The Mind Robber
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Mind Robber

Author Peter Ling Cover image
Published 1987
ISBN 0 426 20286 4
First Edition Cover David McAllister

Back cover blurb: To escape a catastrophic volcanic erruption the Doctor takes the TARDIS out of space and time - and into a void he can only describe as 'nowhere'. But the crisis is far from over and when the time-machine's circuits overload, the TARDIS explodes. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe come to in a dark unearthly forest. There they encounter a host of characters who seem somehow familiar: a beautiful princess with long flaxen hair, a sea traveller dressed in eighteenth-century clothes, and a white rabbit frantically consulting his pocket watch... What is happening to the three time-travellers? What strange power guides their actions? In the Land of Fiction who can really tell?


The Power of Imagination by Andrew Feryok 9/6/08

'Nothing inside - and nothing outside either," said Jamie slowly. "What does it mean? Where are we? Are we in flight?"
"No, I don't think so." The Doctor scratched his head, pondering the problem. "I did warn you - we're outside time and space and reality... So that's where we are, you see - nowhere."
"But we can't be nowhere - that's impossible -" protested Zoe.
- The TARDIS lands in the white void, The Mind Robber page 12, Chapter 1
By a strange coincidence, I happened to watch the Neverending Story and two versions of Alice in Wonderland while I was reading this book. Coincidence because, like those stories, reality is called into question and the power of a child's imagination is supreme in Peter Ling's remarkable Troughton story. This is, hands down, one of the most bizarre and imaginative stories ever to come out of the series in its entire run to date. It also holds a particular bit of nostalgia for me since it was the first Doctor Who story I ever owned on VHS and I have reached the point where I can practically recite the dialogue from the episodes from memory (particularly the memorable first episode). I therefore entered Ling's adaptation for Target novels with a bit of trepidation. Would over-familiarity with the story cause me to get bored? And, more importantly, would Ling write a script-to-book as Terrance Dicks often did around this time in the publishing history of Target? I am happy to say that not only did he not go down that path, but Ling has produced what I have come to dub a "special edition" version of the story, with numerous additions and embellishments on the original story.

One of the first noticeable changes is the book's start and finish. On television, The Mind Robber was a bit odd, as it starts with a cliffhanger resolution from The Dominators and ends on a cliffhanger that is resolved at the start of The Invasion. Ian Marter adapted both of those stories and wrote the books with those things in mind. However, Ling seems to have decided to make The Mind Robber a standalone story. The adventure opens with the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe taking a vacation to Mount Vesuvius, instead of starting on Dulcius, and has them caught in the path of the volcano there. The story ends with the TARDIS being resurrected and the final sequence in which they talk with the rescued author now takes place inside the console room rather than a misty void and ends with the Doctor taking his ship back into our reality.

There are other numerous changes to the story. For instance, much of the dialogue has been changed, although all the situations are the same and the best lines are still there. The story opens with the Doctor awakening in the forest of words and has him recall the events of episode 1 in the white void as a flashback. This makes for an unusual storytelling structure for the Doctor Who books, which tend to go in a very linear fashion. We get to see the engine room of the TARDIS, which resembles the engine room of an old-fashioned ocean liner; Jamie and Zoe now merge with and become their white clad selves in the white void; Zoe is tempted by an image of her mother; and, when the TARDIS breaks up, the Doctor is seen floating into the misty void in his chair, while Zoe falls off the console after him. Some more changes include Zoe briefly transforming into Alice from Alice in Wonderland before falling into the pit in the forest of words; the Master refers to the school children as "interrogators"; and the Doctor puts Jamie's face together before he solves the "picture writing" puzzle. There is a new sequence, just before they meet the unicorn, where the Doctor and friends have to solve a crossword puzzle before a firing squad; the house leading the labyrinth is now the house from Charles Dickens Great Expectations; Jamie has his conversation with Rapunzel while dangling from the windowsill of the tower; the Doctor and Zoe cross a lake on a boat in order to reach the Medusa; the Karkus is now green and has comic-book bubbles appear displaying his dialogue and actions; and the Master Brains' control room is now located in the center of a massive library, instead of an alien control room. And that is just for starters!

Ling goes out of his way to distinguish between the Master of the Land of Fiction and the Doctor's arch enemy, the Master. I guess enough fans had wondered about this reference over the years, not to mention that readers familiar with the later series would have been puzzled by the constant references to "the Master" that this is very appropriate. I also noticed that while the author describes Jamie and Zoe, at no point does he ever describe the Doctor! I guess he assumed that when people saw the companions they would know which Doctor he was referring to. However, despite never describing him, the Doctor comes across vividly in his actions and dialogue, and it was very easy to fill in the physical appearance in my head.

The story itself is highly imaginative and bizarre. Ling does a superb job of bringing out the atmosphere of the story and makes it even creepier than what we saw on the screen. There is a nightmarish quality to the story that never lets up, and the reader has the sense that not only can anything happen at any time, but that there is absolutely no escape for the time travelers, even after they discover exactly what is going on at the end. You also get a nice sense of an adventure unfolding as the story moves on. At the start, the story seems to be a random collection of tests and characters set out to torment the time travelers in an amorphous world of imagination. But, as the quest to find the Master unfolds, a purpose is established, the environments become more stable, and they begin to befriend some of the inhabitants, especially the memorable Gulliver, who comes across very well in the book.

On the whole, this is a fantastic story. I was expecting a straight adaptation and was surprised to get a book that was much more imaginative, expansive, and exciting to read. My over-familiarity was gone in a flash and I found myself reliving the excitement and wonder of watching this story for the first time. Easily one of my favorite Troughton stories. I am so glad that this story has survived to this day. If you are a fan of this story, definitely check out Ling's adaptation. 10/10