Review [DW]: “Mindwarp”

23×2. Mindwarp
Writer: Philip Martin
Director: Ron Jones
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The second part of the prosecution’s case against the Doctor concerns a visit to Thoros-Beta, where he and Peri discover their adversary Sil and one of his kinsmen, Kiv, who is attempting to have his mind transferred into a new body by the scientist Crozier. The Doctor challenges the legitimacy of the evidence when it seems to show him behaving in a self-serving and cruel manner while the boisterous King Yrcanos and Peri attempt to lead a rebellion.

Review: I’m wondering now if perhaps it was the wrong decision to review the four segments of “The Trial of a Time Lord” as if they were separate serials. While “The Mysterious Planet” could have stood on its own without the context of the trial, I’m not sure “Mindwarp” can. We’ve seen the Sixth Doctor behave in a callous manner in the past, but here he more or less allies himself with Sil, Kiv, and Crozier for the greater part of the proceedings, and it’s not entirely clear why. He appears disoriented after initially being subjected to Crozier’s machine, and there are hints that the whole thing is a ploy, but the script never establishes exactly what he might have feared would happen if he didn’t pretend to collaborate or what he hoped to achieve with this ploy that he couldn’t have by simply aiding the rebels from the start. Instead, we get numerous scenes of him interrupting the trial proceedings and suggesting that the evidence may have been fabricated. This is effective in building up the sense that there is something sinister underlying this trial, and Colin Baker ably portrays the Doctor’s own shock and dismay at what he’s seeing, especially at Peri’s apparent death, but it leaves the actual narrative of the events on Thoros-Beta somewhat incomplete because we’re left uncertain what did or didn’t actually happen. Speaking of which, this is a particularly bitter swan song for Peri, who doesn’t even get a heroic sacrifice along the lines of Adric and instead goes to her death with Kiv having taken over her body and believing that the Doctor has betrayed her (though for me, the impact is somewhat undermined by the fact that I know what’s going to be revealed by the end of “Trial”).

All that aside, “Mindwarp” has some problems that would preclude a full recommendation anyway. A fair amount of time is spent watching characters wander around and/or chase each other in caves, in scenes that never come off as much more than obligatory Doctor Who formula. As for characterization, Sil and Kiv are notable for being motivated more by money and profit than by a desire for power or grand megalomaniacal schemes, but Crozier is a surprisingly blank slate for such a key figure. It’s implied that he might have been brought to Thoros-Beta against his will, but if he has any ethical misgivings about his work, any intellectual curiosity about its outcome, or even any feelings towards Sil and Kiv in general, it certainly doesn’t come across in the writing or in Patrick Ryecart’s performance. On the topic of performances, I’d be neglectful not to mention that of BRIAN BLESSED as Yrcanos, about which not much needs to be said other than that, well, it’s BRIAN BLESSED – certainly memorable, and perhaps appropriate for the character, but a bit excessive in terms of the scenery-chewing at times, and his discussion with Peri about the nature of love borders on the cringey and isn’t helped by some melodramatic background music.

“Mindwarp” has some good ideas, and it’s important in moving the overall trial narrative along, but as a story it feels somewhat frustrating and incomplete. Whether it was reasonable to expect it to be otherwise, I’ll do my best to suspend judgment for the moment.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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