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The Brain of Morbius (TV story)

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The Brain of Morbius
Mindbending
Novelised as: Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius
Doctor: Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): Sarah
Main enemy: Morbius, Mehendri Solon
Main setting: Karn, Far future
Key crew
Writer: Robin Bland (pseudonym of Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes)
Director: Christopher Barry
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Release details
Story number: 84
Number of episodes: 4
Season/series: Season 13
Premiere broadcast: 3 January - 24 January 1976
Premiere network: BBC1
Format: 4x25-minute episodes
Production code: 4K
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RealWorld

The Brain of Morbius was the fifth story in season thirteen of Doctor Who. It referred to the Doctor's past and had a scene featuring mindbending that introduced contentious elements to the shows' mythos. The story was influenced by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

An interesting controversy was born when this story's climax aired. It showed the Fourth Doctor having a mental battle with Morbius, and faces of the Doctor's past incarnations were adjoined with a brand new set of unfamiliar faces. At face value, it was an easter egg that allowed eight members of the DW production team to cameo in a single episode. However, others interpreted these uncharted faces in a different way, and suspected the Doctor had incarnations dating even further back than the First Doctor. Later developments in the series refuted this speculation by confirming the First Doctor was indeed the first incarnation of the Doctor to exist, and suggested these faces belonged to Morbius's incarnations or other unknown Time Lords.

Synopsis edit

Mad scientist Mehendri Solon is building a body from spare parts to house the disembodied brain of the evil Time Lord Morbius. He fancies the Doctor's head as the final piece...

Plot edit

Part One edit

The gangs all here

The Doctor, Sarah Jane, Solon and Condo.

On a dark and stormy night on a rocky and remote planet, an injured alien crawls from the wreckage of a space capsule. He doesn't get far. A brutish killer with a hook for a hand emerges from behind a rock and raises his knife. The hook-handed murderer, Condo, brings the severed head to his master, Mehendri Solon, who finds it unsuitable for his purpose.

The TARDIS materialises nearby and the Fourth Doctor emerges in a rage, certain some external influence - most likely the Time Lords - has made them land here. He eventually realises from the stars that they are within "a couple billion miles" of Gallifrey.

Resentful at being expected to do the Time Lords' dirty work, the Doctor sulks while Sarah Jane explores. She sees a vast plain strewn with the wreckage of dozens of spaceships. They find the decapitated corpse of the crash victim, which the Doctor identifies as a Mutt.

Their presence is observed by a red-robed woman, Ohica of the Sisterhood of Karn. She reports to their High Priestess, Maren, who suspects their arrival is connected to their Sacred Flame. A product of superheated gas, the Flame produces the Elixir of Life that makes them immortal. However, the Flame has been dying. Without the Elixir the Sisterhood is doomed.

The Doctor and Sarah arrive at Solon's castle. Solon greets them awkwardly, remarking on the Doctor's "magnificent head." He orders Condo to bring wine. The Doctor recognises Solon as a distinguished scientist, a genius in the field of organ and tissue transplantation. His reputation was wrecked by his rumoured connection to the followers of Morbius, a notorious Time Lord criminal.

Solon dismisses the idea as mere professional jealousy that nevertheless prompted him to relocate to the planet Karn. A burst of wind forces the front door open and blows the cover off a clay bust. The Doctor suspects the Sisterhood's involvement, and in the aftermath recognises the bust as Morbius only to succumb to wine drugged by Solon's servant. Sarah, who has not drunk, feigns unconsciousness. Solon tells Condo to prepare. They carry the Doctor to the lab. Meanwhile, the Sisterhood form a circle of meditation and focus on the TARDIS, which they teleport into their chamber. They identify it as Time Lord technology. They are convinced the Time Lords are plotting to steal the last drops of the Elixir of Life.

Solon and Condo go to repair the generators before the operation. While they are away, the Doctor's form glows and disappears, teleported by the Sisterhood. Sarah Jane sneaks into the lab looking for him. She opens a curtain and is confronted by a monstrous creature, a patchwork of sewn-together alien body parts, missing only a head...

Part Two edit

Maren

Maren, matriarch of the Sisterhood of Karn.

Returning to find the Doctor gone, Solon realises he has been captured by the Sisterhood. Condo goes to fetch him back. Sarah follows secretly to the Sisterhood's lair. The Doctor awakens to Maren's accusation: he is a Time Lord agent sent to steal the Elixir. The Sisterhood once willingly shared the Elixir with Time Lords suffering post-regenerative trauma. Now, protecting the last few drops, the Sisterhood use their collective psychic energy to crash any passing spaceships; Solon scavenges them for body parts. The Doctor's denial isn't believed. He is sentenced to burn at the stake. During the rite, Solon and Condo burst in. Maren, furious at the intrusion, refuses Solon's requests, first to preserve the Doctor's head, then to accept Condo in the Doctor's place. They exit sheepishly and the ceremony continues. Sarah frees the Doctor before the flames reach him. A flash of power from Maren's ring, however, blinds her as they escape.

