Production Code: 4K
1 - 03/01/1976 17:55
2 - 10/01/1976 17:45
3 - 17/01/1976 17:45
4 - 24/01/1976 17:55
The planet Karn is home both to a mystic Sisterhood, whose sacred flame produces an elixir of life, and to Mehendri Solon, a fanatical scientist who is using the remnants of spaceship crash victims to put together a new body for the still-living brain of the executed Time Lord criminal Morbius.
When the Doctor and Sarah arrive on the planet, Solon decides that the Doctor's head is just what he needs to complete his work. The Sisterhood meanwhile fear that the Doctor has been sent by the Time Lords to steal the last drops of elixir produced by the dying flame. They kidnap him and plan to burn him at the stake but he is rescued by Sarah, who is temporarily blinded in the process.
The Doctor is tricked by Solon into believing that his companion's condition is permanent. He asks the Sisterhood for help and restores their sacred flame to its former glory using a firework to clear its blocked chimney. Returning to Solon's citadel, the Doctor and Sarah become trapped in the cellar.
The Doctor releases cyanide fumes into the ventilation system and Solon is killed, but not before he has used an artificial brain case to complete Morbius's new body. The now-mobile Morbius accepts the Doctor's challenge to a mind-bending contest, which takes a heavy toll on both of them. The Sisters force the crazed Morbius over a cliff and he falls to his death. They then use the elixir to heal the Doctor.
Sarah sneaks into Solon's laboratory, left in darkness by a power failure, to investigate. She pulls aside some curtains and sees a humanoid figure lying on a raised platform. She initially believes that this is the Doctor, but suddenly the power comes back on and she sees that it is in fact a hideous monster with no head and a huge claw in place of its right hand. The monster lunges towards her.
Sarah, still unable to see, makes her way down into Solon's cellar, trying to locate the source of a guttural electronic voice that she can hear. On a bench in front of her stands a cylindrical tank in which Morbius's brain is suspended in bubbling green fluid. Morbius thinks that Sarah is one of the Sisterhood and rants that she has been sent by Maren to destroy him before his vengeance can begin...
Sarah, left by Solon in his laboratory after the completion of the operation to install Morbius's brain in an artificial brain case, realises that her sight is returning. The Morbius monster, having risen from the operating table, lurches towards her from behind, raising its claw to her neck...
The Doctor and Sarah enter the TARDIS and it vanishes in a flash and a puff of smoke.
Frankenstein films (the mad scientist and the stitched up corpse, the young girl's/blind woman's ignorance of the monster, the creature being chased over a cliff by torch-carrying villagers/women).
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Condo's infatuation with Sarah).
Terrance Dicks' Seven Keys to Doomsday.
Rider Haggard's She (the Sisterhood).
The Island of Dr Moreau.
They Saved Hitler's Brain.
The Old Dark House.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Forbidden Planet (the name Morbius).
The Doctor quotes 'Show Me the Way to Go Home'.
The Doctor : "I thought I recognised the stars."
Sarah Jane Smith : "You've been here before?' "
The Doctor : "I was born in these parts."
Sarah Jane Smith : "Near here?"
The Doctor : "Well, within a couple of billion miles, yes."
Morbius : "I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now... Trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords, reduced to this - to the condition where I envy a vegetable."
The Doctor : [Speaking of the elixir of life.] "The impossible dream of a thousand alchemists, dripping like tea from an urn."
The Doctor was born [on Gallifrey] within a few billion miles of Karn. The TARDIS calibrators are on the blink. Faces seen on the screen during the Doctor's battle with the Morbius creature would seem to indicate that he had more than three previous bodies. [This is flatly contradicted by other stories (e g The Three Doctors, Time and the Rani). Perhaps Morbius simply doesn't realise that he's losing. Alternatively the faces might be 'phantom pasts' created by the Doctor in order to fool Morbius into prolonging the struggle, thus maximising the chance of overloading his mind. Or they could be younger images of the first Doctor.]
The creature seen at the beginning is identified as a Mutt, an insect species from the Nebula of Cyclops (See The Mutants). Condo was found in the wreckage of a Dravidian spaceship [although the name is that of one of the aboriginal races of India, they could be the Drahvins of Galaxy 4]. The crashes are caused by the Sisters who guard the Sacred Flame or Flame of Life.
