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Recap / Doctor Who S6 E2 "The Mind Robber"

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Not all unicorns are of the friendly, cutesy sort.

"We obey our creator, that is all that can be expected of any character, unless the Master bids us otherwise."
Lemuel Gulliver

Production code: UU

The weird one. With a knock-off version of Jamie.

This five-episode serial first aired from September 14 to October 12, 1968.

Episode One was written (uncredited) by Derrick Sherwinnote  while the remaining four episodes were written by Peter Ling.

To escape from the lava flow at the end of "The Dominators", the Doctor hits the emergency switch, zapping the TARDIS out of space-time and into a featureless white void, where they are attacked by white robots (some "void").

And then things get weird.

They flee back to the TARDIS which promptly explodes, leaving Jamie and Zoe clinging to the control console in space, while the Doctor appears to be dead. Suddenly, they find themselves in what appears to be a fictional landscape, menaced by lifesize clockworks soldiers and meeting characters like Gulliver and Rapunzel.

The Doctor discovers that they are in the Land of Fiction, a realm of a different dimension presided over by The Master of the Land (not that Master, thankfully): an English writer from the 1920s who has been yanked out of his own time and is being controlled by the Master Brain computer. The Master wants the Doctor to take his place and the two enter a battle of wills using fictional characters.

Zoe and Jamie arrive and succeed in overloading the Master Brain, which is then destroyed in the confusion by the White Robots, freeing the Master and allowing the Doctor and friends to escape.

This is the only serial to use episodes of 20 minutes rather than the usual 25; it was made at the end of the fifth season's production block, by which point the show had been in production for 46 consecutive weeks. Upon discovering the first episode was to be a Bottle Episode featuring only the main cast, Patrick Troughton complained about the workload, and the scripts were edited down out of sympathy for the show's exhausted star. (Episode 5 has the distinction of being the shortest Doctor Who episode ever, running to exactly 18 minutes.) The first episode is also notable as having been hastily added when the previous serial was reduced from six episodes to five at the last minute; it has no credited writer, as it was written by script editor Derrick Sherwin (a practice frowned upon by the BBC) using a minimal cast and sets and recycled costumes.


