Doctor Who: Looking back at THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS

The opening episode of The Brain Of Morbius was first broadcast 39 years ago today, on Saturday January 3rd 1976. On its anniversary Christopher Morley admires a magnificent head...

A strong undercurrent of horror ran through Season 13 of Doctor Who- the dream team of script editor Robert Holmes & producer Philip Hinchcliffe giving full rein to all things terrifying! Clearly they'd enjoyed the likes of The Mummy, which would inform much of Pyramids Of Mars, and Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers was a clear & present influence on both Terror Of The Zygons & The Android Invasion. But it's body-horror we look back at now, and Doctor Who's own take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and the insane Dr Mehendri Solon's quest to find physical form for The Brain Of Morbius! Creepy organ solo if you will, Mr Namin...

Now then, come with us into the projectionist's booth as we survey the work of one ' Robin Bland'- actually the team of Holmes & Terrance Dicks. The barren planet of Karn is the scene as the hook-handed Condo, servant of Solon, collects another piece for his master's fiendish puzzle. He's nabbed a head for Morbius's new body, but Solon rejects it straight off the bat. The former despotic president of the Time Lords deserves a better noggin, in his opinion. Luckily for him, one is just about to pitch up. It belongs to the Fourth Doctor! And he's not at all happy to have arrived, suspecting that the very same Time Lords once led by Morbius have sent him here, suspicions he shares with companion Sarah-Jane Smith:
DOCTOR: Come out, meddlesome, interfering idiots. I know you're up there so come on out and show yourselves! Messing about with my TARDIS. Dragging us a thousand parsecs off course.
SARAH: Oi, have you gone potty? Who are you shouting at?
DOCTOR: The Time Lords, who else? Now, you see? You see? They haven't even got the common decency to come out and show their ears.
SARAH: They're probably afraid of getting them boxed, the way you're carrying on.
DOCTOR: It's intolerable. I won't stand for any more of it.
Of course, if you follow/believe the ' Season 6B' theory, which has it that the Doctor's sentence of enforced regeneration handed down in the dying days of his Second incarnation wasn't carried out immediately. Instead, he became a Celestial Intervention Agent! Carrying out missions on a strictly hush-hush basis, the first of which happens to be detailed in the novel World Game, the arrangement came to an end at some point before Spearhead From Space, at which juncture he began anew in his Third body, exiled to Earth. Crooning opera in the shower is by now a distant memory, though clearly the whole business still riles him somewhat! As the following angry exchange with Ms Smith demonstrates...
SARAH: Oh look, why can't it have just gone wrong again?
DOCTOR: What? Do you think I don't know the difference between an internal fault and an external influence? Oh, no, no, no. There's something going on here, some dirty work they won't touch with their lily white hands. Well, I won't do it, do you hear?
He's not even particularly bothered by where they find themselves, either. As he tells us ''I don't know and I don't really care''. Of course, he doesn't really deliver on his threat to '' sit here and do nothing.'' Quite right too! After all there's more to life than playing with a yo-yo, even after spending a chunk of your previous incarnation as a galactic one. By which logic we know he won't simply '' sit here and practise my double loops ''.

A scream from Sarah-Jane shakes him out of any thoughts of playtime, & we get our first glimpse of Solon's castle, an imposing structure indeed! Someone's watching as the Doctor & his best-loved lady companion start to make their way towards it, too. She's Ohica, of the Sisterhood of Karn, an all-female religious order of sorts presided over by the High Priestess Maren. Why are they so interested in the unfolding events? Maren's convinced that their valued Elixir Of Life is about to be taken from them by the Time Lords, with the tall chap in the long scarf their appointed thief-
MAREN: Is it as I feared? For months now I have had a dream that the Elixir of Life would be taken from us.
OHICA: Taken?
MAREN: Next to myself, Ohica, you are the oldest of our sisterhood. Come, let me show you.

OHICA: The Flame of Life! Maren, what is wrong? Why is it so low?
MAREN: The Flame dies, Ohica. Every month, every day, it sinks lower.
OHICA: How can this be? At our ceremonies the Flame has burned brightly, higher than my shoulder.
MAREN: A deception. For many months past, before each ceremony, I have secretly fed the Flame with powdered Rine Weed.
OHICA: But if the Flame dies, there will be no more Elixir.
MAREN: It has been low now for over a year. The vessel remains empty.
OHICA: Then we are doomed. Our sisterhood will perish.
MAREN: We are only servants of the Flame. If the Flame dies, then so must we.
Meanwhile, the Doctor & Sarah are now house-guests of a certain mad scientist, who's overwhelmed by the quality of '' a magnificent head''. While everybody's enjoying a little wine, as you do, Solon's very happy indeed. Not only is he quaffing a glass with an almost chilling urbane sophistication, but clearly coldly delighted. '' You know, I always knew that one day I'd have a guest with a head for such a fine vintage.''.

He's got more pressing matters to attend to than ordering Condo to bring out some accompanying cheese & biscuits! Even when he's a little tipsy the Doctor is clearly still brilliant at doing a little detective work, & he's finally cracked who the subject of that bust his host initially so proudly displays is- '' I know who that reminds me of now. One of the Time Lords. Morbius.''.

Luckily, before his bonce can be lopped off, he's summoned into the heart of the Sisterhood by what appears to be a sort of psychic ritual. Understandably he turns down their offer of a drink when he comes around from his stupor! ''No, thank you. I had a little drink about an hour ago. Events have moved along while I was asleep.'' This little aside is a reference to Show Me The Way To Go Home, the 1925 ditty by 'Irving King' ( actually a pseudonym for the team of James Campbell & Reg Connelly) as also used to great effect in Doctor Who fan Steven Speilberg's Jaws-

''Show me the way to go home
I'm tired and I want to go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it’s gone right to my head''
Meanwhile, Sarah gets a creepily atmospheric meeting with Solon's Morbius-monster....

How does it all turn out? Well, there is no better day to either discover The Brain of Morbius for yourself, or to re-watch this beloved Fourth Doctor classic, than the anniversary of its broadcast. So pop in that DVD and turn down the lights. But we warn you, it is creepy!

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