Doctor Who episode 418: The Brain of Morbius – Part One (3/1/1976)
This is immediately positioned as another significant step towards revealing more about the Time Lords and the Doctor’s past, connecting it to Pyramids of Mars both visually and thematically. Like Sutekh, the Sisterhood of Karn know of, and are contemptuous towards the High Council of the Time Lords, whom they suspect of coming to Karn to steal the Elixir. Separately, Solon dismisses the Time Lords as ‘spineless parasites’ (how the mighty have fallen: the last time Philip Madoc was in the show talking about Time Lords they were demigods).
For fans, there are loads of exciting nuggets: the Doctor was ‘born in these parts’. The Time Lords have come to Karn for the Life Elixir since ‘the time of the stones’ (could this be their secret of regeneration?). It’s not hard to see why Marc Platt, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall have tapped this rich seam for their own stories. And Tom Baker does the same ‘Who knows?’ nose-tap he reprises in The Day of the Doctor.
Alongside the mythmaking, it’s also on the same gothic page as Pyramids of Mars, dripping with classic horror imagery. The Frankenstein influences are obvious, but they’re only part of a melange of Universal Horror overtones, from the vast, timeless castle and Solon’s Dracula-like welcome, while Solon himself is more like Dr Moreau than Frankenstein, experimenting in vivisection and hybridisation.
While the Time Lord mythology could conceivably have come from Terrance Dicks, the charnel house horror is pure Robert Holmes rewrite: Condo is explicitly described as a cannibal (which connects him to Caliban, and The Tempest elements of this, with Solon as an exiled and vengeful necromancer wrecking ships). Solon does an experiment to make a dead Mutt’s mandibles twitch. The whole episode is about decapitating the Doctor, which is both explicit and so over the top (Solon’s enthusiastic relish every time he contemplates the Doctor’s ‘magnificent head’ is practically panto). It’s incredibly grisly but also hilarious, which makes it ideal for morbid children. It’s a shame the show took a break over Christmas 1975 as this is perfect ghastly festive excess.
Next episode: The Brain of Morbius – Part Two
The “magnificent head” scene is hilarious. Altho’ Philip Madoc was perfectly capable of playing dully morose characters (Noel Bain in the excruciating Welsh detective series A Mind to Murder, the second banana in Power of Kroll), he is at his best at playing amusingly sardonic wackadoo sadists; the War Lord in The War Games, the U-boat captain in Dad’s Army’s The Deadly Attachment, and – possibly best of all – Solon are all hugely entertaining performances in which he appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Compare with his barely vertical disengagement as the uninspiring Fenner in Power and the difference is clear.
There’s also a wit in Brain of Morbius that’s all but missing in modern Doctor Who as the joy of language is not to be encouraged. Apparently. As if the love of words of more than one syllable is too “posh”. To which I say, tosh. So much for diversity.