Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Mindwarp"

Written by Philip Martin
Directed by Ron Jones

The Doctor (to The Valeyard): “You killed Peri?”

Never did I think that those three words would sound as heartbreaking as they did. Don’t get me wrong; while Peri isn’t in my top 10 favourite companions, I’ve never actively hated the girl. Especially when outside of the archetypal ‘damsel in distress’ fetish some of the writers seem to have for her, she has shown some great improvement as a companion.

In these two stories for “The Trial Of A Time Lord”, I’ve found myself far less critical of Nicola Bryant’s US accent and even if I hated Peri with the fire of a thousand burning suns, you’d have to be a soulless bastard to feel any venom towards the character in the story. Being put through the ringer doesn’t even come close to covering it this time around.

The Doctor and Peri landed on Thoros Beta and luckily for us, this time around it’s an actual planet and not Earth moved from where it should be with a different name. We get to see pink water, purple/blue (violet?) land and a green sky with Thoros Alpha in perfect view. It’s by far the most alien looking planet the classic series has ever offered.

It also took our duo record time in finding trouble so far. A genetically modified creature known as The Rakk attacked them within seconds and The Doctor’s CD Phaser killed it. Because of this, we got introduced to atypical soldier Frax, who over the course of four episodes doesn’t become interesting in any way possible. He might be the only character in this story to be genuinely considered dull in that estimation.

The rest of them however are not. Crozier in particular is certainly a wily bastard and clearly has too much enjoyment in his array of experiments. However he’s far from perfect and trying to quell Yrcanos’s bloodlust is something that he cannot succeed at. It’s a good job for us that he fails.

The reason why is because Yrcanos is the only thing that Peri has as an ally in this whole story. In one of the most shocking moments, The Doctor turned against Peri so publicly by switching to the side of Crozier and his benefactors, Sil and Lord Kiv. Even when Peri is undercover, The Doctor ratted her out for interrogation.

We’ve had plenty of stories in the past and even some future ones where The Doctor appeared to be siding with the villain of the piece in the hopes of stopping them. When he’s being utterly horrible to Peri, that’s what I was hoping he was doing here. Having her tied up by the Sea of Sorrow (how wonderful is that a name?), the hopes of him being on her side seemed to fading more and more.

The Valeyard and The Inquisitor were both adamant that the Matrix couldn’t lie but watching The Doctor siding up with the odious Sil in order to help Lord Kiv evade death and get a new body made for some difficult viewing. I really wanted to hope that he was trying to stop them instead of scenes where we had to watching him alert Sil to a money making scheme.

When Kiv’s replacement body gave out, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for The Doctor to show us that he hadn’t become a turncoat after all. His discomfort when Crozier suggested that Peri would be a perfect body for Kiv to inhabit gave me some hope. Heck, even when Peri was bound and gagged by Crozier and Matrona and was getting her hair shaved off, I thought everything would be alright.

How wrong was I? The Doctor might have finally rescued Yrcanos, Dorf and Tuza (the only form of resistance against Kiv and the Mentors) but being transported for a trial meant that Peri’s fate was sealed. Much as I love Donna Noble, Peri’s death is the worst thing this show has ever done to a regular.

There’s no heroic sacrifice like Adric or memory wiping like Jamie, Zoe and Donna. No, it’s just a frightened girl stripped of her mind and having it replaced with a character as odious as Kiv thanks to a man who cared nothing for real advancement of science or another person’s life. Yrcanos having to kill Peri as Kiv along with Sil, Crozier and everyone else at the behest of the Time Lords was probably the only thing that could be done.

Yrcanos was one of the best characters the Colin Baker era ever introduced. Brian Blessed might have the loudest voice ever (something which is dealt with when a Mentor is grateful for Yrcanos not shouting at one point) but it was hard not to be taken in with this character. Sure, his lust for war and aggression got a bit overboard but his affection for Peri was so hard not to love. I think in a cheesy way, he did love her, so I certainly didn’t envy what he was manipulated into doing.

Peri’s death is certainly a taking point. I can see why Nicola Bryant herself loved it. It’s one of the most controversial ways to kill of a regular characters and certainly lacked cliché. But it’s also rather impersonal as well and I think if I had watched this as a youngster (I was only one when it originally aired), I certainly would’ve been upset. However it still made for some good TV and that counts for everything.

