The Brain of Morbius
|084 – The Brain of Morbius
|Doctor Who serial
Morbius about to frighten Sarah
|"Robin Bland" (Terrance Dicks rewritten by Robert Holmes)
|Incidental music composer
|4 episodes, 25 minutes each
|3–24 January 1976
The Brain of Morbius is the fifth serial of the 13th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 3 January to 24 January 1976. The on-screenwriter credit is given to Robin Bland, a pseudonym for script writer Terrance Dicks and then current Doctor Who script editor Robert Holmes. It is the first serial to feature the Sisterhood of Karn, which also featured in the 2013 mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor".
On the planet Karn, an insect-like alien crawls away from an escape pod. It is ambushed and killed by Condo, a large man with a hook for a hand, who takes its head to a castle and his master Solon. However, the head is unsuitable — Solon needs a head from a warm-blooded humanoid.
The TARDIS materializes in the middle of a lightning storm, and the Fourth Doctor rushes out, ranting at the Time Lords for diverting him to this planet. Sarah suggests that perhaps the TARDIS malfunctioned again, but the Doctor is insistent there is something going on which the Time Lords do not want to sully their hands with.
Sarah finds the escape pod, and climbing to a higher point, sees a valley filled with wrecked spacecraft. She comes across the headless body of the alien which the Doctor identifies as a Mutt. Sarah spots the castle just as it starts to rain, and the two travellers make for it, observed by a girl in a strange headdress.
The girl, Ohica, reports to the elderly Maren, the leader of the Sisterhood of Karn. Maren does not believe Ohica at first, insisting that no ship could approach Karn without attracting their honed senses. Maren shows Ohica the Flame of Life, which is burning low. Without the Flame, there is no Elixir, and there has not been for over a year — the chalice stands empty. The secret of the Elixir is known only to the Sisterhood and the High Council of the Time Lords, with whom they shared the Elixir. Now, there is none left, except for the few vials they have kept for themselves. Maren fears that the Time Lords have sent agents to steal the Elixir. Maren tells Ohica to summon the other sisters to form a circle.
In the castle, Solon scolds Condo, warning him that if he does not obey him, he will not reattach Condo's arm. The Doctor and Sarah ring the doorbell, seeking shelter. Solon is delighted at the arrival of humans, and welcomes them, complimenting the Doctor on his "magnificent" head. The Doctor notices a clay bust, but Solon quickly draws a sheet over it. When the Doctor asks Solon about the Mutt and the wrecked ships, Solon suggests that it is due to the magnetic radiation around the planet. Solon rescued Condo from one such starship, and had to amputate his arm to save his life.
The Sisterhood chant "Sacred Fire, Sacred Flame" in a circle, allowing Maren to see the TARDIS reflected in her ring. Concentrating further, they make the TARDIS materialise in their shrine in the midst of a strange mist. Examining the ship, Maren identifies it as a Time Lord vessel, and concludes that the Doctor is here on their behalf to steal the elixir. The Sisterhood's powers can overwhelm most others and drive them insane, but the Time Lords are their equals in mind power. The circle continues to chant, seeking the Doctor.
The Doctor knows of Solon, who was an authority on microsurgical techniques and tissue transplants. He remarks that Solon's disappearance caused quite a stir and there were rumours that he had joined the Cult of Morbius. The Doctor now recognises the clay head — it is that of Morbius, one of the most despicably criminal minded Time Lords in history. Before he can say anything further, the drugged wine takes its effect, and the Doctor falls over unconscious. Seeing this, Sarah, who didn't drink the wine realises it has been spiked and pretends to succumb.
Solon and Condo take the Doctor's body to the laboratory, not realising that Sarah was only feigning unconsciousness. In the laboratory, Solon's examination of the Doctor confirms he is a Time Lord. Condo is concerned about their power, but Solon dismisses them as spineless parasites. Morbius offered them power, but they rejected it, and they will now feel the power of his revenge. Needing proper lighting for the operation, Solon and Condo go to repair the generators that have been knocked out by the storm. Once they leave the room, however, the Doctor's body vanishes in the same mist the TARDIS did.
Sarah keeps hidden as Solon and Condo pass, and enters the lab. She draws back the curtain on a bed, thinking it is the Doctor, but as the lights come up, she sees a headless, patchwork creature made from various body parts. It sits up...
Sarah moves away from it quickly, but hears Solon and Condo returning to the laboratory and has to hide. Solon finds the Doctor gone, and concludes that it must be the work of the Sisterhood. Solon swears revenge, and he and Condo go to get the Doctor's body back.
