THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORY "THE ANDROID
INVASION" AND THE
(TERRANCE DICKS &
'THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS'
RELEASED IN JULY 2008.
THE TIME LORDS HAVE
TAKEN CONTROL OF THE
TARDIS, SENDING THE
DOCTOR AND SARAH
JANE SMITH INTO
ON THE GRAVEYARD
PLANET OF KARN, THE
FIGHTS TO KEEP THE
SACRED FLAME ALIVE.
HIGH IN THE CASTLE, THE
EXPERIMENTS ON LIVING
FLESH. AND AS A STORM
FROM THE DEPTHS OF
TIME LORD HISTORY
PLOTS ITS RETURN TO
THE LAND OF THE LIVING.
BUT IS EVEN THE
DOCTOR'S MIND A
MATCH FOR THE BRAIN
BBC AUDIO CD (ISBN 1-
IN FEBRUARY 2008.
Tom Baker reads THE
published by Target
Books in 1977.
3RD JANUARY 1976 - 24TH JANUARY 1976
“The Brain of Morbius” was commissioned from former script editor Terrance Dicks after his original submission for the season, “The Haunting”, did not meet with the production team’s approval. Ultimately, this serial proved to be Doctor Who’s take on Frankenstein, albeit set on an alien planet and complete with all the apposite science-fiction trimmings.
The basic storyline is that a notorious Time Lord rebel, Morbius, was executed by the Time Lords in such a manner that only his brain survived. Morbius’ brain was then kept alive by
the fanatical scientist Doctor Mehendri Solon who sought to build a new body for his master
from the remains of cadavers.
Now I am not usually a fan of Doctor Who’s wholly studio-bound stories, however “The Brain of Morbius” is one of the few exceptions. In this case, the claustrophobia of the studio only adds to the grim atmosphere of the story. Unfortunately, the realisation of Morbius’ new body was a bit beyond the visual effects of the time. The headless biological body is only slightly more convincing than its bug-eyed, transparent head. Even so, this monstrosity lends itself
to two of the serial’s three outstanding cliffhangers, and even the cliffhanger that is not centred around Morbius’ body is centred around his brain.
“Reduced to this. A condition where I envy a vegetable!”
I also think that this serial marks one of Tom Baker’s very best performances in the series. “The Brain of Morbius” is an exceedingly strong story for the Doctor - not only does it have a great plot for him to drive forward, but it is also replete with so many lovely little character touches. We learn more about the Doctor in this story than we ever had previously – he is 749 years old here (or so he reckons) and was born within a few billion miles of Karn, which is possibly situated within Gallifrey’s own solar system.
What is more, during the Doctor’s mind-bending contest with Morbius in the final episode
we see the Doctor’s three previous faces and some more besides and all the while Morbius is yelling, “How far… how long have you lived?”, the implication being that the first Doctor that we saw on television may not have been the first Doctor. This notion does not fit at all with the rest of the series’ continuity as it has now been clearly established that William Hartnell’s Doctor was unquestionably the first Doctor, although if you give any credence to stories like “Lungbarrow” an ‘Other’ may have preceded him. However, as fun as it is to hypothesize I think that the most likely explanation behind these faces is simply that George Galliccio, Robert Holmes, Graeme Harper, Douglas Camfield, Philip Hinchcliffe, Chris Baker, Robert Banks Stewart and Christopher Barry were the past faces of Morbius.
There are also some other remarkable elements of this story that I like. For one, the Sisterhood of Karn - descendents of the ancient Gallifreyan Pythia’s followers - are absolutely terrific. I love the idea that they have this incredible Elixir and all this power and influence and yet they have no clue how any of it works – the fact that the Doctor restores their sacred flame by simply clearing out the soot from their chimney says it all really!
The DVD’s flagship special feature, the 32-minute documentary “Getting a Head”, is narrated by eighth Doctor Paul McGann, who is set to lock horns with Morbius himself next month in Nicholas Briggs’ Big Finish audio drama “Vengeance of Morbius”. This beautifully crafted feature features contributions from many of the actors and members of the production team who worked on this serial, including its ‘writer’ who is finally given the chance to explain the story behind that “bland pseudonym.”
“…what isn’t debatable is that these scripts don’t contain a line of my dialogue and just aren’t written by me. So I’ll have to ask you to take my name off them – if only to avoid breaking the Trades Descriptions Act!