  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The Doctor pulls the emergency escape switch and gets the TARDIS stuck in a dimension that doesn't really exist. There is a black void and a white void, a black TARDIS and a white TARDIS, evil white-dressed versions of Jamie and Zoe, weird random screaming sounds and the TARDIS exploding. This is apparently what happens when you try to make a Bottle Episode in the middle of the psychedelic era.
  • All Just a Dream: Some fans explain some of the unexplained elements of the ending (the TARDIS reforming, the Master of the Land's unexplained fate) as implying that the whole of the story from the point that the TARDIS is destroyed is a shared dream for the Doctor and companions, brought on by exposure to the extra-dimensional void.
    • The stage directions for the first episode of the following story, "The Invasion", specify that when the TARDIS reforms everybody is in the exact same position as they were right before it was destroyed — the implication apparently being that everything from that point on was indeed a dream. As that episode is missing, it is not known how strong the suggestion was onscreen.
  • Artistic Licence – Physics: Parodied; the Doctor manages to disarm the Karkus by pointing out that his weapon of choice, the "Anti-Molecular Ray Disintegrator" would never work or exist in real-life. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the Karkus from trying to beat the crap out of the Doctor and Zoe.
  • Author Powers: The Doctor discovers that they are in the Land of Fiction, a realm of a different dimension presided over by The Master of the Land, an English writer from the 1920s who has been yanked out of his own time and is being controlled by the Master Brain computer. The Master wants the Doctor to take the writer's place and the two enter a battle of wills using fictional characters.
  • Battle of Wits: The Doctor and the Master battle by telling a story. Complicated by the fact that the Doctor can't mention himself without becoming a character in the story, which would give the Master complete power over him.
  • Big Bad: The Master Brain.
  • Bottle Episode: The first episode was added at the last moment to extend the story to five episodes and takes place only in the TARDIS and on an empty stage.
  • Choke Holds: Zoe subdues the Karkus with one.
  • Cool vs. Awesome : How else to describe Cyrano de Bergerac vs D'artagnan, with suitably epic music? And then Cyrano becomes Black Beard and D'artagnan, Lancelot!
  • Creative Sterility: The reason why the Master brain needs a human. Or even better, a Time Lord.
  • Extradimensional Emergency Exit: The events of the episode are kicked off by the TARDIS being stuck in the path of an erupting volcano and unable to dematerialise due to a fault in the fluid link. Out of desperation the Doctor activates the emergency unit which sends them flying "out of the time-space dimension, out of reality" and into a Blank White Void. Unfortunately, coming back proves more difficult than expected — given that said void leads into the Land of Fiction.
  • Flynning: Cyrano de Bergerac and D'artagnan engage in this in Episode 4.
  • Forced Creativity: The Land of Fiction requires a creative mind powering it in order to produce fictional characters that it can bring into reality and thrive on. Well before the story's events, a writer from 1920s England was brought in to fulfil this duty against his will; the plot revolves around him trying to recruit the Doctor to take up his mantle.
  • Fourth Wall Shut-In Story: This is the Master's trap in The Land of Fiction. The Doctor has to defeat him by writing himself into a story as the hero.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When Jamie is falling victim to the illusions in the white void, Zoe breaks him out of it by slapping him.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • The Master identifies himself at one point as the creator of the popular adventure hero "Jack Harkaway". Assuming that the Whoniverse version of Harkaway is the same as the real one, this would identify him as the nineteenth-century pulp writer Samuel Bracebridge Hemyng (1841-1901).
    • Cyrano de Bergerac, D'Artagnian and Blackbeard are double (triple?) examples: real historical figures who've become this trope in other peoples' fiction, which allows the Master of the Land to employ their images in his storytelling duel with the Doctor.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    Doctor: This world that we've tumbled into is a world of fiction. Unicorns, minotaurs, Gulliver's Travels - they're all alive here.
    Zoe: Well then what are we doing here?
  • Male Gaze: Zoe on the revolving TARDIS console. From the DVD, we learn that one attempt to film this sequence was brought to a halt by a Wardrobe Malfunction. Amusingly, Wendy Padbury apparently considered it a good costume - easy to move in, comfortable, etc.
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover
  • The Master: Not the Time Lord, but just an ordinary writer from the 1920s.
  • Mind Screw: The first episode. To an extent, the following four as well.
  • Minimalist Cast: When an episode was cut from the previous story and this was expanded from four to five episodes, its first episode had this. There was no budget (even by Doctor Who's notoriously low standards) for additional cast, props, costumes or even sets. The only resources available was the standing TARDIS control room set, the three leads, the robots that would appear later on in the story and a large empty stage painted white. Surprisingly it worked.
