3 out of 5
Directed by: David Maloney
A really fun premise – and some surprisingly smart and surreal extensions of that premise – is rather squandered on a ridiculously silly and dumb final act, along with some extra runtime (due to the previous serial being cut short) that required some way too obvious padding and repetition.
The Mind Robber definitely starts out intriguingly: the Tardis would seem to have landed… nowhere, and soon the crew are beset by odd dreams and visions that are unique to each of them. Jaime sees his homeland on the monitors; Zoe sees hers. While this leads to typical Who stupidity of the companions running outside despite being told not to – and despite Zoe being too smart and logical for all that business – the resulting ‘void’ in which they find themselves makes for a compelling concept, and back on the Tardis, the Doc has to do mind battles with some kind of force. And then the TARDIS dang blows up.
It’s overkill, but it makes an impact: we really haven’t seen something like that on the show before. The parts that follow get downright quirky, with the trio eventually wandering their way through a forest of seemingly fake trees, stalked by robot toy soldiers, and talking to characters who seem helpful, but willfully ignorant of their surroundings at the same time. Reality fractures further: limericks open doors; Jaime is literally physically transformed into another person, temporarily.
The reveal of what’s going on allows for digging deeper into weirdness, but it also introduces the first problems with the story, as it feels like writer Peter Ling (with Derrick Sherwin on episode 1) wasn’t sure of the balance to go for: sci-fi, fantasy, geared toward adults, geared toward kids. As a result, decision making starts becoming dumber than usual, forgetting that Doc has years of history under his belt, and that Zoe was a scientist. When we get to the Big Bad who reveals his Big Bad Plan, it gets even worse; the final showdown is embarrassing for its potential compared to the dullards dueling we end up getting.
Emrys Jones, as this Big Bad, also isn’t the most convincing, with pacing that feels cue-carded and seemingly setting Patrick Troughton’s rhythm off as well. It’s cute that he’s called The Master, though. I think that’s the second or third time that’s happened?
The last two parts are mercifully short, which means the bulk of our runtime is saved for when the serial is at its better and weirder self.