Uniquely in the galaxy they are equal to Time Lords in terms of mental prowess, and in the past Time Lords had use of the elixir occasionally [caused by a similar geological process to that which produced the numismaton flame on Sarn (Planet of Fire). Given the similarity of the planets' names, Karn and Sarn may be the same planet at very different periods of history. (Sarn is equivalent with c.20th century Earth; Karn is far in Sarah's future). However, the Trion beacon means that Sarn must be fairly close to Earth.]
Morbius, one-time leader of the High Council, tried to steer the Time Lords down a path towards destruction and conquest. He promised eternal life to his fanatical followers, many of whom were mercenaries, and came to Karn to seize the elixir of life. The civilisation on Karn, as on many other planets, was destroyed by Morbius [either as he searched for the Sisterhood, or during the conflict as the Time Lords finally caught up with him].
The Sisterhood was involved in Morbius' capture, and many people came to Karn to witness his trial. [This took place during the Doctor's life time, as he recongizes the telepathic impression of Morbius' mind. Morbius was seemingly destroyed in a dispersal chamber (Maren was present at the execution), but Solon, already living on Karn, stole his brain [before the execution].
Dr Mehendri Solon is a Terran neurosurgeon, who specialises in microsurgical techniques in tissue transplants. A follower of Morbius, he brought the brain back to his 'castle', a former hydrogen plant built on typical Scott-Bailey principles. Solon recognises the Doctor's cardiovascular system as being that of a Time Lord.
The Muthi travel in 'silent gas dirigibles'. Morbius' new body contains the lungs of a Birastrop on account of their superb filtration. Maren is keeping the flame artificially bright by 'feeding' it with powdered rineweed.
Karn (Karn's solar system contains five planets), [far in the future].
This story reused a number of elements from Terrance Dicks's 1974 stage play Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday.
Kriz, a creature killed by Solon's servant Condo in Part One after its spaceship crash-lands on Karn, is a Solonian mutant from the season nine story The Mutants.
Images of the Doctor's previous three incarnations appear on the screen of the mind-bending machine during the battle between the Doctor and Morbius. A number of other images, intended to represent even earlier incarnations, also appear. These were apparently photographs of behind-the-scenes personnel - directors Christopher Barry and Douglas Camfield, script editor Robert Holmes, production unit manager George Gallaccio, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, writer Robert Banks Stewart and production assistants Chris Baker and Graeme Harper - wearing stock costumes.
At the end of Part Four the TARDIS dematerialises instantaneously, with a flash and a puff of smoke, rather than fading away gradually, and the dematerialisation sound is played at a higher speed than usual.
Colin Fay, who played Condo, was an opera singer.
Barry Newbery's sets for this story were inspired by the work of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. (They weren't, although at director Christopher Barry's request Newbery did look at some of Gaudi's work during the course of his research.)
The Doctor mentions a race called the Hoothi who travel in silent gas dirigibles. (They are called the Muthi, according to Terrance Dicks's script - the reference was misheard by author Paul Cornell when he featured the creatures in his original Doctor Who novel Love and War.)
Morbius' globe head falls apart when he tumbles over the cliff edge, and the camera bounces
Why doesn't Solon just put the brain into the Doctor's head?
Cast & Crew
The Doctor - Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
Condo - Colin Fay
Kriz - John Scott Martin
Maren - Cynthia Grenville
Monster - Stuart Fell
Ohica - Gilly Brown
Sister - Sue Bishop
Sister - Janie Kells
Sister - Gabrielle Mowbray
Sister - Veronica Ridge
Solon - Philip Madoc
Voice of Morbius - Michael Spice
Director - Christopher Barry
Assistant Floor Manager - Felicity Trew
Costumes - L Rowland Warne
Designer - Barry Newbery
Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
Make-Up - Jean McMillan
Movement By - Geraldine Stephenson
Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
Production Assistant - Carol Wiseman
Production Unit Manager - Janet Radenkovic
Script Editor - Robert Holmes
Special Sounds - Dick Mills
Studio Lighting - Peter Catlett
Studio Sound - Tony Millier
Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire
Visual Effects - John Horton
Writer - Robin Bland This was a pseudonym for Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes
Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide
Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion
'A lightning-streaked sky, a barren landscape, an eerie castle and a clap of thunder. Nope, this isn't the latest Hammer Horror picture, it was the opening sequence of The Brain of Morbius.' So wrote Keith Miller in Doctor Who Digest Number 2, dated September 1976, and this story does indeed owe a great deal of its style and substance to the horror film genre.
