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 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!
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 27 May 2008
No mystery about the roots of this one, it never pretends to be anything other than Frankenstein. An almost operatic horror tale with ideas possibly nicked from House of Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, They Saved Hitler's Brain and many more.
Morbius is of course our monster and superbly played by Michael Spice (Magnus Greel later) in a voice only turn. When he talks of envying the life of a sponge it's sad and funny at the same time.
Uncle Tom is always at his best against a strong actor and Philip Madoc does a great turn as a Solon, scientist so completely mad that if he was real Channel 4 would do a documentary about him!
Elisabeth Sladen has been very self critical of her performance as a temporarily blinded Sarah. True she doesn't act like a blind person normally would but as she's only just been blinded, stumbling makes sense, and she barely moves her eyes. The moment when she regains her sight is wonderful.
Colin Fay is good as the obligatory deformed assistant engaging our sympathies although some over the top music mars him being shot at.
A good design for the monster which looks like spare parts and the sisterhood of Karn work well.
A great romp of a script where a confident team go all out for entertainment with humour stopping it being too grim. Uncle Tom describes his predesssor Great Uncle Jon as the "Old Grey Model" and Solon dips into the Bob Holmes bumper book of expletives you can use in a family show to describe the sisterhood.
The major lapse of logic is trusting Solon to dissect the monster, never mind. Like the multi doctors in the mindbend sequence, best not to think about it. Recommended for everyone.
There is a making of entitled "Getting a Head on Karn" which is great stuff. Terrance Dicks gives the low down on the original script and is funny recounting his feelings on the Bob Holmes version. Cynthia Grenville must have been a very young Maren as she only looks middle aged here and for my money she's the star of the documentary with a witty recounting of how she was cast and how she saved Uncle Tom from burning. Philip Madoc and Colin Fay are present with Dudley Simpson, director Chris Barry and a very youthful Gilly Brown, but sadly no Tom or Lis. Watch out for who thinks Morbius went too far!
"Designs on Karn" is not as good as the previous Barry Newberry featurette "Designing the Aztecs" featurette and probably should have been edited into "Getting a Head"
Great easter egg in the usual sort of place "A Letter to Robert Holmes" is "Points of View" style reading of a letter of complaint and Mr. Holmes reply.
The commentary is a good one with Uncle Tom, Lis, Philip Madoc, Chris Barry & Phlip Hinchcliffe. Tom is a little subdued at first but before long he's discussing "panting crumpet", never feeling cold next to Lis Sladen and laughing at his title sequence image and the "old Grey Model" line. They all clearly still love this story and so they should! A great package.
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 18 July 2012
Although many of us had first heard about Doctor Who as one of the all-time-greatest science fiction shows, these episodes, marking the combination of the genius of Robert Holmes in writing and Tom Baker (AND the simply perfect Elizabeth Sladen as his companion) in acting, had achieved everything that the very best of horror shows can aspire of achieving, that too on a consistent basis. They combined all the elements of the gothic horror novel (in this particular case: Frankenstein), and then combined them with the best of scientific fantasies of the time, resulting in an astonishing show that continues to make people ga-ga even after so many years (and despite the Americanisation of Television, thus reducing the average IQ of the viewer to an appreciable extent). Highly recommended, and if you are not watching it thinking that it's just an OLD 70'S SHOW, that's entirely your loss.
Much to the Doctors chagrin the Time Lords have taken control of the TARDIS, sending the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith into very dangerous territory upon the stormlashed graveyard planet of Karn.
Taking shelter from the rain in a castle high on a mountain, the Doctor finds the brilliant surgeon Mehendri Solon, and his simple minded slave/assistant Condo conducting gruesome experiments on living flesh, but for what reason?
As a storm approaches, evil from the depths of Time Lord history plots its return to the land of the living.
But is even the Doctor's mind,
a match for, The Brain of Morbius.
Four episodes of sumptuous gothic filled suspense, suspense that will suspend your everyday worries and cares. Mr Baker and Ms Sladen are on top form, as is Philip Madoc, marvellously getting his teeth into a role he can go gloriously over the top with. Welsh born Madoc was almost a Who semi regular featuring in stories like The War Games as The War Lord, The Krotons as Eelek, and The Power of Kroll as Fenner. As well as the second Peter Cushing Dalek film. Even Terrance Dicks no longer feels so bland towards this story anymore.
Warning to the parents of little ones, the scene where Solon shoots Condo reveals a bit of blood, so a bit of parental discretion may be called for there.
Commentary by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Philip Madoc, Philip Hinchcliffe and Christopher Barry .
Getting a Head:~ A new documentary about the making of the programme featuring Christopher Barry, Philip Hinchcliffe,writer Terrance Dicks, designer Barry Newbery, composer Dudley Simpson, and actors Philip Madoc, Cynthia Grenville, Colin Fay and Gillian Brown, with narration by Paul McGann
Designs on Karn: How the planet Karn was created, with designer Barry Newbery
Set Tour Take a walk around the studio sets with this 3D CGI reconstruction
Radio Times Billings: Listings from Radio Times on Pdf DVD Rom
Coming Soon Trailer
Production Information Subtitles
Digitally remastered picture and sound quality.
Originally broadcast:~ 3rd January 1976 - 24th January 1976.
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...