The Brain of Morbius

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084 – The Brain of Morbius
Doctor Who serial
Brain of Morbius.jpg
Sarah Jane's eyesight returns while Morbius lurks
Cast
Others
Production
Directed by Christopher Barry
Written by "Robin Bland" (Terrance Dicks rewritten by Robert Holmes)
Script editor Robert Holmes
Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code 4K
Series Season 13
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 3–24 January 1976
Chronology
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Android Invasion The Seeds of Doom
List of Doctor Who serials

The Brain of Morbius is the fifth serial of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 3 January to 24 January 1976. The on-screenwriter credit is given to Robin Bland, a pseudonym for script writer Terrance Dicks and then current Doctor Who script editor Robert Holmes. It is the first serial to feature the Sisterhood of Karn.

Plot summary[edit]

On the planet Karn, an insect-like alien is killed by Condo, a man with a hook for a hand, who takes its head to a castle and his master Solon. However, the head is unsuitable — Solon needs a head from a warm-blooded humanoid.

The TARDIS materialises in the middle of a lightning storm, and the Doctor rushes out, ranting at the Time Lords for diverting him to this planet. Sarah Jane finds the alien's escape pod and sees a valley filled with wrecked spacecraft, as well as the headless body of an alien which the Doctor identifies as a Mutt. She and the Doctor make for a castle she spots. The travellers are welcomed by Solon, complimenting the Doctor on his "magnificent" head.

Meanwhile, the Sisterhood of Karn discover the TARDIS and teleport it to their temple. Their elderly leader, Maren, identifies it as a Time Lord vessel, and believes that the Doctor has come to steal their Elixir of Life.

The Doctor knows of Solon as an authority on microsurgical techniques and tissue transplant. The Doctor recognises a clay bust as that of Morbius, one of Time Lords' greatest criminals. Before he can say anything further, a drug takes effect, and the Doctor passes out. Sarah Jane pretends she has succumbed. In the laboratory, Solon's examination of the Doctor confirms he is a Time Lord. As he and Condo leave the room, the Doctor vanishes. Sarah Jane keeps hidden and enters the lab. She draws back the curtain on a bed, thinking it is the Doctor, but as the lights come up, she sees a headless, patchwork creature made from various body parts.

Morbius, on display at the Doctor Who Experience

The Doctor regains consciousness to find himself surrounded by members of the Sisterhood. The Doctor realises that just before he passed out, he felt the mind of Morbius. Maren refuses to believe him.

Sarah Jane follows Solon and Condo as they make their way towards the temple. They interrupt the ceremony, Solon asking them to spare the Doctor, or at least give him the Doctor's head. A disguised Sarah Jane frees the Doctor, but she is blinded by the energy from Maren's ring, the Doctor assuring her she will recover. Despite Sarah Jane telling him about the headless body, they return to the castle. The Doctor asks Solon to examine Sarah's eyes. Solon tells him that Sarah's retinas have been almost completely destroyed, but there is one chance: the Elixir of Life. The Doctor goes to the Sisterhood.

Elsewhere, Sarah Jane hears a voice calling for Solon. Following the sound, she enters a hidden laboratory and stumbles blindly towards a glowing brain in a tank, which accuses her of being sent by the Sisterhood to destroy it. Solon enters and drags her away. As he closes the door, she hears Solon address the voice as "Morbius" and hears how Solon has sent the Doctor into a trap. She locks Solon in the laboratory and, still blind, makes her way out of the castle.

The Doctor is captured by the Sisterhood. When he explains why he came back, Maren tells him that the ray's effect is not permanent, and Solon knows that. The Doctor believes something evil related to Mobius is happening. Maren affirms that she saw Morbius dispersed. The Doctor asks if Solon was present. Morbius had led an army of mercenaries, promising them the Elixir and immortality and revealing its existence to the cosmos.

