The hammer-horror angle and influence continues with ‘The Brain of Morbius’. A story originally written by Terrance Dicks about a robot who tries to put the Time Lord Morbius back together. Robert Holmes rewrote the whole thing though and before Terrance new it it was a completely different story! Such is the way devious script editors work in Doctor Who I presume.
As a Time Lord I obviously know a lot about Morbius, but this is the first have heard about this addendum to his tale, and the first I have heard about these events on the planet Karn, where the Sisterhood live. What can I say? I LOVED this story!! It’s a little daft in places sure, and it’s hardly original, but after ‘King Kong’ and ‘The Mummy’ were raided for ideas, ‘Frankenstein’ was almost the logical next step.
Yes, the imagery and premise are directly stolen, we have the whole castle and storm thing going on too, but what’s not too love? Again, kids watching this story may believe ‘Frankenstein’ was just a parody of ‘The Brain of Morbius’. It’s a rollicking good tale, it’s confronting and scary too. It’s strongly directed and perfectly cast. Tom Baker is still going from strength to Strength. Poor Liz Sladen - Sarah spends the story falling, being yelled out, almost killed by a headless monster and being blind! Liz Sladen takes it all in her stride. She is wonderfully almost disconnected from the story and world she is in because of the constant peril she finds herself in.
I think the best character though is Condo, portrayed by Colin Fay. This poor character, used and abused by Solon, who even stole his arm, immediately has the audiences’ sympathies, which grow throughout the story. When Solon shoots him over and over it’s very confronting, and sympathies only grow. Solon is played by Philip Madoc, who had been in two Troughton stories in Season Six. Perfectly cast as the crazy scientist (Doctor Frankenstein if you will), Solon is single-minded and vain. Then we have Moribius, for much of the story a brain in a jar, with a terrifying voice provided by Michael Spice.
|Solon and Morbius|
I love the way the story draws you in, not revealing Morbius until part two, and even then you are not sure what’s going on. It’s great story-telling. This is offset by the sub-plot with the Sisterhood of Karn, a group of women worshipping an ancient flame which provides an elixir which allows them to become almost immortal. They don’t trust the Doctor at first, but slowly they come around when he fixes the flame which has almost died, due to soot. It’s interesting – an almost atheist view is portrayed as the Doctor poo-poos their beliefs and is proved right. This holy flame is nothing more that gas from below heating rocks which provide a perfect blend to make this amazing liquid.
|The Doctor challenges Morbius.|
The design is wonderful I think. Limited budget and space are utilised to the fore by designer Barry Newberry. The only thing that my critical eye can ask.... does this story go too far? Did they push the boundaries of what is scary? Violent? We have a living brain in a jar. It falls onto the ground. A very effective looking monster without a head for three episodes and a giant claw, along with an arm stolen from Condo. Plenty of fights where no remorse is shown, brutal murders of the sisters, and of course, Solon firing repetitively at Condo. It caused a bit of a flap in the day. For children... yes I think it’s a bit much, especially for the under tens. But I am a bit older than that. I’ve lived for over a thousand years....