Doctor Who #422: The Brain of Morbius Part 3

"Fascinating. And the heat from the flame causes oxidation of the chemicals in the rocks, and then, no doubt, a chemical reaction with rising superheated gases and you have your Elixir. The impossible dream of a thousand alchemists dripping like tea from an urn."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.17 1976.

IN THIS ONE... Solon puts Morbius' brain in a receptacle atop a monster body, but not before it's dropped on the floor.

REVIEW: It looks to me like Philip Madoc has taken his lead from Tom Baker and is ad-libbing jokes into the script... and making them work! His irresistible pun, for example. The bit where I laughed the most, however, was when he told Condo Sarah Jane didn't like having her hair stroked and he should leave straight away. The delivery is genius. Madoc plays Solon as one of those patented Doctor Who megalomaniacs, convinced no one (not even Morbius, in this case) is smarter than he is or can possibly understand what he has to deal with, but that doesn't mean Solon can't have doubts, or be witty, feel joy and anguish. He's one of the richest Who villains we've had. Solon eclipses all other guest characters, but that doesn't mean the rest of the cast isn't any good. Cynthia Grenville controls every scene she's in as Maren. Poor Condo is a thankless role, but Colin Fay makes him sympathetic and self-aware. Michael Spice brings the necessary panic and anguish to Morbius' voice. And while I wanted to laugh at Gilly Brown's bizarre eye-bugging as Ohica, it does bring something interesting to the serial. At least it's not forgettable, you know?

The regulars continue to be the best pairing in Whodom. I love how the Doctor goes from being the Sisters' captive (sadly, that is a ridiculously wimpy net they've got him in) to giving them ultimatums if they want his help in only a few minutes. Baker is always at his best when he alternates between being flippant and deadly serious. Not sure how he restores the Flame of Life, exactly, but it's interesting that the Time Lords don't really depend on it. I thought it might be a catalyst for endowing Gallifreyans with regenerations, but no, only to be used in the gravest situations. Makes one wonder why the Master didn't try to get a hold of some Elixir when he turned into a decaying zombie. As for Sarah Jane, she blindly goes out to warn the Doctor of Solon's shenanigans and gets grabbed by the hair for her trouble, once again playing Fay Ray to a giant brute with metal arm(s). And there's something both amusing and horrible about forcing her to be Solon's blind medical assistant.

But that's where this serial lives, halfway between camp and horror. The moment when Morbius' purplish brain is dropped on the floor (one of those moments Mary Whitehouse objected to) represents that aesthetic at its apogee. It is a ridiculous situation and leads to equally ridiculous dialog straightly delivered, but it's also a disturbing and for its time, gory image (Whitehouse would have done better objecting to Condo's gunshot, which is actually violent). Either Karn is a sterile planet or Time Lord brains are more resistant to infection than ours. The whole serial actively opposes or mixes science and magic, just like it does humor and horror, just as it's about a piecemeal Time Lord, so that Solon is more butcher than surgeon. Morbius' brain liquid is just emptied on the floor, his brain sinking miserably in its tank. Solon is discouraged by his primitive brain receptacle, but thinks nothing of the lobster claw he's fitted the body with. And he has Sarah blindly pumping at the monster's heart with a plunger. Over at the Sisters' place, the Doctor explains their magic away and heretically proposes you could synthesize the Elixir of Life. And because the Doctor is the hero, science triumphs. The Sisters would have died out because they lack progress, the cost of immortality. It's an idea that will be revisited by Holmes by the time we meet the Time Lords again as a stagnant, lifeless, but eternal society. The Doctor represents change, he progresses, he lives by scientific ideals, and so he wins, he can make things happen, he rises above all these immortals in achievements and morality. He risks death, and those are his rewards.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A sparkling script (probably helped along by great adlibs) that finds a way to stitch together a genius and a monster as well as it does comedy and horror, violence and the absurd, mysticism and mad science.



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