  • Mood Whiplash: The first episode is quite dark, with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe increasingly distressed by their desperate situation, until the story ends with the TARDIS exploding and the heroes in the middle of space. In the next four episodes, the plot turns into a comedy involving a fantasy realm with characters from literature, fairy tales and comics books.
  • My Car Hates Me: The Doctor had to use the emergency unit to escape from the lava flow because the TARDIS's normal engines chose that moment to break down.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Justified since the computer maintained the fantasy world. Less justified is the fact that the TARDIS un-explodes after the computer is destroyed.
  • The Nth Doctor: A highly unusual example for Doctor Who (well, unusual by modern standards) in that it doesn't involve any Time Lords at all. Instead, the character who changes appearance is Jamie, whose face is wiped off and improperly reconstructed from memory by the Doctor. Jamie eventually gets his old face back when the Doctor is able to redo the reconstruction and get the correct result.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Doctor has one when he realises that he has rebuilt Jamie's face incorrectly:
    Doctor: Oh no, I've done it wrong!
  • Ontological Mystery: The story starts when the TARDIS crashes outside time. Venturing outside, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in a nightmare of impossible happenings and literary characters come to life.
  • Platonic Cave: The Land of Fiction.
  • Puff of Logic: The way the Doctor deals with the various monsters: If everyone present stops believing in them, they just vanish.
  • Railroading: How the Master of the Land tries to coerce the Doctor into taking his place.
  • Reality Warper: Anything the Master writes becomes true. In the fifth episode, the Doctor is wired into the computer, giving him the same powers.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Frazer Hines took ill, and Hamish Wilson filled in. Since they don't look alike, Jamie lost his face and the Doctor reconstructed it wrong. It doesn't feel at all out of place in this particular story.
  • Schmuck Bait: The Doctor tells Jamie and Zoe on no account to leave the TARDIS. The moment his back's turned, they are both tempted outside with visions of their homes.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown:
    • The Doctor and the Master do this by proxy. The Master conjures Cyrano de Bergerac, the Doctor D'Artagnan. Then the Master changes Cyrano to Blackbeard, and the Doctor counters by replacing D'Artagnan with Lancelot.
    • In a sense, their whole fight can be considered this, with both of them shaping the fictional world towards their goal.
  • Space Brasília: Zoe's vision of her home city.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Gulliver.
  • Superhero: The Karkus is from a superhero comic strip in Zoe's era, although it's not stated if he's an actual hero or a supervillain.
  • Surreal Horror: The first episode, especially, has a number of disturbing, inexplicable (even for this serial) events, some of which are punctuated by Zoe's terrified screams. It's all rather unsettling.
  • Take a Third Option: The Master tries to trap the Doctor by forcing him into a situation where he either looks at the Medusa and turns to stone, or uses a sword to slay it. He instead has a "Eureka!" Moment and pulls out a mirror, showing the monster its own reflection.
  • Taken for Granite: The unicorn becomes a statue when the heroes disbelieve in it. The Doctor and Zoe are threatened with this fate when Medusa manifests, but she too reverts to inert marble when the Doctor persuades Zoe that she's just acting out a myth.
  • Temporary Substitute: Hamish Wilson taking over as Jamie for an episode.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: The ball of thread version, again. This time the circumstances are much closer to the version of Classical Mythology, what with the Minotaur and all...
  • Trapped in Another World: The plot revolves around the TARDIS Team becoming trapped in the Land of Fiction, where fictional characters really exist and act as their respective canons dictate.
  • Unicorn: Jamie dreams of one, and they later encounter it for real. It's one of the wild and violent sort.
  • Void Between the Worlds: The setting of the first episode.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: The first episode takes place in a white void containing aggressive robots. As soon as the characters escape, these robots have no bearing on the plot of the rest of the serial, at least until the last two episodes when they turn up as the Master Brain's servants.
  • Waif-Fu: Zoe versus the Karkus.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out for sure what happened to the Master of the Land of Fiction. However, since the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe wound up back where they belong (the TARDIS), he presumably returned to his home in the 1920s.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: After hearing that a man wrote 5,000 words a week for 25 years, Zoe exclaims "but that's over half a million words." Technically, it is though, by 6 million. Although, to be fair, Zoe did say "over half a million".
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: it is established that the inhabitants of the Land of Fiction are, well, fictional... unless you believe in them, in which case your mind makes them real and they are able to harm you. Strangely, though, in order to get rid of a menacing fictional character, all present must vocally disbelieve. The Doctor and Zoe are able to make a Minotaur vanish this way, but Zoe's inability to disbelieve in Medusa forces the Doctor to use a mirror to defeat her, even though he knows she's fictional. Later, Zoe is forced to fight Karkus, whom she knows is fictional, because the Doctor has never heard of him and thus cannot disbelieve.