The Doctor regains consciousness to find himself surrounded by members of the Sisterhood. Maren accuses him of being sent by the Time Lords to steal the Elixir. The Doctor denies this, saying that the last thing he remembers is having wine with Solon and Morbius... but Morbius is dead, executed by the Time Lords on Karn for leading a rebellion. His body was placed in a dispersal chamber and atomised. The Doctor realises that just before he passed out, he felt the mind of Morbius. Maren refuses to believe that Morbius is alive and says that the Doctor will join him in death shortly.
Sarah trails Solon and Condo as they make their way towards the shrine. They observe the Sisters gathering wood to burn the Doctor at the stake. The Doctor points out that the Time Lords have always been friendly to the Sisterhood — they saved them when Morbius overran the planet. Maren retorts that this was out of self-interest as they needed the Elixir. Ohica reveals that the Flame is dying. The Doctor is puzzled, as the Flame is fed by gases from deep within the planet and should last for millions of years unless there has been some subterranean movement. They tie the Doctor to the stake while chanting the Song of Death. The Doctor warns them that if the gases are sealed in, the mountain could explode.
Solon and Condo interrupt the ceremony, to Maren's anger. Solon asks them to spare the Doctor, even offering Condo in his place. When that is denied, he begs them to give him the Doctor's head. While Maren dismisses Condo and Solon, a disguised Sarah sneaks up behind the Doctor and cuts his bonds. The ceremony starts again, and as the flames lick up, Maren's eyes close. The Doctor and Sarah take the opportunity to slip away, but Maren spots them, hitting Sarah with a blue bolt from her ring before they get away.
Back at the castle, Condo is angered by Solon's offer to sacrifice him, and threatens to kill Solon. Pleading for his life, Solon offers to restore Condo's arm and tells him to prepare the laboratory. Meanwhile, Sarah and the Doctor have escaped the shrine, but Sarah has been blinded by the energy from Maren's ring. She is worried that it may be permanent, but the Doctor assures her that the flash merely numbed the optic nerves and she should recover in a few hours. Despite Sarah telling him about the headless body she saw, the Doctor leads them back towards Solon's castle.
Solon speaks with a tremulous voice he addresses as Morbius. Solon asks for more time, but Morbius is impatient. Condo calls from above: the Doctor and Sarah have arrived. The Doctor asks him to examine Sarah's eyes, and they go to the laboratory. As Solon does so, the Doctor finds the headless body hidden behind the curtain. Condo escorts Sarah back to the parlour, while the Doctor speaks to Solon. Solon tells him that Sarah's retinae have been almost completely destroyed, but there is one chance: the Elixir of Life. Despite the risks, the Doctor must return to the shrine.
Solon summons Condo, who leaves Sarah in the parlour. Solon gives a note for Condo to pass to the Sisterhood before the Doctor gets there. Sarah hears Morbius's voice calling for Solon. Following the sound, she enters a hidden laboratory. As she stumbles blindly towards Morbius, who is a glowing brain in a tank, he accuses her of being a part of the Sisterhood, sent here to destroy him...
Solon enters and drags Sarah out of the laboratory. As he closes the door, Sarah hears Solon address the voice as "Morbius" and hears how Solon has sent the Doctor into a trap. Sarah locks Solon in the laboratory and, still blind, makes her way out of the castle.
In the shrine, Maren gives five of the Sisters, including Ohica, the last of Elixir. Only these five will survive when the Flame finally dies. The letter from Solon arrives, and Maren tells Ohica to warn the guards. When the Doctor enters the tunnels, a net falls on him and he is surrounded. When he explains why he came back, Maren tells him that the effects of the ray are not permanent, and Solon knows that. Maren demands to know why the Doctor is here, if it is not to steal the Elixir, and the Doctor replies that he feels something evil is brewing, something to do with Morbius.
Maren still does not believe — she saw Morbius being dispersed. The Doctor asks if Solon was here at that time, and Maren says many came to Karn at the time. Morbius led an army of mercenaries, promising them the Elixir and immortality and revealing its existence to the cosmos. The Doctor tells Maren that if she wants his help, the wrecking of spaceships passing by Karn has to stop. Outside, Sarah continues to work her way along the rocks and runs into Condo, who had orders to find her. He tells her the Doctor is dead and carries her, struggling, back to the castle.
