Aired 3 – 24 January 1976
After a solid but ultimately uninspiring sidestep into the storytelling tropes of the Third Doctor era in ‘The Android Invasion,’ the gothic horror producer Philip Hinchcliffe has already so successfully instilled into the early Tom Baker era returns in full force. Featuring a mad scientist, an experiment to bring a cobbled-together creature to life, a deformed servant, an immense gothic atmosphere and set design, and even locals carrying torches, ‘The Brain of Morbius’ puts a Time Lord twist on Mary Shelley’s iconic tale of Frankenstein’s Monster to superb effect.
Tom Baker has already proven adept at making any foe seem incredibly dangerous, and that is certainly the case here, but ‘The Brain of Morbius’ actually instills a genuine sense of terror and peril as the story unfolds and suitably grotesque images abound. Even as the Doctor uses humour to deflect the severity of the situation around him, he never passes off the threat of Solon and his creation as trivial or innocuous. While it’s also refreshing to see this larger-than-life character truly concerned for the well-being of Sarah Jane when she is stricken by blindness, the story also goes to great lengths to confirm his seeming animosity towards his own race. A faulty TARDIS is certainly not a new plot development, but here the Doctor senses the will of the Time Lords at play, knowing that they have once more employed him to do their bidding where they dare not.
Interestingly, further insight into the Time Lord culture and past is afforded here than ever before, and the results are certainly not flattering for a culture once seemingly so overtly powerful and domineering when first introduced. While the Time Lords were initially presented as a force for overseeing the universe, Maren of the ancient Sisterhood of Karn bluntly states that they are just another group of people looking only after themselves, helping others when it suits their needs but also dependent on the Sisterhood’s Elixir of Life. The Time Lords had last employed the Doctor to avert the creation of the Daleks in ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ but here they thrust him without warning or briefing into dealing with another of their most sinister threats, Morbius, a former ruler of the Time Lords who in some fashion survived his execution at their hands for the atrocious crimes he committed. The Sisterhood knows this to be true, seeking the Doctor’s confession to prove the Time Lords’ interference and scheming.
‘The Brain of Morbius’ has to be considered a complete triumph, assuredly earning its place among the finest Doctor Who stories produced. Though heavily borrowing from Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece, ‘The Brain of Morbius’ avoids taking itself too seriously while instilling a tremendous sense of horror throughout. With an intriguing look into an outsider’s perspective of the Time Lords as they continue to pull strings behind the scenes, superb set design, main and guest characters on top form, intriguing and shocking plot twists and developments, and a terrific atmosphere, all of the pieces are in play to create what is likely the epitome of the Hinchcliffe years. The budget may not quite be able to make the full realization of Morbius as man in a horrifying suit anything more than that, but Morbius and everything he stands for make for another chilling addition to Doctor Who’s long list of foes, begging for a return appearance in the future.