One thing I hadn’t noticed when I’ve watched The Brain of Morbius in the past, usually in an attempt to make it through the whole serial in one go, is how funny the script is. Robert Holmes does love a good villainous rant (recently we’ve had ‘Abase yourself, you grovelling insect’ and Sharaz Jek’s ‘stinking offal’ monologues still to come). But this opens with a wonderful stream of vitriol from the frustrated Solon, who’s just had his magnificent head stolen from under his nose:
That squalid brood of harpies, the Sisterhood. That accursed hag Maren found I was holding a Time Lord and rescued him. May her stinking bones rot! I’ll see her die, Condo. I’ll see that palsied harridan scream for death before Morbius and I are finished with her.
Solon and Condo form the unlikeliest Holmesian double act, a sort of grand guignol Blackadder and Baldrick, both incompetent to different degrees as they creep round Karn coming up with cunning plans to get the Doctor back in their control. Solon reduced to impotent platitudes in front of Maren’s steely glare and Morbius’ furious complaints; Condo about 12 steps behind everyone else. Philip Madoc plays it deftly: a fool surrounded by even bigger fools, but stopping just short of sending up the material. Checking Sarah’s eyes and says ‘I think there’s every chance, every chance of a complete recovery’ while shaking his head and mouthing ‘nope’ at the Doctor is both funny and utterly believable.
Similarly, Tom Baker drops in jokes but – unlike his brutal roasting of the CyberLeader – none of them undermine the villains. He calls Maren ‘Matron’ but plays it as defiance in the face of terrible danger, which works because Cynthia Grenville as Maren chooses to play it utterly straight. Her dismissal of the Doctor’s facetiousness, ‘Doctor, you have but a little time left. Will you waste it prattling nonsense’, is so perfect Steven Moffat lifts it almost verbatim for his sequel, The Night of the Doctor: ‘You have so little breath left. Spend it wisely.’
Next episode: The Brain of Morbius – Part Three