The Doctor persuades Maren to let him see the Flame, the first one outside the Sisterhood to see it. The Doctor admires the process — the heat of the Flame causes oxidation of chemicals in the surrounding rocks, with the reaction of superheated gases forming drops of the Elixir. The Doctor insists the process is not mystical and with analysis, the Elixir could probably be synthesised, but the consequences would be disastrous with everyone trying to live forever. Even the Time Lords only take it in rare cases, not regularly like the Sisterhood, who because of it have become stagnant, unchanging, without progress. He uses a firework to clear the gas channel of soot and after a moment of tension the flame re-ignites.
At the castle, Sarah is bound hand and foot and lying on a table. Solon rants about how others called him insane, and only Morbius believed in him. When Solon tells Morbius that the Doctor is a Time Lord, the latter comes to the conclusion that Time Lords have tracked him down and will return in force. Morbius insists that he be transferred into the body now, and asks about the artificial brain casing Solon once constructed. Solon protests that he abandoned it because there was no way to stop the static electricity build-up, which risked severe pain and seizures. Morbius tells him that he will take his chances. Back in the castle, Solon prepares to operate, but Condo is enraged when he recognises his lost arm attached to the patchwork body. He attacks Solon before being shot in the stomach, their struggle knocking Morbius's brain to the floor. Not knowing what damage has been done, Solon places the fallen brain in the casing, releasing Sarah so she can assist in the operation. He threatens her into doing so, saying if Morbius dies, so does she.
The wounded Condo crawls into the hallway as outside, the Sisters carry the Doctor's seemingly dead body through the lightning storm. In the meantime, the operation is finished — within minutes Morbius will live again. Solon goes to answer the door bell, and sees the Sisters leaving the Doctor's body in the parlour. In the laboratory, Sarah's eyesight starts to clear, but the monstrous body of Morbius gets off the operating table and lumbers towards her...
Sarah screams as she sees the Morbius creature, and dodges out of the way. She warns Solon that the creature is loose and he runs back to the laboratory. Sarah notices the Doctor's body, but as she approaches, the Doctor wakes up and smiles at her. He is here to stop Solon, but Sarah tells him it is too late. But Morbius is revealed to not be in his right mind as he knocks Solon out and then the Doctor. Morbius chases Sarah, but Condo intervenes, knocking Sarah down the stairs into the cellar while he grapples with Morbius. However, Morbius is too strong, and kills Condo instead. Morbius wanders out of the castle as the Doctor regains consciousness. He carries Sarah into the secret laboratory to let her recover.
Solon, too, has awakened, and assembles a tranquilliser gun. He tells the Doctor that the operation was not complete, only the motor functions are working, the rest on an instinctual level. Knowing Morbius's hatred, he will seek out the Sisterhood. Sure enough, Morbius finds one of the sisters in some ruins nearby and kills her. The Doctor and Solon find the body and they search the ruins. Morbius attacks the Doctor, but is knocked out by Solon's tranquilliser. As they carry the creature back to the castle, the Doctor tells Solon that Morbius's brain will be detached and returned to the Time Lords.
The body of the dead Sister is brought back to Maren. Ohica reports that witnesses saw a creature and then the Doctor and Solon hunting for it. Maren realises that Solon has succeeded in his experiments and resurrected their ancient enemy. But Maren is too old and weak to leave the shrine, and she gives Ohica permission to lead the Sisters to the castle.
The Doctor gives Solon five minutes to disconnect the brain as he goes and checks on Sarah. However, Solon locks them in the secret laboratory instead and begins to repair Morbius. Using materials from the secret laboratory, the Doctor makes cyanogen gas, which he then pipes through a vent that leads to the operating room above. Though Solon dies from exposure to the gas upon finishing the operation, Morbius's lungs filter out the poison as he goes to confront Sarah and the Doctor — he claims that when the knowledge of his resurrection spreads, his followers will rise in their millions. The Doctor and Sarah mock Morbius in an attempt to overheat his brain, and the Doctor challenges him to a mindbending contest.
They grab hold of the appropriate apparatus in the laboratory and begin. The machine's display begins to show Morbius's brain casing head, then his previous face, then the Doctor, then the Doctor's previous incarnation. After going through the Doctor's previous incarnations, a series of eight other faces are shown before Morbius's brain case shorts out. The Doctor collapses, as Morbius stumbles out in a daze. The sisterhood arrive and chase Morbius over a cliff, and Ohica finds Sarah crying over the Doctor.
Taking the Doctor back to the shrine, Maren says only the Elixir of Life can save him, but there is none left. However, the revived Flame has gathered enough Elixir. There is enough for the Doctor, but not for Maren, who accepts that the Doctor was right: there should be an end. The Elixir is given to the Doctor, who revives almost immediately. Maren steps into the Flame of Life, becoming younger, and then vanishes.
