Aired 4 – 25 October 1986
After a somewhat flawed but appreciated attempt at returning to the stylings of bygone Doctor Who eras to begin The Trial of a Time Lord, ‘Mindwarp’ firmly returns to the present state of conditions to offer a distinct contrast in its continuing support of and investigation into the dealings and persona of the Sixth Doctor. With several of Colin Baker’s opening stories hardly regarded as classics and the writing for his character in particular often called into question, ‘Mindwarp’- almost by definition- becomes the single most important story in this season-long arc, proving the benefits and dodging the negative pressure that could result from such a drastic tonal change.
With that rather hefty burden on its shoulders, ‘Mindwarp’ presents an intriguing story that certainly supports the case that the darker and more violent tone is not intrinsically doomed for failure, but it fails to live up to the overall quality of the previous season’s two classics, ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Revelation of the Daleks.’ Indeed, the single biggest flaw with the story is that it remains equivocal in its portrayal of the Doctor simply by virtue of being linked to The Trial of a Time Lord arc. It has previously been established that the Matrix from which these events are replayed has been tampered with, and the Doctor claims that events have been edited to make him seem much more callous and condescending than he truly was. Accordingly, and even without the ultimate knowledge of how events truly played out as revealed in ‘The Ultimate Foe,’ the audiences both in the courtroom and at home are never quite sure where supposed fact and fiction collide, and the evidence on display is certainly some of the most unflattering characterization the Doctor in any incarnation has ever suffered. His seeming willingness to torture Peri and casual disregard of the trauma she suffered at the hands of Sil previously are terrible, but certain aspects do ring true nonetheless, creating a haze of confusion surrounding the Doctor as his shown actions and verbal protests take disparate paths.
Strangely, though, it’s the Sixth Doctor’s excessive pride that keep the trial going despite the Inquisitor offering him the chance to recuse himself due to his heightened emotional and current mental states. This incarnation is certainly the most overtly flawed, and it makes sense that the Time Lords would choose the Sixth Doctor to put on trial, but the Doctor is rarely able to offer any meaningful defense for himself, instead suffering more as his bluster, arrogance, stubbornness, and pride take precedence. With the again-victimized Peri apparently suffering the ultimate fate after the Doctor is rightfully accused of not always taking into consideration the danger into which he places his companions, ‘Mindwarp’ by itself is quite probably the single episode that most tears apart the true character of the Doctor. Peri’s fate portrayed here is at least somewhat consistent with the brutal path she had taken alongside the Sixth Doctor that frequently put her into dangerous and objectified situations, but it’s obviously difficult- if not impossible- for the show to offer any support for the Doctor’s actions and inactions as a result.
With an intriguing anti-capitalist slant, engrossing guest stars, and fairly strong special effects, ‘Mindwarp’ does have quite a bit going for it when the Doctor’s questionable actions are taken out of the equation. However, it also quite poignantly acknowledges how badly things result when the Doctor is actually taken out of the action as he is here. As a result, ‘Mindwarp’ is one of the more fascinating Doctor Who serials, but it’s difficult to support it as the staunch defense of the current style and format that it so desperately needed to be. While the Inquisitor’s protestations against violence would have been more suited here than in ‘The Mysterious Planet,’ ‘Mindwarp’ is very much a product of its era for better or for worse.