Saturday, 8 June 2013

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil – DVD Review

The Mind of Evil is a very special Doctor Who DVD release, as the remarkably gritty story sees the light of day in its original colour form for the first time in over four decades...




DOCTOR WHO
THE MIND OF EVIL
DVD
RRP: £20.42
BBFC: U
Released by: BBC Worldwide
Release date: 3 June 2013




"UNIT was set up to deal with new and unusual menaces to mankind, and in my view this machine of yours is just that"


The second story of Doctor Who’s 1971 season is something of a throwback to the tone of the previous year’s adventures. An immensely gritty and dark tale, The Mind of Evil has taken a long time to find its way onto DVD, and completes the availability of Jon Pertwee’s serials on the format. This is largely because of the huge amount of restoration work that has been needed, but more on that later on. First let’s look at the story itself, and the special features included on this two-disc release.


Generally, this season has a slightly lighter tone than the previous one, but The Mind of Evil breaks that mould and returns to the grim feel of the year before. This starts to become apparent quite quickly, with events unfolding inside the fictional Stangmoor Prison. The location filming is very effective, and Dover Castle in Kent is a suitably ominous location for the mood of the story. Good use is made of the location by director Timothy Combe, and the footage is especially impressive considering the problems encountered by the production team during shooting. A remounted location filming session was needed, because producer Barry Letts felt that there were not enough close-up shots during one action sequence, and additionally there turned out to be some damage on the original film. However, this strenuous shoot and the need for additional filming results in the finished sequence working very well. The eeriness of the location contrasts at first with the cheeriness of the Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning), but that soon ceases to be the case once they discover the sinister Keller Machine inside the prison.


It is this which forms the central concept around which the events of the story are built, and it’s a fantastic idea. The machine supposedly enables the extraction of negative (or ‘evil’) thoughts from the minds of prisoners, facilitating their rehabilitation into society. Of course, it’s not that simple, and things soon start to go very wrong indeed. The Earth-bound stories that dominate Pertwee’s era have an advantage over those which take place away from our planet, and that is that they inherently provide an additional level of identification for the viewer. That is especially true here, as the threat of the Keller Machine feels very real indeed.


The Mind of Evil cleverly incorporates two separate strands into the overall narrative, as UNIT have meanwhile been put in charge of security for the imminent World Peace Conference. Writer Don Houghton manages this very well, as these two seemingly disparate parts of the story quickly become apparent as having a rather stronger connection. This also means that the story maintains its momentum far better than some other Pertwee six-part stories. Although four of the five cliffhangers are basically the same ending repeated in a slightly different way, The Mind of Evil never really lags that much.


Pertwee’s Doctor is well-known for telling authority figures what to do, and there’s no shortage of that in this story. As early as the first episode, he’s demanding that the Keller Machine is destroyed at once. (It’s no spoiler to say that it isn’t.) But The Mind of Evil also shows us a much more vulnerable Third Doctor. We see him put through physical and mental torment here, which makes the machine’s menace all the more effective. In some remarkable scenes, the Doctor essentially ends up half-dead. At the same time, though, Pertwee’s interaction with Manning is also particularly delightful here. They spend some time locked in a cell together, and this is where the two actors really shine – seemingly worrying more about a game of chess than about the Master, for example.


This is the second story to feature the Master (Roger Delgado), though his first outing was only the previous serial. Every story in this season featured the Master; was he overused? Undoubtedly, but he’s so brilliant that it doesn’t really matter. From the moment the Master first appears in The Mind of Evil – in a fantastic scene which I won’t spoil here – Delgado is superb in the role. Quite some time has passed in-story since the events of the previous one, Terror of the Autons. So, the Doctor and UNIT have been worrying about what the Master might be up to for a long time, and it is when the Master’s presence becomes known to our protagonists that The Mind of Evil really soars up onto another level. The Master plans a takeover of the prison, and it is this which really puts the Doctor, Jo and UNIT in a very sticky situation. Yes, there is some of the classic ‘escape, capture, escape, capture’ routine going on, but this particular story gets away with it more because of how well the characters work together. It’s like an elaborate game of cat and mouse, and the Master is absolutely revelling in it.


