Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil
Stangmoor Prison. The Doctor and Jo are attending a demonstration of the Keller Machine, a device intended as a replacement for capital punishment, which works by removing the negative impulses from the brains of violent criminals. But the Doctor isn't convinced. Meanwhile, UNIT are in charge of security at an international peace conference in London. But why is Chinese delegate Captain Chin Lee (Pik-Sen Lim) acting strangely? And who is Dr Keller? And what is really inside the Keller Machine?
In 1971, for the show's eighth season and their second at the helm, Doctor Who's producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks began a process of reshaping the show. Caroline John's Liz Shaw had been replaced by the shorter, younger, less highly educated and more “relatable” Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning. In came a Moriarty for the Doctor in the shape of rogue Time Lord The Master, played by Roger Delgado. And the previous producers' use on economy grounds of extended episode counts – three seven-parters in the 1970 season – became a combination of four-parters and six-parters that would remain, with the one exception of the five-parter The Daemons, for the remainder of Jon Pertwee's time as the Doctor. The show was moving away from the harder-edged style, more adult and violent (though still within PG bounds), to a softer one, with warmer characters. The Mind of Evil, a six-parter and the second story of Season Eight, is very much a transitional serial.
It was written and directed by men who had worked in the previous Season. Don Houghton had been headhunted by Terrance Dicks after they had both worked on the ITV soap Crossroads. He had written Inferno, which epitomises the gritty style of Season Seven and fits its higher episode count without too much padding. The director was Timothy Combe, who had made Doctor Who and the Silurians the year before. With its adult themes, and large amount of location shooting (with Dover Castle standing in for Stangmoor Prison), including widespread Action by HAVOC, The Mind of Evil also recalls the sequel that ran between those two, The Ambassadors of Death.
Many longer stories subdivide into smaller units: The Talons of Weng-Chiang, for example, is a four-parter with a two-part coda. (It can also be the case with shorter stories: The Ark is two and two.) The Mind of Evil is three and three, with its mental possession by the Master, who is revealed in the second episode, much of it centering on the Peace Conference Chinese delegate Captain Chin Lee (Pik-Sen Lim, married to Don Houghton and at the time pregnant with Sara Houghton, herself now an actress) giving way to the Master's plan to hijack the Thunderbolt missile and to blow up the peace conference so as to start World War III. And all this with the mind parasite inside the Keller Machine causing hallucinations of their deepest fears to all and sundry, The Master and The Doctor among them.
The Mind of Evil is not on the same level as either Inferno and The Silurians, let down by a somewhat incoherent storyline and a distinctly convoluted scheme from the Master. (Don't try to work out the timescale or you'll give your brain an injury.) It could quite possibly have been better as a four-parter. But that's not to deny that it is very well acted and directed. However, it is was a very troubled production and went considerably over-budget, so that Combe never got to direct another Who. This was Houghton's last contribution to Who as well: he died in 1991 at the age of sixty-one.
Pertwee's Doctor is the most imperious – some would say domineering, if not patriarchal and patronising – of the Time Lord's various incarnations. But by now he had taken hold of the role, and for many young fans (including this one, who came on board with the next story), he was The Doctor. Jo Grant, in her second story, had evolved too, and is tougher here than you might expect, although she arrives at Stangmoor in the first episode and stays there until the last. The Brigadier is on good form, and gets a rare opportunity to go undercover in disguise. Semi-regulars Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton have good material to work with too. In the guest cast, Pik-Sen Lim (then best known for having played a nurse in Emergency Ward Ten) makes an impression in her three episodes, and also coached Jon Pertwee in the Hokkien dialogue that he has to deliver (with English subtitles) in Episode Two. Fernanda Marlowe played UNIT operative Corporal Bell, originally male and intended as another regular, but who in the end appeared just once more, briefly in the next story, The Claws of Axos. However, the major addition was The Master, in his second of five consecutive stories as the recurring villain, though here not revealed as such until Episode Two. He's in his element here, smoking a fat cigar and driving around in a chauffeured limo. The rivalry between them is much of the focus for this story, and towards the end they form an uneasy alliance in order to defeat the mind parasite. And at the end of the story, he is still at large to fight another day, as he did, and in later incarnations still does.
The Mind of Evil comes to DVD as a two-discer, the first encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus.
