Thursday, 3 October 2013

Story 84 - The Brain of Morbius

In which the Time Lords divert the TARDIS to the storm-lashed planet of Karn, and the Doctor is not very happy about it... The Doctor recognises this planet, as it is in the same region of space as Gallifrey (the constellation of Kasterborous). It was on this planet that the rebel Time Lord Morbius was finally defeated and executed.
Exploring, they see the wrecks of a number of crashed spaceships. By an escape module they discover the headless corpse of a Solonian Mutant. They make their way to a tower, which is home to an Earth scientist named Mehendri Solon, and his manservant Condo. Solon has a clay bust of Morbius' head, which the Doctor recognises just before he passes out - his wine having been drugged. Sarah hasn't drunk any, and feigns unconsciousness. Solon has Condo take the Doctor to his laboratory.
Karn is also home to the Sisterhood of the Flame. This all female sect are uneasy allies of the Time Lords. They worship a flame which emanates from a rock in their temple. It produces an elixir that can greatly prolong life. Time Lords sometimes employ it when a regeneration goes wrong. The flame is now dying, and there is very little elixir left. The leader of the Sisterhood, Maren, suspects that the Doctor has come to steal what remains. First, she has the TARDIS transported to the temple - and then the unconscious Doctor. Looking for him, Sarah enters the laboratory and discovers that Solon has created a headless monstrosity from diverse body parts.

Realising what has happened, Solon sends Condo to get the Doctor back from the Sisterhood - or at least his head. Sarah goes to the temple and rescues him from being burnt at the stake. On escaping, Sarah is blinded by the light from Maren's ring. Solon claims this can only be cured with the elixir - a ruse to get the Doctor to return to the temple and be captured. Solon was a secret follower of Morbius. He was able to remove the Time Lord's brain before his execution. It is kept in a tank of nutrients in a chamber beneath his home. On learning that another Time Lord is on Karn, Morbius insists that Solon place his brain in the new body immediately. Solon must use a temporary artificial cranium. Sarah's sight is restored just as Morbius returns to life. Solon has been forced to shoot Condo - after the servant discovered that the new arm promised to him has been used in the composite body. Morbius then kills the wounded servant, as well as one of the Sisterhood. The Doctor is able to convince Maren that they should be allies.

The Doctor and Solon hunt Morbius down and sedate him. The Doctor insists the body be dismantled and the brain destroyed. Solon instead tries to perfect the temporary brain casing. Locked in the basement, the Doctor and Sarah use toxic gas through the ventilation system to kill Solon. Morbius is unaffected. He challenges the Doctor to a mental duel - in which they push each other back through their respective timelines. The Doctor wins as the brain casing malfunctions - making Morbius deranged. However, the Doctor is badly injured in the process. Morbius goes on the rampage but the Sisterhood find him and force him off a cliff - to plunge to his death. The Doctor is saved when Maren gives him the last of the elixir - sacrificing her own life. The Doctor fixes the fault with the sacred flame - unblocking the channel with a firework.

This four part adventure was credited to Robin Bland, and was broadcast between 3rd and 24th January, 1976. The director is Christopher Barry, and the designer is Barry Newbery.
The story may be credited to Mr Bland, but it was actually written by Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes. Dicks formulated the original storyline and wrote the first drafts. His story had a robot servant building Morbius' new body, and there was no Solon. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe felt that a robot would be difficult to realise in studio realistically, and so the scientist was devised. Dicks was out of the country and un-contactable when this major revision took place. On his return, he hated the idea. Why would a gifted surgeon make such a botch-up of a new body? The whole point of the robot was that, having no aesthetic sense, it would simply use whatever it found that would function. Dicks asked to have his name taken off the story - suggesting Holmes use "some bland pseudonym" instead - hence Robin Bland.

The inspiration for The Brain of Morbius is clearly the Frankenstein story - with a bit of H. Rider Haggard's She thrown into the mix. The latter features a life-prolonging flame. As for the principle influence, it is more the Universal and Hammer film versions of the Mary Shelley novel which apply. Indeed, both Peter Cushing and Vincent Price were considered for the role of Solon.
The part instead went to Philip Madoc - giving him his third, and greatest, role in the series. It's a marvellous performance, with just the right level of black humour.
The other principle guest artist is Cynthia Grenville as Maren. Another remarkable performance considering she was not that old at the time this was made.
The Morbius monster is a quite horrific design. A human arm juxtaposes with a massive claw, and the brain is clearly seen in the goldfish bowl casing. Physically, it was played by Stuart Fell, but the voice is Michael Spicer - who will return to play Magnus Greel in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Episode endings are:

  1. Looking for the Doctor, Sarah enters the laboratory during a power cut. She sees the curtains around a bed moving. Pulling them aside just as the lights come back on, she sees Solon's hideous, headless creation...
  2. Still blind, Sarah goes to the basement following an anguished voice. It is emanating from a disembodied brain in a tank...
  3. As Sarah's sight returns, she is unaware that the Morbius monster has woken up and is moving towards her...
  4. The Doctor has given new Sisterhood leader Ohica some more fireworks should the flame fail again. He uses one to disguise the TARDIS dematerialisation.

Overall, a very good four part story, that wears its influences on its sleeve. Great design work from Barry Newbery, returning to the show after a long absence. It's a studio-bound story and , apart from the day time exteriors, this works well. Nice to see Christopher Barry reunited with one of his Mutants.
Things you might like to know:

  • Can we finally put the mind-duel appearances to bed now? As the Doctor and Morbius duel, images of previous incarnations appear. These are cameos by Hinchcliffe and Holmes; directors Christopher Barry and Dougie Camfield; writer Robert Banks Stewart; and production personnel Graeme Harper, George Gallacio and Chris Baker. Many people are convinced that these - or at least some of these - represent incarnations of the Doctor prior to the First. Personally, whilst one might be a younger version of the Hartnell Doctor, I have always maintained they are previous versions of Morbius. I think we can now say that The Name of the Doctor has finally resolved this issue. Apart from the John Hurt version, Clara clearly sees only 11 incarnations.
  • John Scott Martin plays the Solonian Mutant (as he had done in their first appearance in The Mutants (1973).
  • A race called the Dravidians are mentioned. Condo was rescued from one of their slave ships. Dravidia is mentioned again in the incantation designed to bring the Carrionites to Earth in The Shakespeare Code.
  • The Doctor's killing of Solon is disturbing. He has never been this cold-blooded. And how clever is it to kill your captors? If you are left to starve to death then you must have succeeded? Not sure about the logic here.

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