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Recap / Doctor Who S13 E5 "The Brain of Morbius"

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Yeah, in just a few seconds, Sarah's gonna wish she stayed blind...

"I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now... Trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords, reduced to this - to the condition where I envy a vegetable."

The One With… the passive-aggressive pseudonym. Also the one that created a stir with the suggestion that past lives of the Doctor existed before the First. Also the one where Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen get to make puns!

Written by Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes (under the pseudonym Robin Bland). This four-episode serial first aired from January 3—24, 1976.

The Doctor and Sarah arrive on the planet Karn, home to the Sisterhood, who guard the sacred flame that produces the Elixir of Life. Elsewhere, scientist Mehendri Solon is attempting to build a new body for the living brain of Morbius - a criminal executed by the Time Lords.

Solon decides that the head of the Doctor will prove a fitting home for Morbius' brain, but before he can act, the Doctor is kidnapped by the Sisterhood, who fear that he has been sent by the Time Lords to steal the last of the Elixir of Life from the dying flame. The Doctor is to be burned at the stake, but he is rescued by Sarah, who goes temporarily blind in the process.

Solon convinces the Doctor that Sarah's condition is permanent, and the Doctor goes to the Sisterhood for help — convincing them of his good offices by using a firework to clear a blocked chimney and restore the flame. Returning to Solon, the Doctor and Sarah are trapped in the cellar. The Doctor releases cyanide gas and kills Solon, but Morbius' new body is working (sort of), with a plastic bowl as a temporary head. Stumbling about, Morbius accepts the Doctor's challenge of a battle of minds, and both are severely weakened by the ordeal. The sisterhood push the disoriented Morbius over a cliff and heal the Doctor with the Elixir.


