10 August 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 222: The Mind Robber, Episode One

Dear diary,

The Mind Robber was the first Doctor Who DVD that I picked up on release day. Up to this point, I'd been dipping into the classic series DVDs based entirely on which cover appealed to me most in the shop (and what a wonderful way that was to experience the programme! These days, even the stories that I haven't seen occupy some place in my mind, with some scrap of knowledge about what's to come. Way back when, it was down to reading the blurb and looking at the cover art - which is why hit took me so long to pick up The Leisure Hive…), it was now March of 2005, and with the Doctor's return to TV imminent, my interest was starting to peak in the programme.

I can clearly remember lots of key bits from all five episodes of this story, so clearly it made some kind of an impression on me - I don't think I've actually seen it since the first watch eight years ago. I've always just had it filed away as 'a good one'. To that end, I decided that today's episode would be one to show Ellie. During the Hartnell era, I made her watch part of The Web Planet with me, because I wanted to see her reaction to a 'bad' Doctor Who story. I figured today was a chance to make up for it with what I'd call a 'good' one (even if I'd also call it 'the most bizarre episode of the 1960s'…)

We sat in silence right the way through the episode. Occasionally, I tried to say something, but was met with a firm 'shh' as she pointedly watched the screen. Having reached the end, I asked her to sum up her thoughts. She thought it was awful. At one point, she described it as 'worse than the one with the ants'. Ah. Worth a try, I guess.

Still, I was pleased to find that, having come through all the episodes before this one, I thought it was even better than I remembered. I was already making a mental note of how I wanted to write today's entry: commenting that it's completely unlike anything we've ever seen from the programme… but it's not! Just two stories on from The Wheel in Space, we've another scene in which the Fluid Links break (temporarily, this time) and the TARDIS console room is threatened by an outpouring of mercury vapour. A few minutes later, the scanner starts to show images of nice places (or, more specifically on this occasion, places that Jamie and Zoe would like to be) that aren't really there. I'm pleased that at least Jamie makes mention of the fact this has happened before.

It actually all works for the better that we start in such a dull (sorry!) and familiar way - everything in the second half of the episode feels so much more out of place and odd when it's come immediately after this real feeling of normality. Ok, yes, you can see the join in the set when Jamie and Zoe are out in the void (and once you've seen it, it's impossible to un-see). Yeah, when the robots turn up, they stand about six feet away from our two companions, who look at them several times before confirming that they're the only ones there (this was the only time Ellie spoke during the episode - asking if the robots were part of 'the Silence', and if Jamie and Zoe were forgetting them).

But in spite of all this, it's really rather creepy. The Doctor sitting in the chair, pulling pained expressions while he fights a mental battle with an un-seen force is well done, and then we end on that fab cliffhanger - the TARDIS blows apart! If you're putting together a list of brilliantly effective cliff-hangers for the series, this one would need to be somewhere near the top of the list.

While I've got strong memories of this story in my mind and a general feeling that I'd enjoyed it before, I also seem to recall thinking that things headed down-hill after the first episode. I'm hoping that the improvement of even this one since last time is a good sign of things to come!

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