‘Doctor Who: Mindwarp’ at the BFI

❉ Brian Blessed on the big screen at the BFI – in upscaled HD and surround sound, no less!

At a time when brand new Doctor Who on the screen seems rarer than rocking chair shit, the rolling out of the ‘Classic Series’ Blu Ray releases over the past year or so has become a series of regular events in the Who calendar, from the bespoke trailers with their intoxicating mix of fondly irreverent humour and heart-tugging nostalgia to the unveiling of a mind-boggling, mouth-watering array of new special features ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and redefining the very definition of ‘exhaustive’.

The BFI’s screenings and live Q & As to accompany each of these releases have become one of the range’s highlights, offering fans a chance to experience familiar serials in never-before-seen tweaked and restored quality alongside some cosy, informal chats with cast and content creators chaired by the BFI’s very own Holmesian double act, Dick Fiddy and Justin Johnson.

The particular epistopic interface of the spectrum we had gathered to witness in NFT1 was the extended edits of ‘the Trial of a Time Lord’ Parts 5-8, otherwise known as ‘Mindwarp’, a typical glorious escapade of the Doctor, with a new 5.1 surround mix and re-recorded score.

You have to feel sorry for Season 23, a period of Doctor Who more sinned against than sinning – it’s not a perfect Doctor Who season by any means, hardly the worst, but what’s on-screen has frequently been overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes web of mayhem, intrigue and BBC politics.

As the range’s special features director Chris Chapman recently told DWM, the approach behind this Blu-Ray set has been to redress the balance somewhat, re-emphasising how colourful, camp and fun this season could be; whatever storms were brewing behind the scenes it’s clear from Mindwarp that the whole cast were having a ball, and it’s a great story to show off the production’s strengths, from the prosthetics, makeup & costume to the Paintbox-saturated shore of Thoros Beta and the cavernous catacombs and underground lairs, not to mention the eyeball-searing, none-more ‘80s bold colour scheme: more pink and yellow than an explosion in a rhubarb & custard factory. And that’s before we get on to Brian Blessed’s operatic performance, too large for telly, but perfectly accommodated on the big screen at the BFI – in upscaled HD and surround sound, no less! Varoonik!

One of the joys of Doctor Who is the countless opportunities to revisit and reappraise its stories, and one of the most pleasant surprises of experiencing Mindwarp in front of a live audience was just how FUNNY it is! From a period of the series not exactly known for being a laugh riot, it was quite a startling experience sat in a room with 200 other Doctor Who fans, all laughing uproariously at the same time at the same bits – bits which were actually meant to be funny! The scenes with the elderly Mentor who just wants to be left in peace was a noteworthy comic highlight in a story packed with many, and particularly earthly laughs came from lines that earned an entirely new resonance in 2019 – notably, Peri’s summary of Earth as “Lots of madmen playing at warriors and actors playing over the top in politics”, and Yrcanos sighing, “Everyone has a point, nowadays”, as if he’s just logged off Twitter.

There’s a lot that’s entertaining for all the wrong reasons too, of course, such as its reliance on ham and hokum straight from 1930s matinee serials – but I’m tempted to consider its creaky tropes quite intentional, coming as they do from the pen of Philip Martin, creator of the mind-blowingly postmodern, self-referential Gangsters; and after all, Doctor Who is frequently at its most straightforwardly enjoyable when its roots are showing, and this one is packed to the rafters with Gothic hallmarks; its setting of creepy catacombs, underground lairs, steely-eyed scientists and a ragtag rabble of rebels is essentially one particular strand of ‘ur-Who’ brought into the day-glo ‘80s.

The presentation aspect of the screening was wrapped up with another welcome airing of the Trial-spoofing trailer for the Season 23 Blu-Ray and previews of two new special features, ‘The Doctor Who Cookbook Revisited’, a Masterchef-style challenge based around one of the most unusual Doctor Who tie-ins of the 1980s (narrated by – who else? – Masterchef voiceover queen and Edwardian adventuress India Fisher), and the popular, Doctor-Who-Does-Gogglebox series ‘Behind The Sofa’ alongside a Season 23 blooper reel that proved that, even if the show’s producer and script editor were at loggerheads, cast and crew were at least enjoying themselves during the making of the season!

As is traditional with these events, there were two special Q & A interviews, the first of which was one for the techy-minded audiophiles in the crowd as composer Richard Hartley and the Radiophonic Workshop’s Mark Ayes; with the reconstruction of the original, lost, score recording and the creation of the 5.1 mix explained and discussed in something approaching understandable terms for primitive layman minds.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant’s Q&A caught the pair on particularly good, light-hearted form, even when drawn onto potentially sensitive subjects such as the show’s hiatus and Baker’s subsequent departure, with a well-earned round of applause for Big Finish for the rehabilitation of ‘Old Sixie’ and the pair clearly revelling in the series’ triumphant twenty-first century revival as the ultimate vindication for Grade and Powell’s short-sighted view of the series as something to be consigned to the dumper truck. With this troubled season receiving a loving, extensive restoration, this event was not so much the Trial of a Time Lord as the Vindication of the Sixth Doctor!

❉ Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 23 (BBC Studios) debuts on Monday 7 October 2019.  The title is now available to pre-order from Amazon, HMV and Zoom.

❉ Photos: Gareth Kavanagh.

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