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Doing the Mindwarp: BFI Southbank Special Event Saturday 14th September 2019

The Doctor Who: The Collection Season 23 limited edition Blu-ray is released on Monday 7th October and to celebrate the BFI (British Film Institute) on the London Southbank ran a special event showing the 6th Doctor story, Mindwarp, which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc.

I’m always a fan of these events because you know everyone in the room is there for the love of the show. The structure of the event was planned that after the traditional quiz with giveaways, episodes 5 & 6 were to be shown, two or three guests to be interviewed, Episodes 7 and 8 to be shown with a final question-answer session with actors Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker. There was a lovely moment before the quiz started with an acknowledgement of Terrance Dicks or “Uncle Terry ” as he was known and the huge contribution he made to classic Who. He died recently and was a massive inspiration to fans of all ages, including modern writers and the audience gave a hugely deserved round of applause for a minute.

Special Edition of Mindwarp, which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc
The Special Edition of Mindwarp played at the BFI which constituted episodes 5 to 8 of the 23rd season with the Trial of a Timelord arc

The Guests

Due to some technical hitches whilst playing episode 7 (MIndwarp Part 3) the screen froze so some of the guests were interviewed earlier than anticipated as the BFI team tried to fix the problem. There was success eventually, after a false start, with the return to the story with the surround sound. The original composer for Mindwarp, Mark Ayres came on with Richard Hartley to discuss the scoring for Mindwarp. Richard Hartley recorded all the original tracks again as the master tapes no longer existed and Mark did the 5.1 surround sound. It is noticeable with watching this special edition that besides the original synthesiser score there is the addition of a new cello score in certain scenes which adds an element of emotional poignancy to the story.

Russell West, who played the Raak creature that attacked Peri and the Doctor in the first episode, was interviewed and seemed genuinely delighted to have been part of Doctor Who and also at the BFI. He was at the time a jobbing actor, doing theatre at Stratford east who was offered the role and he humorously recounted his experience, to interviewer Justin Johnson, of his “small but important role’.

A highlight he remembered was seeing the ‘toned down’ performance of Brian Blessed during the day’s rehearsal he attended. Describing how once in the costume he found it incredibly heavy but also at the small-time fragile Russell West apologised for manhandling Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker too much laughter from the audience. He was also sorry for not being Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson which a podcast attributed his character was played by.

Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp)
Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp) talking to interviewer Justin Johnson

“Once I was down, I was down! And it took three people to get me up again”
Russell West (Actor, the Raak creature in Mindwarp)

With Sil and the Mentors, a major part of this story Phil Newman, the freelance costume designer was also came on stage. He played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time which he quipped was definitely ‘canon’ and has also worked as a designer on the latest production from Reeltime Pictures, “Sil And the Devil Seeds of Arodor” The hour-long drama will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray from the 4th November. There was a surprise as Phil Newman also revealed a special purchase, the original Kiv costume.

“This year the whole thing came full circle as I was asked to design Sil for Seeds of Arodor”
Phil Newman (Designer)

Phil Newman, designer who played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time
Phil Newman, designer, who played Sil in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time

Reviewing the story

Last year I reviewed the 6th Doctor era and I remember feeling that the 23rd season was a rather uneven offering, that often struggled under the weight of the proffered story arc. This screening was the extended version of “Mindwarp” with an additional five minutes to the first episode plus different editing of certain scenes such as when Yrcanos escapes the laboratory after the attempted brain alteration. I think Mindwarp is actually one of the stronger story entries for season 23 although not without its faults. The courtroom scenes in this story have moved (mostly) past the juvenile insults, in “The Mysterious Plane”, going back and forth between the Doctor and Valeyard.

They actually serve a purpose to challenge the motivations of the Doctor, his ‘meddling’, the deaths that occur, his amnesia and subsequent ‘betrayal’ of new and old friends. Saying that at times the court scenes are a difficult balancing act for me as an audience member as they take you away from the action on Thoros Beta. But then conversely you don’t get a chance to get emotionally involved in the court scenes as they by the structure are brief interjections before moving back to the planet. It’s hardly the build-up seen in the film drama A Few Good Men. Also, as the 6th doctor or the Valeyard isn’t the meekest of characters the outbursts, tend to hammer heavily their points.

If I do consider just the scenes on Thoros Beta I really like Philip Martin’s script as it is full of black humour and unexpected moments. I love green skies and pink sea. Nicola Bryant’s Peri separated from the Doctor becomes better for it, being allowed to reflect on her feelings of homesickness. Due to the manipulations of the Valeyard to the matrix, Peri becomes a victim of others. Most characters are barbarians or become them: Yrcanos is willing to fight his way out of trouble, the doctor-affected by the mind probe becomes cold towards Peri, Crozier sees her as just a vessel for Kiv’s brain. The scenes where she is helpless in the laboratory tied and gagged and Crozier then performs the operation are memorable as is the assassination scene.