As for The Doctor – is he responsible? Yes and no from what I can see. Yes, because by turning against Peri so publicly, he put her in the worst position possible and no, because of the Time Lord’s interference, he never got to her, even if he would’ve been too late to have saved her anyway.

The trial element of this story isn’t as bogging as it were in the previous instalment but there is a terrible sense of repetition as well, necessary as it may be. Eight episodes in and I still can’t find myself compelled by The Valeyard at all. I’d like to blame Michael Jayston, I really would but there’s nothing he’s doing wrong, it’s just the character doesn’t work. Maybe if the writers had ran with a Time Lord that we already knew like The Master as prosecutor, the courtroom scenes would move a bit faster and be less tedious.

Still, The Doctor did come off badly in this story. His feckless attitude to Peri’s requests to stay out of the situation, his public turning on the girl and any scene where you have to be nice to Sil should be a damning offence in its own right. If the other two stories are as damning as this one, then The Doctor really is up the creek without a paddle.

Also in “Mindwarp”

The DVD has the episodes under “The Trial Of A Time Lords Parts 5-8” when you put them on.

Peri (re Thoros Beta): “Far out. Are you quite sure this was the planet you aimed for?”
The Doctor: “Hmm, fancy a swim?”
Peri: “In that goo, no thanks.”

Fans of the new series will undoubtedly recognise Frax actor Trevor Laird as Clive Jones as well as Christopher Ryan (Lord Kiv) as General Staal from “The Sontaran Stratagem”/“The Poison Sky”.

The Doctor: “Thoros Beta’s Sil’s home planet, didn’t you know?”
Peri: “Only because you didn’t tell me, Doctor.”

Crozier (to Matrona): “Yrcanos is a barbarian king. He only knows one thing – how to fight. Therefore he’s fighting our attempts to give him peace and tranquillity.”
Yrcanos: “Scum.”
Crozier: “The more stupid the subject, the longer it takes.”

There seem to be many contradictory outcomes for Peri after this story. In the novel version of this one, Yrcanos gets into the wrestling circuit and she’s his manager.

Kiv: “Enough, Sil. What, you intend to talk me to death?”

Peri: “We’re not on your planet.”
Yrcanos: “It doesn’t matter, the rule still applies.”

For a barbarian, Yrcanos is thankfully devoid of latent sexism. He even told Peri that warrior queens were expected to fight on his home world. How progressive of him.

Sil: “Doctor, the pleasure of your company is infinite but why have you chosen towards us rather than help your friends?”
The Doctor: “The odds were against us. Why should I risk my life for a savage and a stupid girl?”

Peri: “Doctor, what’s wrong with you?”
The Doctor: “I see my own interests. I place myself first.”
Peri: “But what about me?”
The Doctor: “You are expendable. You have no value.”

There’s some nice continuity references to Sil and Peri’s past interaction in “Vengeance On Varos”. Had this season been different, Sil would’ve appeared in the story, “Mission To Magnus”, also written by Philip Martin.

The Doctor (re Kiv): “He’s breathing.”
Sil: “You see as I said – strange, witless humour.”
Crozier: “Thanks for the moral support.”
The Doctor: “Yes, nice to see that you can be relied on to be your usual treacherous self.”
Sil: “I endeavour to maintain a certain continuity.”

The Doctor: “You won’t convict me by using shock tactics.”
The Valeyard: “I require nothing so crude my dear Doctor. All that will prove necessary is the truth.”
The Doctor: “Then tell it.”

Is it me or does the court room scenes still seem a little empty. Shouldn’t there be more Time Lords at present. And why won’t The Doctor get someone like Romana or Leela to defend him?

Mentor: “Thank you.”
Yrcanos: “For your life, it was nothing.”
Mentor: “No, for not shouting.”

Kiv/Peri: “Warm, not cold, the body is warm – wonderful. Legs, toes, toes wriggling. Trunk, a neck strong. Head free of pain. Sight, colours, warm blood inside, oh I like this. Now I am she. Alive in this oh so wonderful frame.”

This story was released on DVD in August 2008 with a commentary from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Philip Martin. The former two also comment on a certain scene from “The Ultimate Foe” as well.

Out of the four stories, “Mindwarp” is ultimately the best and most devastating one of them all. The Doctor really did have to pay for the consequences of his actions, Peri’s death was awful and the guest characters worked beautifully. Definitely one of the best stories from this era of the series.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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