Ohica starts to thank the Doctor, but he stops her, saying that Sarah and he have another engagement. Before they leave, he gives her a pair of curious objects in case they need to relight the Flame again. When Ohica asks what they are, the Doctor answers, "A mighty atom and a thunderflash." He explains that the writing on the cardboard tubes reads: "Light the blue touch paper and stand clear." This time, the TARDIS vanishes in a puff of light and smoke...
Maren mentions an alien race who travel in "silent gas dirigibles". In the script it is "Muthi" but she delivers it as "Hoothi" instead and writer Paul Cornell used "Hoothi" when he featured them in his New Adventures novel Love and War. Marc Platt's novels Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow establish that the Sisterhood of Karn are the remnants of an all-female cult that once ruled Gallifrey, which was led by the Pythia, and was outlawed when Rassilon came to power. The BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures novel Warmonger by Terrance Dicks is both a sequel and prequel to this story, explaining how Morbius's brain survived his execution and the Fifth Doctor's involvement in the surrounding events.
The Doctor once again states his age is 749, and says that he was born a few "billion miles" from Karn. The New Adventures novel Lungbarrow places Karn in Gallifrey's solar system. It is explicitly stated that Morbius was the first Time Lord to be sentenced to death in the race's history. Morbius is briefly resurrected in the Eighth Doctor Big Finish audio Vengeance of Morbius and comes much closer to overthrowing the Time Lords.
Karn and the Sisterhood of Karn return in the 2013 mini-episode "The Night of the Doctor," in which they revive the deceased Eighth Doctor and enable his regeneration into the War Doctor during the Great Time War. Ohila, the head of the Sisterhood, reappears in the 2015 mini-prologue to the Twelfth Doctor story "The Magician's Apprentice", where the Doctor journeys to Karn to meditate before confronting Dalek creator Davros; Karn, Ohila and the Sisterhood all make their first broadcast reappearance in that episode when they accost Colony Sarff, an agent of Davros who comes looking for the Doctor and then later reappear in the season's finale.
Faces in the mind-bending sequence
During the Doctor's mental battle with Morbius, the mind-bending machine displays two images of Morbius, then images of the Doctor's four incarnations as of the serial's production. These are followed by images of eight previously-unseen faces, intended to represent incarnations preceding the First Doctor. The Doctor's previous faces are portrayed by production unit manager George Gallaccio, script editor Robert Holmes, production assistant Graeme Harper, director Douglas Camfield, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production assistant Christopher Baker, writer Robert Banks Stewart, and director Christopher Barry. Hinchcliffe stated, "We tried to get famous actors for the faces of the Doctor. But because no one would volunteer, we had to use backroom boys. And it is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor". After a complaint, the BBC paid a sum of money to the actors union Equity benevolent fund.
The season 14 story The Deadly Assassin would introduce the idea that Time Lords are limited to 12 regenerations, with the number being confirmed in the season 18 story The Keeper of Traken. Attempts to retrofit this fact with the number of faces seen in the mind test machine have brought about explanations including the possibility that the faces were Morbius' previous incarnations, younger versions of the First Doctor, or the Doctor's potential future incarnations.
The Virgin Missing Adventure Cold Fusion by Lance Parkin implies that one of these prior Doctors was the incarnation of the Doctor active at the time of the birth of Susan Foreman. However, the subsequent Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow states that Hartnell's Doctor was the first, implying instead that the faces represent incarnations of the Other, one of the founders of Time Lord civilisation, of whom the Doctor is the reincarnation.
The original script was written by Terrance Dicks, using some ideas from his script of the stage play Doctor Who and the Daleks in the Seven Keys to Doomsday to a requirement from Hinchcliffe for a story about a human/robot relationship. However, after delivery Dicks was out of the country when it was decided that the robot, core to the story, could not be realised under the budget constraints. In excising the character Script editor Robert Holmes had to undertake the substantial rewrites without informing Dicks, who could not be contacted. The robot character was replaced with Solon who required a different motivation—that of a mad scientist. Dicks later said of the decision that it was not original but it was the "only one available". Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Dicks learnt of the changes and angrily phoned Holmes. Since the work was more Holmes than his own, Dicks demanded the removal of his name from the credits saying it could go out under a "bland pseudonym". This ended up being the name Robin Bland. The episodes were recorded entirely in studios during October 1975.
