Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp - Review


If you like or dislike Mindwarp, one thing that can be agreed on is that it is a disjointed mess. But that is meant to be the point. The truth of what we are being shown is supposed to be suspect. Is the Doctor acting evil to trick his enemies, or was he turned evil by a mad scientist's brain drain? Is his companion Peri dead because of his negligence? Was he prevented from saving her? Or is she really dead at all?

The four episodes that make up Mindwarp play the part of episodes 5-8 in a series long arc called The Trial of a Time Lord and as with the previous story, The Mysterious Planet, the action is split into two dialogues. The first being the main action on Thorus Beta and the second being the Doctor's trial and all of this being used in evidence. But the Doctor can't remember what happened so there is no reason to believe his version of the facts either. And as the story progresses, this fog only gets stronger.

It is difficult to get a real handle on what is going on in Mindwarp because script editor, Eric Saward and author, Philip Martin have given it several layers of ambiguity. There is everything from conflicting character motivations to the over arching narrative that everything we are seeing might be a lie. And the final episodes sees the corridors of Thorus Beta and the Gallifreyian courtroom merge dangerously as the Time Lords hijack the narrative and leave things purposely hanging for the next two episodes to uncover.

The Sixth Doctor, (Colin Baker) and Peri, (Nicola Bryant), find themselves on a world digitally effected by the recently discovered computer programme, Paint.

But it is also difficult to decide what is happening in Mindwarp because it isn't a very well made story and some of the confusing portions are there by accident and not purpose. There is an infamous story surrounding this whole series where Colin Baker asked Saward what the Doctor's motivations where and Saward couldn't answer it because not even he knew. That isn't a minor issue. There is a real sense that no-one knew what was happening. Of course, this story is designed for the viewers to come to their own conclusions. But the most interesting aspect of this story is that we will never know what parts of Mindwarp were supposed to be true and what were lies and because of the problems behind the scenes with this series, we are never given an actual answer later on.

However, the unreliability of the story is evident from the very first scene. The Doctor and Peri arrive on a beach on Thorus Beta, through another narrative that we only get glimpses of. They have arrived here to stop illegal trade in advanced weaponary to primitive cultures. Odd then that the evidence against the Doctor was him trying to stop interference in different cultures across the universe, when interference is what he was on trial for in the first place. But as the Doctor points out, there aren't organisations out there to stop things like this, there is only him. The gunrunning turns out to have been organised by the Doctor's old enemy, Sil and his lord Kiv, a fact that the Doctor apparently knew about by lied to Peri until they arrived and there was nothing she could do about it.

That is par the course for the Sixth Doctor and Peri, the little notes of grace we saw in the previous story, The Mysterious Planet are gone here and we go back to the same ugly dynamic that we had between the pair in the previous series.

The Sixth Doctor, (Colin Baker) and Crozier, (Patrick Ryecart), examine the new body for Kiv, (Christopher Ryan).

Soon though, there is another crinkle in their lives when they meet Kiv's surgeon, Crozier, who has been working on a way to transplant Kiv's brain from one body to another safely. During the cliff-hanger for the first episode, the Doctor is strapped to Crozier's table and zapped, only to be rescued by the former victim, King Ycarnos. But after this rescue, the Doctor's behaviour takes some dangerous turns. He betrays both Ycarnos and Peri and sides with Sil, who is just as unlikable here as he was in Vengeance on Varos. He is still a money-grabbing repugnant as he was then. He is someone the Doctor should hate through this story, he was after all, who the Doctor was there to sort out in the first place! Over the course of the story, the Doctor appears to be evil, repeatedly doing actions that go against who he is. He even works with Crozier to perfect his brain transplant technique, even though those who are subjected to it are unwilling. And the Doctor gives Sil knowledge of the future in order to make them a tidy profit.

When he is confronted by the Valeyard about these facts, the Doctor says he was simply trying to convince Sil he was on his side, in order to put an end to his schemes. I personally suspect that this might be true in the first couple of episodes but as for the rest, who knows. It is an incredibly weak defence from the Doctor, especially considering he has little memories of his trip to Thorus Beta.

And things aren't as simple as the Doctor would like to believe. Crozier's machine causes total insanity in everyone who is subjected to it. After being put in a different body, Kiv becomes obsessed with fish and his species' version of hell and even Ycarnos, although clearly not all there to begin with, is far more frantic than the finest warrior we are led to believe. Neither seems to have idea that they are acting differently than they had beforehand.

King Ycarnos, (Brian Blessed) and Peri, (Nicola Bryant), help the Doctor, (Colin Baker).

And then there is the slight problem of the Time Lord's intervention, a sub-plot which kicks in at the final stretch of the Thorus Beta action and takes over the rest of the series. We've already been given reason to believe that the Valeyard has been tampering with the Matrix, editing the footage to show the Doctor in a bad light. But when the Time Lords step in and stop Crozier's experiments, they also kidnap the Doctor, an act which interrupts everything. There is the hint that the Time Lords are acting hypocritically, in charging the Doctor for crimes but then slaughtering Crozier and his cronies, since his discovery of brain transfer might mean they aren't the only species who can live for millennia through a regeneration of sorts.

