Doctor Who episode 421: The Brain of Morbius – Part Four (24/1/1976)

This wraps up the story with all the appropriate efficiency of a Hammer Films finale, and a lot of violence. The body count isn’t particularly large, but each death – even hapless Sister Kelia, throttled by Morbius while out for a stroll – seems to count. Condo gets to sacrifice himself to save his pretty Sarah Jane (although he’s denied the irony of being choked to death by his own hand). Maren sacrifices herself so the Doctor might live, ruefully wondering if he wasn’t right about endings after all.

More shockingly, the Doctor poisons Solon and blows up Morbius’ brain (leaving the Sisters to deal with his body). When the next Baker does something similar to Shockeye and the Androgums it’s harder to swallow: here, the sense of doom and urgency created over the previous episodes means they get away with it. Morbius is positioned very much like Sutekh (and this has the feel of a companion piece to Pyramids of Mars): a ruthless tyrant of the past whose resurrection threatens to plunge the galaxy back into darkness. Where Sutekh left nothing but dust where he trod, Morbius leaves ash: ‘There was a civilisation here [on Karn] once. Now look at it. And there are other planets like it, all destroyed by Morbius. Nothing but ashes.’

For a script that originated with Terrance Dicks, this has all Robert Holmes’ obsessions: Dicks apparently suggested Holmes re-use the “Stephen Harris” pseudonym given how much surgery he’d performed on the script. Like Sutekh (and, in the future, the Master and Greel), Morbius has been crippled and reduced to skulking in the dark, relying on his acolytes to restore him. Equally, the treatment of the Time Lords and the Doctor feel closer to The Deadly Assassin than The War Games: a race known for their perfidy. After Season 13, the decadent race of The Deadly Assassin makes sense in a way they wouldn’t before.

Morbius4

This makes other myths as well: the Sisterhood turn up again, remarkably faithfully, in 2013-15, to oversee the eighth Doctor’s regeneration and Rassilon’s fall. ‘You expect us to show gratitude?’ Maren asks the Doctor in 1976; ‘You were never big on gratitude,’ reflects the eighth Doctor bitterly in 2013. Ohila calls the eighth Doctor, ‘The man to end it all’, ‘Perhaps the Doctor was right. There should be an end,’ says Maren here. And while it’s always fun to see a past Doctor montage (a rarity in the Tom Baker years), it’s the mysterious other faces that have generated fan theories from Marc Platt, Chris Chibnall, Lance Parkin and no doubt more to come. Personally, I’m more intrigued by the jar of Tribbles in Solon’s lab.

I’ve really enjoyed The Brain of Morbius consumed episode by episode: it’s got everything I would have wanted from Doctor Who as a kid – horror with a sense of humour. I’d love to see the 58-minute version, as I suspect it’s brilliant.

Next episode: The Seeds of Doom

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 420: The Brain of Morbius – Part Three (17/1/1976) | Next Episode...

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