With its smart plotting, unusual narrative, and great visuals, The Mind Robber is one of Doctor Who’s finest moments. That’s the unusual position taken by Volume 7 of The Black Archive, Obverse Books’ ongoing attempt to provide an exhaustive look at every Doctor Who story. Having seen the serial for myself, I must respectfully disagree. (As we all know, Utopia’s one of Doctor Who’s finest moments; are you listening, Obverse chaps?)
But that doesn’t stop Andrew Hickey’s volume being informative, wise, and engaging. It’s a short book that manages to touch on subjects as diverse and important as Plato’s Forms and Zoe’s Bum. Even as I was writing this review, I kept going back and reading whole pages at a time, unable to stop myself from being absorbed. It’s full of information that will enthral the casual viewer which only helps to lend depth to the more analytical sections of the book.
If you don’t really remember The Mind Robber (I don’t and I still got a lot out of the book), the opening pages have a synopsis to bring you up to speed, and a good portion of the introduction is spent discussing the fact that the producers had to add an extra episode to the running order. This explains its debut part, one of the most memorable and extraordinary episodes in Doctor Who‘s long history – a three-hander (if we discount the involvement of toy robots) that mainly takes part in the TARDIS and in utter whiteness. It just goes to show the ingenuity of the show’s makers.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter asking whether the Doctor is a renegade from the Land of Fiction (which dismisses the notion so entirely it’s hard to imagine how it could live on). But my favourite part of the book has to be the chapter that immediately precedes it, “The Male Gaze, or That Scene”. Three pages dedicated to talking about the sexualisation of Wendy Padbury? What more could we want? The fact that the chapter is thought-provoking and insightful is just a delightful bonus. (Fun fact – in the porn-starved 1960s, the only way to… er… get your jollies was to put on your mate’s off-air audio recording and use sheer imagination to power through. Also, you know the phrase, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about”? Do a Google Image search for ‘zoe the mind robber’. That’s what the fuss is about.)
The word ‘accessible’ means different things to different people. I’m thrilled to report that to Hickey, it means a book that you can dive into, without years of background in academia, or even if you don’t remember much about the story itself. Whether you agree with his central premise is entirely up to you, but you won’t be able to argue with the way he got there and you’ll still find something to like. Like pretty much every Black Archive book, this comes recommended.
The Black Archive #7: The Mind Robber is out now from Obverse Books.