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

Day 223: The Mind Robber, Episode Two

Dear diary,

This story really is a spiritual successor to The Celestial Toymaker, isn't it? We've got the Doctor and his companions transported to a dimension outside their own, where they're forced to take part in strange games, while an omni-present figure watches on. I wonder if anyone watching at the time may have put two and two together and assumed that the Toymaker would be making his return here? We even get one of the regulars being taken away and replaced with a new actor (they didn't actually go through with it during The Celestial Toymaker, of course, and Jamie is only temporarily removed from events here, but still…)

The strange thing is… I'm not sure that I'd be totally against having the Toymaker return. Sure, his first story wasn't exactly a classic, but done in a style like this, where we're kept guessing and the whole episode is filled with a sense of dread, I think I'd be all for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an episode of The Avengers - The House That Jack Built - for the first time, and couldn't help but spend the rest of the evening imagining it as a Toymaker story for the second Doctor. No, no, hear me out!

The story largely concerns Emma Peel being trapped inside a large, country house which has been completely restructured inside using advanced electronics to confuse her and drive her mad, to the point that she tries to kill herself (at least, that's the plan). For a long time, Mrs Peel finds herself running round and round in circles, unable to escape the house until she smashes her way to the central control room, where she finds the mind behind all this.

He's an ex employee (I think… I'd sort of lost track by that point) who had set all this up to get revenge on her. He'd been dead for a long time, and his body was preserved, sitting inside a glass box in the centre of the room, taunting her. Having decided that it would be a good basis for a Doctor Who story, I couldn't shake the image from my mind of the Second Doctor reaching the centre of the maze and finding William Hartnell's incarnation sat frozen in the box. Admittedly, it might be a bit too sinister for the Doctor Who audience, but it's probably put my mind in the right place for this story! Troughton really suits a situation where he's left to piece the puzzle together, and we're seeing the darker, more serious side to his Doctor come out again - the threat feels all the larger because of it.

There's a lot to like in this episode. The removal of Jamie feels totally natural, and I'm not sure it would stick out as particularly odd even if I didn't know that he was away with Chicken Pox that week. It fits so nicely with the rest of the events we've seen today that it's perfectly reasonable to think that it was scripted simply to cover a week's holiday. It also serves as a great way to set up some of the odd things that we've got going on in this one - from Zoe being trapped in an over-sized glass jar, to the Doctor being surrounded by schoolchildren who proceed to quiz him with riddles to assertion if he'd be 'suitable' or not for some unknown task.

Then we've got plenty of great images to take away with us, from the forest of words (though it's a shame they don't really match up between the studio set and the shot of the letters from above) to the Clockwork Soldiers, marching through the 'trees'. They make a brilliant noise while they seek out our heroes - suitably creepy. And then we end with a unicorn charging towards us! As ever with things like this, it doesn't quite work, but it's good enough to be passable. I like that there's no answers to all this yet. I vaguely know where things are going, but it's been so long since I last saw the story that I can only remember bits and pieces from the resolution. I'm enjoying beings swept along with the tale, though. If anything, I might be a bit disappointed when we find out it isn't the Toymaker watching from afar…

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