  • Actor Allusion: The Doctor tells Sarah that if she doesn't stop crying he'll bite her nose. Tom Baker had previously had his nose bitten for crying in The Canterbury Tales.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: In a Call-Back to "The Ark in Space", the Doctor finds an improbably tiny vent. Sarah asks, "Are you suggesting I—" "—No, I'm not suggesting you climb down there!" the Doctor snaps. Instead, he uses it to send poison gas to Dr. Solon, who's in the next room.
  • And I Must Scream: Morbius would risk constant pain and insanity in an artificial body rather than continue with the agony of being a Brain in a Jar.
  • Anti-Climax: The whole 'Flame of Life is dying' plot seems like it's going to take a big part of the serial to solve... nope, the chimney just needs to be cleaned.
  • Arbitrary Scepticism: The Sisterhood practice Psychic Powers, but refuse to believe that there's a way to bring back a deceased Time Lord, even after the Doctor says he felt his presence in his mind.
  • As You Know: Maren says this when she explains to Ohica about the Elixir of Life.
  • Bad Boss: Solon, who repeatedly abuses and mistreats his trusty assistant Condo.
  • Batman Gambit: The Time Lords divert the TARDIS to Karn without consulting the Doctor, trusting him to sort out the problem in his usual manner. Credit to them, it works.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: You can heap all the abuse you like on Condo, but if you offer him up for sacrifice in the place of your prized specimen, his reaction won't be pretty. He was even more upset when he found that Solon had taken his arm to use for Morbius' body.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Practically the first thing you see is Condo coming in with a severed head. It's the head of an insectoid alien, but still. Between the disembodied brain in a tank (which gets spilled on the floor at one point), the hideous Morbius monster and Condo getting shot in the gut it's generally considered one of the nastiest serials of the classic era.
  • Body Horror: Morbius' Franken-Body. It had a hideous leathery and vaguely decayed-looking torso covered with scattered tufts of shaggy hair, Condo's left arm and a huge crablike claw on its right side. Solon was never able to acquire a suitable head for it, so it ended up topped with a transparent plastic sphere containing Morbius' exposed brain, with a pair of buglike red eyes extending from the front on stalks.
  • Book Dumb: While Condo isn't the brightest bulb in the box, his simply-expressed insights are quite astute.
  • Bottle Episode: This was written to be the season's cheap story — it's not particularly extreme as one, but it has only a couple of fairly simple sets, is light on the special effects and features mostly heavily made-up Human Aliens with only a couple of proper monsters showing up. At least one of the monsters was a recycled monster costume from "The Mutants". In fact, the original script had a villainous robot character in it, but to save money on building a robot the script was rewritten to convert it into Mehendri Solon, a human Mad Scientist, and his disabled servant. This all ended up working in the story's favour, as Solon is able to be a lot more expressive and entertaining than some guy in a robot mask would ever be able to manage, the simple visuals force the serial to rely on very tight and intelligent dialogue storytelling, and it's ranked amongst Tom Baker's best serials.
  • Brain in a Jar: Morbius' brain is being kept in a jar until Solon can get his hands on a more suitable long-term receptacle.
  • Brain Transplant: What Solon has planned once he finds a suitable head to transplant Morbius' brain into. The Doctor's will do nicely...
  • Burn the Witch!: The Sisterhood of Karn attempts to execute the Doctor by burning him at the stake.
  • Comic Trio: Solon, an obsessive, grandiloquent idiot who thinks he is a genius despite his plan one a toddler could see the issues with; Condo, his even stupider thrall who does the grunt work; and Morbius, an actual genius, well aware that Solon's plan is terrible, and powerless to do anything about it between his diminished physical status and suicidal depression.
  • Complexity Addiction: It's a commonly pointed-out Plot Hole that Solon's plan to give Brain in a Jar Morbius a new body is far more complicated than it needs to be. Much of the plot is driven by his intention to cut off the Doctor's "magnificent" head and use it as the final piece of the Frankenstein's Monster body that he built for Morbius to live in. It would have been a lot more straightforward just to put Morbius into the Doctor's body—or even Condo's. This was mostly a holdover from earlier drafts of the script in which Condo was absent and Solon was a robot stitching together bodies from downed spaceships with no understanding of how they looked together and the Plot Hole was big enough that Terrance Dicks wanted his name taken off the script. The production subtitles on the DVD suggest that, as someone who already spent a lot of time on the mishmash body, Solon may be experiencing "the same logic blind spot that engulfs someone when they are trying to assemble a flatpack wardrobe in that they would rather spend time and effort hammering in new bits, cutting off useless parts and searching for non-existent screws so that they can actually get the darn thing installed than start afresh with something far more suitable for the purpose intended".
    • The novelisation partially fixes this plot hole by stating that Time Lord brains are too large to fit in human craniums, at least explaining why he couldn't use Condo's.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: The Doctor uses the flaming torch being held by one of the Sisterhood of Karn to light the fuse on a firecracker.
  • Creative Sterility: The Doctor accuses the Sisterhood of stagnation, because every one of them keeps doing things the way they always did.
  • Creator Cameo: Aside from the Doctors, the faces seen during the mind-bending contest are production unit manager George Gallaccio, Robert Holmes, production assistant Graeme Harper, director Douglas Camfield, producer Philip Hinchcliffe, production assistant Christopher Baker, writer Robert Banks Stewart, and director Christopher Barry.
