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Absorbed in fiction: Doctor Who’s ‘The Mind Robber’

Andrew O’Day 

Peter Ling’s Doctor Who narrative ‘The Mind Robber’ (1968) is a very clear example of metafiction. On one level, it reflects on the Doctor Who viewer’s generally experiencing mystery. The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie, and Zoe arrive in a world (although not in the TARDIS) which is eventually revealed to be a Land of Fiction and venture through labyrinths of language populated by characters from literary fiction. As David Darlington and Alistair McGown note, the second episode of ‘The Mind Robber’, the first set within the Land of Fiction, ‘is required to provide all the introduction and exploration which’ script editor ‘Derrick Sherwin…did not provide’ in his first episode (2000: 29), and, since then, Alan Barnes (2009) has provided a fairly extensive examination of this wood of allusion, which ultimately provides the main protagonists and the television viewer with anchorage as to where the narrative is set. Furthermore, the true nature of the Master of the Land of Fiction is at first veiled from both characters and from the television viewer as reader, with shots presented from behind a mysterious figure in the darkly lit control room, but his identity is finally revealed. Ultimately, the Doctor battles the Master of this land for narrative control and order is re-established. However, on another level, ‘The Mind Robber’ playfully dramatises the notion that readers and viewers are capable of becoming lost in fictional narratives (to the extent of thinking about them all the time), an idea not commented on by Barnes (2009), or, before him, by Trevor Wayne (undated), or by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker (1998). 

      Much work has been done on the ways in which the cinema spectator can become immersed in films. These ideas draw partly on Sigmund Freud’s discussion of ‘the pleasure principle’ and ‘the reality principle’ which, unsurprisingly, is expressed in relation to a heterosexual model of sexuality (that which the child desires and that which is suppressed: for instance, in the case of the male child, the mother, substituted, in reality, with another member of the opposite sex). For Freud, dreams symbolise both the conscious, and unconscious, desires of ‘the pleasure principle’. For Christian Metz, attending the cinema is born out of desire (1975: 7). As Sandy Flitterman-Lewis notes, French post-Freudians Jean Laplanche and J-B Pontalis argued that we organise our unconscious ideas into imaginary scenarios in which our deepest desires are dramatised and Flitterman-Lewis explains that when we watch a film it is as though we are ‘dreaming it’, with ‘our desires’ working ‘in tandem with those who generated the film’ (1992: 211).  

      Flitterman-Lewis (1992: 211) proceeds to describe how ‘the pleasure principle’ is produced in the cinema by what Jean-Louis Baudry (1976) calls ‘the cinematic apparatus’ consisting of ‘the technical base’ (film equipment such as the projector), the conditions of the cinema, the film itself, and the ‘mental machinery of spectatorship…that constitutes the viewer as a desiring subject’. For example, psychoanalytic theory explains that the conditions of watching films at the cinema, not only means that films are watched with a gaze, but also are akin to dreaming: the darkened room cloaking distracting elements (Flitterman-Lewis 1992: 212); the enormous screen, distanced from the viewer spatially, providing the sense that the screen image is beyond our reach and therefore lending the film an aura of fascination (Flitterman-Lewis 1992: 218); and the physical stasis of the viewer, therefore heightening visual perception (Flitterman-Lewis 1992: 212).  

      This experience of our dreaming a film and experiencing our deepest desires is strengthened by the connection between Jacques Lacan’s theories and film theory. Flitterman-Lewis, for example, draws on Lacan’s theories of the ‘Mirror Stage’ of a person’s life (from roughly the age of six to eighteen months old) stating that ‘Just as the infant sees in the mirror an ideal image of itself, the film viewer sees on the movie screen larger-than-life, idealised characters with whom s/he is encouraged to identify’ (1992: 214). According to Flitterman-Lewis, ‘Film theory has been quick to appreciate the correspondence between the infant in front of the “mirror” and the spectator in front of the screen, both being fascinated by and identifying with an imaged ideal that is viewed from a distance’ (1992: 214). She writes, ‘The film viewer’s fictional participation in the unfolding of events is made possible by’ the ‘first experience of the subject; that early moment…when the…infant begins to distinguish objects as different’ (1992: 214). Furthermore, Lacan termed the next stage in a human being’s life as ‘the imaginary order’ which continued into adulthood where people seek further images of themselves in others in order to define themselves, and can become absorbed in these further images.  