As always, Nicholas Courtney is wonderful in his role as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier and UNIT really are the definitive Doctor Who team of the 1970s, if not the entire history of the series. The circumstances surrounding the World Peace Conference give the Brigadier something to do before he becomes directly involved in the main storyline, and a highlight is a scene between the Doctor, the Brigadier and the Chinese delegate. The Mind of Evil is notable for being one of only two classic Doctor Who stories to date to feature on-screen subtitles – in this case, they translate the Hokkien dialogue between the Doctor and the delegate.


A large amount of the tense, moody atmosphere in The Mind of Evil is created by Dudley Simpson’s music. Season 8’s music generally stands out as being very electronic, before it calmed back down into more traditional orchestral styles in subsequent seasons. But The Mind of Evil has some music which is genuinely terrifying. The theme which he creates for the Keller Machine is great, and arguably one of Simpson’s most memorable contributions to Pertwee’s era of the programme. It’s also nice that a piece of music serving as a theme for UNIT crops up again. Perhaps it doesn’t come out of the electronic music style so well; it definitely sounds enormously better in The Ambassadors of Death, but it still brought a smile to my face to hear it.


The fact that The Mind of Evil is such a dark, gritty story is probably what makes it so amazing. The drama of the story comes from the fact that it takes place in an environment where no-one is safe. With the Master and the criminals of Stangmoor Prison calling the shots, the Doctor and UNIT face both a monumental battle against the Keller Machine, and the task of stopping the Master before he can plunge the Earth into global warfare. It is the intricacy of the whole thing which really makes it work, with a number of different strands coming together into one coherent tale. This was Houghton’s final Doctor Who script, but he bowed out with a classic.

SPECIAL FEATURES


Chris Chapman’s making-of documentary on this release is called The Military Mind. It’s always great when the DVD extras escape the confines of the studio to shoot on location, and that’s exactly what happened here. The Military Mind was recorded at Dover Castle, and it’s undoubtedly one of the finest, most touching making-of items we’ve yet seen. Pik-Sen Lim (Captain Chin Lee) and Fernanda Marlowe (Corporal Bell) appear together, which in itself is nice to see – it’s relatively rare to see more than one person interviewed side-by-side, and it enables them to interact with each other and recall additional memories. When The Mind of Evil was made, Lim was keeping a major secret from most people on the production: she was pregnant. This caused some complications with her costume, which she explains here. There are points at which this documentary is very poignant, and a good example of this is Combe’s emotional story towards the end of how The Mind of Evil became his last contribution to Doctor Who. All these years later, Combe still finds it difficult to talk about, which really shows the affection he had for the cast and crew on the series.


It seems that the feeling was mutual, because a number of the interviewees here express regret about what happened.  But by far the most bittersweet element of The Military Mind is the presence of Courtney and Letts, who have both passed away since the documentary was recorded back in 2009. It’s especially sad to see Letts looking a bit frail, but at the same time it’s a wonderful gift to see him together with script editor Terrance Dicks for one last time. Letts and Courtney are both very sorely missed. For such a bittersweet documentary, it’s fitting that we are treated to a warm voice-over by Cameron McEwan, and although the cartoony end credits are a little odd (apparently this is a hangover from a deleted animated opening sequence, presumably canned in favour of the more poignant mood this piece has retrospectively adopted), this doesn’t spoil a delightful, sad and emotional feature.

The commentary was also recorded some years ago, and thus shares some of the poignant qualities of The Military Mind due to the presence of Letts. Speaking about the grittiness of this story compared to those around it, Letts says that Doctor Who wasn’t a children’s show, and so he felt there was enough leeway to allow the tone of the series to get darker. Dicks is always great on DVD commentaries, and this one is no exception. He is very entertaining and yet informative at the same time, talking about the story’s similarities to A Clockwork Orange at around the same time as he is poking fun at ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, for example. This commentary operates a ‘revolving door’ policy, mixing up the contributors as it goes along. Manning joins Lim and Marlowe, and there are some lovely exchanges between the actors. Manning in particular is a delight to listen to, with so many great memories of the production and her fellow cast members. Combe and stunt arranger Derek Ware complete the line-up, and it is particularly interesting to hear how a frantic production led to crew members having to pitch in to appear on-camera during an action sequence – Equity’s worst nightmare! As usual, the goldmine of Doctor Who knowledge that is Toby Hadoke serves as a moderator, overseeing proceedings and keeping things flowing superbly. Because of the episode-to-episode variation in the contributors, this commentary maintains its momentum fairly well, and is a great listen. The Production Information Subtitles are written by Stephen James Walker and Martin Wiggins. These are always fascinating to read, as various production and contextual information pops up while the story plays. Here, we find out how the idea of the Keller Machine grew out of capital punishment, and an apparent explanation of why one character appears to be afraid of pink dragons…