Condo angrily confronts his master about being offered in the Doctor's place. Solon begs for his life. He promises to replace Condo's hook with a real hand. This calms the hulking servant for the moment. The Doctor arrives with Sarah for a consultation. Solon informs them the Elixir is the only remedy for her blindness. The Doctor resolves to return to the Sisterhood to obtain it. Solon sends Condo with a message to the Sisterhood, again asking for the Doctor's head. Solon, in a secret lab, talks to an unseen voice who berates him for the delay in finishing the body. Solon persuades the voice, whom he calls Morbius, for more time. He now only requires the Doctor's head! As Solon exits, Sarah hears the voice and follows it into the lab. She cannot see that the voice of Morbius emanates from a disembodied brain in a large vat. The brain accuses her of being an agent of the Sisterhood sent to destroy him.

Canned fruit

The disembodied brain of Morbius.

Part Three edit

Solon finds Sarah and rushes her out of the lab. From outside, she overhears their plan. Once he has the Doctor's head, he will transplant Morbius's brain into the body of spare parts he is creating, freeing him to again wage galactic war. She locks in Solon, then stumbles out to find the Doctor.

The Doctor is captured and brought again to Maren. He realises he's been duped by Solon; Sarah's blindness is only temporary. He persuades Maren to let him examine the Sacred Flame, convinced there must be a natural reason for its failing. He drops a firecracker down the shaft. It dislodges a buildup of soot and the Flame is restored to its full height.

Condo unlocks the lab door and Solon sends him to retrieve Sarah. Condo finds her. He is ready to dispatch her, but takes pity on her blindness and returns her to Solon's castle. When Solon mentions the Doctor is also a Time Lord, Morbius panics. He thinks the Time Lords have tracked him down. Desperate, he compels Solon to operate at once, using an artificial brain case in place of the Doctor's head. As Solon prepares to operate, Condo recognises one of the creature's arms as his own. In a blind rage, he attacks Solon. He knocks over the tank. Morbius' brain falls to the floor with a splat. Solon pulls a gun and shoots Condo several times. He drafts the unwilling Sarah into helping him operate, not knowing the extent of the brain's damage.

During a break in the operation, Solon finds the Doctor's apparently lifeless body left by the Sisterhood. He reflects bitterly on the irony. Meanwhile in the lab, Sarah's eyesight returns as Morbius rises behind her...

Part Four edit

Brainofmorbius ep4

Sarah Jane, unaware.

The operation has restored Morbius's motor functions, but his higher cerebral functions have yet to be connected. The result is a savage monster. Solon is attacked and Sarah is saved only by the wounded Condo's self-sacrifice. The Doctor awakens. He convinces Solon the creature must be hunted down. Together they find and tranquillise the creature, but not before it kills one of the Sisterhood. Solon convinces the Doctor he's going to dismantle the creature. Instead, he locks the Doctor out of the lab, leaving him free to complete the operation. The Doctor injects cyanide gas into the lab, killing Solon, but not before Morbius arises, fully sentient. Morbius confronts the Doctor. He says he now has the lungs of a birastrop, rendering him immune to the cyanide. He boasts that despite his monstrous appearance, his followers will rise to join him once more. The Doctor challenges Morbius to a potentially deadly mindbending contest. It overloads after a fierce contest of wills. The Doctor falls, inert. Morbius reverts to his earlier savagery. The Sisterhood, armed with torches, corner Morbius and drive him over a cliff to his death. The Doctor's life is restored with a fresh draught of Elixir produced by Maren's self-sacrifice to the Sacred Flame. The Doctor gives Ohica a pack of firecrackers in case they have any more trouble. He departs with Sarah in the TARDIS.

Cast edit

Crew edit

References edit

The Doctor edit

Individuals edit

  • Solon was living on Karn during Morbius' trial and stole his brain before execution.

Species edit

TARDIS edit

  • The Doctor dematerialises the TARDIS instantaneously with a flash and a puff of smoke, rather than fading away gradually.

Time Lords edit

  • Morbius was once Lord President of the Time Lord High Council on Gallifrey. He tried to steer the Time Lords towards destruction and conquest. He promised eternal life to his fanatical followers, many of whom were mercenaries. They came to Karn to seize the Elixir of Life. The civilisations on Karn and on many other planets were destroyed by Morbius.
  • The Sisterhood of Karn took part in Morbius' trial.
  • The Doctor believes he was sent to Karn by the Time Lords.

