From the opening shots of Karn, eerily dark and swathed in thick swirling fog, you know you're in for a real classic hiding behind-sofa-ride with this serial. In the very first episode you get a gruesome beheading, a crippled servant with a hook for an arm, later delights coming in the form of a brain in a jar of green goo, the Doctor almost being burnt at the stake and a monster cobbled together from various body parts.
It's scary stuff with some real-edge-of-your seat moments, one of the most surprising being when Solon shoots his assistant Condo, literally ripping a hole in his chest, spurting blood. It's not something you'd see in the revived series and in many ways, this raw, untamed feel just adds to the dark overtones of this story. It raises questions on the ethics of what true life is in relation to Condo's subservience to Solon and Morbius's half-life as a brain trapped in a transparent case, a slave to base instinct.
The true star of this serial has to be Philip Madoc as Solon, his performance is deliciously sinister, his perseverance through all the odds to try and revive Morbius admirable, despite the gravity of what this entails. The scene where Condo knocks Morbius' brain onto the floor to Solon's dismay is particularly poignant as he cries of `such intellect, wasted on a stone floor by a mindless brute'. This is a man that has devoted himself to a cause and has lost all compassion for others, from the way he continually deceives poor Condo to his underhand poisoning of the Doctor and Sarah, his true intentions masked wonderfully behind a façade of a nice, well-spoken academic.
Villains like Solon are always a joy to watch, the battle of intellects between them and the Doctor is what the show was made for. Tom Baker puts in a great show too in this episode, really shining in the scenes with the Sisterhood as he tries to convince them of his pure intentions. Liz Sladen gets some nice moments too, her feistiness sparking brilliantly off the Doctor, and poor girl, she goes through a lot in this serial! Poisoned, tied up to a table, blinded and then chased and beaten up by Morbius - and speaking of her blindness, I think she acted this really well. Yes, the whirling arms might look a little overstated compared to today's more conservative styles of acting but if you put yourself in her shoes, if you had just lost your sight you'd be absolutely terrified and Liz really conveys this in her voice.
When this serial was first broadcast it got between 9-10 million viewers per episode. This was Doctor Who in its element, Tom Baker taking the series through the peak of its success and from serials like this you can see how so many elements of it have gone on to influence further Who episodes. It is these linkages - this episode obviously taking root from the story of Frankenstein and his monster - that weave their through history, the tension and the theme of science pushed to its most terrifying. Even the imagery lives on, the Sybilline Sisterhood of recent episode `The Fires Of Pompeii being almost a carbon copy of the Sisterhood of Karn in this episode.
Brilliantly acted, dark brooding sets and a super-tense plot + a really good behind the scenes documentary `Getting A Head' which has some fab interviews with the cast and crew - this is yet another fantastic release in the Doctor Who DVD range.
32 years old, always threatening to topple headlong into absurdity, a grand-guignol homage to the Universal FRANKENSTEIN films of the 1930's, 1976's THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS really has no right to be as good as it is. It's drenched in over-ripe dialogue, has gaping plot holes and cheap-looking studio sets swathed in dry ice doubling for the surface of an alien planet. It is, when you spend a few moments thinking about it, fairly silly.
The fact remains that it is DR WHO at the very top of its game. It treads a very fine line between self-aware humour and no holds barred seriousness, but does it so well that you'll barely notice. Robert Holmes' rewrite of Terrance Dicks' original script (under the pseudonym Robin Bland) is an engaging, well-paced piece full of interesting, clearly motivated characters and tense, scarey set pieces. However, the production is further blessed by having an exceptional cast who treat this nonsense as if it's Shakespeare. That's really the essence of ...MORBIUS - it's a stage play on television. But to say this might almost devalue the overall effect or make it sound a lot duller and flatter than it actually is. The performances and direction are as good as DR WHO on television ever managed in its first 26 years. Classically trained actors like Philip Madoc and Cynthia Grenville bring an intensity and richness to their parts that make their every scene crackle and snap as fiercely as the fire that nearly polishes off Tom Baker. Speaking of whom, he and Elizabeth Sladen are also going for it with aplomb, though by the sounds of the commentary, Sladen is less than happy with her acting "blind" in the middle segments.