This DVD features a new instalment in the long-running Now & Then series, examining where exactly The Mind of Evil’s location work was shot and how these areas look today. Richard Bignell has once again done a wonderful job, impressively matching the framing of the original film sequences to facilitate dissolves from the original footage to the locations’ current appearance. This works particularly well with Dover Castle, because it’s such a well-known location. To top it all off, the original production map is included, which really does put into context exactly where everything is – and how certain things we see in the story wouldn’t actually be geographically possible!


Behind the Scenes: Television Centre is a contemporary 1971 documentary presented by Norman Tozer. He spends twenty-four hours examining the day-to-day goings-on inside BBC Television Centre. The building has had quite a large amount of exposure over recent Doctor Who DVDs, which is nice considering it is currently out of action during renovation work, and will eventually return in a revamped form. What’s apparent looking at this documentary is that back then, Television Centre was absolutely buzzing with activity. From scenery building to special effects, film editing to the armoury, Tozer explores a wide array of activities inside the Centre. It’s a shame that in subsequent decades, the BBC has contracted a huge amount of the operations we see here to external companies. But back when this was filmed, it seems as though pretty much everything was done in-house, which makes the whole thing really endearing and nostalgic. With glimpses of shows such as Blue Peter and Z Cars (Doctor Who makes only a brief contribution, making it all the more commendable that this item has been included here), Behind the Scenes: Television Centre is immeasurably enjoyable, and a superb window to the past.


This DVD’s Photo Gallery was made by Derek Handley, and at nearly five minutes, there’s a wide selection of images included. It’s particularly interesting to see colour photography, due to the archival nature of the episodes themselves – but more on that below! In addition to the usual Radio Times billings, another PDF item is included. From April to September 1971, Kellogg’s ran a promotion whereby their Sugar Smacks breakfast cereal came with one of six Doctor Who-themed badges. This PDF contains images of the badges, packets and some promotional pieces. Aside from a couple of rather scary images of Jon Pertwee which look nothing like Jon Pertwee, this is a fun and interesting inclusion.

There is an Easter Egg somewhere on this DVD – a nice audio item from just before the story’s original transmission…


The Coming Soon trailer is a little bit different to usual, because it’s not for a DVD. Instead, it promotes the forthcoming Blu-ray release of Pertwee’s first Doctor Who story, Spearhead from Space. As the one and only story from the series’ original 1963-89 television run to be shot entirely on film, it has been possible to create a restored high definition transfer of the story. The inherent problem with advertising a Blu-ray on a DVD release is that the true quality of the former can’t be demonstrated. So, Gareth Randall has compensated for this by including a number of on-screen intertitles which really sell the point that this is the one and only high definition classic Doctor Who story. Some clips from the exclusive Pertwee biography that will be included on the release are also featured. Aside from a problem with the black levels (evidenced by the greyness of the pillarbox at the left and right sides of the image during the 4:3 clips), this truly is an appetite-whetting trailer.

AUDIO/VIDEO

The audio has come from the film recordings (see below), but the source materials aren’t brilliant. Across the story, the sound leans more towards a bass-heavy feel than would be ideal, but following Mark Ayres’ audio restoration The Mind of Evil sounds better than it has done for a long time – the dialogue is very understandable, although the music does sometimes feel a little indistinct and murky. While the audio here isn’t as clear as we’re used to from many other stories, it’s still very listenable and the best that could be done considering the source.

Without doubt the most noteworthy thing about this DVD is that it is the first time that The Mind of Evil has been seen in full colour in over four decades. Originally broadcast from 625-line colour videotape, all six episodes only survive today as 16mm black-and-white telerecordings. Until recently, this has been the most problematic of all the Pertwee stories from a restoration perspective, as it was the only one to have no colour episodes whatsoever surviving in any form, save for a short clip that exists as an off-air domestic Betamax recording. But now, thanks to some truly arduous work, it’s back in full colour once more. Episodes Two-Six have been restored using the Colour Recovery process, which analyses colour subcarrier information embedded in the black-and-white film recordings to work out what the original colour would have been. But the ‘chromadots’ necessary for the process to work were filtered out when the telerecording of Episode One was made – something which really should have been done for every telerecording that was produced, but thankfully this didn’t happen because there were far more film recorders than filters.

