The Matt Signal – Episode 27: Mad as a Hatter

Plot summary: A scientist researching mind control has two obsessions: Alice in Wonderland, and a co-worker… called Alice.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

Notes

Episode Title: ‘Mad as a Hatter’

Original Air Date: October 12th, 1992

Directed: Frank Paur (6)

Written: Paul Dini (4)

Roddy McDowall’s second appearance in the Batman franchise after portraying Bookworm in the Adam West show.

McDowall also played March Hare in a 1985 TV movie of Alice in Wonderland. Synergy!

Recap

Research scientist Jervis Tetch successfully tests a mind-control headband on some rats, forcing them to sit at a tiny table like people. My rats can spin in a circle and give a high five. Well, one of them can. Either way, this cartoon man is just showing off.

Anyway, a woman called Alice (yep) rushes in and warns him to look busy moments before their boss, Dr. Cates, and Bruce Wayne arrive to inspect their work, which Tetch is reluctant to showcase. While Cates is furious, Bruce understands.

Alice offers Tetch some words of comfort and casually mentions her boyfriend, Billy, before heading off to lunch. Jervis scowls and knocks over the framed picture of the couple. Oh, we’re doing an Incel Episode, baby!

Jervis mulls over the difficult moral dilemma of sexually harassing a co-worker, using the rats as sounding boards as he contemplates using his device to MAKE her forget about her boyfriend. Woof.

Luckily for him, fate does him a solid as he overhears Alice sobbing in the break room about Billy dumping her. Ecstatic, Jervis makes plans to ask her out, but thinks she’d say no, so once again eyes up the mind control device…

Alice gets a knock at the door and it’s Jervis dressed in his finest Mad Hatter attire. He declares they’re going out on the town and sure enough she goes to get her coat.

I know what you’re thinking, but he’s not actually mind controlling her, as we soon learn when he sees off a pair of would-be muggers by affixing special cards to their heads, forcing them to obediently go jump in a river.

Batman gets word of two men climbing Gotham Suspension Bridge and manages to intercept them. Sure enough it’s the muggers, who attempt to jump into the river, dragging Bats with them by accident. Luckily Batman is able to safely glide them down, knocking the cards loose in the process and leaving them quite confused about where they are.

Back on Alice and Jervis’ date everything is going swimmingly, with restaurant staff and an Alice in Wonderland theme park security guard treating him like a celebrity. What do all these people have in common? Those little cards attached to their hats of course!

Speaking of which, Bruce examines the card back in the Batcave, with Alfred pointing out the distinct 10/6 design resembles illustrations of the Mad Hatter.

Remembering an Alice in Wonderland poster in the lab of a scientist who works on circuitry that can interface with the brain, Batman begins rubbing his chin contemplatively. Truly he is the World’s Greatest Detective.

Tetch drops Alice home, kissing her hand and dancing away. She dismisses him as a sweet, funny man and heads inside where Billy is waiting with flowers and the pair reconcile and get engaged.

This of course goes down like a tonne of bricks when Jervis learns of it the next day, but he’s nowhere to be seen when Bruce arrives to talk to him. Bruce congratulates Alice on her engagement and by pure coincidence her fiancé phones to break it off. Not suspicious at all.

Poor Alice returns home to a comical array of flowers, with Jervis going so far as to HIDE in amongst them and then spring out to offer his condolences.

Alice rightfully points out he couldn’t possibly know because she didn’t tell anyone, but thankfully the only other person who knew arrives before things get serial-killery, as Batman… *checks notes*… emerges from the shadows?! Jeez.

Jervis isn’t phased by the appearance of the Caped Crusader, summoning a pair of brainwashed lackies dressed as The Walrus & The Carpenter. With sledgehammers. Batman gets the better of them, but Jervis is able to administer a control card to Alice and carry her away during the chaos.

Tracking Jervis to Storybookland, Batman finds himself an unwitting piece on a giant chessboard, fending off a legion of controlled costumed characters. For some reason the brainwashing makes them stronger too, but they’re singularly focused in their task, so once Batman is able to free Billy, he easily removes the cards from the others’, who only have eyes for Bats. Smart.

Retreating further into the park, Jervis traps Batman in a maze of giant playing cards… but he just climbs over them and runs across the top. Also smart.

Confronting Tetch, Batman points out he’s rendered Alice a soulless doll, but Jervis refuses to accept any blame. I for one am shocked. He manages to pin Batman down under one of the giant cards, but our hero spots the huge model Jaberwockee hanging over them and cuts it loose with a batarang and rolls to safety as Tetch is pinned down.

