Stomachturn

Review of Mindwarp (#143b)
DVD Release Date: 10 Oct 08
Original Air Date: 04 - 25 Oct 1986
Doctor/Companion: Six, Perpugilliam "Peri" Brown
Stars: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: The Mysterious Planet (Six, Peri)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Vervoids (Six, Mel)

I will admit, dear readers, that I cringed at the thought of needing to rewatch Mindwarp for this review. Parts Five through Eight of The Trial of a Time Lord (TToaTL) have always ranked high in my personal list of regrettable Doctor Who stories, and I'm afraid nothing changed this time around.

There are a few things that stand out in my memory about Mindwarp, no matter how long it's been since my last viewing: the way Peri gets so thoroughly screwed over; Brian Blessed's sheer, scenery-chewing volume; and the return of Sil, perhaps my most hated antagonist ever. None of these key traits serve to recommend the adventure, nor are they improved on repeated viewing.

While I've never particularly cared for Peri, no one deserves the shitty treatment—especially in a farewell appearance—that she gets here*. Even before the Doctor goes off the deep end (and he does, though neither we nor the Doctor himself, as evidenced by his reactions back in the courtroom on Gallifrey, really know why), he is truly horrible to his Companion. The prime example ties into another of my dislikes about Mindwarp: Sil.

Given the way Sil made my skin crawl (and not in a "love to hate" way) in his first appearance, I—like poor Peri—have no desire to be anywhere near him, even narratively. When she discovers Sil is on Thoros Beta with them, and that it is in fact his home planet (a detail the Doctor neglected to mention), she tells the Doctor outright that she wants to leave. Sil tortured her the last time they met, and she has been understandably traumatized by the experience.

And does the Doctor say, "Oh, my dear. I'm sorry; I hadn't thought about how that experience would affect you in these circumstances. I'll take you back to the TARDIS and away to some other place. I can come back and investigate how this high-tech weapon got from Thoros Beta into the hands of a less advanced species another time"? Of course not. He pretends she said nothing of concern and continues on with what he was doing.

As the story evolves, nothing improves for Peri. Yrcanos, the warrior king (played by Brian Blessed, whose over-the-top performance is amusing for the first two minutes or so, but rapidly wears on one) creeps on her almost from the first moment we meet him, and lays claim to her in the best patriarchal fashion (he once refers to Peri as "[his] bride to be") without the slightest hint at her actual consent or reciprocity of sentiment.

Add to these issues the piss-poor lighting in several scenes (including a cliffhanger zoom in on the Doctor's face that we can only read because we're already very familiar with the character), the distracting incidental music, and the less-than-compelling plot line involving Sil's boss's need for a brain transplant (his brain or consciousness in a new body, as his body fails), and you have a recipe for what in my opinion is a truly unfortunate entry in the televised "canon" of the Whoniverse.

Its only saving grace—and this is slim—is the sprinkling of clues throughout hinting at something larger at play in the Doctor's courtroom trial. He doesn't remember all the events shown by the Matrix, and feels certain there is some larger reason than that given to him in court as to why he was taken out of time at that precise point in the adventure. "And I have every intention of finding out what it is." [Roll end credits.]

If one is interested in the larger narrative, then (or like me is a completist who gets twitchy leaving things out), watch this one with a huge grain of salt. Otherwise, I think your viewing time is better spent elsewhere. Even Ol' Sixie's notoriously poorly scripted run has better to offer.


*[Spoiler] Even the retconned ending in TToaTL Part 14 does little to improve Peri's fate, and does nothing to make up for the Doctor's shabby conduct toward her throughout this installment.

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Comments

I felt I was in a minority as all I heard in 1985 and 1986 was how great a writer Phillip Martin was and how great both Vengance and Mindwarp were. To his credit PM is a good writer and if you can find Gangsters anywhere it is a good watch. However I thought the denouement to Vengance was sloppy so I was not sure what I was going to think of Mindwarp.

To give Mindwarp some slack one of the things I didn't like also was the way the Doctor treated Peri but it never appeared to be clearly resolved as to whether he did that, or if it was an effect of the machine test at the end of the first episode or if it was a fabrication by the Valeyard. I now go with the fabrication line. At the time apparently Phillip Martin was seeking guidance from Eric Saward as to what the Production Team wanted him to say but Saward was,apparently, unavailable as this was around the time that Robert Holmes was dying or died and having forged a friendship with him, Saward was upset and not present. This was the last story Saward worked on and left before Vervoids and Ultimate Foe were produced. A satirical fanzine at the time called Star Begotten printed their version of Saward's resignation which culminated in him shouting at JNt that he was turning the show into a pantomime. To this they claimed JNT replied "Gee thanks Eric". I didn't know it then but I LOL at that!

A wasted opportunity

By Wholahoop
mrfranklin's picture

It's interesting to hear your contemporary perspective. I'd no idea people lauded Mindwarp at the time!

By mrfranklin

Yes, I remember it well, as I gave up watching Trial part way through Mindwarp on its original broadcast because it was so obviously utterly wretched. I just thought that I'd return to the series when the next story came along. I was a fan in as much as I watched the show, but had no idea that this was a season long arc. My view was that we were now well past episode 4, so how much longer can this miserable drivel possibly go on for?

My expectation was that I'd tune back in when Sil was gone, hopefully (and as luck would have it actually) forever - like you, I'd also not been impressed with Vengeance on Varos and couldn't believe that we were being punished with a sequel. As far as I was concerned, Varos above all else had just come close to killing the series permanently.

It was much later that I discovered that according to perceived wisdom, "Mindwarp" was apparently the best part of this utterly misguided season and Varos of the series before. I maintain a similar trust of the views of organized fandom to this day.

By bingly (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yeah, I can see why that would shake your faith in received fan wisdom. I've seen some recent talk about Varos and Mindwarp being among the best of Ol' Sixie's run, and I just... Wow. Yeah. Can't agree with that assessment.

Glad to see I'm not alone, though! :)

By mrfranklin

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