Philip Madoc had already appeared in The Krotons and The War Games and would appear afterwards in The Power of Kroll. He also had a role in the film Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD and appeared in the audio plays Master and Return of the Krotons. Colin Fay was a fortunate find for the production team: an opera singer by trade, he was a large man and, as a newcomer to television, cheap to hire. Other cost cutting included hiring only a single professional dancer who was copied in the scenes by actresses who had been chosen because of previous dancing experience.
Broadcast and reception
|3 January 1976
|10 January 1976
|17 January 1976
|24 January 1976
Upon the story's original broadcast, Mary Whitehouse (of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association) complained of the violence displayed; she was quoted saying that The Brain of Morbius "contained some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children's television". At the time the programme was under close scrutiny by the NVALA; complaints centred on the shooting of Condo by Solon with a resulting spurt of blood.
The story was repeated on BBC1 at 5:50 pm on 4 December 1976, edited and condensed into a one-hour-long omnibus episode. This edit—done without the director's participation—was similar (but not exactly the same) to the one used for the 1984 video release. The omnibus repeat was seen by 10.9 million viewers, a higher audience than the original episodic broadcast.
Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping wrote of the serial in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), "A superb exploration of gothic themes. Philip Madoc's portrayal of Solon is crucial to the story's success, and the pseudonymous epithet 'bland' is not at all deserved." In The Television Companion (1998), David J Howe and Stephen James Walker praised Madoc as Solon and the sets, and noted that the violence was realistic but adult. Together with Mark Stammers in the Fourth Doctor Handbook they described it as "everything a good piece of drama should be: entertaining, enjoyable, effective and emotional" In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times noted that Solon's insistence that he only use the Doctor's head was "a fundamental lapse in logic", but otherwise said that the serial was "a salivating treat". The A.V. Club reviewer Christopher Bahn found some minor problems in the script, but gave a positive review of the story, pointing out how it did not ripoff classic stories but repurposed them. DVD Talk's David Cornelius gave the serial four out of five stars, saying that it "allows for a wide range of storytelling tones without feeling cluttered or uneven" though at points the "silliness" of the Morbius costume threatened to "overtake" the story.
Doctor Who book:
|23 June 1977
A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in June 1977. An unabridged reading of the novelisation by actor Tom Baker was released on CD in February 2008 by BBC Audiobooks.
Dicks also wrote a second adaptation for younger readers that was published in 1980 as Junior Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius. A French translation of the full novelisation was published in 1987.
The serial was released on VHS in a 58min heavily edited omnibus format in July 1984 and complete in episodic form in July 1990. The edited version was also released on Betamax, Video 2000, and Laserdisc. The story was released in complete form on DVD on 21 July 2008.
- The Television Companion.
- Dominique Bois & Cameron Dixon. "Doctor Who Reference Guide; Warmonger".
- Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Location of Gallifrey". The Discontinuity Guide (reprinted on BBC Doctor Who website). London: Virgin Books. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
- Platt, Marc (March 1997). Lungbarrow (link to HTML ebook version). New Adventures. London: Virgin Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 0-426-20502-2. Retrieved 2007-04-17.
- How Stammers Walker (1992) p198
- Shannon Patrick Sullivan. "A Brief History of Time (Travel); The Brain of Morbius". Retrieved 2006-04-29.
- Lance Parkin, A History of the Universe pg. 255
- Howe, David J., Mark Stammers and Steven James Walker (1992). Doctor Who, The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor. Doctor Who books. ISBN 0-426-20369-0. p198
- Howe, David J. & Walker, Steven James (2004). The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Springer. ISBN 1-903889-52-9.
- Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping's "Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide", (Virgin Books, 1995)
- Parkin, Lance; Pearson, Lars (12 November 2012). AHistory: an Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe (3rd Edition). Des Moines: Mad Norwegian Press. p. 715. ISBN 978-193523411-1.
- Gallagher, William (27 March 2012). "Doctor Who's secret history of codenames revealed". Radio Times. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
- Howe, Walker and Stammers Doctor Who the Handbook: The Fourth Doctor pp 175-176
- Howe Stammers Walker p182
- Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Brain of Morbius". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-07-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- "The Brain of Morbius". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "The Brain of Morbius". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7.
- Howe, Stammers, Walker (1992) p201
- Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Brain of Morbius". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5.
- Mulkern, Patrick (28 July 2010). "Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius". Radio Times. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- Bahn, Christopher (21 August 2011). "The Brain of Morbius". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- Cornelius, David (15 October 2008). "Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius". DVD Talk. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
- The Brain of Morbius at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
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- The Brain of Morbius at BBC Online
- The Brain of Morbius at Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- On Target — Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius