Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius
(4 episodes, s13e17-e20, 1976)
Doctor Who meets Frankenstein.
A creature crawls across a Star Trek like planet’s surface, being pursued by a man with a hook for his hand. The hook-handed murderer, a being named Condo, takes the creature’s head to his master, Menhendri Solon. Solon chastises Condo for bringing him an insect head, which will simply not do. He needs a humanoid head.
The TARDIS arrives on the same planet, and the Doctor is angry because the Time Lords dragged them off course. Sarah Jane explores the area and finds an entire field of crashed spaceships, and she decides to look around as the Doctor sulks. Sarah Jane screams as she finds the insect’s body, which is actually one of the Mutts, and the Doctor runs to her aid. The Doctor recognizes the neighborhood and realizes that they are within a couple billion miles of Gallifrey. They head toward a nearby castle as a red-robed woman watches.
The Sisterhood of Karn? I’ve seen them before in the 50th anniversary celebration and a bit later in the Twelfth Doctor’s run. The observer was Ohica, and she reports the new arrivals to High Priestess Maren. Maren suspects that the visitors are linked to the slow death of the Sacred Flame, the source of the Elixir of Life that maintains their immortality. The Elixir is only known to the Sisterhood and the High Council of the Time Lords, but as the supply runs low, they believe that the Time Lords are coming for it. Supposedly, they use it to ease cases of trauma after regeneration.
The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive at the castle, and Solon is excited because he believes that the Doctor’s head is magnificent and superb. Creeeeeeeepy. The Doctor offhandedly remarks his previous heads, including the Third’s grey one (which Sarah Jane really liked). Solon entertains the travelers, and the Doctor investigates the man’s obsession with various heads.
Okay, look, this whole scene is really awkward. I mean, not just in the writing, but even in the acting, as if the players themselves wanted no part of it.
Condo brings wine and food for the guests, and the Doctor recognizes Solon as a famed neuroscientist who was rumored to join the cult of Morbius, a terrible renegade Time Lord. The Doctor connects all the dots as the drugs in the food and drink take effect on him. Condo takes the Doctor to the surgical area as Sarah Jane, who was faking anesthesia, makes her escape. As she explores the castle, she finds Solon’s Monster, a construct of various parts that is only missing a head.
The Sisters form a seeing circle and discover the TARDIS. They channel their power to teleport the TARDIS to Maren, and after she investigates it, her suspicions deepen that the Time Lords are indeed coming for the Elixir. The Sisters form another circle and teleport the Doctor to their location, inadvertently saving him from the operation. Solon hatches a plan to rescue the Doctor from the Sisters.
The Doctor awakens bound in ropes, and the Sisterhood demands that he confess to the plan. He obviously cannot, and discovers that Morbius was executed and disintegrated by the Time Lords for his crimes of rebellion against the Sisterhood and the alliance their two species share, but he determines that the renegade’s essence survived. Morbius revealed the secret of the Elixir to the cosmos, and they have been deliberately crashing passing starships to prevent anyone from stealing it. The Sisters prepare to burn the Doctor at the stake, and Solon and Condo burst in to save him.
The Sisters (Death! Death! Death! Death!) are pretty much like the Knights Who Say Ni (Ni! Ni! Ni! Ni!) at this point. I’m waiting them to demand that the Doctor bring them a shrubbery.
As Solon negotiates for the Doctor’s head, including offering Condo in exchange, Sarah Jane covertly cuts the Doctor free. The travelers run, but Maren blinds Sarah Jane with her power ring.
Condo angrily confronts Solon for his betrayal. The neuroscientist uses the always terrible “It was just a joke” excuse, but Condo is not swayed until Solon promises to replace the hook with a real arm. As Condo relents and leaves to find an extra arm, Solon sneaks away and consults with the disembodied voice of Morbius. He is interrupted as the travelers arrive and disclose Sarah Jane’s ailment. Solon invites them to the lab, determining that only the Elixir will restore her eyesight, and the Doctor resolves to retrieve it. Solon sends Condo to the Sisters with this knowledge, and Sarah Jane stumbles her way into the secret lab. There she discovers the voice of Morbius, which accuses her of being one of the Sisters. What she doesn’t know is that the voice comes from the renegade’s brain, enclosed in a jar.
