Monday, 28 October 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Brain of Morbius

http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/medialibrary/images/misc/timelords/time_lord_morbius.jpg
Solon fights with his creation.
Doctor Who - Season 13, Story Five - The Brain of Morbius
Written 28/5/13

After weeks of hype backlash threatened to write-off this season for me, at last I have found a story which in my mind matches its reputation. Sure, the gothic themes and obvious literary allusions are still there, but there's a subtlety to this script that takes a standard Frankenstein plot and gives it all sorts of other twists and turns. The benefit of having Robert Holmes as your script editor is mainly that there are lots of scripts like this one...
     While still trying to get back to UNIT HQ (there's more continuity in Classic Who than I realised) the TARDIS is drawn away by the Time Lords to the planet Karn, which is in Gallifrey's planetary neighbourhood. There he finds the ancient Sisterhood of Karn, equal in mental might to the Time Lords and bezzie mates with them thanks to their useful supply of the Elixir of Life, as well as famous Earth neuroscientist Solon. The surgeon is a servant of the ancient Time Lord tyrant Morbius, and plans to use The Doctor's head to top a Frankenstein-esque body to house Morbius' still-living mind. Working with the Sisterhood, The Doctor and Sarah manage to foil their plot, and while Morbius is placed into a sentient body he is thrown off of a cliff by the Sisterhood.
     There are several complex characterisations in Morbius that really set it apart from the rest of the series. Solon's obsession and his conflict between scientific rigour and the service of his master as portrayed brilliantly by Phillip Madoc, who is the best of the guest cast. His double-act with Igor parallel Condo provided a great deal of much-needed humour, and together they formed some of the episode's best moments. The Sisterhood of Karn felt like a realistic culture, and their leader Maren a tragic matriarch.
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Morbius, doing a Future!Lister cosplay...
      The story has many ties back to the Doctor's mythology, which at this point in the series was only sparsely explored, with the Time Lords popping up here and there to put The Doctor on trial or make him do their bidding. Here there are some of the first references to the High Council and to Gallifreyan politics. In that respect it felt like a nice warm-up for the mythology-heavy Deadly Assassin in a few stories time. One aspect I didn't like was the controvertial "Faces" scene, in which six faces intended to be those of the Doctor's incarnations prior to Hartnell are shown. (This being before the whole 13 limit thing.)
     The Brain of Morbius is an instant Classic, and more than deserves it reputation. It doesn't just spin the classical allusions, but delivers a uniquely Who strand of madcap genius, makeshift gore and a pair of power-mad geniuses. The tale of Morbius' descent into madness as assisted by the desperate and cunning Solon provides some of the most well-executed villainy in the entirety of Four's era. Which is good. Probably.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Plants. Bloody plants, again. Never trust 'em, that's what I say. Who the hell decided to plant The Seeds of Doom?

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