Mindwarp is the story which suffers most for being part of the Trial format. Like The Mysterious Planet the action stops periodically whilst not terribly interesting points are debated in the Trialroom. For example, in episode five, there are six courtroom scenes, several of which don’t serve any particular purpose (apart from providing some exposure for guest stars Michael Jayston and Lynda Bellingham).
But more serious than this is the Doctor’s growing realisation that what he’s watching on the screen varies significantly from his own memories. Story-wise, this is interesting – but it does damage the narrative, how can we care about what we’re watching if it might not be true?
This concerned Colin Baker, who in rehearsals queried whether certain scenes were real or created by the Matrix. Eric Saward was unable to clarify, so this leaves sections of the story feeling a little unsatisfactory. We can say that the Doctor’s interrogation of Peri on the Rock of Sorrows in episode six and the end of episode eight are at least two examples of faked pictures.
On the original transmission, the end of episode eight was a shock (even allowing for the crash-zoom into the pouting face of Colin Baker). That this ending is negated later in the season is a fatal flaw. It would have been far better to have it revealed that the Time Lords were responsible for Peri’s death – since they took the Doctor out of time before he could save her. Instead, we have the fudge that it never really happened.
If we put aside the problems with the Trial format, then Mindwarp is still a solid, if unspectacular, Doctor Who story. Brian Blessed is the main guest star and he produces a typical Brian Blessed performance. Even by the mid 1980’s, he was (in)famous for his larger than life performances and he delivers a typical one here. He has a greater range than this though (at times he’s quietly menacing in I Claudius) so it’s a pity he couldn’t have had a more subtle character to play.
Nabil Shaban returns as Sil, much more of a comic relief than he was in Vengeance on Varos. Christopher Ryan (clearly an actor who can’t appear in Doctor Who unless he’s encased in latex) is very good as Kiv, Sil’s boss. Patrick Ryecart gives a typically smooth performance as the unscrupulous Crozier whilst Thomas Branch is able to overcome the difficulties of restricting make-up to deliver a touching turn as Dorff. It’s not all good news though, as Gordon Warnecke is monumentally wooden as Tuza, but his bad performance is an exception.
This is Nicola Bryant’s last story and, as has become a familiar story trope, she spends the majority of it fighting off somebody’s unwelcome attentions. It surely can’t be unintentional that Yrcanos shares a number of character traits with the Doctor (they both shout a lot, for example). The Peri/Yrcanos romance must be the least convincing since Leela/Andred and it’s interesting to ponder exactly how much of a say Peri had in matters. After the Doctor was removed from Thoros Beta she clearly had few other options than to stay with Yrcanos, but after the Doctor realises she’s still alive he never seems particularity interested in visiting to see how she is. Poor Peri!
Nicola Bryant does have some good material though (her final scene is stunning) and there’s some nice exchanges between Peri and Yrcanos.
PERI: Why do they want Tuza?
YRCANOS: Execution one at a time, that’s how it will be.
PERI: Oh. Oh, it’s strange. Ever since we came to Thoros Beta I’ve been homesick. Not so much for a place, but a time. I just want to be back in my own time with people I love.
YRCANOS: What is that? Love?
PERI: Well, it’s when you care for someone or something more than yourself, I guess.
DORF: More than yourself?
PERI: Well, I know it sounds crazy, but, sometimes more than life.
YRCANOS: I care nothing for mine.
PERI: How can you say that, Yrcanos?
YRCANOS: Well, on my planet of Krontep, when we die, our spirit is returned to life, to be born in a more noble warrior.
PERI: Until what? Where do you end after all your brave deaths?
YRCANOS: You become a king! Me, after my next death, I join the other kings on Verduna, the home of the gods.
PERI: To do what?
YRCANOS: Why, to fight! What else?
PERI: Well, that figures
If the Trial sequences don’t help the story, then the decision to have the Doctor act out of character for several episodes is also not a great move. Colin Baker’s abrasive performance during parts of S22 hadn’t found favour with some, so S23 (particularly with its reduced running time) should have concentrated on making him a more accessible character. Of course, at the time nobody knew that Baker would shortly be sacked by BBC management – if he had stayed on then this wouldn’t have mattered so much.
Mindwarp seems to be a slightly less focused story than Vengeance on Varos. Varos had a clear satirical point to make, whilst Mindwarp doesn’t – and at times feels much more like generic Doctor Who. It’s also saddled with some pretty poor dialogue – “Nobody likes brain alteration” – which suggests that Eric Saward’s attention was elsewhere. Indeed, he’d soon be gone and his eleventh hour walkout would be another blow to an already beleaguered season.