Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: Mindwarp (Part 1)
Review by: Michael Hickerson
The Doctor's trials continue, both on- and off-screen with MindWarp, a story that is one of the worst in the entire 26-year run of Doctor Who.
MindWarp is one of those stories whose backstory and back-stage drama nearly overwhelms the drama taking place on-screen. It's rumored that at one point that Colin Baker was so confused by the script and the Doctor's motivation for how to play certain scenes that he went to script-editor Eric Saward to ask advice and just what exactly what was going on in the script and was summarily told he was an actor and just paid to say lines and go away.
If Baker was this confused by the script and the various and conflicting motivations for the character he was playing, imagine how we, the audience, must feel trying to make sense of this muddled mess that made it to the screen.
As I've said time and again with TimeLash, if this is the option that made it to screen, I'd hate to see how just truly awful the alternative stories were.
MindWarp is a muddled and confused mess. A large part of this is because it's so forced into the Trial of a TimeLord format. The interruptions to return to the courtroom become extremely intrusive in MindWarp, to the point that they seem to interfere with the narrative structure of the story. What we end up with is a choppy storyline that never gives us any time to settle in and really click into the events unfolding on-screen. Also, a lot of the dramatic action happens off-camera, especially in the first episode. The Doctor and Peri refer to a meeting between themselves and one of Crozier's early experiments, but we never see it. Because of this, we have very little idea of the horror of just exactly what Crozier is doing. Honestly, I found myself wondering if the costs of creating a pink sea and sky were so great that only the essential scenes were done and that scene was left on the cutting room floor. (Perhaps should we ever get a DVD release of Trial, we may get these scenes included as the deleted scenes segment).
The entire supporting cast is very one-note. The once menacing Sil is nothing more than a cartoonish figure, cackling with glee at every opportunity until it begins to grate on the nerves. King Yrcanos has some potential, but is so horribly over-acted by Brian Blessed, who apparently is a member of the Monty Python "Shouters Club." (Why does every line have to be shouted so, I wonder?) Crozier is pretty much your standard mad-scientist and lackey. I wished we'd had some idea of why he was conducting these experiments -- is he under duress? Is he using Kiv and Sil? Does he truly have some idea of what exactly he's doing and why? Indeed, one of the strengths of Mysterious Planet that rescued it was the commitment to the supporting cast, but here that strength is turned into a weakness with a large portion of the supporting cast being ineffective, at best.
But the biggest weakness is the Doctor himself. After returning to fine form in Mysterious Planet, Colin Baker delivers possibly his worst-performance as Doctor here. If the story I related above is true, than I can understand why Baker's performance suffers so. I can understand, but I don't accept it. Baker has risen above the material before and delivered solid performances but here, he just seems to be phoning it in. Perhaps deciding that since no one understand what the heck this story is about, he can get away with a horrible performance, he went with that idea. The Doctor's brain is fried by the machine early-on, thus attempting to explain why he acts the way he does -- betraying Peri and apparently joining forces with Kiv. Unlike another story in which the Doctor turns traitor, The Invasion Of Time, we have no hints that the Doctor is up to something more here and the story suffers as a whole.
So, what is good about MindWarp, you ask? Is there anything at all that you liked?
Actually, there are one or two isolated things.
For one, Lord Kiv is an interesting performance and it works fairly well. Yes, the actor is limited by the rubber suit, but he actually does convey the pain and suffering well. And compared to the work by Brian Blessed, Colin Baker and Nigel Sabin, his work look positively restrained by comparison.
Visually, the story is quite well done in spots. Yes, the caves look like your standard BBC caves, but the pink sea and sky that we see at various times is well done. Indeed, you have to wonder if they spent the entire budget on the great visual and forgot that you need to spend some money on a good script to go with it. There has to be more to Doctor Who than just pretty pictures.
As for the ending, certainly the "death" of Peri is an interesting narrative hook. And the idea of upping the ante of the trial certainly creates some tension that will carry into the second half of the storyline. The Inquisitor's rather calm and rational explation of why the experiments had to be terminated and why everyone had to die and how the Time Lords manipulated things is certainly one of those interesting moment and one that helps re-create some of the lost momentum in the Trial that the early parts of this story negated.
But, when all is said and done, MindWarp is a singular disappointment. It may not be the worst the series has ever given us, but it's certainly down there in the bottom five.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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