  • Darker and Edgier: With the bleak, creepy atmosphere and graphic gore one can only wonder how this got rated PG.
  • Deadly Gas: How the Doctor kills off Solon.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Calling Morbius "Chop suey, the Galactic Emperor". He is not pleased.
  • Discreet Drink Disposal: The Doctor and Sarah are guests of the Mad Scientist Solon. The Doctor drinks the Mickey-laced wine Solon serves them, but Sarah wisely pours hers on a plant (then fakes passing out).
  • Disney Villain Death: In the climax, the now mindless Morbius is forced off a cliff by the torch-wielding Sisterhood.
  • Distressed Dude: Once again, the Doctor gets kidnapped. Twice, in the space of five minutes.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Solon tells Condo to leave when his liking to Sarah Jane makes her uncomfortable.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The fourth episode contains a sequence in which the three previous incarnations of the Doctor are shown, and eight additional faces beyond that. This led to suspicions that the Doctor had incarnations dating even further back than the First Doctor. Morbius asks "How far back Doctor, how long have you lived?" — suggesting that even by Time Lord standards, the Doctor has been around for a while.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: There's some mildish Gorn, Condo getting shot in the stomach and lurching down a corridor oozing blood from his body and mouth as he goes, and some Sarah Jane-related Eye Scream moments.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Doctor blasts the Sisterhood of Karn for using an elixir to extend their lives because they've completely stagnated, and says that regeneration is preferable because it brings change. This attitude seems to be shared by other Time Lords, who use the same elixir as medicine, but not to prevent their final death.
  • The Flame of Life: A sacred flame which is a neccessary part of the Elixir of Life is dying, and the Doctor gets it working again.
  • Frankenstein's Monster: This story is an obvious homage.
  • Gentle Giant: Condo, more or less. His Berserk Buttons are his missing arm (which Solon uses to blackmail him), and that time that Solon effectively betrayed him by offering him up as a replacement sacrifice to the Sisterhood of Karn in exchange for the Doctor's life (or at least, his head).
  • Good Is Not Soft: In a desperate attempt to prevent Morbius' revival, the Doctor murders Solon with poison gas.
  • Guile Hero: How Sarah Jane rescues the Doctor for the second time in two serials.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Quite a few in this one:
    • An already gravely wounded Condo dies protecting Sarah from the murderous Morbius monster.
    • The Doctor challenges a revived Morbius to the deadly Time Lord game of "mindbending", something that Morbius was known for his skill at, in a desperate attempt to stop him. He's no match for the other Time Lord and is put into a coma, but he succeeds in forcing Morbius to burn out his brain case, reducing him to a mindless monster again.
    • Maren gives the Doctor the last of the elixir of life, fully knowing that she'll die if she doesn't drink it herself.
  • Hook Hand: Condo has one to replace the arm Solon has stolen from him .
  • Hypocrite: "You murderous animal!" says Solon, right after blowing out Condo's guts on screen for tipping Morbius' brain tank over.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The Doctor has already deduced that Solon has been lying to him, is part of a cult worshipping a Time Lord war criminal, and has a fairly creepy fixation on his head (and has tried to drug him to remove it once already). Yet when Solon says that Sarah's blinding is permanent and can only be cured by the Sisterhood, he accepts this without question and heads off to talk to the Sisterhood even though in their last encounter they'd tried to burn him alive. This also isn't a great plan from Solon's perspective, since the Sisterhood only execute people by burning them for religious reasons, a method which would have destroyed his head.
    • In the final episode, the Doctor leaves Solon alone in his lab with the unconscious Morbius for five minutes, trusting him to disconnect Morbius' brain himself. Surprise surprise, Solon revives Morbius instead.
  • The Igor: Condo. A rather uncommon take on the trope, though, as rather than a twisted little toady he's actually a huge, threatening man who Solon only controls with the promise of being able to restore his severed arm (which Solon himself stole for his monster body).
  • Immortality Immorality: The Sisterhood of Karn possess an immortality drug. The Time Lords have traded with them for ages, but only use the drug to help with failed regenerations; they believe that true immortality would cause cultural stagnation, as it has with the race in question.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: This was intended as a Filler Bottle Episode, but several of the Doctor's throwaway lines in the story imply that the Time Lords aren't as godlike and advanced as they had previously been portrayed. This could easily be brushed off by the fact that the Doctor hates the Time Lords and (in that incarnation at least) has an unreliable grasp on reality, but Robert Holmes picked up on it and used it as Foreshadowing for his Wham Episode, "The Deadly Assassin". This serial also introduces the Sisterhood of Karn, and the idea that the Doctor has more incarnations than we've seen.
  • Kick the Dog: Solon bullies the blinded Sarah into helping with his experiment.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: When Solon is discussing getting a Time Lord's head for Morbius' new body:
    Solon: That is why his head is so perfect! From one of your own race! From one of those who turned upon you and tried to destroy you! You get a new head for Morbius... the crowning irony.
    Morbius: FOOL!
    Solon: ...I'm sorry, the pun was irresistible.
  • Large Ham:
    • Solon, oh so very much.
    • To say nothing of Morbius himself. For a guy who's nothing but a brain and vocal cords, he hams it up. Then again, when all you can do is talk, you need to make the most of it.
