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

Day 226: The Mind Robber, Episode Five

Dear diary,

I do have to wonder if part of the reason I'm liking The Mind Robber so much is that the episodes are so short. I stuck today's on while I was eating lunch and before I knew it - everything had finished! This one only clocks in at around the 17-minute mark, and the same is true for the other parts of this story - they're all shorter than your average Doctor Who. I don't know if it makes things more focussed, but it may be helping towards my enjoyment, certainly!

The other thing that's really appealing to me is that, for all the silliness of a story in which Gulliver and Rapunzel watch the climactic fight on a castle rooftop with pirates and superheroes firing laser guns, there's some genuinely sinister imagery throughout these five episodes. I've commented on how odd the first episode is, and the final shot of the TARDIS being blasted apart is a real sign of the programme moving out of its comfort zone, and we've the clockwork robots stalking the entire story, but today perhaps takes the crown.

The scene in which Jamie and Zoe tempt the Doctor inside a police box, filled with enthusiasm is fantastic. The way their faces stretch into huge, forced smiles is genuinely creepy, as they tease that things 'aren't over yet'. The shot that follows, of the cardboard cut-out TARDIS falling to the floor, to reveal the Doctor caught in a perspex piece of machinery is similarly unsettling, and then to add to it all, the group of Cockney children press their noses up against the case and laugh at his misfortune. Forget your Daleks and Cybermen - this is the kind of scene that would have left me scared as a child. It's not simply that the Doctor has been captured, it's that things are slipping away from his control more and more.

The various fights peppered throughout this final episode aren't necessarily anything all that special, but the final destruction of the Land of Fiction with the White Robots destroying everything they can get their guns trained on is very well done, as the set burns around our regulars. It felt a bit sudden when the episode simply finished, the Doctor having confirmed that they would be returned to their proper place in space and time (probably), but it's a rather well done ending to the tale.

I need to comment, one last time before I move on, about how this story would have suited as a successor to The Celestial Toymaker. It would have been a brilliant reveal had he stepped out during this episode to announce that he was the one in control of all this, and that the Master was simply the last victim to fail one of his games and be trapped there forever.

Way back when, during the Toymaker's first appearance, I said that ti would have been a hassle to have him turn up every time you wanted the Doctor to change his face (since turning the Doctor invisible the last time they met was supposed to be a viable way to get William Hartnell out of the series), but I don't think it would feel unusual to have the TARDIS team returned to the ship in this story, only to find that the Doctor suddenly looks different - and there's no way to change back with the Land of Fiction gone! Cue the titles!

In some ways, I'm glad that this doesn't simply serve as a follow up to that other story, as it gives The Mind Robber the room to breathe on its own as a slightly odd tale nestled in Season Six. It's been a mixed bag so far this year, what with an alien planet story that felt like a Season Two tale and an 'outside time and space' tale which feels like a sequel to Season Three. The quality of the stories has swung wildly (honestly, there was a point when I wondered if I'd actually make it to this story!), but the next one brings us closer to the kind of thing I've come to expect from Doctor Who of late. Here's hoping that - like The Mind Robber - I'll find my fond memories don't live up to just how good the story is…

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