Chapter 114. Doctor Who – The Mind Robber (1987)

Synopsis: Forcing the TARDIS to make an emergency flight, the Doctor catapults his time machine into a strange realm inhabited by characters from myths and stories – a Land of Fiction. In the centre of the realm sits the Master of the Land and he guides the travellers slowly and carefully into his trap.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Doctor Abhors a Vacuum
  • 2. The Power of Thought
  • 3. Boys and Girls Come Out to Play
  • 4. Dangerous Games
  • 5. Into the Labyrinth
  • 6. The Facts of Fiction
  • 7. ‘I Am the Karkus’
  • 8. A Meeting of Masters
  • 9. Lives in the Balance
  • 10. The Doctor Has the Last Word

Background: Peter Ling adapts his own scripts for the 1968 story.

Notes: The opening chapter breaks continuity with The Dominators without necessarily contradicting it; initially, the Doctor awakes with no memory of how he came to be sitting under a tree on a stony floor, but he later remembers that he, Jamie and Zoe were exploring Vesuvius and it was from that eruption, not the Dulcian island, that they were escaping at the start. There’s a more dramatic approach to the way the Doctor is drawn into the land of fiction:

His eyes bulged, and the veins stood out at his throat and temples – he looked as if a multiple G force was clawing at him; his skin stretched tight, showing every muscle and sinew.

… on TV, he just falls asleep.

Zoe is ‘a highly intelligent young scientist from the twenty-first century’ with a ‘permanent expression of wide-eyed curiosity’ who is ‘fascinated by anything and everything’; she’s ‘a brilliant mathematician, capable of dealing with any abstract formulae faster than the most advanced computer’. She’s compared to Alice in Wonderland, mainly for narrative reasons that pop up later. Jamie has a ‘freckled face and tousled hair’ and he’s wearing an ‘open-necked shirt and sturdy plaid kilt’ (so Peter Ling may have been supplied a photo of Jamie from The Wheel in Space, as on TV he’s wearing a polar-neck jumper). He used to go rock climbing when he was ‘a wee lad in the Scottish highlands’. The TARDIS Power Chamber is said to be the time machine’s ‘heart’ like ‘the boiler room of an ocean liner’, where ‘shining generators gleamed and purred, building up a vast reserve of energy’. When she sees the vision of her home city on the TARDIS scanner, Zoe hears the ‘Top Tunes’ of electronic music from her own time. She also sees her mother beckoning to her. 

The ‘Master’ of the Land of Fiction is said to share the same name as someone from the Doctor’s own race [that character wasn’t introduced on TV until 1971, so it’s handy to have it spelled out here that they are not the same person]. Gulliver is controlled as a pawn by the Master, making him more of an adversary than on TV (where he’s oblivious to the strangeness of the world in which he finds himself). Zoe finds herself transformed into Alice in Wonderland, complete with a blue dress and a hair-band, but she has no literary education, so doesn’t recognise the allusion. She also doesn’t recognise a reference to Miss Haversham’s wedding cake from Dickens’ Great Expectations, but does know of the legends of the unicorn (which freezes into a statue) – and of the Minotaur, which is one of two monsters that are improved upon within the novel:

From the shoulders down it appeared to be a man – a man with strong, muscular forearms and a barrel-like chest. Two massive legs like tree trunks supported this brawny torso, and it moved into the dancing torchlight with a deliberate, heavy tread.

But above the shoulders it was a bloodthirsty animal. A bull’s square-browed head, with two red eyes, and wickedly-curving horns which sprang from a tangle of dense, matted hair…

It’s not altogether clear if Zoe is familiar with the myth of the Gorgon, Medusa, but as on screen, she struggles to deny the reality of being confronted by her. Understandably, Jamie doesn’t recognise text from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. He also finds copies of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Left alone in the tunnel, Jamie whistles a tune that he remembers his ‘brothers and sisters’ dancing to back home.

The Karkus is accompanied by comic-style sound effect captions that appear in the air. He’s much more colourful than he appears on TV:

… a giant of a man: a towering Hercules, with bulging muscles, which looked all the more remarkable since they were outlined upon his torso in a spider’s web of deep purple lines… And his skin was bright green.

By way of clothing, he wore a pair of shining purple tights and thigh-length silver boots: around his naked, massive shoulders there swirled a black silk cape, and on his bullet head he wore a black skull cap and a half-mask. And in his hands he carried a very extraordinary ray gun, made of’ glittering plastic and metal.

As usual, the story doesn’t lead into the next televised adventure (even though Ian Marter’s adaptation of The Invasion has the TARDIS reassemble). As he switches on the  ‘powerful drive-motor’ of the TARDIS, the Doctor concludes their adventure in the land of fiction by adding a final word to the story: ‘Finis’.

Cover: Against a pink background, David McAllister assembles a unicorn, Ivanhoe, D’Artagnan and a stylised Medusa around the TARDIS. The 1992 reprint used Alister Pearson’s cover for the VHS tape, in monochrome with very slight colouring on Rapunzel, who is accompanied by a more screen-accurate Medusa, a unicorn, white robot and a clockwork soldier circling around the Doctor.

Final Analysis: In keeping with the fairy-tale feel of the story, Peter Ling’s novel is perhaps aimed at a younger audience than more recent releases. Strangely, it also feels like it’s written for much older children, ones who grew up in the 1940s or earlier where the cultural references might have meant more to boys steeped in stories of Ivanhoe and Gulliver. There’s no concession to readers in 1987, aside from a couple of Dickens references that would have been familiar to school-age students of English Literature. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation as, in keeping with the televised adventure, it’s quite unlike any of the stories around it, and it brings a welcome sense of fun to the Target range, just as the TV series was rediscovering its own.