The six episodes are in the ratio of 1.33:1, as you would expect for a 70s TV production. It was shot in the usual combination of 16mm film for the exteriors and 625-line colour PAL videotape for the studio work and broadcast from two-inch Quad videotapes. This was the case with all of the Pertwee stories except the all-16mm Spearhead from Space. But it's at this point where this particular story turns into one of the most complex restoration challenges of the entire range. After the initial broadcast, which the great majority of the UK population would have watched in black and white anyway, the master tapes were wiped, specifically between 1973 and 1976, and only one episode of Season Seven and three from Season Eight survive on their original broadcast tapes. However, the show was sold overseas on colour video (PAL or standards-converted to NTSC) and black and white 16mm telerecordings for those countries still broadcasting in monochrome. While NTSC tapes were recovered for other stories, none survived for The Mind of Evil and all that did were the black and white telerecordings. The only colour material was some of Episode Six, taped off-air from a US TV broadcast in 1977, but sadly the rest of the serial had been recorded over. This was included as an extra at the end of the VHS release of The Mind of Evil, which was released in black and white.
However, all was not lost. Embedded in the black and white telerecordings were chroma dots containing the colour information from the original videotape. Chroma Dot Recovery is the process of using these dots to reconstruct the episodes to full colour. These dots were meant to have been filtered out when the telerecordings were made, but it seems that the technicians concerned had neglected to do that...except for Episode One where he did. Chroma Dot Recovery was used for Episodes Two to Six, while Episode One was manually recoloured by Stuart Humphryes. Inevitably, the results are softer than native PAL would be – particularly the case with the location work – and colour tends to shift with solid blocks, such as walls, in the last five episodes. But you only have to look at the grainy monochrome telerecordings – as many of us watched on VHS, and extracts from which can be found in the extras – to see what this could have looked like. Screengrabs follow, one from Episode One, the other from a later episode.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and is clear, with dialogue, regular composer Dudley Simpson's electronic music score and the sound effects well balanced. Subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing on the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. The information subtitles, which contain a lot of information about various drafts of the story and some deleted material, plus lots more besides, are the joint work of Stephen James Walker and Martin Wiggins.
The commentary is moderated by Toby Hadoke and features in various combinations Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, Timothy Combe, Pik-Sen Lim, Fernanda Marlowe and stunt arranger Derek Ware. This was clearly recorded no later than 2009 as Letts died that year, and Hadoke refers to the serial as having been made “thirty-nine years ago”. Clearly, the chroma-dot recovery was in the works at the time, as Hadoke also refers to their watching this in colour for the first time since its original broadcast. Regular commentary moderator Hadoke does an able job of steering the conversation on course, though inevitably there's some repetition from other commentaries given the presence of people like Dicks who had been on many of them. Manning tones down the little-girlisms which have been irksome in other commentaries, and is keen to debunk the usual view of Jo Grant being “dizzy”, which she clearly isn't in this story.
On to Disc Two, and “The Military Mind” (22:45), which is the making-of featurette. Several of the commentary participants revisit Dover Castle and talk about the making of the serial. Again, this has clearly been in the works for a while, as Barry Letts is one of them. The clips from the serial are grainy and black and white, as the episodes on the DVD could have been – though unlike those they are cropped to 16:9, tut tut.
Those grainy monochrome extracts also appear in “Now and Then” (7:07), which compares the locations of the story with the way they are now. These locations include Dover Castle, a road and RAF bases in Kent. Meanwhile, back in London, the Commonwealth Institute hosted the peace conference and Cornwall Gardens SW7 got pressed in service again, having previously featured in The War Machines.
“Behind the Scenes” (24:01) is a featurette, not dated but clearly from the Seventies, where Normam Tozer spends twenty-four hours at the BBC Television Centre, watching everyone at work, and sitting in on programmes being made, such as Only Gas and Gaiters, Blue Peter, a classic serial adaptation of Cousin Bette. Tozer sees scenery makers at work, sits in the canteen with actors still in costume and stays up to watch the continuity announcer sign off the days broadcasting just after midnight with a playing of the National Anthem. (Those were the days.) While this isn't specific to Who very much – though we do see regular special effects designer Michaeljohn Harris at work - it's a fascinating time capsule.
The extras conclude with a self-navigating stills gallery (4:54) and a Coming Soon trailer (1:15) for the next release, a Blu-ray edition of Spearhead from Space. The trailer also includes clips from the new extras as well as from the serial. PDFs on this disc are the Radio Times listings for The Mind of Evil and a 1971 tie-in promotion with Kellogg's Sugar Smacks breakfast cereal. There are no Easter Eggs this time round.
Last updated: 26/02/2018 15:57:08