      The film texts themselves are important in absorbing spectators. As a rule, films work to hide their construction. The majority of films are made according to the rules of, what has become known as, ‘the continuity system’. Rules of the continuity system include consistency in mise-en-scčne (for example, settings, weather and lighting); that camera shots follow what is known as the 180 degree rule where the camera should stay on one side of the action to ensure consistent left-right spatial relations between characters from shot to shot; and that characters are presented leaving one scene before arriving in another as opposed to there being jump-cuts between scenes. Conversely though, there are those films such as the Soviet montage films of the 1920s which contrast with ‘the continuity system’ by emphasising their construction. The most notable Soviet montage director was Sergei Eisenstein, who wrote about his theory of montage in relation to theatre in a 1923 essay ‘The Montage of Attractions’. In films such asStrike (1925), Eisenstein aimed to shock the viewer through ‘intellectual montage’ - the juxtaposition of colliding images - where Shot A + an often metaphoric Shot B = a new meaning. Eisenstein did this so that the viewer would not become absorbed in his films but instead would think about the political and social issues being presented. Meanwhile, another Soviet montage director Dziga Vertov emphasised the construction of his film Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by presenting the cameraman and his audience within the film, and by using devices such as the freeze-frame to show how film could be manipulated. But these films are the exception as opposed to the rule of narrative cinema which usually works to hide its construction. Furthermore, as Flitterman-Lewis notes, in the majority of films a combination of techniques are used to makes the viewer feel as though he or she is actually in on the action. For example, there is a ‘“suturing” (sewing together) of looks’. This is achieved through shot/reverse-shots which give the impression that the cinema viewer is ‘looking over the shoulder or from the position of one character’; and there are point of view shots where the cinema viewer’s look indeed ‘becomes that of a particular character’ (1992: 223). 

      Flitterman-Lewis, however, argues that the experience of watching television is rather different to that of watching a film. For example, the characteristic mode of watching television is with the glance as opposed to with the gaze of cinema; television is a smaller object which does not demand the same type of attention; television is viewed in the home meaning that viewers can get up and return, do other things while watching, and talk to other people; and the lights are more likely to be on meaning that there is not the same hypnotic fascination that accompanies viewing a film at the cinema (Flitterman Lewis 1992: 217).  

      Flitterman-Lewis (1992) also examines this issue of whether viewers become immersed in programmes in relation to the ways in which television programmes are organised. For example, Flitterman-Lewis points out that ‘The stories commercial television tells us are constantly interrupted by advertisements, station identifications and promos, and the like’ (1992: 217). Flitterman-Lewis’s point certainly suggests that the viewer can experience television in a different way from film, which also depends on the type of television being watched (commercial or non-commercial television).  

      However, it is easy to see how viewers may become absorbed - and lost - in television fictions, since critics, like John Corner (1993), Graeme Burton (2000), Bernadette Casey et al (2002), and Jonathan Bignell (2003) have written about how television narratives are a principal source of pleasure. Claims, by, for example, John Ellis (1982) that the conditions of watching television do not involve the same involvement as watching films at the cinema are being negated. Even in the days of television when the programme Doctor Who, examined here, was first broadcast, there were criticisms that television cut off social interaction. People can indeed leave the central family living room of social interaction to watch the television set in seclusion and in the dark. The television set can be hooked up to a video recorder, contained in the bedroom, even though the screen is not nearly as large as that in the cinema. As Bignell notes, in Britain ‘more than half of all households have more than one TV set’ (2002: 133), lending support to this notion. The darkness of the room also literally blurs the boundary between the home and the events taking place within the television frame.


      For television is experienced differently by different people. Jeremy Tunstall (1983: 135) distinguishes between primary, secondary and tertiary involvement with media, ranging from one paying only momentary attention to the television set, being engaged in another activity (‘tertiary’); to paying attention some of the time, listening to the sound, while pre-occupied (‘secondary’); to giving the television one’s full attention (‘primary’). Television is experienced differently by different people.  

