programme looking at a busy working day at the BBC, at the time that `The Mind of Evil' was made. There's just a passing reference to `Doctor Who' and a model TARDIS dematerialising, but spot the `Doctor Who - Prison Hosp.' label on one bit of passing scenery.
A good `Photo Gallery' including location pictures.