Therefore, Episode One has been manually colourised for this DVD. This task has been carried out by Stuart Humphryes (interviewed here) and Peter Crocker. Essentially, Humphryes hand-colourised certain key-frames from each shot of the episode, and later in the process, Crocker began using the colour from some of Humphryes’ key-frames to create his own ‘secondary’ key-frames to enable the project to be completed on time. Once all the key-frames were ready, the colour from them could be used to restore colour to the frames in-between using a mixture of motion-estimated interpolation and manual tweaking and warping. The result is stunning. This has got to be the most labour-intensive restoration project ever undertaken for the Doctor Who DVD range, but it really has paid off. Colours are realistic and natural, with skin tones looking particularly impressive. There are subtleties here which are rarely seen in a lot of manual colourisation efforts, and it is this which really sells it. Of course, it doesn’t look quite as good as the original 625-line tape would have done, but it often doesn’t look too far off. Humphryes and Crocker should be congratulated for their effort here.

The results of the Colour Recovery on the rest of the story are variable. Richard Russell was responsible for the original processing and initial fine-tuning of Episodes Two-Six of The Mind of Evil. High definition scans of the telerecordings were made (of course, because the film recordings were sourced from standard definition videotape, there’s no genuine HD to be obtained from them, but scanning at this level of resolution allowed the greatest possible level of detail to be captured) and then the Colour Recovery process examined the chromadots embedded within them to theoretically determine what the original hue and saturation would have been. In reality, the results of Colour Recovery always need a lot of manual tweaking, because various factors such as the quality of the telerecording mean that the raw output of the process is usually unstable and not wholly accurate. Russell carried out some specialised clean-up on the pictures before passing them onto Crocker for the remainder of their restoration. Episode Two is by far the poorest, as it seems to occasionally flicker into something close to monochrome for a few frames at a time throughout much of its duration. Episode Three sees a marked improvement (and no more of this type of flickering), but it is probably Episode Four which is the highlight of the Colour Recovery episodes on this release (and perhaps even of the process’ use on Doctor Who in general). Colours are very solid, and while there are still tell-tale signs such as some colour bleeding and spots of red where there shouldn’t be, the stability and consistency here is amazing. Episodes Five and Six are also good, though not as strong as Episode Four. Across Episodes Two-Six, hallmarks of Colour Recovery such as some speckles on areas of solid colour (blue skies especially) are present, but the restoration is nevertheless nothing short of breath-taking. The grade by Jonathan Wood has brought as much consistency and naturalness as possible to the end results, and along with VidFIRE processing to restore the interlaced 'video look', this is the icing on the cake of the most challenging (and, not too long ago, impossible) of restorations.

SUMMARY

The Mind of Evil is my favourite story of Season 8. It’s great to see what could be considered to be a last hurrah for the grittier style of the previous year, and everyone involved is at the top of their game. The story is moody, dark and grim, and it works on every level. Houghton’s final Doctor Who script is stunning, and it works very well both in isolation and as a single piece in the jigsaw that is the Doctor and UNIT’s on-going relationship with the Master. This DVD release includes a poignant commentary and making-of documentary, but the very best thing about it has to be the serial’s restoration to its original colour glory at long last. There’s only one score I could possibly give this release, due to the brilliance of the story and the sheer amount of love, care and effort that went into its restoration.

10 OUT OF 10


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4 comments:

  1. A very thorough review - I look forward to reading more

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    1. Thanks Tony, that's very kind of you!

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  2. Just got the DVD and your review was very informative and enjoyable. I guessed that Episode 1 was the complete colour restore and found your blog which confirmed it - nice work. I agree this is a season 7 story in season 8 and is now one of my absolute faves!

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    1. Thank you! Great to hear that you enjoyed the review. I also interviewed Babelcolour last year, about his work on the restoration of the first episode - http://www.tellytechblog.com/2013/05/interview-stuart-humphryes-babelcolour.html

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