The Vengeance of Morbius

Posted in Audio by - September 08, 2017
The Vengeance of Morbius

Released August 2008

With a season comprised of genuinely enjoyable tales behind it and a strong- if ultimately slower and smaller- setup piece in ‘Sisters of the Flame,’ ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ is tasked with providing a satisfying resolution that delves into the very heart of Gallifrey’s past while thrusting the range in a bold new direction. With the very fabric of space and time threatened, the Doctor and Lucie must escape imminent destruction to take the fight to the most powerful being in the universe.

It’s fair to say that ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ very much unfolds as a story of two distinct halves, the first continuing the storyline set out in its opening instalment and the second flashing forward to deal with the ramifications and ultimate resolution of those events. Even if the action is relatively light in that first half, the notion of Zarodnix capturing Straxus to use him as a gene splicing template of sorts to ensure the rebirth of Morbius is a fascinating one, and the discussions about just what the return of Morbius would mean for the universe at large certainly paint a dismal picture of despair.

Unfortunately, using half of this release to continue setting the scene after an entire episode already dedicated to doing this while focusing on the characters results in the second half of ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ when the titular vengeance finally manifests feeling incredibly rushed due to the overall brief running time. Samuel West gives a suitably powerful and ominous performance as Morbius, but his inherent threat is somewhat lessened as the Doctor shows no sign of fear during their first interaction. Part of this flippancy is, of course, down to the Doctor’s nature as he tries to instill confidence in those around him, but after all of the work done to build Morbius up once again as a credible threat, it seems an odd step for the story to take. Undoubtedly due to time constraints, however, the Doctor and Lucie then flash forward ten years to when Morbius has already achieved galactic conquest by using his army of Trell, unquestionably showing how powerful he is but also robbing the story of any true drama by not showing any of the techniques he employed to do so. Aside from using his name alone, he never does anything in this story to show why he is so feared and so successful.

Still, not every story needs lengthy exposition as long as the drama and the resolution are strong enough to overcome the omission, and there have certainly been plenty of stories that successfully thrust the Doctor into the middle of a conflict already in progress. Sadly, ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ does not fall into this group as the resolution literally involves deactivating the stellar manipulator that Morbius wears around his neck which is the source of his power and ability to keep the Time Lords at bay. With the Doctor able to easily sneak up to Morbius for an awkwardly-described fight, even the close-up threat of Morbius never approaches anything close to dangerous. Nonetheless, the Holmes-inspired scene of the Doctor and Morbius falling off a cliff together does evoke rather iconic imagery and logically paves the way for the Time Lords to return to set history upon its proper course once more, and Sheridan Smith does a magnificent job portraying Lucie’s utter heartbreak at seemingly truly losing the Doctor as a result.

In the end, ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ seems to be a story content to rely on the reputation of its main foe far too much without ever wanting to do anything meaningful with him. The cast is uniformly strong, but the characters themselves lack the imaginative verve that made the original ‘The Brain of Morbius’ so iconic in the first place. While both the Doctor and Lucie experience cliffhanger endings that could lead to intriguing places in the third season, as a finale to the second season ‘The Vengeance of Morbius’ is ultimately a missed opportunity to do something truly memorable and grandiose.

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