The Brain of Morbius was the fifth and penultimate serial of season 13 of Doctor Who. It referred to the Doctor's past and had a scene featuring mindbending that introduced contentious elements to the shows' mythos.
The appearance of the "Morbius" Doctors brought uncertainty to an area of the Doctor's early life that had rarely been questioned before, making out that the Doctor had previous lives before becoming the First Doctor.
On a dark and stormy night on a rocky and remote planet, an injured alien crawls from the wreckage of a space capsule. He doesn't get far. A brutish killer with a hook for a hand emerges from behind a rock and raises his knife. The hook-handed murderer, Condo, brings the severed head to his master, Mehendri Solon, who finds it unsuitable for his purpose.
The TARDIS materialises nearby and the Doctor emerges in a rage, certain some external influence — most likely the Time Lords — has made them land here. He eventually realises from the stars that they are within "a couple billion miles" of Gallifrey.
Resentful at being expected to do the Time Lords' dirty work, the Doctor sulks while Sarah Jane explores. She sees a vast plain strewn with the wreckage of dozens of spaceships. They find the decapitated corpse of the crash victim, which the Doctor identifies as a Mutt.
Their presence is observed by a red-robed woman, Ohica of the Sisterhood of Karn. She reports to their High Priestess, Maren, who suspects their arrival is connected to their Sacred Flame. A product of superheated gas, the Flame produces the Elixir of Life that makes them immortal. However, the Flame has been dying. Without the Elixir, the Sisterhood is doomed.
The Doctor and Sarah arrive at Solon's castle. Solon greets them awkwardly, remarking on the Doctor's "magnificent head". He orders Condo to bring wine. The Doctor recognises Solon as a distinguished scientist, a genius in the field of organ and tissue transplantation. His reputation was wrecked by his rumoured connection to the followers of Morbius, a notorious Time Lord criminal.
Solon dismisses the idea as mere professional jealousy that nevertheless prompted him to relocate to the planet Karn. A burst of wind forces the front door open and blows the cover off a clay bust. The Doctor suspects the Sisterhood's involvement, and in the aftermath recognises the bust as Morbius only to succumb to wine drugged by Solon's servant. Sarah, who has not drunk, feigns unconsciousness. Solon tells Condo to prepare the Doctor for an operation. They carry the Doctor to the lab. Meanwhile, the Sisterhood form a circle of meditation and focus on the TARDIS, which they teleport into their chamber. They identify it as Time Lord technology. They are convinced the Time Lords are plotting to steal the last drops of the Elixir of Life.
Solon and Condo go to repair the generators before the operation. While they are away, the Doctor's form glows and disappears, teleported by the Sisterhood. Sarah Jane sneaks into the lab looking for him. She opens a curtain and is confronted by a monstrous creature, a patchwork of sewn-together alien body parts, missing only a head...
Returning to find the Doctor gone, Solon realises he has been captured by the Sisterhood and goes with Condo to fetch him back. Sarah follows secretly to the Sisterhood's lair. The Doctor awakens to Maren's accusation: he is a Time Lord agent sent to steal the Elixir. The Sisterhood once willingly shared the Elixir with Time Lords suffering post-regenerative trauma. Now, protecting the last few drops, the Sisterhood use their collective psychokinetic energy to crash any passing spaceships, which Solon then scavenges for body parts.
The Doctor's denial isn't believed, and he is sentenced to burn at the stake. During the rite, Solon and Condo burst in. Maren, furious at the intrusion, refuses Solon's requests, first to preserve the Doctor's head, then to accept Condo in the Doctor's place. They exit sheepishly, and the ceremony continues. Sarah frees the Doctor before the flames reach him. A flash of power from Maren's ring, however, blinds her as they escape.
