The Mind Robber: Episode 1
First Broadcast September 14th 1968 @ 5.15pm (6.6m viewers)
The first instalment of ‘The Mind Robber’ is surely the most surreal episode of Doctor Who ever. Problems with the previous serial, ‘The Dominators’, had disrupted the production of this tale. That script was far short of the standard required and proved impossible to stretch to the proposed six episode length. Similarly, Peter Ling’s script for ‘The Mind Robber’ couldn’t be extended past the four episodes it had been developed for. The series was, therefore, one episode short. Enter Story Editor Derrick Sherwin.
Tasked with filling the gap Sherwin was also stuck with having no budget assigned to the episode. However, in times of adversity, creativity can flourish. Utilising the existing TARDIS console set, the three main artists, a white cyclorama and some robots, that were found in storage having appeared in an episode of ‘Out of the Unknown’, the episode took shape. Lead actor Patrick Troughton noticed that the three leads were required to carry the episode single-handedly at a time when they were suffering from fatigue under the punishing production schedule. Negotiating with Sherwin and Producer Peter Bryant, Troughton managed to get the episode times cut. As a result ‘The Mind Robber’ features the shortest episodes of Doctor Who with all five under 22 minutes and the final part totalling a mere 18 minutes.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
Throughout this first episode, a sense of foreboding develops as it is revealed that the TARDIS has landed nowhere. An empty void. It is not even clear whether they have landed in a physical location or in a place of total imagination. Jamie and Zoe are tempted to leave the safety of the ship but manage to escape the clutches of the mysterious white robots and return to the TARDIS. However, it would prove not to be as safe as they hoped. The shots of the TARDIS breaking up are superbly realised and are participating dramatic. Zoe and Jamie are left clutching the console as it drifts away into nothingness. Wendy Padbury delivers a blood-curdling scream and the audience is left in no doubt that things have just gone badly wrong. It is a brilliant ending to a surreal episode that only alludes to the mysterious story to follow.
‘The Mind Robber’ is a notable story for many reasons and not just because of Wendy Padbury’s sparkly catsuit or featuring fictional characters such as Gulliver and Rapunzel. Visually it works exceptionally well with clockwork toy soldiers, a unicorn, Medusa and the forest of letters all convincingly achieved. It is the first and really the only time that Doctor Who has ventured into a fantastical world. This setting would be perfect as during production Frazer Hines caught chicken pox from his nephews and couldn’t work. Once again necessity is the mother of invention and the Doctor getting Jamie’s face wrong could allow Hamish Wilson to cover for Hines. This perfectly suited the fantasy world which the TARDIS had brought the travellers to and added another layer to this captivating and imaginative story.
Doctor Who – Patrick Troughton
Jamie – Frazer Hines
Zoe – Wendy Padbury
Robot – John Atterbury
Robot – Ralph Carrigan
Robot – Terry Wright
D’Artagnan and Sir Lancelot – John Greenwood
The Master – Emrys Jones
Writer – Peter Ling
Writer – Derrick Sherwin
Director – David Maloney
Producer – Peter Bryant
Also First Aired On This Day…
- Time and the Rani: Part Two