Sarah is captured and taken back to the castle. Learning the Doctor is a Time Lord, Morbius fears the Time Lords have tracked him down and will return in force. Morbius insists that he be transferred into the patchwork body now, with an artificial brain casing Solon constructed. Solon protests, as there may be severe pain and seizures, but Morbius insists. Back in the castle, Solon prepares to operate, but Condo is enraged when he recognises his lost arm attached to the patchwork body. He attacks Solon before being shot in the stomach, their struggle knocking Morbius's brain to the floor. Not knowing what damage has been done, Solon places the fallen brain in the casing, releasing Sarah so she can assist in the operation. He threatens her into doing so, saying if Morbius dies, so does she.

The wounded Condo crawls into the hallway as outside, the Sisters carry the Doctor's seemingly dead body through the lightning storm. In the meantime, the operation is finished — within minutes Morbius will live again. Solon goes to answer the door bell, and sees the Sisters leaving the Doctor's body in the parlour. In the laboratory, Sarah's eyesight starts to clear, but the monstrous body of Morbius gets off the operating table and lumbers towards her.

Sarah screams as she sees the Morbius creature, and dodges out of the way. She warns Solon that the creature is loose and he runs back to the laboratory. Sarah notices the Doctor's body, but as she approaches, the Doctor wakes up and smiles at her. He is here to stop Solon, but Sarah tells him it is too late. But Morbius is revealed to not be in his right mind as he knocks Solon out and then the Doctor. Morbius chases Sarah, but Condo intervenes, knocking Sarah down the stairs into the cellar while he grapples with Morbius. However, Morbius is too strong, and kills Condo instead. Morbius wanders out of the castle as the Doctor regains consciousness. He carries Sarah into the secret laboratory to let her recover.

Solon, too, has awakened, and assembles a tranquilliser gun. He tells the Doctor that the operation was not complete, only the motor functions are working, the rest on an instinctual level. Knowing Morbius's hatred, he will seek out the Sisterhood. Sure enough, Morbius finds one of the sisters in some ruins nearby and kills her. The Doctor and Solon find the body and they search the ruins. Morbius attacks the Doctor, but is knocked out by Solon's tranquilliser. As they carry the creature back to the castle, the Doctor tells Solon that Morbius's brain will be detached and returned to the Time Lords.

The body of the dead Sister is brought back to Maren. Ohica reports that witnesses saw a creature and then the Doctor and Solon hunting for it. Maren realises that Solon has succeeded in his experiments and resurrected their ancient enemy. But Maren is too old and weak to leave the shrine, and she gives Ohica permission to lead the Sisters to the castle.

The Doctor gives Solon five minutes to disconnect the brain as he goes and checks on Sarah. However, Solon locks them in the secret laboratory instead and begins to repair Morbius. Using materials from the secret laboratory, the Doctor makes cyanogen gas, which he then pipes through a vent that leads to the operating room above. Though Solon dies from exposure to the gas upon finishing the operation, Morbius's lungs filter out the poison as he goes to confront Sarah and the Doctor — he claims that when the knowledge of his resurrection spreads, his followers will rise in their millions. The Doctor and Sarah mock Morbius in an attempt to overheat his brain, and the Doctor challenges him to a mindbending contest.

They grab hold of the appropriate apparatus in the laboratory and begin. The machine's display begins to show Morbius's brain casing head, then his previous face, then the Doctor, then the Doctor's previous incarnation. After going through the Doctor's previous incarnations, a series of eight other faces are shown before Morbius's brain case shorts out. The Doctor collapses, as Morbius stumbles out in a daze. The sisterhood arrive and chase Morbius over a cliff, and Ohica finds Sarah crying over the Doctor.

Taking the Doctor back to the shrine, Maren says only the Elixir of Life can save him, but there is none left. However, the revived Flame has gathered enough Elixir. There is enough for the Doctor, but not for Maren, who accepts that the Doctor was right: there should be an end. The Elixir is given to the Doctor, who revives almost immediately. Maren steps into the Flame of Life, becoming younger, and then vanishes.

Ohica starts to thank the Doctor, but he stops her, saying that Sarah and he have another engagement. Before they leave, he gives her a pair of curious objects in case they need to relight the Flame again. When Ohica asks what they are, the Doctor answers, "A mighty atom and a thunderflash." He explains that the writing on the cardboard tubes reads: "Light the blue touch paper and stand clear." This time, the TARDIS vanishes in a puff of light and smoke.

Production[edit]

The original script was written by Terrance Dicks, using some ideas from his script of the stage play Doctor Who and the Daleks in the Seven Keys to Doomsday to a requirement from Hinchcliffe for a story about a human/robot relationship. However, after delivery Dicks was out of the country when it was decided that the robot, core to the story, could not be realised under the budget constraints. In excising the character Script editor Robert Holmes had to undertake the substantial rewrites without informing Dicks, who could not be contacted. The robot character was replaced with Solon who required a different motivation—that of a mad scientist. Dicks later said of the decision that it was not original but it was the "only one available". Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Dicks learnt of the changes and angrily phoned Holmes. Since the work was more Holmes than his own, Dicks demanded the removal of his name from the credits saying it could go out under a "bland pseudonym".[1][2] This ended up being the name Robin Bland.[2][3] The episodes were recorded entirely in studios during October 1975.

Cast notes[edit]

Philip Madoc had already appeared in The Krotons and The War Games and would appear afterwards in The Power of Kroll. He also had a role in the film Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD and appeared in the audio plays Master and Return of the Krotons. Colin Fay was a fortunate find for the production team: an opera singer by trade, he was a large man and, as a newcomer to television, cheap to hire.[4] Other cost cutting included hiring only a single professional dancer who was copied in the scenes by actresses who had been chosen because of previous dancing experience.

Faces in the mind-bending sequence[edit]

During the Doctor's mental battle with Morbius, the mind-bending machine displays two images of Morbius, then images of the Doctor's four incarnations as of the serial's production. These are followed by images of eight previously-unseen faces, intended to represent incarnations preceding the First Doctor. The Doctor's previous faces are portrayed by production unit manager George Gallaccio, script editor Robert Holmes, production assistant Graeme Harper, director Douglas Camfield, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production assistant Christopher Baker, writer Robert Banks Stewart, and director Christopher Barry.[5][1] Hinchcliffe stated, "We tried to get famous actors for the faces of the Doctor. But because no one would volunteer, we had to use backroom boys. And it is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor".[6] After a complaint, the BBC paid a sum of money to the actors union Equity benevolent fund.[7]

The season 14 story The Deadly Assassin would introduce the idea that Time Lords are limited to 12 regenerations, with the number being confirmed in the season 18 story The Keeper of Traken. Attempts to retrofit this fact with the number of faces seen in the mind test machine have brought about explanations including the possibility that the faces were Morbius' previous incarnations, younger versions of the First Doctor, or the Doctor's potential future incarnations.[1][8][9] The Virgin Missing Adventure Cold Fusion by Lance Parkin implies that one of these prior Doctors was the incarnation of the Doctor active at the time of the birth of Susan Foreman. However, the subsequent Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow states that Hartnell's Doctor was the first, implying instead that the faces represent incarnations of the Other, one of the founders of Time Lord civilisation, of whom the Doctor is the reincarnation.[10]

Themes and analysis[edit]

It has been suggested that there are many thematic links to Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, and particularly to the James Whale Frankenstein film released by Universal Studios.[8]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Episode Title Run time Original air date UK viewers
(millions) [11]
1 "Part One" 25:25 3 January 1976 (1976-01-03) 9.5
2 "Part Two" 24:46 10 January 1976 (1976-01-10) 9.3
3 "Part Three" 25:07 17 January 1976 (1976-01-17) 10.1
4 "Part Four" 24:18 24 January 1976 (1976-01-24) 10.2