      This idea of the viewer possibly becoming lost in fiction will now be focused on with specific reference to the ‘classic’ series of Doctor Who. Television’s ongoing form of the series can partly explain viewers becoming absorbed - and even lost - in fiction. Although true of many viewers, Tunstall’s (1983) notion of ‘primary involvement’ in watching television, is especially true of ‘fan’ viewings and programmes such as Doctor Who. From beginning to end, the ‘classic’ series of Doctor Who was a series of serials, which helped generate loyal viewers over time who, through familiarity, became attached to the series. They made a conscious selection of a specific programme that was viewed faithfully from week to week, and were engaged in, what Bob Mullan calls, ‘ritualised viewing’ (1997: 65). In this way, television form was important to the idea of viewers becoming absorbed in fiction in a way not seen in the majority of cases in film, composed largely of single narratives. But Flitterman-Lewis neglects to mention this. Indeed, fans typically watch Doctor Who narratives repeatedly, and do not all step back from the programme and read it analytically. Doctor Who was, furthermore, broadcast on non-commercial television (BBC1) where there were not breaks in the midst of episodes, indicating how Flitterman-Lewis’ points relating to television viewing practices are generalised and how viewers canbecome absorbed in television narratives. Furthermore, Roland Barthes’ (2000) notion of the hermeneutic code functioned in Doctor Who where characters and the television viewer gradually unravelled a mystery, and where the television form of the series of serials could also cause viewers to become lost in fiction. Here, episode endings are just certain moments of dramatic intensity, and are, as John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado note, ‘suspended enigmas’ (1983: xi). Therefore, between episodes of the programme, viewers could have become lost in thoughts of ‘what will happen next’.   

      Genres like science fiction and fantasy are described as ‘escapist’  (see, for example, Holland 2000: 113) since they take the reader of a book or viewer of a film or television programme from their world into a changed or new one. Key theorist Darko Suvin (1979), for example, applied G. Spenser Brown’s quote from Laws of Form (1969) to science fiction, that ‘a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides’ (1979: 32). This quote ties in neatly with Suvin’s argument that science fiction relies on cognitive estrangement, where a ‘novum’ is presented, ‘an important difference’ that may be a new scientific invention, characters, or an entire scene, ‘superadded to or infused into the author’s empirically “known”…world…; or, more usefully’ seen as ‘an important deviation from the author’s norm of reality’ (1979: 36-7). But, as Suvin noted, ‘the validation of the novelty by scientifically methodical cognition into which the reader is inexorably led is the sufficient condition for SF’ as ‘it is not sufficient to say that the narrative world of SF is “at least somewhat different from our own”…for magic too is an organised body of knowledge, and a fairy tale is often more at variance with the author’s empirical world than SF’ (1979: 36-7). Suvin, however, argued that science fiction does not have to rely on hard science, but only on the extrapolation of scientific ideas which may derive from, for example, anthropology, sociology or linguistics rather than physics (1979: 38). It is best to see science fiction and fantasy as defined by repeated sets of conventions, as critics like Brian Stableford (1987) and Carl Freedman (2000) have done, who have argued that science fiction need only give the appearance of plausible science, therefore arguing against the use of the term ‘science fantasy’.  

      It is the notion of Realism, where Doctor Who narratives treat characters and situations within the programme’s own set of rules, which can cause viewers to become lost in the programme. This fits in with Catherine Johnson’s (2005) discussion of the issue of verisimilitude in her book on telefantasy, where she drew on the work of theorist Steve Neale (2000) who, writing about film, argues that genre invokes a system of expectations in viewers about the type of film they are watching. According to Johnson, Neale argued for two types of verisimilitude, generic verisimilitude and socio-cultural verisimilitude: 

    Generic verisimilitude corresponds to what is accepted as plausible or likely within the expectations of a particular genre. For example, it is accepted for a character to burst into song in a musical, or for an alien to land on Earth in a science-fiction film, while these events would seem implausible in a gangster film. Generic verisimilitude is constructed through the relationship between producer, text and viewer, and between texts that employ conventions of that genre…Socio-cultural verisimilitude does not equate directly with truth or reality, but with broader culturally constructed and generally accepted notions of what is believed to be true…These genres construct fictional worlds that do not correspond to the norms, rules and laws of everyday knowledge (2005: 4)  

So, for Johnson, approaching narratives from the perspective of generic verisimilitude means that texts are classed, for example, as science fiction in relation to other texts, as opposed to whether their science seems plausible in the real world. This negates ideas of science fantasy as noted above. Johnson also makes clear that these conventions can change over time (2005: 4). So in science fiction one would expect to find motifs such as time travel and alien beings invading Earth, even though the presentation of these elements will vary from text to text. It is this generic verisimilitude which causes viewers to automatically, what is commonly called, ‘suspend their disbelief’, and can cause viewers to become absorbed and even lost in the narrative world. During the ‘classic’ Doctor Who series, the Doctor may spout scientific gibberish but he is always convinced by what he is saying, which follows the rules of the genre, and he is always treated as a ‘real’ character within the narratives. Conversely, ‘socio-cultural verisimilitude’ relates to what lies in the real world. So, as Johnson notes, ‘while some believe in alien abductions, there is a broader cultural consensus that aliens do not visit Earth’ (2005: 4). Johnson writes that ‘What is plausible within a science fiction programme (and other non-verisimilitudinous genres) therefore conflicts with accepted notions of reality’ (2005: 4). But Johnson does note that socio-cultural verisimilitude is historically contingent since we do not know, for instance, what space travel will look like in the twenty-third century (2000: 4). However, Johnson also stresses that these genres do often depend on socio-cultural verisimilitude to make their worlds believable. Johnson writes:  