Condo angrily confronts his master about being offered in the Doctor's place. Solon begs for his life, promising to replace Condo's hook with a real hand. This calms the hulking servant for the moment. Solon, in a secret lab, talks to an unseen voice who berates him for the delay in finishing the body. Solon persuades the voice, whom he calls Morbius, that he needs more time. The Doctor arrives with Sarah for a consultation. Solon informs them the Elixir is the only remedy for her blindness. The Doctor resolves to return to the Sisterhood to obtain it. Solon sends Condo with a message to the Sisterhood, again asking for the Doctor's head. Solon exits, and Sarah hears the voice and follows it into the lab. She cannot see that the voice of Morbius emanates from a disembodied brain in a large vat. The brain accuses her of being an agent of the Sisterhood sent to destroy him.
Solon finds Sarah and rushes her out of the lab. From outside, she overhears their plan. Once he has the Doctor's head, he will transplant Morbius's brain into the body of spare parts he is creating, freeing him to again wage galactic war. She locks in Solon, then stumbles out to find the Doctor.
The Doctor is captured and brought again to Maren. He realises he's been duped by Solon; Sarah's blindness is only temporary. He persuades Maren to let him examine the Sacred Flame, convinced there must be a natural reason for its failing. He drops a firecracker down the shaft. It dislodges a buildup of soot, and the Flame is restored to its full height.
Condo unlocks the lab door, and Solon sends him to retrieve Sarah. Condo finds her. He is ready to dispatch her, but he takes pity on her blindness and returns her to Solon's castle. When Solon mentions the Doctor is also a Time Lord, Morbius panics, certain the Time Lords have tracked him down. Desperate, he compels Solon to operate at once, using an artificial brain case in place of the Doctor's head. As Solon prepares to operate, Condo recognises one of the creature's arms as his own. In a blind rage, he attacks Solon. In the struggle, he knocks over the tank, and Morbius' brain falls to the floor with a splat. Solon pulls a gun and shoots Condo several times. He drafts the unwilling Sarah into helping him operate, not knowing the extent of the brain's damage.
During a break in the operation, Solon finds the Doctor's apparently lifeless body left by the Sisterhood. He reflects bitterly on the irony. Meanwhile in the lab, Sarah's eyesight returns as Morbius rises behind her...
The operation has restored Morbius's motor functions, but his higher cerebral functions have yet to be connected. The result is a savage monster. Solon is attacked and knocked out, Sarah is saved only by the wounded Condo's self-sacrifice, and Morbius storms out into the night.
The Doctor awakens. He convinces Solon the creature must be hunted down. Together they find and tranquillise the creature, but not before it kills one of the Sisterhood. Solon convinces the Doctor he's going to dismantle the creature. Instead, he locks the Doctor out of the lab, leaving him free to complete the operation. The Doctor injects cyanide gas into the lab, killing Solon, but not before Morbius arises, fully sentient. Morbius confronts the Doctor. He says he now has the lungs of a birastrop, rendering him immune to the cyanide. He boasts that despite his monstrous appearance, his followers will rise to join him once more.
The Doctor challenges Morbius to a potentially deadly mindbending contest. It overloads after a fierce contest of wills. The Doctor falls, inert. Morbius reverts to his earlier savagery. The Sisterhood, armed with torches, corner Morbius and drive him over a cliff to his death. The Doctor's life is restored with a fresh draught of Elixir produced by Maren's self-sacrifice to the Sacred Flame. The Doctor gives Ohica a pack of firecrackers in case they have any more trouble. He departs with Sarah in the TARDIS.
- Doctor Who - Tom Baker
- Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
- Voice of Morbius - Michael Spice
- Solon - Philip Madoc
- Maren - Cynthia Grenville
- Condo - Colin Fay
- Ohica - Gilly Brown
- Sisters - Sue Bishop, Janie Kells, Gabrielle Mowbray, Veronica Ridge
- Kriz - John Scott Martin
- Morbius Monster - Stuart Fell
- Assistant Floor Manager - Felicity Trew
- Costumes - L. Rowland Warne
- Designer - Barry Newbery
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Make-Up - Jean McMillan
- Movement - 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
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - John Horton
- Assistant Floor Manager - Felicity Trew (INFO: The Brain of Morbius)
- Visual Effects Assistants - Andy Lazell, Steve Bowman (INFO: The Brain of Morbius)
- The Doctor mentions 2678400.
- The Doctor claims to be 749 years old.
- The Doctor mentions the volcanoes Vesuvius, Popocatépetl and Cotopaxi.
- The Doctor is frustrated by the Time Lords diverting his TARDIS so frequently.
- Solon rescued Condo from a Dravidian starship that had crashed on Karn.
- The Mutts are from the Nebula of Cyclops.
- Maren mentions the Five Planets.
Foods and beverages
- Sarah calls Morbius "Chop suey, the galactic emperor".
- The Doctor and Sarah are given copious amounts of wine by Solon.
- When offered a drink at the beginning of the second episode, the Doctor says “No thank you. I had a little drink about an hour ago”, which is a line from “Show Me The Way To Go Home”, a popular song from 1925. The next line would have been “and it’s gone right to my head”, but the Doctor is interrupted.
- Robin Bland is a pseudonym of Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes. During the serial's writing, Dicks was disappointed at Holmes's modifications to his original script, in which Morbius' assistant is a robot, feeling that the change in species to a human removed the nuance of a being unable to perceive beauty attempting to construct a body for a being who can (the rewrites themselves were to accommodate for the serial's budgetary restrictions; the staff didn't feel that there would be any way to properly create Morbius's robotic aide without overspending). Unwilling to put his name on the final product, Dicks asked to be credited under "some bland pseudonym," at which point the story was passively-aggressively credited to "Robin Bland" (much to Dicks's begrudging amusement). He would later go on to say that while he detested Holmes's changes to the script, he understood that it was the only way to ensure that the serial could be produced in the first place.
- Stories which share similar ideas to The Brain of Morbius include:
- Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, in which a scientist attempts to create new life by joining together the organs of a number of deceased bodies.
- Curt Siodmak's 1942 novel Donovan's Brain, in which a scientist tries to keep the disembodied brain of an evil billionaire alive.
- H. P. Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator, in which a chemist and his fearful assistant attempt to resurrect the dead.
- For the role of Solon, Christopher Barry considered trying to cast horror film icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. John Bennett and Freddie Jones were also considered before the part went to Philip Madoc. Stephen Thorne, Michael Kilgarriff and Bernard Bresslaw were considered for Condo, while Mary Morris, Sheila Burrell and Eileen Way were considered for Maren. (TCH 24)
- At the end of part four, the TARDIS dematerialises instantaneously with a flash and a puff of smoke, rather than fading away gradually. The dematerialisation sound is played at a higher speed than usual.
- Colin Fay, who played Condo, was an opera singer.
- Many of the faces in the mental battle between the Doctor and Morbius are members of the production team who worked on this story. In order of appearance, they are: George Gallaccio (production unit manager), Robert Holmes (script editor), Graeme Harper (production assistant), Douglas Camfield (director), Philip Hinchcliffe (producer), Christopher Baker (production assistant), Robert Banks Stewart (writer), and Christopher Barry (director), as documented by Barry's own direction notes (DWM 541) although some accounts miscredit some of the performers. According to Philip Hinchcliffe on the DVD of An Evening with Philip Hinchcliffe, the original intention of the faces were to represent previous incarnations of the Doctor, but fans of the time chose to ignore this but still pick up on the "thirteen incarnations" limit four serials later. He went on to say that no matter how many Who fans say these are "mind battle faces" or "past incarnations of Morbius" doesn't matter, followed by him stating the fact that he played the Doctor.
- Eventually, Doctor Who itself would provide an answer for the mystery in The Timeless Children, explaining that these faces are in fact incarnations of the Doctor, after the Timeless Child, but before the First Doctor.
- The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by a short preview for the story, which read as follows: "Dr. Who (5.55 BBC1) isn't new, of course. But The Brain of Morbius is a new story, and it's set on 1967 Karn, a planet new to the good doctor. Morbius is — did you guess? — an evil Time-Lord." (original published text) The reference to "1967 Karn" in the aforementioned preview is rather puzzling, as no year is given in the on-screen dialogue. Neither can this be a misprint and should actually read "1976 Karn", as the Doctor is clearly heard to mention to Sarah in part one that Solon's time as a scientist is considerably after hers, i.e. the distant future. The mystery remains unsolved to this day...
- Producing cyanogen from hydrogen cyanide, otherwise known as prussic acid, is an example of a chemical reaction that occurs in the real-world.
- Christopher Barry admitted on the DVD commentary that he regretted the scene in which blood explodes from Condo when he is shot at point-blank range by Solon.
- According to Cynthia Grenville (who played Maren), Tom Baker nearly got set on fire during a stunt which required him to be in a funeral pyre which is set alight. The BBC effects department heavily fireproofed everything in the pyre, but the flames shot up in massive columns instead of creeping around in a circle around the Doctor's feet like they were supposed to. If Grenville hadn't broken character and yelled at Tom to jump until he did, he would have been seriously injured — the fire brigade had to be called in between takes. If you watch the sequence, you'll notice later shots of the pyre are a lot less fiery than the early long shot of the Doctor, especially shots featuring the Doctor.
- Due to the low budget, only a single professional dancer was hired and then copied in the scenes by actresses who had been chosen because of previous dancing experience.
- The plot kicks off when a religious fanatic looks up to make eye contact with the Doctor and becomes infatuated with his face. This is peculiarly similar to a formative experience Tom Baker recounts in his autobiography, where, as a monk forbidden to look at faces, he'd accidentally glanced up to see another novice and become infatuated with his face.
- The decorative element on the chest of Maren's costume was made using plastic spoons spray-painted gold.
- Sarah gets temporarily blinded and the Doctor helps her through it. Series 10 of the revived series would have the Twelfth Doctor himself go through an arc where he loses his sight.
- The story is a homage to Frankenstein. The Thirteenth Doctor actually meets Mary Shelley herself in The Haunting of Villa Diodati.
- According to Cynthia Grenville, Elisabeth Sladen recommended her to the role of Maren due to appearing older than she was. (DCOM: Getting a Head)
- Part one - 9.5 million viewers
- Part two - 9.3 million viewers
- Part three - 10.1 million viewers
- Part four - 10.2 million viewers
- The mindbending contest at the end of part four proves conclusively that the Doctor regenerated multiple times prior to William Hartnell's Doctor. While this was what Philip Hinchcliffe intended to imply (REF: A History of the Universe), much evidence throughout the rest of the franchise contradicts it. For instance, Time Lord dialogue in The Three Doctors specifically establishes that the Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell is "the earliest Doctor"; further evidence provided in Mawdryn Undead, The Five Doctors, the 1996 TV movie, The Next Doctor, The Lodger, The Name of the Doctor, and The Time of the Doctor (among others) establishes that all of the Doctor's incarnations are accounted for in his televised adventures. However, The Timeless Children suggests that they are indeed previous incarnations who the Doctor has no memory of ever being. Other stories, such as Cold Fusion and Lungbarrow imply that these incarnations belonged to the Other (or some other ancient Time Lord) with a complicated connection to the Doctor. See The Doctor (The Brain of Morbius) for more details.
- Barry Newbery's sets for this story were inspired by the work of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. They weren't, although at director Christopher Barry's request Newbery did look at some of Gaudí's work during the course of his research.
- Maren mentions a race called the Hoothi, who travel in silent gas dirigibles. They are called the Muthi, according to Terrance Dicks's script, but Cynthia Grenville pronounces the name as "Hoot-eye". This is quite clear on the DVD. Author Paul Cornell featured the creatures in his original Doctor Who novel Love and War.
- Sarah Jane calls the Doctor "Tom" at one stage (during the mindbending sequence). She is actually stammering the word "Doctor".
- Morbius's globe head falls apart when he tumbles over the cliff edge, and the picture bounces as he goes out of shot (Stuart Fell hit the camera while performing the fall).
- A boom shadow can been seen over the Doctor the second time he goes to the Sisterhood and talks to Maren about the resurrection of Morbius.
- When the Doctor removes the grate from the vent, the entire wall wobbles slightly.
- PROSE: Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible expands on who the Sisterhood are, how they came to be and their animosity to the Time Lords / Gallifrey.
- PROSE: Warmonger covers much of Morbius's reign before he was captured by the Time Lords.
- The Hoothi, briefly mentioned in this story, play a significantly greater role in PROSE: Love and War.
- In PROSE: Verdigris, Iris Wildthyme reveals she was one of the Sisterhood of Karn yelling "Death" at the Doctor.
- A Mutt appears. They first appeared in TV: The Mutants.
- The Sisterhood of Karn, Morbius and the planet Karn return in the Eighth Doctor audio plays AUDIO: Sisters of the Flame and The Vengeance of Morbius. Both Karn and its Sisterhood subsequently feature in TV: The Night of the Doctor and TV: The Magician's Apprentice.
- When Sarah sees that he is alive when she believed he was dead, the Doctor dryly remarks tat she is "always making that mistake". (TV: Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion)
DVD, video and laserdisc releases
- PAL -
- Region 4 - 2 October 2008
- PAL -
- Region 1 - 7 October 2008
- NTSC -
- Commentary by Philip Hinchcliffe, Tom Baker, Philip Madoc, Christopher Barry and Elisabeth Sladen
- Getting a Head - Documentary on the serial's production
- Designs on Karn - Set Designer Barry Newbery discusses his team's work on the serial
- Set Tour - Computer-generated rendering of how the sets were constructed and placed within BBC TV Centre Studio 1
- Photo Gallery
- Sketch Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Radio Times Listings
- Coming Soon: The Trial of a Time Lord
- Easter Egg - Trivia from the serial. To access this hidden feature, press left at 'Main Menu' on the Episode Selection menu.
- Easter Egg - Dramatic readings of a letter from young viewer Aidan Carlisle criticising the show's increasing focus on horror, and reply from Robert Holmes. To access this hidden feature, press left at 'Set Tour' on the Special Features menu.
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
- UK July 1984 (heavily edited movie edition)
- US July 1987 (heavily edited movie edition)
- Australia November 1987 (heavily edited movie edition)
- UK July 1990 (unedited)
- Australia January 1991 (unedited)
- US February 1997 (unedited)
- Norway January 1985 (heavily edited movie edition - in English with Norwegian subtitles)
As noted above, initial home-video releases of The Brain of Morbius used a heavily edited omnibus movie print, with a running time of less than an hour. This was apparently in an attempt to make the serial acceptable for young viewers (in the US it was released on Playhouse, a children's imprint of the CBS Fox label). This edit was heavily criticised and eventually an uncut version was released (though American viewers had to wait a decade). Similar edits were not released for other serials.
The Brain of Morbius was one of the few episodes to be released on LaserDisc. Because it was released early on in the format's life cycle, it carries the "LaserVision" branding rather than the later "LaserDisc" label for which the format would be most commonly known. As with most early LaserDiscs, this release is known to suffer from severe disc rot.
It was released in July 1984 as The Brain of Morbius.
- The Brain of Morbius at the BBC's official site
- The Brain of Morbius at RadioTimes
- The Brain of Morbius at BroaDWcast
- The Brain of Morbius at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Tardis Library: Video release information for The Brain of Morbius
- The Tardis Library: Target book release information for The Brain of Morbius