Upon the story's original broadcast, Mary Whitehouse (of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association) complained of the violence displayed; she was quoted saying that The Brain of Morbius "contained some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children's television".[12] At the time the programme was under close scrutiny by the NVALA; complaints centred on the shooting of Condo by Solon with a resulting spurt of blood.[13]

The story was repeated on BBC1 at 5:50 pm on 4 December 1976, edited and condensed into a one-hour-long omnibus episode.[14] This edit—done without the director's participation—was similar (but not exactly the same) to the one used for the 1984 video release.[13] The omnibus repeat was seen by 10.9 million viewers, a higher audience than the original episodic broadcast.[15]

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping wrote of the serial in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), "A superb exploration of gothic themes. Philip Madoc's portrayal of Solon is crucial to the story's success, and the pseudonymous epithet 'bland' is not at all deserved."[16] In The Television Companion (1998), David J Howe and Stephen James Walker praised Madoc as Solon and the sets, and noted that the violence was realistic but adult.[12] Together with Mark Stammers in the Fourth Doctor Handbook they described it as "everything a good piece of drama should be: entertaining, enjoyable, effective and emotional"[13] In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times noted that Solon's insistence that he only use the Doctor's head was "a fundamental lapse in logic", but otherwise said that the serial was "a salivating treat".[17] The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn found some minor problems in the script, but gave a positive review of the story, pointing out how it did not ripoff classic stories but repurposed them.[18] DVD Talk's David Cornelius gave the serial four out of five stars, saying that it "allows for a wide range of storytelling tones without feeling cluttered or uneven" though at points the "silliness" of the Morbius costume threatened to "overtake" the story.[19]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius
Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Mike Little
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
7
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
23 June 1977
ISBN 0-426-11674-7

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in June 1977. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Tom Baker was released on CD in February 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.

Dicks also wrote a second adaptation for younger readers that was published in 1980 as Junior Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius. A French translation of the full novelisation was published in 1987.

Home media[edit]

The serial was released on VHS in a 58min heavily edited omnibus format in July 1984 and complete in episodic form in July 1990.[13][20] The edited version was also released on Betamax, Video 2000, and Laserdisc. The story was released in complete form on DVD on 21 July 2008.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Shannon Patrick Sullivan. "A Brief History of Time (Travel); The Brain of Morbius". Retrieved 2006-04-29. 
  2. ^ a b Gallagher, William (27 March 2012). "Doctor Who's secret history of codenames revealed". Radio Times. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Howe, Walker and Stammers Doctor Who the Handbook: The Fourth Doctor pp 175-176
  4. ^ Howe Stammers Walker p182
  5. ^ How Stammers Walker (1992) p198
  6. ^ Lance Parkin, A History of the Universe pg. 255
  7. ^ Howe, David J., Mark Stammers and Steven James Walker (1992). Doctor Who, The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor. Doctor Who books. ISBN 0-426-20369-0.  p198
  8. ^ a b Howe, David J. & Walker, Steven James (2004). The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Springer. ISBN 1-903889-52-9. 
  9. ^ Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping's "Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide", (Virgin Books, 1995)
  10. ^ Parkin, Lance; Pearson, Lars (12 November 2012). AHistory: an Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe (3rd Edition). Des Moines: Mad Norwegian Press. p. 715. ISBN 978-193523411-1. 
  11. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7. 
  13. ^ a b c d Howe, Stammers, Walker (1992) p201
  14. ^ http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/f0233773ae1e406c8f991a82fafee276
  15. ^ http://guide.doctorwhonews.net/story.php?story=TheBrainofMorbius&detail=broadcast
  16. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Brain of Morbius". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. 
  17. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (28 July 2010). "Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius". Radio Times. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Bahn, Christopher (21 August 2011). "The Brain of Morbius". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  19. ^ Cornelius, David (15 October 2008). "Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius". DVD Talk. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  20. ^ The Brain of Morbius at the Doctor Who Reference Guide

External links[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]