There is already no reason to believe that the Doctor had gone rogue. Through the previous series, the Sixth Doctor was treated so badly by the behind the scenes staff, that he already is the bad Doctor. It isn't particularly shocking that this Doctor is believed to be the one who would betray his very principles. He tried to murder Peri not long after his regeneration and although his later serials toned him right down, no effort was made in rehabilitating him. The show at the time wanted it both ways, the Doctor had to be deeply flawed and deeply incompetent but in control, was the hero and someone demanded respect. This was never well thought out or planned for and this was the problem with the Colin Baker era as a whole. Even more shocking is that it is apparent that the production team seemingly never noticed what horrors they had created. So when the Doctor claims that he is certain he wouldn't act evil on purpose but can't quite remember, there isn't the incentive to give him any benefit of the doubt like you could with the other Doctors. Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy might have been tricksters at times but they were good at their hearts. Sadly it is all too believable that the Sixth Doctor would snap like this.

But whatever the Doctor is doing has disastrous effects on the life of his companion Peri. Without the Doctor to save her, Peri becomes Crozier and Sil's ultimate victim. She loses her brain and body to the repugnant slug, Kiv. It's deliberately shocking and is one of the best moments in the history of the show, let alone the 1980s era. It crystalizes the stark image that the production team were trying to capture for the entirety of the Sixth Doctor era.

Mindwarp was the final story for the companion of Peri, (Nicola Bryant). Her departure is one of the most shocking moments in the whole history of the show.

And the series did need to take Peri off the board. Lets face it, I like Peri and the way that Nicola Bryant played her but the character is pretty terrible. The way she was written meant that she was constantly whining and complaining and she managed to impede whatever story she was in. She was a far-cry from characters like Sarah Jane, Liz Shaw and Jo Grant. Why the production team thought writing her character that way was going to be interesting, I don't know. It was always going to be a toxic relationship when she was paired with the Sixth Doctor. This Doctor needed a companion who would stand up to him, like Romana or Leela. Instead he got a Dodo like character, who didn't compliment him at all. It is little wonder why his audio companions like Evelyn and Constance are a lot better.

But this doesn't make her departure any less startling. The reason why it bothers me so much isn't so much she is the result of a twisted experiment from the mad Crozier, but this was the way her character was always going to go, this was the culmination of that. All through her time on the show, Peri was the victim of sexually perverted villains and even the Doctor tried to kill her in The Twin Dilemma and then subjects her to mental bullying throughout their time together. And while it is certainly true that the purpose of a companion is to get into trouble, the perils that Peri faced was constantly worse than any other for female companions, And because of this, it is hard to see her fate as anything other than what Eric Saward and John Nathan Turner had intended, the Time Lords meddled to such a degree that the Doctor couldn't save her in time. It never was Sil, Kiv or Crozier who did this to her, it the production team at the BBC! We'll see in The Ultimate Foe, her fate is ret-conned and she is actually married to Ycarnos, the seeds of such a romance we do see here. But the fact that her fate was ret-conned suggests that everyone knew a line had been crossed.

Peri spends much of the story running down caverns and corridors with Ycarnos, whose constant barbarian enthusiasm is toned down well by Peri's attitude to war. Surprisingly they make a good pair and I can see how a romance might blossom between them. She is right to hold him back all the time, he is a fool who wants to run in to everything and would get them killed otherwise. But he is also the only character who seems to want to get anything done. Even if he doesn't appear to know how to do that, it still makes him the only character in the whole piece worth respecting, the Doctor included. When she is paired with the Doctor, Peri ends up being a victim and although Ycarnos has an even bigger personality and ego than the Sixth Doctor, he works better with her because he respects her judgement in a way the Doctor never did, he listens to her and she provides him with a voice of rational caution he never did possess.

And Brian Blessed is single-handedly the best thing in this story and makes it watchable, even if he does seem to chew the scenery. He is a respected Shakespearian actor and one can see he is slumming it with the material he is given with this story. But thanks to his role on Flash Gordon, he knows that when you are lumbered with a character like Ycarnos, there isn't any point in turning down the volume. If the story and the dialogue are going to be bad, at least the actors should have fun. And when it comes to chewing scenery, Blessed is the proverbial piranha, dropping the script in the water and tearing it up into a million bloody pieces... 

Comments

  1. I really didnt like this story and didnt like Peri's fate- even when the truth came out. I remember DWM at the time commenting how happy was Peri really being married off to that guy. The brain swap was truly shocking. I was 14 when i watched it and really disliked it.

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    1. I much prefer her departure as a victim of Crozier's experiments. It is so shocking and certainly one of most shocking moments in Doctor Who history. The whole ret-con with the Time Lord's revealing she was living with King Ycarnos made their whole intervention with Crozier's experiments feel pointless and took the impact away from the stories conclusion. It would have worked much better in the Doctor's character had he never truly known what had happened to Peri!

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