I've already mentioned the less than convincing rocky tundra sets, but somehow this doesn't matter. It even adds a certain claustrophobic something to proceedings. This can also be forgiven considering how detailed Barry Newbury's sets are for Solon's castle and the shrine of the Sisterhood. Even though it's entirely studio-based, the show manages to be visually arresting - the bright reds of the shrine (the design based on those of Buddhist temples) and the subdued lighting of Solon's crumbling laboratory and entrance hall manage to imbue the drama with an evocative ambience. Christopher Barry uses the sets to full effect, shooting every moment with an energy and intent that makes me wonder if this really was the same man who was responsible for directing 1972's woeful Pertwee serial: THE MUTANTS. Only the repeat use of the "Mutt" costume in episode 1 gives any hint that this was the case. Adding the final lustre to this gem is Dudley Simpson's incidental score, using french horns and a cello, it's magisterial in its effect and tone.
This is a must-see not only for DR WHO fans but for anyone who enjoys the best TV drama from this period, and fans of the James Whale/Karloff movies of the '30's may also find much to interest them - one shot of the Doctor and Sarah walking into Solon's hall shot through the flames of the fireplace is a direct (but effective) steal from 1932's THE OLD DARK HOUSE.
The extras are, as has become standard for the WHO releases, excellent. The Making of.. documentary GETTING A HEAD is especially welcome because it appears that every supporting cast member is still alive and kicking. Cynthia Grenville is marvellously enthusiastic and manages to look younger now than she did in 1976 (though she's sadly no longer wearing a cake on her head). The unexpected CGI work in this piece is impressive too, and personally I could have done with at least another 2 minutes of the CGI studio tour which comprises another extra on the disc. The commentary (Hinchcliffe, Barry, Baker, Sladen, Madoc) is good humoured and celebratory in tone, with Tom Baker's contributions particularly amusing. Thanks to him, I cannot hear the Sisterhood's chanting now, without thinking of the phrase: "panting crumpet".
on 13 January 2010
I have been a 'Doctor Who' fan since I was about 9, although I got into the series just as it was coming to the end of its original 26 year run. In those days, the ropey old VHS releases were too expensive for me to afford as a kid, but I was familiar with the Doctor's adventures from the many tie-in books released, and picked up the odd second-hand VHS and very early DVD releases later on.
With the arrival of modern 'Doctor Who' in 2005, I still had an interest in the vintage series, but didn't get around to watching any old episodes for a few years.
Eventally, I got a yearning to watch some of the classic adventures, to judge for myself if they really were as good as people remember. I started by picking out this story from what many consider to be the peak of the original show's run. And I wasn't disappointed.
The four-part story is much slower than the modern 'Who' (which mostly sees a single plot condensed into the fifty minute run time), but I actually really like this slower pace - it gives much more depth and background, and still has a decent momentum, unlike some of the sluggish early black and white stories.
The storyline is obviously influenced by 'Frankenstein', with a mad scientist on the planet Karn searching the bodies from wrecked spacecrafts to build a body to support the 'Brain of Morbius' of the title. I love the tale's dark, gothic feel, and while the sets and effects are obviously are primitive by today's standards, I found myself so engrossed in the story that it didn't really matter at all. For the lack of effects, the production has an engaging atmosphere that many modern 'Who' stories can only yearn for.
Watching this episode just a couple of days after the broadcast of 'The End of Time' the effects-laden final episode of David Tennant's run, and after being away from the original series for a few years, I was curious how vintage 'Who' would hold up. I was pleasantly surprised that it more than held its own. In fact, in terms of story, I actually prefer it over some of modern 'Who's offerings - especially when they feel need to camp it up.
Tom Baker is on fine form as the Doctor, and it's easy to see why he is often regarded as the most popular Doctor from the original run. Elisabeth Sladen is also very good as Sarah Jane.