Planets edit

Foods and beverages from the real world edit

  • The Doctor mocks Morbius, calling him, "Potpourri". Sarah calls him, "Chop suey, the galactic emperor".

Real world edit

  • When the Doctor wakes up at the sisterhood after having been drugged with wine by Solon, he is offered a glass to which he replies: "I had a little drink about an hour ago..." from the song Show Me the Way to Go Home. The next line in the song is "And it went right to my head"

Story notes edit

  • Stories which share similar ideas to The Brain of Morbius include:
    • Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, in which a scientist attempts to create new life by joining together the organs of a number of deceased bodies.
    • Curt Siodmak's 1942 novel Donovan's Brain, in which a scientist tries to keep the disembodied brain of an evil billionaire alive.
    • H. P. Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator, in which a chemist and his fearful assistant attempt to resurrect the dead.
  • At the end of part four, the TARDIS dematerialises instantaneously with a flash and a puff of smoke, rather than fading away gradually. The dematerialisation sound is played at a higher speed than usual.
  • Colin Fay, who played Condo, was an opera singer.
Morbius Doctors

Images of production team seen during the mindbending battle.

Ratings edit

  • Part one - 9.5 million viewers
  • Part two - 9.3 million viewers
  • Part three - 10.1 million viewers
  • Part four - 10.2 million viewers

Myths edit

  • The mindbending contest at the end of part four proves conclusively that the Doctor regenerated multiple times prior to William Hartnell's Doctor. While this was apparently what the production team intended to imply, the overwhelming weight of evidence offered throughout the rest of the series contradicts this. For instance, Time Lord dialogue in The Three Doctors specifically establishes that the Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell is "the earliest Doctor"; further evidence provided in Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, the 1996 TV movie, The Next Doctor, The Lodger, The Name of the Doctor, and The Time of the Doctor) (among others) establishes that all of the Doctor's incarnations are accounted for in his televised adventures.
  • Barry Newbery's sets for this story were inspired by the work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. They weren't, although at director Christopher Barry's request Newbery did look at some of Gaudi's work during the course of his research.
  • Maren mentions a race called the Hoothi, who travel in silent gas dirigibles. They are called the Muthi, according to Terrance Dicks's script, but Cynthia Grenville pronounces the name as "Hoot-eye". This is quite clear on the DVD. Author Paul Cornell featured the creatures in his original Doctor Who novel Love and War.'
  • Sarah calls the Doctor "Tom" at one stage (during the mindbending sequence). She is actually stammering the word "Doctor".

Filming locations edit

Production errors edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • Morbius's globe head falls apart when he tumbles over the cliff edge, and the picture bounces as he goes out of shot (Stuart Fell hit the camera while performing the fall).
  • A boom shadow can been seen over the Doctor the second time he goes to the Sisterhood and talks to Maren about resurrection of Morbius.

Continuity edit

DVD, Video and Laserdisc Releases edit

DVD releases edit

PAL -
PAL -
NTSC -
  • Contents:
    • Commentary by Philip Hinchcliffe, Tom Baker, Philip Madoc, Christopher Barry and Elisabeth Sladen
    • Getting a Head - Documentary on the serial's production
    • Designs on Karn - Set Designer Barry Newbery discusses his team's work on the serial
    • Set Tour - Computer-generated rendering of how the sets were constructed and placed within BBC TV Centre Studio 1
    • Photo Gallery
    • Sketch Gallery
    • Production Subtitles
    • Radio Times Listings
    • Easter Egg - Trivia from the serial. To access this hidden feature, press left at 'Main Menu' on the Episode Selection menu.
    • Easter Egg - Dramatic readings of a letter from young viewer Aidan Carlisle criticising the show's increasing focus on horror, and reply from Robert Holmes. To access this hidden feature, press left at 'Set Tour' on the Special Features menu.

Notes:

VHS releases edit

Released:

  • UK July 1984 (heavily edited movie edition)
  • US July 1987 (heavily edited movie edition)
  • Australia November 1987 (heavily edited movie edition)
  • UK July 1990 (unedited)
  • Australia January 1991 (unedited)
  • US February 1997 (unedited)

As noted above, initial home-video releases of The Brain of Morbius used a heavily edited omnibus movie print, with a running time of less than an hour. This was apparently in an attempt to make the serial acceptable for young viewers (in the US it was released on Playhouse, a children's imprint of the CBS Fox label). This edit was heavily criticised and eventually an uncut version was released (though American viewers had to wait a decade). Similar edits were not released for other serials.

Laserdisc Release edit

The Brain of Morbius was one of the few episodes to be released on laserdisc. As with most early laserdiscs, this release is known to suffer from severe "disk rot". It is also labelled as a "laser vision" disk, not a laserdisc.

It was released in July 1984 as The Brain of Morbius.

External links edit