<insert sigh here> Someone cracked open the Guide to Writing Horror for Science Fiction and started scribbling notes, didn’t they?
Solon removes Sarah Jane and then endures a verbal whipping from the Time Lord in a jar. In true Evil MastermindTM fashion, he details his entire plan in a method that protagonist can overhear. Sarah Jane locks Solon in the room and stumbles out of the castle.
Maren distributes the Elixir of Life to the Sisters (from an obviously empty cup, which is one of my biggest pet peeves in film), but there’s only enough for five. The Doctor arrives, but is ambushed after receiving Solon’s note. He explains the situation, but Maren reveals that Solon lied and that the ring’s effect is temporary. Together, they deduce that Morbius could have survived execution, and the Doctor offers to help them if they help him. The Doctor investigates the flame, determines that some soot is choking the natural combustion, and frees it up with a firecracker. The Flame is restored, and they hatch a plan to stop Solon.
Let me get this straight. The Sisters are smart enough to competently negotiate with the Time Lords, recognize a TARDIS, and wield power rings, but they have no idea how their entire elixir production system works? I don’t quite buy it.
Condo finds Sarah Jane and returns her to Solon’s lab. Solon updates Morbius, but a slip of the tongue reveals the Doctor’s identity to the renegade, and Morbius is furious. He believes that the Time Lords have found him and will kill him, and pressures Solon to operate immediately with an artificial brain case instead of an organic head. Condor assists in preparation, but discovers his arm is attached to Solon’s Monster. He attacks Solon, and Solon shoots him. In the struggle, the brain jar is toppled. A frantic Solon presses a blind Sarah Jane into service and completes the operation, not knowing how badly the brain was damaged.
The Sisters arrive with a supposedly dead Doctor, and Solon leaves to answer the door as the Morbius Monster awakens. It doesn’t have any higher functions, so it attacks Sarah Jane (who just regained her eyesight), trashes the lab, and attacks Solon. It goes after the Doctor and Sarah Jane, but a fatally wounded Condor saves them, and the monster storms off into the night. Condor was a good and kind Igor. His death was a sad one.
Solon sets out after the monster with a tranquilizer, and they track it down as it kills one of the Sisters. Solon and the Doctor capture the monster, and Solon takes it back to the lab with the promise of disassembling it and returning the brain to Gallifrey. Solon tricks the Doctor and completes the operation, restoring Morbius to full capacity. The Doctor floods the lab with cyanogen gas, but only Solon is killed since the monster’s lungs are immune to the poison.
Morbius challenges the Doctor to a form of Time Lord wrestling called mindbending. The Doctor falls unconscious as a massive energy feedback drives Morbius from the lab, and the Sisters chase him with torches over a cliff. We don’t know if he survived the long fall and regenerated, and I’m skeptical since “no body, no death”. The Doctor is fatally injured from the mindbending, and Maren provides her share of the Elixir and sacrifices herself to save him. Ohica is left in charge of the Sisterhood with a fresh package of fireworks as the Doctor and Sarah Jane move on to the next adventure.
Okay, first, let’s knock out the questions. During the mindbending, the question was raised of how long the Doctor has lived. There were eight other faces after rolling back through the Third, Second, and First Doctors. Within the scope of the mythology, who were they? They can’t be the Doctor, since Hartnell’s incarnation was clearly defined as the First. So, are they Morbius’s former regenerations?
Also, why did the TARDIS explode out of Karn instead of dematerializing like normal? Was it because of the somewhat unnatural change in position from landing to take-off courtesy of the Sisterhood?
Finally, the overall feeling of the story. There are so many tropes here, and while it was nice to get the backstory on the Sisterhood of Karn, the basis for their existence is really quite shallow. This story overall seemed like an exercise in getting the puzzle pieces down and connecting the dots, and while it flowed well, it didn’t hold my interest as well as some of the other stories in the Fourth Doctor’s run. It just felt, in a tip of the hat to the pseudonym that wrote it, bland.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom