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DVD Review

Doctor Who
The Brain of Morbius


Starring: Tom Baker
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 21 July 2008

Arriving on the planet Karn, the Doctor rants against the continued interference of the Time Lords, but before they can attempt to leave, Sarah Jane Smith discovers a headless body and the castle of Solon, a microsurgical genius known to the Doctor. Solon isn’t the only one on the planet as it is also the home of the Sisterhood, who distrust the Time Lords' motives, feeling that they covet their failing elixir of life. With little awareness of what is happening, the Doctor and Sarah Jane become embroiled in the Sisterhood's paranoia and Solon's desire to decapitate the Doctor to replace Morbius’s missing head. Morbius was the first Time Lord to be sentenced to execution…

The Brain of Morbius is a four-part story first transmitted in January 1976. The show formed part of the much darker gothic season thirteen. Directed by Christopher Barry and written by Robin Bland (more of that later) the show was generally well received, especially Philip Madoc’s portrayal of Solon, which at this time usually meant that Mary Whitehouse hated it. The unabridged reading of the novelisation, read by Tom Baker, has recently been released on CD. 

Robin Bland is a pseudonym for Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes and was used as the original script, which would have involved a robot slavishly attempting to rebuild Morbius following a crash, was altered beyond all recognition from the original script by Terrance Dicks, who was less than happy. Pity, sounded like a much better script.

It has to be admitted that Who often "borrowed" from other successful genres for its plots and themes and here we have a marriage between Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and H. Rider Haggard's novel She - and the plagiarism is more evident here than in other stories. Given its source material, it should come as no surprise that the show attempted to push some of the barriers and included a number of adult visuals, including the shooting of Solon’s servant and Morbius’s brain hitting the floor - though the Morbius creature is less terrifying than it could have been.

A scene which caused, and continues to cause, controversy is the mind duel between Morbius and the Doctor, where they attempt to strip each others minds back to their beginnings. It was controversial amongst fans as it appeared to go completely against Who canon and suggest that the Doctor had had many more regenerations than had previously been stated. The pictures shown were of the production team dressed up and, as non actors, the show fell foul of equity for this. A nice idea regretted by all, I think.

As is usual with Who releases you get a good set of extras for your dosh, including a full length commentary with Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Christopher Barry and Phillip Hinchcliffe; Getting a Head (32 min, 7 sec), which opens with a new CGI sequence of some of the Karn elements is narrated by Paul McGann and is another excellent mini documentary about the making of the show, with contributions from many of the cast and crew. It explains the change of script writer's name and recounts their time on the show including the near accidental burning to death of Tom Baker; Designs on Karn (6 min, 12 sec) has Barry Newbury discussing how he came up with the gothic look of Morbius, with many production drawings; Set Tour (2 min 13 sec) is a CGI recreation of the building of the first and subsequent sets. As the story was completely shot in a studio you can see how they built the sets to fit into that single space; Photo Gallery (4 min, 37 sec) but still no wallpaper for the old laptop; and a Sketch Gallery (2 min, 24 sec) which contains a number of the pre-production sketches. To round things off you get the normal info text option, the Radio Times Listings and a trailer for the Trial of a Timelord box set.

The picture has held up remarkably well, as has the Dolby 2 channel audio track, even if the plagiarised story hasn’t.


Charles Packer

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