Doctor Who: Mind of Evil

Mind of Evil is the second serial in the 8th season of the television series Doctor Who, broadcast in the UK in six weekly episodes between 30th January and 6th March, 1971.


Plot Summary

The Doctor and Jo visit Stangmoor Prison to witness a demonstration of the Keller Machine, invented by Emil Keller, which extracts the negative (or evil) impulses from the human mind. But Keller is really the Master in disguise, and the machine contains an alien mind parasite that feeds on living minds. The Master is plotting to start World War III by destroying the World Peace Conference with a stolen nerve gas missile, after using the mind parasite to murder the American and Chinese delegates.

At Stangmoor Prison in England, the Master is posing as Emile Keller, a Professor of Criminology who has supposedly invented a machine which removes the negative (or evil) impulses from the minds of hardened criminals, but which actually contains an alien mind parasite that feeds on these evil impulses. He is plotting to start World War III by destroying the World Peace Conference in London. To do so, he plans to employ a nerve gas missile, stolen for him by the prisoners.

UNIT is handling the security for the Peace Conference. Posing as Emile Keller, the Master secretly supplies guns to the prisoners, and uses the mind parasite to start a riot by stirring up hostility among them, in which they take control of the prison. He plans to use them to seize the nerve gas missile which UNIT is arranging to have dumped at sea, as these weapons are now banned.

In case his plan to hijack the missile is thwarted, he intends to use the mind parasite (once it has fed sufficiently) to wreck the Peace Conference by murdering the American and Chinese delegates, who are to be killed by the mind parasite’s telepathic powers.


Technical Notes

This serial was formerly lost from the BBC’s television archive, the colour PAL videotapes on which it was made having been wiped in the 1970s. Only a monochrome telerecording, made on film for overseas sale of the programme, survived. But the serial has been restored using advanced computer technology to recolour one episode (by manually colouring key frames, then applying motion estimation to recolour the other 90%) and by extracting a colour signal – thought lost, but recorded by accident onto the monochrome film negatives – to restore colour to the other five episodes.


Critical Analysis

The plot of this serial contains a number of structural flaws, which were a significant contribution to the decision by the Doctor Who production office not to commission any further scripts from writer Don Houghton.

Firstly, it had been established in the previous serial, Terror of the Autons, that the Master’s TARDIS is no longer working. Indeed, in Mind of Evil the Master actually recovers his missing circuit at the end of the final episode: this is a major plot point in that episode. However, in Episode 1 the only practical way in which the Master could have impersonated Emile Keller (to install the Keller Machine at Stangmoor Prison a year earlier) was to have gone back in time by a year, using his TARDIS – which is not functional at that point.

Secondly, with his TARDIS out of action, how does the Master travel to the unnamed alien planet and collect the mind parasite? This unresolved problem is carefully side-stepped at every point: the Doctor is never allowed to consider where the creature actually comes from.

Thirdly, why does the Master bother to set up the elaborate scheme for murdering the Chinese delegate, so as to sabotage the peace conference, when he is arranging to destroy the conference with the Thunderbolt missile? Put another way, why is he going to so much trouble to hijack the missile (involving seizing control of the prison, and installing the mind parasite in the Keller machine there), when he is so close to breaking up the peace conference by the simple expedient of murdering the delegates? These two aspects of the Master’s plan are irreconcilable: either plan, on its own, is sufficient to achieve the Master’s goal, so the other is redundant.

Fourthly, why does the Master need a huge gang of criminals to hijack the missile, which he knows has a minimal escort, instead of simply adopting his usual technique of hypnotising the tiny UNIT force escorting it?

Fifthly, how does the Master know, a year in advance (when he installs the Machine), that the missile’s route from its Army storage facility to the dumping site at sea will take the convoy close to Stangmoor Prison? If he is relying on stolen information from the Time Lords’ files (as in Colony in Space), how does he obtain it with his TARDIS out of action? And the fact that he goes to the trouble of eavesdropping on UNIT’s communications implies that he does not know the convoy’s route at all. These facts are irreconcilable.

Finally, why is the Doctor suddenly and unaccountably interested in prison reform, such that he attends the demonstration of the Keller Machine in Episode 1? This is not a subject on which he shows interest in any other serial: not even in the one other serial, The Sea Devils, which explicitly involves a prison. Also, if he sees the Keller Machine as a threat, why has he not investigated the process during the year-long trial which has already been running?

The View from the Boundary

This serial is one of my favourite Pertwee stories, and as it unfolds the viewer is swept along by the events depicted, which create a tense and action-packed six part adventure. Not until it is all over does it become apparant that certain loose ends remain, and I have summarised some of them in this blog. They do not detract from the story, because they are so well concealed by the writer, assisted by script editor Terrance Dicks. It should not be assumed that I did not enjoy the serial.

Long ago, I even met writer Don Houghton and he discussed some of the points I have made, but he accepted that he didn’t tie up these loose ends. He was ordinarily, in his “day job”, script editor on the ITV soap Crossroads. He and Terry Dicks had met because Terry had written some episodes of Crossroads for Lew Grade’s ATV in the late 1960s.

There was a strong connection between Doctor Who and Crossroads in the years 1968-71. Terry Dicks had been either assistant script editor or full script editor on Who throughout that period, whilst also doing some scriptwriting for Crossroads. In 1968, Peter Ling, the man who co-created Crossroads with Hazel Adair, was invited to write for Who, and wrote the serial The Mind Robber for Patrick Troughton’s final season. Don Houghton was then invited to write for Who the following year, Jon Pertwee’s first season, and contributed the 7-parter, Inferno. Don then followed that up with Mind of Evil for Pertwee’s second season. In addition, another Crossroads script writer, Malcolm Hulke, was co-author of The War Games for Troughton’s final season, and wrote two serials for Pertwee’s first season: The Silurians and Ambassadors of Death (the latter without a screen credit), going on to write four more serials for Pertwee: Colony in Space (1971), The Sea Devils (1972), Frontier in Space (1973), and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974).



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