Obverse Books, out 1 September
A piece of inventive, groundbreaking television…?
Andrew Hickey sets out his stall in the introduction to the latest Black Archive, the first story of the Troughton era to get the sort of in-depth analysis and discussion that has rapidly become the hallmark of the series. He sees The Mind Robber as one of those stories that rewards multiple viewings, and has more in common with the serials around it in season 6 than perhaps we realise.
Hickey begins with an overview of production and the necessity for the uncredited opening episode, as well as the requirement to work around Frazer Hines’ illness for a week or so. There’s a hint in this section of the discussions of Plato and more recent fantasy work that will come in the book, but this ticks the required boxes (i.e. reminding the majority of readers which story it is and which anecdotes pertain to it).
A brief discussion of the themes includes a major caveat about over-examination of Doctor Who – particularly the younger-skewing stories of this period – but to be honest, if you aren’t prepared for this sort of thing, why are you reading this series of books? There’s then an equally brief look at the structure (notably the shorter running time of the episodes) before we get a resume of the key personnel’s careers to this point then take a look at the stories around The Mind Robber in season 6. (The Space Pirates gets short shrift as being impossible to talk about despite the narrated audio and the novelisation being available!)
The book starts to cover less familiar ground in its analysis of the characters the time travellers encounter in the Land of Fiction. Gulliver plays neatly into Hickey’s thesis throughout the book regarding the question of the importance of authorship, reminding me of various elements of the creation of Swift’s tale that I’d forgotten over the years, and linking it to The Mind Robber’s own genesis. The children’s roots in E. Nesbit are discussed, as are the fairy tale bases for Rapunzel. The two mythical characters – the Minotaur and Medusa – follow, with what feels a little like grasping at straws as to the reason for the inclusion of the latter. There’s some fascinating material about Cyrano, as well as primer on Blackbeard and Lancelot. When we get to the Karkus there’s an interesting comparison with Adam West’s Batman before D’Artagnan, the White Robots and the Toy Soldiers are dealt with. The Master of the Land of Fiction gets rather more space allotted, with discussion of his links not just to “Frank Richards”, the author of Billy Bunter, (aka Charles Hamilton), but also, in passing, to Ling himself.
We then get into the shorter sections. The idea that The Mind Robber is The Celestial Toymaker done right is one that I must admit I’ve not really taken seriously before, but Hickey makes some good arguments. The discussion of the “male gaze” on Wendy Padbury’s backside comes at the topic from an interesting angle while the idea that the Doctor is really a refugee from the Land of Fiction gets rather more space… but is summed up by the first word of the chapter.
The book finishes on a slightly sour note. Hickey clearly doesn’t have much time for the returns to the Land of Fiction in book and audio form: a “relatively respectable sequel” is the most praise anything gets, and I respectfully massively disagree with his assessment of at least one of the audio adventures. It’s a little unfortunate that this is the last bit anyone will read.
Unlike some of the earlier books, this doesn’t really break new ground in terms of its scholarship or ideas, and I’m not sure that Hickey ever really makes the case for the serial itself being similarly inventive. However, it’s a solid primer, and – as with all of the volumes in the collection – may send you back to rewatch the story with a fresh eye.
Verdict: Some interesting ideas that may add to your viewing next time around. 6/10