Hope this won’t add to your problems too much. I’ll leave it to you to devise some bland pseudonym.”
Letter from Terrance Dicks to Robert Holmes, late 1975
In some ways it is easy to appreciate Dicks’ indignation as much of his original story hinged on the robot’s (which was replaced in Homes’ final version by the Dr Solon character) lack
of aesthetic sense (hence the monstrosity that become Morbius’ body) but even so, one would think that he would want to put his name to a finished product with the sort of intrinsic quality that “The Brain of Morbius” has. In fact, now that I have had chance to chew over Dicks’ original pitch – which is resplendently illustrated in this documentary through some of the original design sketches – I think that Homes’ interpretation of “The Brain of Morbius”, though far less logical, is far more extraordinary and gripping than it would have been were Dicks’ original scripts used.
Above: The familiar face of 'Robin Bland'...
“Getting a Head” also features a gorgeous CGI foreword and some stunning CGI backgrounds; it is a shame that the Restoration Team had neither the time nor the budget to recreate some of this serial’s special effects as they have done with some other recent releases.
The DVD release also comes with a few other much less substantial bonus features. “Designs on Karn” is a six-minute interview with Designer Barry Newbury, punctuated with some of his original design sketches, and the “Set Tour” is a swift but insightful CGI tour of BBC Television Centre’s studio TC1, as it was back in the day. For me, watching this two-minute tour really amplified the claustrophobia of this serial. It is hard to believe that such a story was told so well in so few sets.
“If you’re just going to sit there wallowing in self-pity, I’m going to bite your nose.”
Also included on the disc is an almighty trailer for next month’s (outrageously overpriced) “Trial of a Time Lord” DVD box set, as well as a fine commentary featuring Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer), Christopher Barry (Director) and Philip Madoc (Solon) which fails to do anything but hold one's attention throughout.
In my view, “The Brain of Morbius” is one of the finest examples of the legendary Philip Hinchcliffe / Robert Holmes ‘gothic horror’ television serials. It has everything that one could want from a Doctor Who story and, quite possibly, even that little bit more, and the lush DVD release is every bit the story’s equal. A must.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
BBC7 continues its series of fourth Doctor novelisation readings with Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of The Brain of Morbius. Dicks adapts a serial that was heavily altered from his own script by Robert Holmes, and it’s no secret that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the result. Nonetheless, the novelisation sticks to the broadcast story faithfully. There’s little
in the way of change to the story we remember, but there a number of scenes are expanded. The story opens with a scene describing the last moments of Kriz, the insectoid alien who bites the dust at the hands of Condo in the serial’s memorable first image. We learn a good deal about him before he’s mercilessly killed for his body parts.
The Brain of Morbius has never been one of my favourite serials.
I feel it lacks something, and find the whole affair a little boring, even
in spite of the obvious appeal of the Hammer Horror setting. Happily,
this novelisation is far more successful, with Dicks’ prose providing
a thick, gloomy gothic atmosphere. Tom Baker’s evocative reading
adds to this considerably; I really can’t think of anyone better to read
such a grim, spooky tale. He clearly had a marvellous time with the
various characters’ voices. Each of the grotesques is brought to life.
Baker gives a spirited performance as Maren, providing the High
Priestess with a willowy, aged voice, while he elects to reinvent Solon
as an elderly maniac with something of a Germanic accent. A little
voice modulation turns his naturally booming tones into an arrestingly
Above: Faces of the mid-1970s Doctor Who production team, or faces of ‘Others...?’
Naturally, familiarity robs the story of some
of its impact; hopefully, there are plenty of
listeners new to the tale who will be swept
along by events. Many parts of the story are
far more disturbing here, particularly Sarah’s
blindness, which is nicely underplayed but
never loses the horror of her situation. On the
other hand, the story’s final moments seem rushed, particularly the mind battle between
the Doctor and Morbius, which is something of an anti-climax in this telling. Interestingly,
however, the long-running debate concerning the ‘Morbius Doctors’ (and yes, they were
always intended to be the faces of the Doctor, but let’s not go into that here), isn’t simply glossed over, with Sarah simply having “a confused impression of even more faces on the screen.”
Altogether, I prefer this distinctly atmospheric version to the original serial. A very successful adaptation.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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