It’s a glorious brave scene, which still gives the chills, where Kiv sits up within Peri’s body and King Yrcanos has to shoot the Peri/Kiv creature. I love the shock value it gave at the time of original transmission and it wouldn’t have lost some that power if they had left the ending as it was.

Colin Baker acknowledged that it was partly his fault as he wanted clarification whether the matrix information was a lie, so did Peri die and was unable to get a definitive answer. The production team decided to backtrack on the original dramatic moment Nicola Bryant told John Nathan Turner she wanted.

After the screening of the episodes, there were sneak peeks, edited by Chris Chapman, of some of the features on the Blu-Ray. There was a montage of funny out-takes which gave the audience some laugh-out moments. Next, there was a feature on the Doctor Who Cookbook revisited, where Toby Hadoke visited Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) I am assuming at her home with Janet Fielding (Tegan) to discuss the recipes. What ensued was hilarity in the kitchen as Janet tried to reproduce one of the recipes, Fielding’s Ocker Balls, (with voiceover by India Fisher from MasterChef /Big Finish). Janet tried to explain what the Australian term “ocker” meant and to create the recipe’s savoury profiterole filled with cream cheese and oysters with help from Sarah and Toby. The eating results were actually better than any of them expected.

Next there was a Behind the Sofa snippet where the first ten minutes of “The Mysterious Planet “were reviewed with lots of dry humour from two different trios of old companions and one doctor not necessarily from the same era: Frazer Hines, Matthew Waterhouse and Mark Strickson were one trio  and Bonnie Langford, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant another as they sat on the sofa commenting.

It is probably well known that neither Colin or Nicola knew that Doctor Who was going to be cancelled after season 22. As actors, they were both kept away from the politics but it was enlightening to discover how they found out. Nicola Bryant described the funny story of how she wasn’t aware until she received a phone call from the press asking her to comment on the death of Doctor Who. She immediately assumed that Colin Baker had died, became hysterical thinking of his wife Marion.

After frantic calls trying to get hold of producer John Nathan Turner, she finally spoke to her agent who clarified that only the show was cancelled. Nicola was so relieved that Colin was alive she was not as upset as she might have been!

Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker being interviewed by Justin Johnson
Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker being interviewed by Justin Johnson

Colin Baker was told by John Nathan Turner that the show wasn’t coming back the following year because Michael Grade had disliked the show and had cut it. The upside was that Colin Baker had signed a four-year contract and so he continued to get paid, despite some initial wrangling from the finance department. The hiatus only came about, Colin disclosed, due to the initial outrage directed at Michael Grade from public and press so Michael Grade had to reverse the decision pretty quickly to say the show was being rested and would come back. Colin wasn’t really happy with the season 23 story arc mirroring the real-life trial the show was under.

Whilst Nicola was “wowed” by the state-of-the-art opening shot of the trial room spaceship Colin thought it was “pointless” as due to the cost of the model work and direction location filming was stopped. He revealed some of the other issues with production at the time. Eric Saward favoured certain writers which the producer JNT didn’t like, suggested things the producer wouldn’t accept and then left. Colin only became aware that Eric Saward did not like his casting to be the Doctor much later on. There was an acknowledgement from both Colin and Nicola that had they known all the issues at the time it would have probably affected their performance. They worked very hard as actors to enjoy their experience and show the development of their character’s relationship in Season 23.

“(Eric Saward), didn’t like the actor who had been cast as the Doctor which I discovered a long time afterwards. I had entertained Eric Saward in my house… Never told me that until he wrote about it for the magazine.”

Colin Baker, (Actor) the 6th Doctor

Regarding his time on the show Colin Baker revealed he had a seven-year plan and had hoped to beat Tom Baker’s record. Due to his sacking that didn’t happen. He was quite bold he said in turning down the offer to do a regeneration story basically because he was “hacked off”. He had enjoyed playing the character, felt he had a lot more to offer and praised Big Finish which gave him a chance to develop his Doctor many years later. The discussion turned to whether JNT who had been producing the show a long time, would have left when Colin left. Apparently, John Nathan Turner did want to do other things but he was contracted to the BBC and they would not let him go from Doctor Who. He didn’t go freelance but stayed with the BBC until the cancellation of the show after season 26. Colin said by staying JNT was fighting for the programme.

Following the interview, there were questions from the audience and the event completed with an autographing signing by both Nicola and Colin in a side room.  The queue snaked outside the room as people were keen to meet “Sixy” and his companion. Another wonderful afternoon of Doctor Who concluded with a warm glow but roll on the next event on the  23rd November for 7th Doctor fun and frolics.

Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 23 Limited Edition Box Set is released on 7th October 2019 priced around £40

Maria Kalotichou

Maria is a 4th and 5th Doctor fan who grew up through the JNT classic era years. Her favourite classic stories are Robots of Death and Earthshock, well probably, but don’t make her have to choose only one. In her grown-up life, she currently works in HR.