Doctor Who: The Mind Robber (part one)

This morning, we watched the TARDIS leave our universe for an opaque white void, for a really budget-conscious episode. From a production standpoint, it’s really fun. As you may recall, the previous story had been cut from six episodes to five, but all the actors and set designers and the like still had to be paid for all six. The lost episode was appended to “The Mind Robber” as a “prologue,” but it had to be made as cheaply as possible. That meant the script editor, Derrick Sherwin, had to write it himself rather than paying for a freelance teleplay, and the director, David Maloney, had only one extra speaking part (voiced off camera), blank and featureless flat walls and floor for the void outside the TARDIS, no music, and four robot costumes that somebody dug out of a closet.

The robots had actually been made about two years previously for an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short story “Reason.” Retitled “The Prophet,” it was made for the BBC’s SF anthology Out of the Unknown in 1966. The BBC junked the tape, as they did all too often, but the surviving publicity photos show that the robots were black in that production. A lick of grey and white paint and some new polygon chest units and they were all set to scare the pants off children in a different show.

The tone in this episode is one of weird psychological menace, as some unseen force is tempting our heroes into the void. Our son was balled up under a blanket, whispering “this is too scary,” and crawling up into Mommy’s lap as the White Robots hypnotized Jamie and Zoe.

The cliffhanger is remembered as one of the all-time classics. The TARDIS is seen to break apart in the blackness of space, leaving Zoe and Jamie hanging onto the console as it slowly vanishes into… someplace. That sent our kid behind the sofa. We’ll see what happens next tomorrow morning…


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