THIS EPISODE TAKES
AFTER THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO "SISTERS OF
THE FLAME" AND
PRIOR TO "ORBIS."
BIG FINISH 8TH DOCTOR
CD#2.8 (ISBN 1-84435-
311-8) RELEASED IN
UNIVERSE IS IN
VERY FABRIC OF
AND SPACE IS
DOCTOR AND LUCIE
TO PREVENT THE
THEY HOLD DEAR.
MAY HAVE TO
SAVE THE UNIVERSE.
The UNIVERSE IS IN
THE VERY FABRIC OF
TIME AND SPACE IS
THE DOCTOR AND LUCIE
MUST RACE AGAINST
TIME TO PREVENT THE
DESTRUCTION OF ALL
THAT THEY HOLD DEAR.
THEY MAY HAVE TO
TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE.
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 2 OF 2)
Looking back over the first fifteen episodes to feature the eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller together, the one thing that truly sets them apart is their ineradicable sense of fun. Even in the darker episodes, such as last month’s Sisters of the Flame, the overriding sense of fun prevails. But The Vengeance of Morbius is another kettle of fish entirely; it’s practically funerary. And the ending is even grimmer.
The Vengeance of Morbius picks up right where Sisters of the Flame left off – with the Doctor and Lucie awaiting execution in the Sisterhood of Karn’s dispersal chamber. The Sisterhood want to execute the Doctor as they have learned that Zarodnix, the richest man
in the galaxy and leader of the Cult of Morbius, has bought the planet Karn as he plans to resurrect Morbius. And to do this, Zarodnix needs a Time Lord – any Time Lord – so that he can splice its DNA with a piece of Morbius’ brain stem, in effect creating a new incarnation of the long-dead tyrant. However, the Sisterhood’s plans to execute the Doctor ultimately come to nought as they are too late - the Time Lord Straxus (Nickolas Grace) has already been captured by Zarodnix and used to bring the erstwhile Time Lord dictator back to life.
The new incarnation of Morbius is played by Samuel West, not only the voice of The History Channel, as Paul McGann is keen to point out in the CD Extras, but also a former member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. As one would have expected, West’s Morbius is much more calculated and controlled than Michael Spice’s ravaging monster in The Brain
of Morbius, and through West’s uncluttered performance I was really able to get a feel for
the vainglorious Morbius that fell so far.
Unfortunately though, Morbius himself doesn’t seem to feature in the episode as much as I’d hoped that he would. Due to the fifty-minute ceiling, Briggs only had time to show us Morbius’ return, a brief snippet of him ruling a vast cosmic empire, and then his defeat. Nevertheless, when he’s in it, he’s bloody impressive. I really enjoyed seeing Morbius’ return to Gallifrey to take his vengeance - he uses the second Hand of Omega (two hands! Parkin was right…) to defeat his people and then forge a new, militant empire - just as I enjoyed seeing the dictator presiding over his empire ten years later, his army of augmented Trell hauling the Statue of Liberty into his palace as a trophy of their conquest of Earth. And as for his ultimate defeat…
On a side note, I found it
interesting that the script
refers to the Doctor’s other
encounters – plural – with
Morbius (“other times, other
faces”). Not only does this
leave room for Morbius’ first
meeting with the Doctor in Terrance Dicks’ fifth Doctor novel for BBC Books, the unfairly- maligned Warmonger, but it also leaves the door open for Big Finish to produce further Morbius stories featuring earlier Doctors…
Nicholas Briggs’ script for this episode looks to have been designed to be as bold and as shocking as possible, turning the very tenets of the series on their head in order to “shake things up a bit and confound expectations”. At times this works outstandingly – particularly
in the episode’s closing moments – however, at times I did get the sense that Briggs was trying to be shocking just for the hell of it. There is a scene, for example, where the Doctor is very blasé about crossing his own timeline. The Doctor can’t think of a plan to stop Morbius, and so when Lucie suggests that they just go back to last week and nip it all in the bud just before it started, the Doctor agrees. On the one hand, the Doctor’s sudden willingness to break the laws of time does betray the sheer gravity of the situation – after all, if the Doctor
is prepared to cross his own timeline, then things really must be bad. Still, I don’t think that it quite come across like that.
However, I did find it far easier to accept that the Time Lords would once again be willing to break their own laws, rewriting history in order to erase Morbius’ empire. Briggs sets up this convenient deus ex machina relatively early on the episode, explaining that “all” the Doctor has to do to defeat Morbius is to take his medallion (which controls his Hand of Omega) and turn it off, allowing the Time Lords to waltz in and “correct” the timestream. Easy...
Well, the Doctor does eventually manage to take Morbius’ medallion, deactivating the stellar manipulator and allowing the Time Lords to storm in and rewrite history. The only problem is that wrestling the medallion from Morbius apparently costs the Doctor his life.
The final moments of the episode see the Doctor and Morbius fight their way straight down into that same canyon that Morbius fell into at the climax of The Brain of Morbius, plunging to their deaths together, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty-style. And because the Doctor’s likely death is the underpinning event that allows the Time Lords to break through Morbius’ time locks and ‘correct’ the timestream, they can’t alter this event to save the Doctor.
Paul McGann is terrific throughout; it is without question the most intense performance he has given this season. But even he is overshadowed by Sheridan Smith who, particularly in the closing moments of this episode, is absolutely off the page.
“He was my mate. And he saved the universe. I never want to forget that…
Bet it if you broke a few more of your fancy rules you could make him come back to life, couldn’t yer? Bet you could… if you really cared… I’ll never forget you, Doctor. Never.”
Whilst we all know that somehow the eighth Doctor will be back (the bold proclamation in the back of the CD booklet kind of gives it away), Lucie does not. Her grief comes across as so credible; so real, and her tirade at Straxus, when he suggests that he should wipe her adve-ntures with the Doctor from her memory to ease her pain, is really heartbreaking to listen to. Straxus just can’t understand why she wants to suffer but, reluctantly, he agrees to take her back to Earth with her memories in tact.
“If you make another move, I’ll kill you…
Speaking counts as moving, Lucie Miller!”
And as if the Doctor being dead were not enough of a cliffhanger, once the closing theme has played Briggs treats us to another Big Finish bombshell – the Headhunter appearing
on Lucie’s doorstep with murderous intent. Will Lucie get shot? I guess we’ll have to wait
until next year to find out!
Generally speaking, I found The Vengeance of Morbius to be a thrilling end to the season. Any minor reservations that I have about some aspects of the plot are more than made up
for by just how damned exciting the whole affair is, and any episode that is brave enough to end on an ‘Empire Strikes Back’ note deserves a whole host of extra points for that alone. I also liked the blatant fannishness of this episode, not to mention the stellar performances of the cast. Even the deus ex machina is bearable, given that the drama actually hangs on the consequences of the cop-out…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
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