Sunday, 26 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius

Part One

“Can you spare a glass of water?”

Bizarrely, we start with the sight of a mutant from, er, The Mutants. Of course, I know I shouldn’t read too much into the fact that they’re just reusing an old costume, but it’s interesting that the Doctor later refers to it as a “Mutt”, although he then proceeds to give it an origin showing it’s clearly not from Solos.

Just as in Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor is hugely annoyed at the Time Lords for clearly having sent him here (“some dirty work that they won’t touch with their lily-white hands”). This time he throws a right strop and refuses to investigate, instead just sitting around playing with his yo yo. Pertwee would never have reacted in quite this way! It’s interesting to see how much less respect the Time Lords are given in the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era, right through from the beginning. And as we’ll see, there’s a lot established about Time Lords in this story. The Doctor even says he was “born in these parts”.

Right from his first scene Philip Madoc, a fantastic villain in The War Games, makes it clear that he’s out to challenge Kevin Stoney for the title of Doctor Who’s greatest one-off villain so far. He’s clearly playing the Peter Cushing role in a pastiche of Hammer-style Frankenstein (is this the one Hinchcliffe story that lives up to it’s old “Hammer horror” reputation?) and his lab, with its many vials of bubbling liquids, is splendidly redolent of the films. He even has his own Igor in Condo.

The Sisters of Karn, though… I’m doing my best to just think of them in the context of the series rather than the New Adventures, but it’s hard, especially when Maren mentions the “silent gas dirigibles of the Hoothi”. And apparently I’ve been pronouncing “Hoothi” wrongly all these years. NAs aside, though, they’re basically a coven of witches (they transport the TARDIS by what can only be described as magic), but interestingly they seem to know the Time Lords quite well.

Interestingly, Solon seems to be a human from a spacefaring future, and is a contemporary of Morbius, and yet this can’t be long after the Doctor’s own “present” on Gallifrey. So can we assume the Doctor’s from the fairly near future, say sometime in the next few thousand years?

This is a fantastic first episode, full of Hammeresque fun and great dialogue. And Philip Madoc’s performance is a joy.

Part Two

“I can see that, you chicken-brained biological disaster!”

I love the dialogue between the Doctor and Maren, and underneath it the Doctor’s casual attitude to his forthcoming burning at the stake: “Surely you remember Popecatepetl?” Fortunately he’s rescued by Sarah- for the second story in a row. Unfortunately Sarah is blinded, something Lis Sladen plays brilliantly.

Philip Madoc continues to ooze greatness as Solon (apparently poor Condo should be “put down!”). And it’s a nice plot development that the Doctor has to rely on Solon to examine Sarah’s eyes. Solon of course tricks him into another visit to a forewarned sisterhood in a nice example of lying acting from Madoc.

There’s a great cliffhanger, with Morbius revealed as a brain in a jar.

Part Three

“Even a sponge has more life than I!”

We get a lot of exposition from the Sisterhood, who are now less suspicious of the Doctor. And in spite of the fact that they’re revealed to be luring the spaceships to their destruction, and they earlier tried to kill the Doctor in a particularly nasty way for no reason whatsoever, we’re clearly now supposed to think of them as goodies.

Still, they and the Doctor are now mates, especially after he fixes their flame for them. I like the Doctor’s speech about immortality and stagnation, though. And it’s ironic that Morbius, although completely paranoid, is in fact broadly correct when he tells a panicking Solon that the Doctor and Maren must be in league and he must be given an artificial brain case immediately. Of course, Solon gets to work, and it’s at the worst possible time that Condo discovers Solon has used his arm for Morbius’s previously headless body, and gets shot.

Part Four

“You thought I was dead, didn’t you?”


“You’re always making that mistake.”

If we’re in any mistake as to the source of this story, Solon gets to say to Morbius “Look, don’t you recognise me? I made you!” Fortunately, Condo is still alive to save Sarah before being killed, but the Doctor and Solon have to run after Solon with an elephant gun. And the Doctor, in a rare lapse into stupidity, leaves Solon alone in a room with Morbius and an operating theatre. Oops!

The Doctor and Sarah are in trouble, and in a touch which made me smile the Doctor has left the Sonic Screwdriver in the TARDIS. Ha! The Doctor’s plan, to poison Solon and Morbius with cyanide, is clever but extremely nasty.

And so we come to the famous mind-bending scene, oddly suggested by the Doctor himself. It does indeed seem from the context that all the faces are the Doctor’s, which can’t be true- er, I think the only way round this is possibly the “Let us never speak of this again” strategy.

How fitting that Morbius should meet his demise at the hands of a torch-wielding mob.

I loved that- a witty and fun spoof with great dialogue and Philip Madoc being fab. 5/5.

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