I tend to disagree and point instead to “The Mind of Evil” as the story that brings together most of the elements required for a “essential” Pertwee-era adventure. Featuring UNIT, the Master, and multiple threats to Earth, “The Mind of Evil” has long been one of my favorite stories from this era — and even the entire run of classic Doctor Who.
Which is why it’s a darn shame that Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the story doesn’t even begin to do it justice. If there were ever a story crying out for the rounding out of things that Dicks was able to do with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks,” it’s “The Mind of Evil.” Instead, we get Uncle Terrance late in his run of adapting the original version for the printed page.
“Mind of Evil” is a virtual scene-by-scene adaptation of the original script with little or no embellishment. The story starts off with multiple threads including a new rehabilitation device being looked into by the Doctor and Jo, a peace conference in London, and UNIT being in charge of getting rid of a nerve gas missile. The first half of the story finds these three threads slowly converging thanks to the connecting tissue of the Master, who has come up with a scheme to destroy the Earth and leave the Doctor in ruins and humiliated behind him.
As with many of the Roger Delgado Master stories, the Master’s plan hinges on creating an alliance with some type of alien power and not thinking through the plot. By the concluding episode, this alliance or plot has gone south and the Master soon finds himself turning to the Doctor and UNIT to help bail him out of a jam of his own creation (I bet he doesn’t read service agreements on web sites either!). On screen, this cliche is easily overlooked simply because Roger Delgado as the Master is simply magnetic in the role (that plus, he’s got his own theme song). On the printed page, it becomes a bit more glaring — especially here when the Master brings an evil, mind sucking alien parasite to Earth but doesn’t bother to consider what could happen if it becomes too powerful or strong for him to control.
I will give the story a bit of credit where the Master is concerned. The plot he’s hatched here is far more elaborate and required a bit more gumption to put into place than many of the half-baked plots the Anthony Ainley Master will use during the ’80’s. The Master has to have months to establish his identity as Emil Keller, set up and use the Keller device and put his plan to steal the nerve gas missile into motion. This is far more complex than just saying, “You know what would be fun? No more Magna Carta!”
The adaptation of this one doesn’t quite capture the original well. The horror of the Doctor facing his greatest fears at the mercy of the Keller device should elicit a greater sense of danger and unease than it does. And when the machine becomes mobile in the second half of the story, it feels like this should ratchet up the drama just a bit. However, it comes across as feeling more like a plot point that Dicks had to hit and tick off. (Again, it could be possible that the incidental music and visuals really help polish over some of the loopholes and script deficiencies).
It all makes for a disappointing adaptation of a story that I see as one of the essential stories of its era.
Richard Franklin’s reading of the novel as an audiobook works well enough. I don’t hold it against Franklin that he’s given a book that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. But while his work on “The Claws of Axos” was an unexpected pleasure, this one doesn’t have quite the same energy level (and this is despite Mike Yates having a fairly significant role in the final three episodes)
If there is one classic series serial that might benefit from a fresh adaptation (as several Target novels have been in the audiobook line), it would be this one.