The picture and sound, which have been remastered, are of a very good quality considering their age.
I found the post-production editing a little choppy, particularly in Part One, but nothing severe enough to mar the overall story.
As with most of the DVD releases, there are a number of extras. My personal favourite is the in-vision trivia track that can be played along with the episode - although I did find that with this particular title, many of them were only up on screen for a brief moment, and I needed to freeze frame a number to read them properly.
Other regular features include commentary, with contributors including Baker and Sladen themselves, which I haven't listened to in full yet but seems quite good, and the standard 'making of / retrospective' of the story, which is reasonable, but at thirty minutes, may not all be of interest to the more casual viewer.
All-in-all, I found this an excellent story to get reacquainted with 'Classic Who', and I enjoyed it enough to order a number of other vintage 'Who' DVDs. Reviews of some of them coming soon...
on 4 February 2009
This is a great Dr Who Story combining elements of horror (a key feature of Philip Hinchliffe's time as producer on the show) and science fiction effectively. Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen have an excellent rapport. The monster featured in the story reflects the budget consraints of the time but this does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the story. Thoroughly recommended.
on 19 August 2008
The Brain of Morbius is a good all round Doctor Who, even though it takes place in the studio. It is well paced, and keeps you on your toes most of the time.
In this era of Who this is one of the best ones made mainly because it makes you think as you go along "What's going to happen next?"
So for these things i would recommend you watch it all the way through if you have a couple of hours to spare.
When I unexpectedly crash-landed on Karn for the second time, watching 2013's `Night of the Doctor', my interest in the classic series regenerated almost as dramatically as Paul McGann did. I could remember this from 1975 ... with Tom Baker ... and `Sarah Jane' ... and the sacred flame ... and *that* monster ... So I ordered a few DVDs from the classic era - obviously, one of them had to be `The Brain of Morbius'. But it had been almost 40 years - would the story live up to my memories? Definitely Yes!
`The Brain of Morbius' is the crown of the `gothic' stories from the Robert Holmes / Philip Hinchcliffe period of `Doctor Who', widely considered the best three years in the show's 50 year history. Robert Holmes' superb script began with a story by Terrance Dicks, then seems to have surgically attached ideas from the horror classics of Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells, nourished it with the elixir of eternal life, grafted on some Time Lord history and - "It's alive!" - a monstrous masterpiece stands before us.
Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen have one of their best stories together. The Doctor is by turns sulky, flippant, comedic, scientific, deadly serious, ruthless, heroic and victorious in a virtuoso performance by Tom Baker at his very best. Elizabeth Sladen brings great confidence to Sarah Jane Smith at her pluckiest, as Sarah copes with a personally terrifying, isolating experience and that grisly monster with only one, entirely justified scream. Philip Madoc gives a magnificent performance as the obsessed, brilliant surgeon Solon. He brings total belief to the role; we never doubt that in his own mind, Solon is a hero working in a noble cause to restore his revered leader Morbius (a splendid voice performance by Michael Spice). Solon's massive servant Condo (Colin Fay) is a curiously vulnerable character. He is ready to carry out the most brutal acts to serve his master, but only under constant duress. Opposing Solon, yet in some ways strangely similar is Maren, leader of the Sisterhood (Cynthia Grenville). She and Solon are both pursuing immortality by different means and are both totally dedicated to their missions.
Christopher Barry's direction takes full advantage of Barry Newbery's superb set design and brings Karn to life. The massive main hall of Solon's `castle' takes top spot, with its weird sloping architecture and jumble of old and new equipment salvaged from wrecked spacecraft. A close second is the cave of the Sisterhood, which, like the Sisters themselves, is splendidly dressed in red and gold. The twirling, swirling, chanting Sisters of the Flame wouldn't look out of place on the stage of the grandest operas. Creating an alien landscape in the studio is more difficult, but the volcanic basalt pillars of Karn look great, especially in the night scenes as the thunder rolls.