The principal sources this time are the numerous cinematic adaptations of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (the idea of a mad scientist putting together bits of corpses in order to create and animate a composite body, later encountered by a blind person who fails to realise its monstrous aspect) and H Rider Haggard's 1886 novel She: A History of Adventure (a woman jealously tending a rejuvenating sacred flame). 'You couldn't exactly call the story original,' continued Miller, 'but I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the Frankenstein legend, with the exception of the Sisterhood. It had very strong atmosphere, and carefully planned mood changes. Tom Baker's light acting in contrast to Philip Madoc's excellent characterisation of Solon made a thoroughly delightful combination.'
Jeanette Napier, writing in TARDIS Volume 1 Number 6, dated May 1976, also considered the Sisterhood to be the story's weakest element: 'While there are dark doings at the castle, we have also been introduced to the Sisterhood - [a] women's lib version of the Time Lords. I really wasn't all that impressed with them. All those flashing eyes and waving arms and chanting spells were just too much for me! I loved the idea of a group of women on equal terms with the Time Lords, but surely they could have been made more elegant, as well as being sinister.' Napier did however share Miller's enthusiasm for Solon: 'I must admit I was really sorry to see Solon get killed. I thought he was a marvellous baddie and had visions of him taking over from the Master as the Doctor's arch enemy.'
Solon is indeed an excellent character, and much of the credit for his considerable impact must go to actor Philip Madoc. 'Philip Madoc excels as Solon,' wrote Nick Cooper in DWB No. 79, dated July 1990, 'undoubtedly a brilliant man, yet one driven beyond all reasonable bounds by a personal desire for revenge and the reflected glory the resurrected Morbius will bring him. He retains from his former life the ability to exude charm as he invites the Doctor and Sarah into his home, but he can then almost casually order Condo to kill Sarah simply because he has no use for her. Condo himself draws not only on Igor, but on Quasimodo as well, with Sarah as his rather unwilling Esmerelda.' Cynthia Grenville is also good as Maren, the head of the Sisterhood, and Michael Spice does a great job providing Morbius's suitably malevolent-sounding voice. The regulars too are wonderfully assured in their respective roles, and Elisabeth Sladen deserves special praise on this occasion for her affecting portrayal of Sarah's temporary blindness.
Also worthy of note are the story's sets - particularly as, for once, there is no location work or Ealing filming. Barry Newbery, the series' longest serving designer, again comes up trumps with a wonderfully alien-seeming planetary landscape, complete with some strange hexagonal pillars that appear to be huge basalt structures, and a suitably gothic-looking interior for Solon's citadel.
One of the story's main talking points is the climactic mind-bending contest, chiefly because it seems to contradict all other Doctor Who lore in indicating that the Doctor had eight previously unseen incarnations before the William Hartnell one. This certainly appears to have been what the production team intended to suggest at the time, although an equally valid alternative interpretation is that the images in question are actually those of Morbius's earlier selves - it is, after all, Morbius who loses the contest, the aim of which is apparently to force one's opponent back mentally to the point of their birth, and if he does seem to be gloating in triumph when the images appear this can presumably be attributed to his unsound state of mind. At the end of the day, maybe all that matters is that the scene provides a dramatic and intriguing resolution to the action.
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the story is the adult nature of some of its content. The shot of Morbius's brain falling to the floor of Solon's laboratory in a pool of green slime is often recalled as a particularly gruesome image, but the following incident in which Solon pulls a gun and shoots Condo repeatedly in the chest (his tunic is later seen to be soaked in blood) is surely one of the most realistically violent moments in the series' entire history.
This, predictably enough, did not go down well with Mary Whitehouse, who was quoted in the press as saying that The Brain of Morbius 'contained some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children's television'. The series' fans, on the other hand, lapped it all up. 'I thought it was wonderful!...' wrote Napier. 'We could do with a few more stories like this - give the Doctor some really nasty human-like adversaries with an evil intelligence and less bloodthirsty creatures who want to conquer planets just for the fun of it, and I'm sure the number of Doctor Who fans would increase tenfold!' The following story was another that would fit this description almost to a tee.