Doctor Who #421: The Brain of Morbius Part 2

"Please, just call me Doctor. I hate all this bowing and scraping."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.10 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane is blinded when she saves the Doctor from the Sisters' bonfire.

REVIEW: I'm enjoying the theme of incomplete biology running through this serial. Morbius' missing head. Condo's missing arm. The Time Lords' missing women (perhaps). And in a shocking move - at least in part because it's not a cliffhanger - Sarah's missing eyesight. The latter is extremely well handled by Lis Sladen, who excels at layering both bravery and fear in Sarah Jane. The way she tries to laugh away her despair by shaking the tears away and doing a bit of pantomime is so excruciatingly REAL a reaction, that it makes the situation much more terrifying. Surely, the companion hasn't been permanently maimed! Hopefully, Solon is lying when he sends the Doctor off to get beheaded by the Sisters of Karn, Sarah doesn't really need the Elixir of Life, etc. I know this intellectually, but her performance is so visceral, there's no disbelieving the gravity of her situation.

It's a good episode for the Doctor as well, as usual gleefully playing with his captors. It's all a joke until it isn't, with Tom Baker's Doctor. Despite the comedy, there's a great economy to his scenes, handing out crucial exposition as trivia, getting him to posit a hypothesis for the waning Flame of Life - his mention of geological shifts, and of Pompeii in particular, should provoke thoughts of the seer sisterhood in red garb and eye make-up in the Fires of Pompeii, but what possible connection could there be?) - Solon giving himself a way by requesting his head, etc. That's a lot done for a kangaroo court/failed execution scene. One thing's for sure, for clairvoyants, the Sisters of Karn aren't very good at seeing things right in front of them. Sarah sneaks into the shrine in a pale imitation of Sisterly wear and somehow doesn't disrupt their choreography. Don't these girls know each other on sight, or are there for more cultists than the ones we see?

And let's not forget the third cog in this acting machine, Philip Madoc as Solon. Always watchable, he's been given a fun litany of verbose insults and curses to use against those who oppose him, and not surprisingly, Condo has had ENOUGH (in a twist, he doesn't wait for Part 4 to turn on his master). Of course, Solon is talking about "putting him down" as if he were a dog in the very next scene. And yet, there's a hint of the kind of physician he used to be before he fell under the thrall of Morbius (or frankly, of his own hubris) in his bedside manner towards Sarah. Of Morbius, we finally hear the voice. A warbling, mechanized affair. A powerful mind that has survived atomization (in the Void?), but is going mad under the strain of sensory deprivation. We've seen his patchwork body - and I love how the patchwork motif carries over into other elements in the room, like the door with 70s flowers next to giraffe print - and as Sarah blindly stumbles into the cliffhanger, we see his eponymous, disembodied BRAIN! Great stuff, at once camp and horrific.

- We can't call the Doctor's escape too easy when it comes at the price of blinding Sarah, a terrific twist played for real by Lis Sladen. A highlight of the serial.



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