    when depicting an alien landing on Earth, socio-cultural verisimilitude is essential to make the Earth seem plausible and believable despite the presence of an alien being. While these genres may represent fictional worlds that challenge culturally accepted notions of “reality”, they are also crucially engaged with explaining the rules that govern their particular fictional world (2005: 4) 

      Indeed, in Doctor Who, the familiar - what Freud calls the Heimlich - is often turned into the threatening (the unheimlich), which can absorb and even lose the viewer in fiction. For example, monsters were presented at famous landmarks in narratives of the 1960s. In ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ (1964), ‘The Web of Fear’ (1968) and ‘The Invasion’ (1968) respectively, Daleks, invading Earth of the future, glide over Westminster Bridge, and Yeti are presented roaming through the dark tunnels of the London Underground, while Cybermen march down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the empirical present (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983: 105). Indeed, Jon Pertwee once said that a ‘‘Yeti on the toilet seat in Tooting Bec’ is more frightening than in its native Himalayas’ (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983: 105). Furthermore, although not plausible, the early 1970s, when Jon Pertwee played a Doctor exiled to Earth, saw such horror in Doctor Who, where the familiar was made threatening. In ‘Terror of the Autons’ (1971), plastic phone wires and dolls, controlled by aliens, can strangle people, and this led to complaints (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983: 158-9). The fact that some child viewers were scared by this indicates how some members of the audience actually confused fiction and reality. 

      Doctor Who indeed mixed science fiction with different genres and also scared and absorbed viewers through its mixing of science fiction with the gothic, especially in the mid-1970s when Philip Hinchcliffe was producer, when Robert Holmes was script-editor, and when Tom Baker had taken over from Jon Pertwee in playing the Doctor. Widely seen as beginning with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), the gothic is primarily defined by a series of conventions (e.g. the setting of the sinister old, often decaying, gothic house, castle, or monastery; monstrous beings arising from tombs; characters mentally and physically possessed; and the heroine menaced by the villain in dark underground passages), and dealt with themes such as, in the nineteenth century, the place of women in society, and the fear of a barbaric gothic past but equal uncertainty about the ushering in of a new age of science of the Enlightenment. Indeed, Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) has also been viewed by Brian Aldiss (2001) as the first work of science fiction. But the blending of the science fiction and gothic genres has an emotional effect on many readers or viewers, creating an experience of uncertainty and terror. Because of the gothic’s emphasis on a haunting atmosphere, it was also an appropriate genre to be mixed with science fiction in film and television. Bignell argues that since the novel and cinema are both narrative media, it is hardly surprising that the visual media have adapted novels, and that these media are able to render as though real ghosts, vampires, and transformations of the body (2000: 115). Bignell states that ‘perhaps the source of the power of the Gothic’ in ‘adaptations in film and TV’ is ‘the accumulation of startling moments of’ visual ‘intense experience’ (2000: 116). For example, cinema and television can present alien figures rising from tombs; they can present vampires attacking human beings, sometimes, as in the film Nosferatu (1922), using techniques such as showing the shadow of the creature on a wall to create a sense of horror; they can present heroines facing fears in dark, long, subterranean passageways, a trademark of horror films; and they can present characters physically possessed. Direction was therefore important to the gothic and indeed to the Doctor Who gothic in absorbing viewers to the extent that some might have become lost in the fictional world. 

      A further point has also been raised here which is that, in the case of Doctor Who, in addition to performance, elements of mise-en-scčne, as well as incidental music, contribute to audiences becoming absorbed - and maybe even lost - in the programme. These elements of mise-en-scčne, which help create other worlds or changed versions of our own, include camera work, set design, costume design, and lighting, and in some cases may be more effective in creating the illusion of a strange place than in others. Audiences may therefore have been more absorbed in some narratives than others.