There is a lot of darkness on Karn, but `The Brain of Morbius' is illuminated by flashes of humour; Solon's gleaming-eyed obsession that becomes ridiculous to everyone but him, the Doctor being cheerfully flippant in the face of danger (with what sound like some brilliant ad-libs from Tom Baker). There are also lines of dialogue which, while perfectly placed in the script and seemingly serious, must surely have been designed to raise a laugh.
But horror is the underlying theme and if you put yourself in the characters' place, parts of the story are truly horrific and can still give a jolt of surprise. When the shows of this era were first broadcast, the BBC did receive complaints about `horror' and `violence', but those complaining people mostly weren't the target audience. Back in 1975 I was at secondary school and we thought `The Brain of Morbius' was great! And so did many millions more who have enjoyed `Doctor Who' for decades, making it the show that wouldn't die, that seems to have drunk the elixir of eternal life - "Sa-cred fiiiire... sa-cred flaaame..."!
A brilliant commentary (by Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen, Philip Madoc, Philip Hinchcliffe and Christopher Barry), the best I've heard yet. It's entertaining, informative, actually talks about the story moment-by-moment (unlike some commentaries) and Tom Baker throws in some hilarious contributions you won't forget!
`Getting a Head' looks back at the making of the show with great CGI backgrounds recreating the sets. The excellent design work on this show gets extra coverage in `Designs on Karn' and there's a short but interesting CGI fly-through of the reconstructed sets as they were originally built in the studio.
Two short `Easter eggs', both well worth hunting for.
on 17 August 2013
I can only sympathise with Terrence Dicks; writing a jolly romp about a robot Jeeves building a body, and then that reprehensible Robert Homes turns it into a hair raising pastiche of the old Universal Frankenstein. That said...
It's very good, pretty much at every level. A superb cast, headed by Phillip Madoc and Cynthia Grenville, both on very fine form, with excellent support from a horrifically lumbering Colin Fay, and a fiery Gilly Brown at the head of some very finely choreographed sisters. There's a huge sense of fun in the performances. It looks to have been a hoot to make.
The sets are first class; Solon's residence is a highly plausible gasworks turned castle, and the planet surface a lovely obstacle course of rocks - just what a newly-blinded journalist needs.
It's nice to see a Mutt again (how *have* they got space flight together?), and Michael Spice is happily chewing the furniture as the voice of the eponymous brain. Hmmm...
It has it's flaws. One being that the headless body, being as it is, headless, lacks a certain focal point - aside from the hand and claw, it's just hair and muscle, and not much definition to that. A headless body is more frightening when it's a recognisable body - it's good once it's got that goldfish bowl on with the brain inside - no arguments there.
And I'm not sure about the size of that brain - maybe it has swelled up in the tank, but it's a bit big - not just for Kriz's cranium, but for Mr Baker's too - I mean - look at the size of the goldfish bowl.
And the weapons. Sure, Solon's gun does the business, but Condo's knife looks a bit - well - fay (the pun was irresistible), and what are those flame shaped knives the Sisters are brandishing? You're going to do what with it? I don't think you are.
And burning a person alive? Come off it - there's a lot of Tom Baker to burn, and with that measly pile of brushwood? Even if they get him going, there won't be enough oxygen to feed the fire, and the Sisters will all die of smoke inhalation. And they're the Sisterhood of the Flame - they are supposed to know all this stuff.
Such quibbles aside, this is a very good piece of drama; the failing of Brain of Morbius is a lack of scale. The story demands a bigger set than the BBC could provide; vast skies, louring long shots, towering crags, what we have is just a bit too little; too much to and fro between shrine and castle (it feels a little bit like padding), too much in little spaces.
The Making Of is a good watch; the stories of Colin Fay and Cynthia Grenville getting the parts made me smile.
I wonder that the Morbius story hasn't been revisited in Time Lord lore. I wonder what he did that was so dreadful.