Batman casually removes Jervis’ hat and destroys the mind control band within as Jervis and Billy are reunited. Tetch mutters some Carroll to himself as Batman looms over him.

Best Performance

Listen, Roddy McDowall is a very creepy Mad Hatter, rambling away to himself and quoting Lewis Caroll. They briefly seem to be aiming for a bit of a split personality thing, as he changes his mind on a dime about whether or not to pursue Alice, but they quickly drop it for the full-on whimsical dandy thing. It’s certainly a distinctive voice, a cut above the majority of the villains, and McDowall is extremely game for it.

But I’m inclined to instead give this to the object of his unwanted affections, Kimmy Robertson. It’s certainly possible I have a soft spot for her from her work on Twin Peaks, and Alice is basically a slightly more on-the-ball Lucy, but I think she makes the whole episode work.

There is a certain ick to her being put through so much, but she’s a fun, optimistic character who is just nice to everyone, which acts as a nice breakwater while a psychotic incel and a facist in a bat costume duke it out.

Ranking

In ‘The Clock King’ I talked about the welcome addition of giant deathtraps given the influence the 70s era Batman had on the series, and this episode takes that to new heights thanks to the gorgeous Storybookland set-pieces. Batman is right at home navigating a giant maze, a piece of iconography that has been repeated in the franchise over and over for good reason.

Alice has a surprising amount of agency in an episode about an incel mind controlling people, which was a pleasant surprise as I thought there was no way a 30-year old cartoon could tell that story without being gross. Actually it threatened to still be that but in a very different way, as they made a point of Tetch mind controlling everyone other than Alice until the end, and I was getting worried they were going to tell a story where she liked him after all.

Instead what we have is an episode that quickly and effectively introduces an iconic villain that Batman must overcome intellectually rather than physically in order to rescue a compelling civilian character. It nails all three aspects, with Bruce thinking on his feet to overcome Hatter’s scheme.

The current top five episodes all have a certain special something over this one, but it’s definitely knocking on the door on the strength of what a ‘typical’ Batman episode can be, and I think a lot of that comes from Paul Dini’s loving touch.

  1. Heart of Ice
  2. Two-Face Part I
  3. Joker’s Favor
  4. Feat of Clay Part II
  5. Beware the Gray Ghost
  6. Mad as a Hatter
  7. Vendetta
  8. Appointment In Crime Alley
  9. Feat of Clay Part I
  10. On Leather Wings
  11. Pretty Poison
  12. Two-Face Part II
  13. It’s Never Too Late
  14. See No Evil
  15. The Clock King
  16. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  17. P.O.V.
  18. Christmas with the Joker
  19. Fear of Victory
  20. Be a Clown
  21. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  22. Nothing to Fear
  23. Prophecy of Doom
  24. The Last Laugh
  25. The Under-Dwellers
  26. The Forgotten
  27. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall) (first appearance)

Obviously Jervis Tetch is in a similar wheelhouse to The Joker, warping childish whimsy into something far more sinister, but he has his own distinct energy thanks to the mind control powers, Lewis Carroll obsession and big incel energy.

When pitching Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Grant Morrison envisioned Tetch as somebody who would lure children into public toilets with candy. Obviously that’s a far more grim character treatment, but Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly has an unsettling vibe to it no matter how you slice it, so even in a children’s cartoon a character patterning themselves after and quoting it is unnerving.

Some Batman villains are better suited to sporadic appearances, but much like Scarecrow, Tetch has a longer shelf life thanks to the elaborate otherworldly locations he often drops Batman into in order to battle his costumed henchmen. It changes up the visual palette of the show and puts Batman on his back foot.

Throw in some excellent voice work from McDowall and making sure he’s NOT sympathetic and you have yourself an elite member of the Rogues Gallery who has a chance to climb even higher in future appearances.

  1. Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Clayface
  5. Mad Hatter
  6. Poison Ivy
  7. Catwoman
  8. Clock King
  9. Killer Croc
  10. Rupert Thorne
  11. Lloyd Ventrix
  12. Scarecrow
  13. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  14. Red Claw
  15. Arnold Stromwell
  16. Mad Bomber
  17. Man-Bat
  18. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  19. Harley Quinn
  20. Penguin
  21. Sewer King
  22. Boss Biggis

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues on Monday with Handmaiden.

Kevin Ford’s Flooping the Pig, our Adventure Time podcast, is at last coming to a temporary end this coming Thursday. Another milestone achieved!

Jerome & Brian’s Pantheon Plus begins its Apocalyptic Autumn with Escape from New York this Tuesday.

Speaking of Jerome, he will be bringing you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.

Published by

Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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