Doctor Who Review: Mindwarp (1986)

We now return to this episode of Law & Order: Special Time Lords Unit, already in progress.

TrialDVD
(Image links to Amazon)

Basics:
Doctor: Sixth (Colin Baker)
Companion: Peri (Nicola Bryant)
Writer: Phillip Martin
Aired: October 4-25, 1986

Need to Know:
This segment of the Trial of a Time Lord, parts 5-8, is called “Mindwarp” by fans and DVD makers. It constitutes the Present phase of this grand Time Lord Christmas Carol and answers questions about how the Doctor came onto the Time Lord Station for his trial.

Let’s get into the review!

Review:
Mindwarp suffers from being the middle of the “evidence” segments of Trial of a Time Lord and establishing the Valeyard’s meddling pulls focus from the proper story. There are moments out of context, pieces misunderstood, and plots that seem like they haven’t been fully formed, and a lot of that is revealed to be on purpose, but it serves more as interference than as an important piece of the plot line. I like that Mindwarp starts on the heels of an unseen adventure, implying the sort of additional adventures for the Doctor and his companions that the Big Finish stories revel in, but the story that the Doctor and Peri have just left sounds far more interesting than the four-part epilogue we are subjected to in its wake.

If the story had a voice, it would loudly belt out ’80s classics instead of attempting proper communication. Just look at it. Eye make-up and over-muscled Conan the Barbarian ripoffs abound. The soundtrack is extra ’80s and the David Bowie Ashes to Ashes solarization effects used for the planet’s surface really don’t help add anything to the “timeless” quality of the story. Thinking about it, there are only a few “timeless” stories of Doctor Who, maybe Horror of Fang Rock, but there are fewer episodes that so loudly proclaim what era they’re from.

Speaking of Tom Baker-era stories, the main plot of Mindwarp (a scientist’s attempts to put someone’s brain into a new head) is a little too similar to the plot of The Brain of Morbius for comfort. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that Morbius one of the most well-known episodes of the series (mainly due to it always being a caveat in any Wikipedia article on the Doctor’s incarnations). Copycatting is only good if you improve on the original and Mindwarp is no Morbius.

Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is, after the triumphantly funny, kinder take we saw last serial, back to being the grouchy douche no one missed. I found myself with no one to root for. Of course this is the point of the Valeyard’s misleading evidence about the Doctor, but it doesn’t make sense if you don’t know how the story ends.

I can almost feel Baker giving up in the Thoros Beta segments. He really shines in the Trial bookends as he starts to realize that this Time Lord trial might not be governed by the rules of fair play and that the Valeyard might be a bigger threat than he’d anticipated. His pronouncement at the end that he is going to figure out what’s going on here is one of the shining two minutes of the Sixth Doctor era, letting the Doctor be the hero he was meant to be, just before subjecting him to a story introducing one of the worst companions he’s ever worked with. But before we get to that, we have to say farewell to Peri Brown.

We barely have time to say goodbye to Nicola Bryant’s Peri Brown in this serial, which is a terrible shame. As bad as her accent remains, you can tell that Bryant gave this story her all. She manages to craft a good performance out of her scenes with the in-this-story-atrocious Brian Blessed. Her ending moments, possessed by Kiv, are some of the most well-done possessed-by-alien-baddie acting moments I’ve seen, and I have to give Bryant credit for that.

In terms of the character, it’s a terrific waste that Peri (supposedly) dies off-screen. Even Adric got a bit of “Oh no!” before he died and I don’t know anyone who actually liked that character. Peri is one of the more well-liked companions and the fact that she doesn’t get a proper ending in this story (and gets saddled by an even worse ending at the end of the Trial) really doesn’t put my dislike of the staff working on the show at the time at anywhere near ease. A companion’s leaving should always be a big moment, and Peri’s was treated as paint-by-numbers, except the only color they had was “Meh” Beige.

Crozier’s an excellent mad scientist in a series that mainly traffics in mad scientists. He’s also got what should have been an instantly legendary villain voice. He’s really up there with a Solon or Sutekh in terms of devious voices.

Sil’s return feels like an add-on necessitated because they promised a comeback for the character, as originally planned in the superior, but unmade, Mission to Magnus. I like the idea of the seedy, greedy Sil, but Nabil Shaban’s terrific performing is wasted in this story, because he, just like everyone, doesn’t get enough to actually do in the story.

Kiv’s not actually that important. He’s the Brain of Morbius, except far whinier than Morbius at his most morose. I cared about him as much as Crozier did: I just wanted to get to the end without Kiv killing me.

The Valeyard remains properly threatening this episode. He still seems to have gotten his “doctorate of law” a the School of Tell Not Show, but he’s still got the voice and the promise of a proper villain, despite feeling just as wasted as before within the story itself. He gets the chance to evidence that he’s more of a danger than the audience might have thought, but he’s not given the chance to do anything of consequence yet, trapping the Doctor in more red tape than in actual threats.

On a side note, I’m a fan of Brian Blessed, but this serial must be the worst performance he has ever given. Worse than Flash Gordon. It’s almost like Blessed got the script and decided to just do the same thing again. He’s a Shakespearean actor, dammit, and he’s such a joke in this it ceases to be funny very quickly.

Should You Watch It?
Only if you watched the first segment. Otherwise, this episode is infinitely skippable.

I give this serial one bad bald-cap out of five.

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