The parade of faces of past Doctors was not the brightest idea, especially since the Twelve Regenerations notion was just waiting in the wings (or in the back of Mr Holmes's mind, if you prefer).
on 9 November 2010
When the TARDIS is diverteed by the Time Lords to the Planet Karn, The Doctor is unaware that he is not the only Gallifreyan present. Seeking refuge in a mountain top castle, the Doctor and Sarah Jane are greeted warmly by their host Mehendri Solon(Philip Madoc). Solon is particularily interested in the Doctor's head, not suprising as he needs one very badly, being in the process of building a body for the wicked Time Lord Morbius, currently a disembodied brain in a tank. Solon thinks that the Doctor's head will do very nicely. The Doctor has other ideas....
The followers of the main villian in this story are called The Cult Of Morbius. Quite fitting then that this story should be the victim of another cult, the Cult Of Mary Whitehouse. Criticized heavily at the time of broadcast for its supposed levels of violence and themes of horror, when The Brain Of Morbius was originally released on video, it was a bastardised, 60 minute version. Okay, there was an uncensored video release later that partly rectified that, but this DVD release is the real deal. The Robert Holmes rewrite of the fascinating original Terrance Dicks script does borrow heavily from the Hammer Frankenstein cycle, but what is actually shown on screen is pretty tame by modern standards.
One thing is for sure, and that is that when I watched this originally as a five year old, the memorable cliffhangers involving a hulking monster behind a curtain and a blinded Sarah Jane conversing with a brain in a tank were both etched onto my young mind. Both this story and another from the 'horror' season, The Pyramids Of Mars, were probably my first stepping stones into a lifelong love for all things horror.
The sets are excellent, and there is a terrific performance from Philip Madoc as the unhinged but brilliant Solon. Equally impressive is Michael Spice who provided the powerful voice for Morbius. Not so successful is the Sisterhood Of Karn, who in between bathing in their eternal flame must have been watching century old videos of Hot Gossip. The plot is simple, and it's a shame that Dicks' original concept didn't come to fruition, but this story still remains one of my all time favourite Who stories.
Of the extras my favourite is the making of documentary 'Getting A Head' with fascinating little snippets into this episodes troubled history and how it overcame these hurdles. The commentary is good too. 5 out of 5
on 20 June 2008
My dear Father has never really "got" Doctor Who, or my love of it. His knowledge of the programme now he is in his 70's is that there is a TARDIS, some Daleks and women screaming occasionally. End of story. However, even he was obviously moved by this classic serial from the 1970's as, whenever he sees something being boiled mercilessly by my Mother on the stove, he refers to it as "the Brain of Morbius".
This is another wonderful release from 2Entertain and the BBC, long overdue in my mind. I remember the wonderful chill at the opening of this story when I was a child. The wild electrical storm, the wind blasted graveyard of a planet, the weird Sisterhood, the sinister surgeon, and all of this still stands up to most scrutiny in this modern time. Oh, sure some of it is a bit creaky in places, and there is one very clear bit where a stunt goes a bit "Pete Tong". But all the plus points are big scorers, you have Tom Baker in fine resonant form as the Doctor, Liz Sladen, never looking lovelier or so helpless (bless!)as Sarah Jane Smith and a fine turn from Operatic warbler Colin Fay as the henchman Condo. The high point though is Philip Madoc as Dr Mehendri Solon. His performance is wonderful, powerful and conveys the tortured brilliance of Solon, and also how low he has fallen and his pathetic existence on the planet Karn.
The "Making of..." mini documentaries on these are always worth a look and, echoing a previous reviewer - please God, let it be a Tom Baker commentary!
on 23 April 2009
Arguably the second great Tom Baker Doctor Who story, this one sees the production team in full Gothic horror mode for the first but not last time. Landing in what seems to be a spaceship graveyard on the storm-lashed planet of Karn, The Doctor and Sarah-Jane Smith seek refuge in a nearby scientist's laboratory, where they soon discover that he is working on resurrecting one of The Time Lords' most infamous black sheep...
Whilst I have to agree with some of the comments about set design and effects, that is what 70s 'Who' was all about and true fans will see it for what it is - fantastic fun and glorious escapism!