      Furthermore, identification with characters has been discussed in relation to literary texts and these ideas can be applied to the study of television viewing and Doctor Who. Hans Robert Jauss (1982) provides a classification of various forms of identification between readers and characters. Jauss maps out five types of identification. Firstly, according to Jauss, there is ‘admiring identification’. This is where the reader identifies with an ideal leading protagonist who is more or less invincible and/or invulnerable. The other categories of identification which Jauss maps out in relation to literary texts are ‘sympathetic identification’ where a more everyday person is presented, suffering and struggling with problems with which the reader is familiar and with which the reader can identify; ‘cathartic identification’ where the reader identifies with a character like him or herself, but one who undergoes trials; ‘ironic identification’ where readers are led to expect identification but where this is ultimately denied; and ‘associative identification’, where the difference between characters and readers is non-existent. So, for example, in the case of soap operas, viewers may experience ‘sympathetic identification’, and in the case of Doctor Who, ‘cathartic identification’ where the companion, new to the Doctor’s world, undergoes trials, making the viewer absorbed. Furthermore, as Bignell has noted (2007), child viewers may also desire the Doctor’s rationality and control, at the same time as identifying with the Daleks ‘otherness’. 

      ‘The Mind Robber’ reflects on this idea of becoming lost in fiction quite explicitly. The narrative does this by taking fictionality as a theme, in keeping with Patricia Waugh’s (1984) and Mark Currie’s (1995) classification of a type of metafiction. It features the binaries of hero and monster, elements from children’s fiction and classical mythology, reworked later in a narrative like ‘The Horns of Nimon’ (1979), and the presence of the gothic genre. It can be read as reflecting upon the way that some viewers watch Doctor Who (and indeed television more generally), metaphorically leaving the comfort of home and travelling with characters into foreign spheres. The boundaries between reality and fiction become blurred. This is achieved by the move into a fantasy locale, since, as noted above, Suvin wrote that ‘a fairy tale is often more at variance with the author’s empirical world than SF’ (1979: 36-7). 

      ‘The Mind Robber’ does not begin in medias res but rather with the regular Doctor Who characters, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, who, as per the programme’s rules, are treated as ‘real’ within the narrative, being brought across a generic threshold from the characters’ home ‘reality’ of normal Time and Space into an unknown, foreign Land of Fiction populated by fictional characters in which to believe. Unlike the rest of the narrative written by Peter Ling, the first episode was penned by then script-editor Derrick Sherwin since there was a practical requirement for this episode to be made on a limited budget, but it illustrates this move. The strange white void is a threshold to the Land of Fiction. The images of Jamie and Zoe’s homes which appear on the TARDIS scanner are illusory. These images have been projected there by the Master of the Land of Fiction who, as the gatekeeper figure moving the narrative on, actually wishes to draw the characters away from home. Similarly, the Master, whose voice can be heard inside the Doctor’s head, attempts to lure him from the safety of the TARDIS, his home, into the white void, bringing regular characters through a boundary into a space which will lead into the world of literary characters. The Doctor’s TARDIS later literally breaks up, illustrating the breaking up of the normal. The protagonists arrive in an environment featuring figures and laws of fiction, conjured up by an author-like figure who had previously been the writer of a children’s comic The Ensign. The rest of the narrative involves the Doctor and his companions seeking this figure since they want to make their way back home, mirroring Dorothy’s quest in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. 

      Not only does the narrative concern the imagination of the writer figure brought from ‘reality’, but it also deals with the effect of fiction on the imagination of reader figures also from ‘reality’. Not only is the theme of imprisonment present where the Master of the land is bound to a computer, but the theme of imprisonment is also apparent where the regular characters, readers of this world, must ensure that they are not imprisoned by their imaginations and belief in fictions. The land is a Land of Fiction for which the library inside the Master’s citadel stands as a symbol. The forest tree tops are literally shaped as letters arranged to form words, with trees growing not on soil but standing on a smooth white floor, and characters from fictions roaming around, including toy soldiers of the type found in Peter Ilystch Tchaikovsky’s fantasy ballet The Nutcracker Suite (1892), based on a narrative by E. T. A. Hoffmann. These figures are placed as traps for the Doctor and his companions to believe in. These characters from children’s literature come to life in front of the Doctor and his companions, and, as noted above, in a case (that of Lemuel Gulliver) speak the words from the original texts. Elements of other genres seep in such as the gothic lair of the Minotaur, as well as the Medusa. This is a land where anything is possible: at one stage, picture writing of the type found in the children’s book Mother Goose informs the Doctor that Jamie is ‘safe and well’ with a wishing well like that in the 1937 Walt Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs being present, to which the Doctor voices the paradox ‘I wish I believed in wishing wells’. When the Doctor and his companions believe in what they see, they actually become fiction, such as cardboard cut-outs like Jamie, whose face must be put back together using puzzle pieces. But when they refuse to believe in the fictional narratives, the figures, like the unicorn from Jamie’s dream and thus imagination (which features in the children’s nursery rhyme The Lion and the Unicorn), become frozen works of artifice.  

