CRRRaSh! 350 Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius

By Roy Mathur, on 2020-12-17, at 00:00:01--00:33:17 GMT, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen


In the last pod I couldn't trace some line hiss. It wasn't, as I previously thought, phantom power cooking my mixer. No, it was a line crossing my mic cable. I'm not sure if it was electrical or audio, but loosing mic one's cable from the spaghetti under my desk did the trick.

Anyone who tells you crossed lines are a myth are wrong.

Into the pod we go...


Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion: Sarah Jane Smith: Elisabeth Sladen
Director: Christopher Barry
Writer: Robin Bland (Terrance Dicks rewritten by Robert Holmes)
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Story 4 of Season 13, following The Android Invasion (covered in 347), 4 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 3 January to 24 January 1976.

On this Day in the UK

Nothing. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Nothing happened at all anywhere. Stop asking me.

What Happens

An insectoid alien is stalked and murdered by a large lurching humanoid (Condo). He takes the head back to the castle and laboratory of his master (Mehendri Solon). Solon is angry and says the head is unsuitable.

The Doctor and Sarah arrive on Karn. The Doctor believes they have been diverted there by the Time Lords. Sulking, he refuses to explore with Sarah. Sarah finds a spaceship graveyard and the headless body. They Doctor joins her and they head for the castle. There they meet Solon and Condo.

The Sisterhood of Karn recovers the TARDIS using their highly developed psionic powers to teleport it to their temple. They suspect the Doctor has been sent by the Time Lords to steal their dwindling supply of the Elixir of Life which bestows immortality.

At the castle, the Doctor recognises Solon from history as a master micro-surgeon and recognises a bust of Morbius, an evil Time Lord. Solon feigns friendliness, as he wishes to procure the Doctor's head, and drugs the Doctor and Sarah, but the Doctor soon vanishes. He awakes at the temple where he is to be sacrificed, but is rescued by Sarah who is temporarily blinded during the escape.

They return to the castle where Solon says the condition may be permanent and so the Doctor returns to the temple to ask the Sisters to use the elixir to restore Sarah's sight. The hole with the sacred flame, wherein the elixir is produced, is dying, but the Doctor fixes it by unblocking the natural gas fissure with a firework.

At the castle the disembodied brain of Morbius panics when he learns that the Doctor is a Time Lord, demands to be transferred into an artificial brain case and transplanted onto a monstrous headless body made of alien victims who were wrecked on Karn.

The Doctor and Sarah return to the castle where they become trapped in a room. Knowing that Solon and Morbius and were previously locked in another room by Sarah, the Doctor makes up a cyanide gas and releases it into the ventilation system poisoning Solon. The effect has no effect on Morbius because of the alien organs it contains, but after a mind-bending duel with the Doctor he flees and is soon driven off a cliff by the Sisterhood.

The story ends with the Doctor leaving the Sisters with a couple of fireworks to restart the Sacred Flame in future, and the TARDIS leaves them in puff of firework smoke.

What I Thought

I absolutely do remember seeing this the first time around in our drafty, damp council maisonette in South East London in 1976. Watching it live scared me and I had nightmares too. I actually hid behind our yellow vinyl sofa bought second hand for 7 pounds (a fortune back then). Bravo Monsieur Hinchcliffe, you have succeeded again (Ark in Space, covered in 327).

This is Frankenstein in space. There's a mad scientist, his hulking brute of a servant, and their gothic castle containing a sinister laboratory with body parts and a brain in a jar. Though there's also a forbidden temple, Tibetan Buddhist nuns/Minoan cultic priestesses and a tropical landscape, so perhaps there's little King Solomon's Mines (1937 and 1950) and Lost Horizon (1937) in there too. Again, the Doctor Who script does its usual magpie trick of stealing from a hotchpotch of other media properties too numerous to mention.

I initially liked the Sisterhood because of their exploration of inner space, psionic powers, and mysticism, which is in direct contrast to the Time Lord's obsession with technology. It's fascinating that to such different and opposing cultures should arise from the same species on the same world. I say initially, because I suddenly stopped liking them when they decided to sacrifice the Doctor to the Sacred Flame by burning him alive. Also, given such links to eastern mysticism, it is a pity that all the actresses playing the Sisters were white.

I was struck that the Doctor may not be displaying the petulance of youth when he sulks about the Time Lords diverting the TARDIS, but is showing us the obstinacy of very old age. The mind bending contest showed us several faces of the Doctor before the William Hartnell. Those faces were played member of the crew. The previous incarnations become important in New Who's The Timeless Children.

Why was Morbius's brain so big? It would require an absolutely massive head to fit that thing. Okay, I get it. It's only a prop and the prop had to be big enough to see on low resolution TV screens, but still, each time someone stands near it, we get a sense of scale, and realise the size of it is silly. I'm nitpicking as an adult, of course, because none of this mattered back when I was a terrified child.

The Doctor is again, as in The Android Invasion, heavily reliant on Sarah's own independent initiative to save his skin.

There is just so much Doctor Who lore this adventure. The rift and uneasy peace between the Sisterhood of Karn and the Time Lords of Gallifrey, the rebellious Cult of Morbius led by evil exiled Time Lord and war criminal, Morbius, his execution on Karn after the invasion is halted with the help of the Time Lords... you could fill a book, several books, audio dramas etc. with references to the events of this story, and sure enough, there are those references all over old and new Doctor Who.


Unsurprisingly, morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse complained. She said it "...contained some of the sickest and most horrific material seen on children's television". (Note: I cannot find the primary source of this oft cited quote). I don't agree with that, because I remember years of her complaining about just about everything, but The Brain of Morbius is one of the most adult stories I remember seeing. It was a pure Hinchcliffe horror joint.

At one point, the Doctor says, "I had a little drink about an hour ago." This is line from an English song from the 1920s called Show Me the Way to Go Home, later covered by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and made famous as a line Quint sings in Jaws (1975).