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Doctor Who VIII.5-10: The Mind of Evil, now in colour [BFI Doctor Who 50]

March 11th, 2013 (12:42 am)

The third BFI Southbank Doctor Who 50 screening was the recolourised version of the second story of Jon Pertwee's second season, The Mind of Evil. Its status as the only Jon Pertwee story to exist only in black and white (bar a small section at the start of part six recolourised by blending the colour signal from an off-air NTSC home video recording made from a US broadcast in the late 1970s) has made it the poor relation of the Pertwee era. Its content marries elements of the political thriller Doctor Who seen in Jon Pertwee's first year with the lighter but larger-than-life UNIT family tone introduced at the start of the second Pertwee run in Terror of the Autons. We move from a story of murderous plastic daffodils, circuses and glowing finger-puppets to the more real settings of a prison and international diplomacy involving tensions between the "imperialist Americans" and the People's Republic of China, still led by the Doctor's good friend Tse-tung. As in several season seven stories, there are a lot of percussion weapons about.

Thrown into this story, though not appearing until episode two, is the Master. In contrast to the paranoia of General Carrington or the consuming obsession of Professor Stahlman the previous year, the Master is motivated by a childlike wish to destroy and dominate for their own sakes. He's portrayed slightly more urbanely in this story, camouflaging his weakness - he lacks a working TARDIS at this stage - with an expensive car, a chauffeur, a thick fur coat and a finely-tailored business suit, and a succession of cigars. He uses the car for assignations with his minion Captain Chin Lee. Chin Lee is established early on as a potentially strong character, a hardline negotiator who nevertheless suffers from unexplained memory lapses and trance-like states. There's a definite suggestion that (unlike Rex in the previous story) the Master needs to hypnotise her several times to maintain his control and Pik-Sen Lim's playing emphasises the traumatic aspect of this possession.

I've seen the story before in black and white, but viewing the serial in colour intensifies my involvement with plot and character. I'd not taken in the character of Major Cosworth, the moustached and chinless UNIT field officer instrumental in planning the attack on Stangmoor Prison towards the end of the serial: played by still-busy actor Patrick Godfrey (most recently as Marius's grandfather in the recent Les Miserables), he has some wonderful business involving discreetly absenting himself from the Brigadier's office when Benton turns up, as if embarassed by intimacy, and brightly suggesting that wouldn't it be convenient if the prison has a secret passage connecting it to the outside world? Funnily enough, it does.

Dudley Simpson's music is now launching fully into its most electronic phase, though there is a return of the UNIT theme from The Ambassadors of Death, rearranged, as the men go into action. I remember first hearing the malevolent Keller Machine theme on the old BBC Radiophonic Workshop - 21 Years album, though here it has to fight with electronic and other sound effects on a problematic soundtrack.

The first of the two panel discussions covered restoration. While most attention, understandably, has concentrated on the recolourisation, sound has also been a problem. Mark Ayres, who looks after the audio track, regretted that there is no off-air fan recording of the soundtrack of The Mind of Evil, forcing him to work with the optical soundtrack of the 16mm monochrome film prints which were the basis for this restoration. Stuart Humphryes - better known to fanvid followers as [youtube.com profile] Babelcolour - and Peter Crocker outlined the difference between colour recovery (used on episodes two to six) and the more traditional colourisation used by Peter and Stuart to restore colour to the first episode where no colour information was encoded on the film print. The first episode, as a result, is more even, if sometimes probably more honest than the original lost tape might have done as in some studio scenes all the actors seem to be wearing lots of foundation. Episodes two to six suffer from more variable and sometimes flickering colour, with corner details sometimes fading into sepia, but a cinema screen is unkind to what is, after all, a 16mm black and white film of a PAL 625-line colour programme which has undergone a form of reverse engineering.

The second, longer panel consisted of veterans of the original production - director Timothy Combe, script editor Terrance Dicks, and actors Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), John Levene (Sergeant Benton) and Katy Manning (Jo Grant). Katy remains her irrepressible self, going down the line to kiss all her male co-panellists, and finding humour in almost everything. Anecdotes included Nicholas Courtney's excuse for being late for rehearsal or studio - "Snow in Muswell Hill", John Levene's reverence for both Jon Pertwee and for producer Barry Letts, whom he credits for turning him into a proper actor (Tim Combe reminded John that he had directed him in episodes of Z Cars) and Jon Pertwee's replacement of his usual warm-up vocal exercise of "Harry Roy" with "Tim Coooombe". More seriously, Terrance Dicks remembered his friend Barry Letts, whom he said had been most inconsiderate in dying as Terrance now can't ask his advice or pass on stories any more; Katy, recalling earlier tales of Barry Letts's frustrated ambitions and offering a sort of thespian syncretism of Christianity and Letts's Buddhism, said that she thinks Barry Letts has, in leaving this world, gone on to direct.

The composition of The Mind of Evil's audience at the BFI seemed to me more biased towards the longserving male fan of the programme than February's The Tomb of the Cybermen. The BFI's Dick Fiddy and Justin Johnson ran a quiz in the second interval to distribute copies of DVDs provided by BBC Worldwide, and were keen that some of the answers should come from women and children rather than the loud males. When women were mentioned there was audible clucking and muttering of "They'll be lucky" from some corners of the auditorium; it's as if some traditional male Doctor Who fans were blind to the women amongst them, so used had they become to Doctor Who fandom as an all-male preserve. (Of course, there was a female member of the audience to answer a question correctly and win a prize.) There's a sense in which many corners of long-established fandom eye each other defensively, listening to each other's conversation to see which names they drop or which opinions they express, the better to identify the other's allegiances. Many in a generation of Doctor Who fandom are still teasing out the trauma the programme and its fans suffered in the 1980s. Others can and have moved on.

Next month, The Robots of Death, in the presence of the great Tom Baker himself.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/586074.html.


Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 09:14 am (UTC)

TBH, the only question I could answer was the kids' one. The subsequent announcement "Uncle Dick is coming to reward you!" had me in stitches for several minutes.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 09:23 am (UTC)

Er, yes... I don't think our hosts were in the cleanest frames of mind, shall we say.

Good to see you, however briefly!

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 10:53 am (UTC)

You too! Not sure if I'll make it to any others, though I might have a stab at whatever McCoy one they do.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 11:32 am (UTC)

Sylvester, Sophie and a living director, I think; so that excludes Fenric. Survival must be a possibility, as is Remembrance, for their high-profile writers.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 11:43 am (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

I think Mind is very under-rated and look forward to the colour DVD (and to my finances being healthy enough to buy it).

I've always been concerned about the Master's chauffeur, though. Aside from concerns about one of only two black characters in the season having no lines (the other is a circus strongman and thug, which isn't much better), one wonders where the Master found him. Did he hypnotize a passer-by or use an agency? There's an unintentionally funny bit where the Master is playing with his new missile and the chauffeur looks at him like he's thinking, "What the hell have I got myself into? 'Driving and possibly some light lifting' was all the agency said..."

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 11:49 am (UTC)

I assume that the Master has a diplomatic alias which enables him to hang around the fringes of the peace conference, possibly from the imperialist Americans themselves.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: March 11th, 2013 11:59 am (UTC)
Eleventh Doctor

Interesting thought.