      This landscape has been created out of the Master’s mind, hence the title ‘The Mind Robber’. Therefore, not only is the Master of the Land of Fiction (like the Wizard in Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz) a controlled character, with vocal characteristics of a friendly old gentleman, who has been brought to this sphere, but also an author-like figure, with mechanical vocal characteristics, who engineers situations. But the Doctor and his companions are both characters and readers. As noted earlier, the Doctor ultimately becomes author-like taking control of the situation and engineering events, as opposed to believing in the fictional characters in the sphere. This suggests that one must control, rather than be controlled, by fictional narratives. The television viewer like the Doctor’s companions must take heed of the Doctor’s instruction of the need to hang onto reality. However, although the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe are treated as ‘real’ within the narrative there are winks to the television viewer that they too are fictional characters within Doctor Who: when the Doctor incorrectly puts Jamie’s face back together, a new actor Hamish Wilson plays Jamie for an episode and a half (out of necessity as Frazer Hines had come down with chicken-pox), and the Master of the land later says of Jamie and Zoe, ‘They’re just fictional characters’, which is, of course, true. But the notion of needing to hang onto reality is expressed and the Land of Fiction is a very general title: it reflects on many fictions including Doctor Who.  

      On the one hand, then, ‘The Mind Robber’, from the programme’s sixth season, may appear to be a very unrepresentative example of Doctor Who, which was even more bizarre than other metafictions like ‘Carnival of Monsters’ (1973). In a chapter appropriately titled ‘Far Out’ in his book Doctor Who – From A to Z, Gary Gillatt, for example, states that ‘The Mind Robber’ is ‘an out-and-out fantasy’ and ‘something of a break from the norm for the Patrick Troughton years’ (1988: 41) which centred around monsters. Such ‘bizarre’ narratives, as ‘The Mind Robber’, are, for Gillatt, ‘a delight’ (1998: 45). Gillatt is here echoing other views of the narrative by fans such as Wayne (undated), and Howe and Walker, who note that ‘Doctor Who, with its highly flexible format, was able from time to time to present a story that could be considered “experimental”’ and that ‘The Mind Robber is a good example of this’ (1998: 157). Audience reaction to ‘The Mind Robber’ at the time, however, was less than satisfactory, but with this also indicating its departure from the usual type of Doctor Who narrative of the day. The BBC’s Audience Research Report states of episode one that ‘It seemed that this episode only served to confirm the growing feeling that the element of fantasy in Doctor Who was getting out of hand’ (Howe and Walker 1998: 158). For many adults watching with children, Doctor Who ‘had now deteriorated into ridiculous rubbish which could no longer be dignified with the term science-fiction’ (Howe and Walker 1998: 158). Just under a third of the sample were reported to have considered the narrative ‘an enjoyable fantasy’ (Howe and Walker 1998: 158). Although ‘The Mind Robber’s scenario is ultimately explained and placed within the domain of science-fiction, Gillatt and Howe and Walker group ‘The Mind Robber’ with earlier experimental Doctor Who narratives starring William Hartnell: ‘Inside the Spaceship’ (1964), only the programme’s third narrative, and ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ (1966) respectively. However, while ‘The Mind Robber’ is quite clearly experimental, it is also a postmodernist narrative reflecting playfully on the way in which we may read or watch fiction including Doctor Who, and as it displays this awareness it can be seen as representative of a whole body of fiction. This article has explored the way in which viewers may have become absorbed and even lost in the ‘classic’ Doctor Who series. Were we to look at this idea in relation to the BBC Wales Doctor Who (2005-), we would have to consider issues such as the way some episodes begin in medias res, thrusting viewers into the action, and the way in which Murray Gold’s music is even more pronounced, absorbing the audience emotionally in a sometimes melodramatic series, and maybe losing them in fiction.  


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Text © Andrew O'Day and used with his kind permission. This page was compiled by Tim Harris.

This page was first published to the internet Sunday 31st October 2010.