“The Mind Robber” was always destined to be an oddity in the long history of Doctor Who. The fact that it has the shortest episodes of any story make its structure unique, but that is not all. Peter Ling, with an assist from Derrick Sherwin, came up with a very unusual premise; “The Mind Robber” is a story that is not set in the past, present, or future. It is a story set outside of time and space as we know it, set in the Land of Fiction, populated by fictional characters. The main antagonist is “the Master,” but it has nothing to do THE Master, since he doesn’t debut for two more years. It’s a story that I enjoy and have seen many times, yet I’m still not sure I could completely explain the Master Brain’s plan. All I know is that installing the Doctor as the new master will allow the Brain to branch out from the Land of Fiction and take over the entire Earth. However, since “The Mind Robber” has its own kind of dream logic, details aren’t important, so I just go along for the ride.As an avid reader, I’m predisposed to enjoy “The Mind Robber’s” celebration of fiction. Who hasn’t imagined an opportunity to enter into your favorite stories? I’d love to visit the garden with Mary Lennox, have tea with Elizabeth Bennet, and then attend a party at Gatsby’s mansion. While none of those scenarios arise in this particular story (because, sadly, this story was not written specifically for me), it’s still a bit of a fantasy land for people who love the written word. It’s a celebration of all fictional creations from the Greek myths to the comic strips of the future (although we’ve all been enjoying the adventures of the Karkus for a while now…). From the cleverness of having a Gulliver who only speaks the words written for him by Swift to watching Cyrano de Bergerac battle it out with D’Artagnan, there’s much for fans of literature to enjoy.
The best way to illustrate why I enjoy this story so much, however, is to direct your attention to a particular cliffhanger. No, I’m not talking about the most famous cliffhanger, the one that created the memorable image of Wendy Padbury sprawled on the TARDIS console in that sparkly catsuit. Actually, the characterization of Zoe is one of the weak points of this story; one moment she is physically besting the Karkus’ super human strength, the next she is hysterical and so illogical, like she is in the cliffhanger with the Medusa at the end of episode three, that I kind of want to slap her (but, I digress…).
Instead, the cliffhanger that I’m talking about is the ending of episode two. At its most basic level, it’s a cliffhanger like many others; a terrifying creature is menacing the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. The fearsome beast is charging at them and we cut away moments before certain doom for our TARDIS crew. Except, this being “The Mind Robber,” Frazer Hines is not playing Jamie and the terrifying creature…it’s a unicorn.In reality, Frazer Hines had the chicken pox and was unable to work on episode two. Normally, this would have required a rewrite of the script that allowed Jamie to be trapped somewhere for the duration of the episode. The fact that this happened during such a surreal story allowed for an incredibly creative solution; they simply gave Jamie a new face for an episode. On how many shows would this even be an option? Yet, it fits into this story perfectly. Earlier in the episode, the Doctor attempted to reassemble Jamie’s face as if he were assembling a puzzle. Of course, the Doctor did it incorrectly, giving Jamie the wrong face. As a result, Hamish Wilson plays Jamie for the entire episode. The adventures continue with not-Jamie until the Doctor has a second chance to reassemble Jamie’s face in episode three (and he finally gets it right with a bit of assistance from Zoe).
That not-Jamie isn’t even the strangest thing about this cliffhanger and says a lot about this story. The most head scratching moment in this whole story is the fearsome unicorn. In episode one, Jamie mentions dreaming of a unicorn that was charging at him, so the end of episode two is his dream come to life. The interesting thing is that everybody in this story simply acts as if that’s what unicorns do. Of course a unicorn would randomly charge at unsuspecting people, I mean, what else would you expect from a unicorn?
I know that the stories about unicorns have changed over the years, but I don’t remember reading a lot of tales of the savage unicorn. It’s true that Marco Polo though that he had found a real life unicorn when he encountered a rhino, so that kind of unicorn, yes, might charge and kill you. The white-horse-with-a-horn type of unicorn, however, seems much less prone to unprovoked attacks. What kind of storybooks have they been reading? Did I miss out on a whole genre filled with tales of death by unicorn? Perhaps we just missed the moment in the Battle of Culloden when the leaders sent out the unicorn brigade to maim and kill, but I’m left wondering why Jamie is so terrified of unicorns. They’re even the symbol of Scotland, for crying out loud!Needless to say, the TARDIS crew escapes a bloody and brutal death at the hands of a bloodthirsty unicorn by stating that unicorns don’t exist, so no one actually ends up gored or trampled by a unicorn. Still, for a moment the possibility was there. And that, to me, sums up “The Mind Robber;” something that logically shouldn’t exist, but, nevertheless, there it is.