Review: Doctor Who – The Mind of Evil / Cert: U / Director: Timothy Combe / Screenplay: Don Houghton / Starring: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Roger Delgado, Richard Franklin, John Levene / Release Date: June 3rd
Autons to the left of it, Axons to the right of it, The Mind of Evil has long been the forgotten, unloved second serial of Jon Pertwee’s sophomore season, its reputation as a grey run-of-the-mill UNIT runaround sealed by the fact that for years this 1971 six-parter has existed in the BBC Archives only as black-and-white recordings. This much anticipated DVD release should do much to change fan perception of the story; The Mind of Evil is now presented in full colour thanks to a glorious restoration which sees the first episode astonishingly retouched by Stuart ‘Babelfish’ Humphryes and the remaining episodes put through the remarkable chroma dot recovery system in which the colour signal ‘buried’ in the black-and-white recording is recovered to allow the serial to be brought back to a quality which, on this occasion, isn’t that far removed from its original transmission image. Episode one is especially impressive, Humphryes having sympathetically – and no doubt pain-stakingly – given the picture a soft and appealing vibrancy. The 'restored’ episodes which follow aren’t quite as fancy; skin tones drift a bit here and there and sequences involving natural blue skies suffer particularly. But these are minor quibbles and it’s easy to overlook the slight dip in image quality and revel in the fact that we’re seeing the last great black-and-white colour story pretty much as nature (and the BBC) intended.
Restoration side, The Mind of Evil is a gripping and intelligent story, worlds away from the facile, slapstick gag-a-minute ‘blockbusters’ which characterize the series’ latest run. The serial harkens back to the tough Quatermass style of the previous year as the Doctor and Jo Grant travel to Stangmoor prison to witness a demonstration of the Keller Machine, a device which can remove ‘evil’ impulses from criminal minds, leaving behind docile, pacifistic but mentally damaged individuals. The Doctor is immediately suspicious of course; quite rightly so as it turns out that the machine is the invention of the Master (Delgado), back for a second crack at world domination following Terror of the Autons, although quite how he plans to subjugate the whole of Mankind with one brain-draining machine isn’t too clear. He’s also out to scupper “the first ever World Peace Conference” which, by a handy coincidence, is also taking place in London and before long he’s attempting to bump off delegates by using the transmitted power of the Keller Machine and with the aid of hypnotised Captain Chin Lee (“She’s quite a dolly,” leers UNIT’s macho man Mike Yates unconvincingly) of the Chinese delegation. Then there’s the business with the Thunderbolt missile, packed with deadly nerve gas, which UNIT are, for some reason, transporting across London right in the middle of a World Peace Conference; the Master plans to hijack the missile, fire it at the Conference and thus precipitate a new world war.
The Mind of Evil is busy, convoluted stuff, full of typically bullish action sequences (director Combe took the serial well over budget and never worked on the show again), stylish location filming and, crucially, performances which are never hammy, arch or wilfully knowing. Everyone’s taking it terribly seriously; this is proper drama and the danger’s palpable. No ‘big friendly button’ or handy sonic screwdriver here to beat the bad guy; the urbane Doctor has to really work at thwarting the equally charming Master – the stakes are high and the death count higher. The Keller Machine (which actually houses an alien mind parasite) is, according to the Doctor “the deadliest threat to Mankind since the beginning of Time” and it brings the Time Lord out in a sweat and stops one of his hearts when it bombards him with a welter of publicity photos of his oldest TV enemies and then plunges him into one of his occasional comas.
This welcome DVD release will finally complete the rehabilitation of The Mind of Evil, another classic serial which shows the modern series a clean pair of heels as it reminds us how good Doctor Who can be when it’s made by people who don’t think it’s a comedy show first and foremost.
Extras: ‘The Military Mind’ is a 2009 ‘making of’ which sees various cast and crew – including the now deceased Nick Courtney and Producer Barry Letts (looking visibly ill) – huffing and puffing around the story’s Dover Castle main location, director Combe still distressed and disappointed by never having been asked do direct the series again. 'Now and Then’ revisits the story’s locations and, in a 1971 documentary, reporter Norman Tozer spends a day at BBC TV Centre - a welcome reminder what a powerhouse factory of TV production the building was in its prime. Toby Hadoke moderates a well-populated commentary and there’s the usual picture gallery, production subtitles and a tantalising trailer for the Blu-ray release of Pertwee’s debut serial 'Spearhead From Space'.