  • Let's Mock the Monsters: The Doctor and Sarah suggest alternate names for Morbius in his new body, such as Potpourri or Chop Suey the Galactic Emperor. Morbius is not amused. "You will be the first to die!"
  • Made of Iron: Condo can take a lot. Even gunshots to the stomach only stun him for a few minutes. He isn't immune to strangulation, though.
  • Mad Scientist: Solon, with the requisite Mad Scientist Laboratory and They Called Me Mad! rant.
  • Mind Rape: The Doctor gets subjected to this by Morbius in a "mind-bending contest" that goes awry when Morbius starts digging through his private and painful memories.
  • Mix-and-Match Man: Morbius's monster body, cobbled together from bits of various alien creatures, notoriously including Condo's hand and what looks to be a Macra's claw for appendages (plus the prospect of including the Doctor's head as a finishing touch).
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Solon and Condo are both male, and Morbius is/was a fascistic Time Lord scientist who is also male. We also have an the Sisterhood of Karn, who, despite possessing what is actually Time Lord technology, treat it as a force of nature and worship it.
  • My Brain Is Big: Morbius' brain would have a hard time fitting in a chest cavity, never mind a human (or Time Lord) braincase. Perhaps Time Lord heads are bigger on the inside.
  • R-Rated Opening: The story opens with Condo decapitating an insect-stage Solonian. Although the actual severing happens off-screen, we get a lot of lingering close ups of the head later on.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Condo's Heroic Sacrifice to save Sarah from Morbius.
  • Refusal of the Call: When the Doctor first lands, he is not pleased by the fact that the Time Lords have dragged him into a situation they won't deal with themselves. Sarah guilts him out of this by marvelling at her surroundings and going off on her own anyway.
    The Doctor: There's something going on here, some dirty work that they won't touch with their lily-white hands. Well, I won't do it, DO YOU HEAR?!
  • Retcon: This story attempts to retcon the previously established fact, explicitly stated in "The Three Doctors"note , that William Hartnell was the first incarnation of the Doctor. During the mind-bending contest between the Doctor and Morbius, eight faces of apparently prior incarnations (this was confirmed as the production team's intent by invokedWord of God). This didn't stick, although the concept of pre-Hartnell Doctors has shown up again on occasion.
  • Sacred Flames: The Sisterhood of Karn tend to a sacred flame from which they distil the Elixir of Life: a potent aid to healing. According to the Doctor, the flame is fed by a vent of natural gas. The gas picks up various minerals as it travels through which, when heated up by the flame and cooled back down, condense to form the elixir. The flame is dying, but the Doctor diagnoses the problem as a build up of soot from centuries of burning, and clears the blockage with a firework.
  • Shout-Out: Morbius' name is taken from the Forbidden Planet character Dr. Edward Morbius.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Done quite cleverly when Solon offers the Doctor wine. After a short time away with other characters we return to a Doctor who is acting giddy and talkative and moving in an uncoordinated way. Nothing suspicious about that... until he suddenly passes out. The time skip was actually a lot shorter than it looked and he's actually drunk very little - he only appeared so out of it because he was drugged. Sarah was pouring her wine away, and as soon as she realises what happened to the Doctor she quickly fakes passing out.
  • Squib: Contains pretty much the only use of this in Doctor Who. The general level of violence in the story contributed to the end of Hinchliffe's tenure when the Moral Guardians got involved.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Sarah Jane gets tied down to an operating table by Solon. He wasn't going to operate on her, thank goodness, he was too busy trying to reanimate Morbius. Just needed to keep an eye on her as she kept running away and causing trouble.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: The Sisterhood of Karn, as an ancient splinter faction of the Time Lords, zig-zag this. Their 'Eternal Flame' was just choked up with debris, solved by a simple firecracker, but they're immortal and their Elixir is very real and very powerful, even by Time Lord standards.
  • Temporary Blindness: Sarah Jane gets this after taking a blast from Maren's ring. It doesn't do much to slow her down, as she still manages to lock Solon in his labratory and escape the castle on her own.
  • Third Act Stupidity: The Doctor defeats and captures Morbius by the middle of the last episode, deciding to remove his brain and return it to the Time Lords. It's fairly logical for him to threaten Solon into doing the job for him. It's less logical for him to leave Solon alone to do the job and go and check on Sarah in a room with a lock on the door. To the surprise of no-one but him, Solon locks them in and revives Morbius.
  • Timeshifted Actor: An uncredited extra plays the youthful Maren, which is odd as the elderly Maren was played by Cynthia Grenville, a young woman in very heavy age makeup which they could easily enough have removed.
  • Time-Travellers Are Spies: Everyone, even the Doctor himself, assumed the Doctor is there on behalf of the Time Lords and is there to steal their stuff/ruin their day. He doesn't even know where he is.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The sisterhood of Karn chase the Morbius creature off a cliff, a la Frankenstein (1931). There's also a vibe of this when they try to burn the Doctor.
  • Villainous Rescue: Solon saves the Doctor from the Sisterhood's sacrificial ritual long enough for Sarah to cut him loose.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Doctor points out to the Sisterhood that their immortality leads to stagnation. In the end, their leader sacrifices her life to save the Doctor.
    The Doctor: Death is the price we pay for progress.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Frankenstein.
  • You Fool!: Morbius when he discovers that Solon has lured a Time Lord there.
  • You're Insane!: As Mehendri Solon is about to begin his gruesome experiment:
    Sarah Jane: You're insane, Solon, you're mad!