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Serial 4K:
The Brain Of Morbius

Plot

The Time Lords divert the Doctor and Sarah to Karn. The planet is home to the Sisterhood of the Flame, whose sacred fire -- which provides an elixir granting them eternal life and is used by the Time Lords to aid in regenerative crises -- is slowly dying. The Sisterhood believes the Doctor has come to steal the vestiges of the elixir and has him captured. Also on Karn, meanwhile, is the mad Doctor Solon, who has covertly taken possession of the brain of Morbius, an evil Time Lord thought to have been executed. Solon is trying to build a new body for Morbius, and is lacking only a suitable head: the head of a Time Lord.

Production

One of Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe's interests when it came to science-fiction was robotics. Intrigued by the works of Isaac Asimov, Hinchcliffe wanted to do a story which explored the relationship between man and machine -- a different angle than had been attempted in the Season Twelve debut Robot. That adventure's author, former series script editor Terrance Dicks, had gone on to write a Doctor Who stage play called Seven Keys To Doomsday for the Christmas 1974 season (starring Trevor Martin in the title role), and had subsequently penned a rejected storyline for the programme entitled “The Haunting”. Dicks was now called upon by script editor Robert Holmes to conceive a serial based upon Hinchcliffe's suggestions.

In addition to the robotics angle, Holmes and Dicks sought to incorporate elements of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The story of a scientist who brings to life a man assembled from corpses, it had found great popularity when it became a part of Universal Pictures' horror canon as Frankenstein in 1931; Hammer Studios had also made a series of movies starring the monster, beginning with 1957's The Curse Of Frankenstein. The use of Frankenstein as the foundation for a Doctor Who serial was in keeping with Holmes' tendency to base adventures on classic works of gothic horror; indeed, “The Haunting” had been an attempt at a vampire story.

Dicks was commissioned to write the storyline for The Brain Of Morbius on May 1st, 1975. The intention was that it would become Serial 4K, the penultimate adventure of Doctor Who's thirteenth season. As such, Dicks was asked to formulate it in such a way that no filming (location, model, or otherwise) would be needed -- thereby saving money for the final adventure of the season. The Brain Of Morbius would therefore be the first completely studiobound Doctor Who serial.

Dicks envisaged a story in which a space criminal called Morbius (likely named after the character in the 1956 feature film Forbidden Planet, which had inspired Planet Of Evil earlier in the season) crashlands onto a planet, and his robot servant -- who lacks any sense of aesthetics -- assembles a new body for him from other aliens, in ignorance of their vastly differing physiognomies. Dicks drew partly upon the costumes for the Clawrantulars, creatures which had appeared in Seven Keys To Doomsday, for the crab-like elements of Morbius' new body. He also decided to set the action upon the planet Karn (which had been the home of a decayed civilisation in the stage play) and took inspiration from H Rider Haggard's 1886 serial novel She in developing the Sisterhood of Karn and their Flame of Life.

Dicks was commissioned to turn The Brain Of Morbius into full scripts on June 6th, and completed his work just before leaving the country on holiday. Unfortunately, around this time Hinchcliffe and Holmes concluded that Morbius' robot servant would be too expensive to realise. The production team was also concerned that Dicks had veered too far away from the horror elements they desired. By the time of Dicks' return, time was growing short and so the writer agreed to let Holmes restructure his scripts.

Holmes therefore replaced the robot with a mad scientist named Solon and his servant Condo, an homage to the Universal Frankenstein's Igor character and his many imitators. The script for episode one included an unusual piece of incidental continuity, featuring a Mutt (from The Mutants) called Kriz in its opening moments. The final installment also featured a controversial sequence in which the faces of previous incarnations of the Doctor are displayed, including some which were envisaged as preceding the original televised Doctor, William Hartnell. This was in contradiction to The Three Doctors, which had established Hartnell's version as the first Doctor.

Unfortunately, upon receiving the revised scripts for The Brain Of Morbius on September 15th, Dicks was very unhappy with the degree of rewriting Holmes had performed. In the ensuing days, he grew to understand why the production team had made such substantial changes, but Dicks continued to feel that the removal of the robot character had done great damage to the central ideas of the story. Hinchcliffe, Holmes and Dicks finally met to discuss the situation, and it was suggested that The Brain Of Morbius might instead be credited to Holmes, or to the “Stephen Harris” pseudonym used earlier that season for Pyramids Of Mars. Finally, on September 22nd, Dicks wrote Holmes to ask that the script editor “devise some bland pseudonym” for use on The Brain Of Morbius; an obeisant Holmes therefore credited the serial to “Robin Bland”, much to Dicks' amusement.

The director assigned to The Brain Of Morbius was Christopher Barry, whose last Doctor Who work had been on Robot. Inspired by the Frankenstein trappings of the serial, Barry considered casting silver screen horror icons such as Vincent Price (House Of Wax, The Abominable Dr Phibes and Hammer Horror staple Peter Cushing (who had also starred in two film versions of Doctor Who) in the role of Solon. The role ultimately went to Philip Madoc.

Production on The Brain Of Morbius began with a two-day session at BBC Television Centre Studio 1. Monday, October 6th concerned the majority of episode one, as well as material on Karn's rocky surface for the remaining three installments. Tuesday the 7th saw the rest of episode one recorded, picking up from Sarah spilling her wine, in addition to the initial laboratory scene and the majority of part two.

A fortnight later, the second recording block took place in TC3 on October 20th and 21st. The first day dealt principally with episode three, although it also encompassed part two sequences in the crypt and on the staircase, as well as the chandelier smashing for part one and the wounded Condo in the gallery for part four. Apart from all the remaining episode four material, the 21st also involved the completion of the last few scenes of the preceding installment, as well as the sacrificial bonfire for part two.

This day also included the recording of the mental duel between the Doctor and Morbius. Hinchcliffe had originally planned to have well-known actors photographed as the Doctor's earlier incarnations, but was unable to find suitable candidates. Instead, members of the crew of The Brain Of Morbius and The Seeds Of Doom, the next serial in production, were dressed in period garb and pressed into service. These included Hinchcliffe, Holmes, Barry, The Seeds Of Doom director Douglas Camfield, production manager George Gallaccio, Robert Banks Stewart (writer of The Seeds Of Doom), and production assistants Chris Baker and Graeme Harper. The images of both Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee came from The Three Doctors, while William Hartnell was represented by a photograph from The Space Museum.

Taping of Serial 4K then wrapped up with a remount of two scenes from part four, likely those in which Morbius attacks Solon and Solon recovers. This additional recording took place on October 24th, in an unknown studio at BBC Television Centre. The Brain Of Morbius was broadcast during January 1976. It brought with it a new round of criticism from National Viewers' and Listeners' Association president Mary Whitehouse, who was becoming increasingly vocal in her opposition to Hinchcliffe and Holmes' more horrific slant on Doctor Who. It would not be the last time that Whitehouse and the Doctor Who production team would come into conflict...

Sources
  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #329, 30th April 2003, “Archive: The Brain Of Morbius” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #8, 1st September 2004, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #12, January 1989, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 3rd Jan 1976
Time 5.56pm
Duration 25'25"
Viewers (more) 9.5m (30th)
· BBC1 9.5m
Episode 2
Date 10th Jan 1976
Time 5.47pm
Duration 24'46"
Viewers (more) 9.3m (32nd)
· BBC1 9.3m
Episode 3
Date 17th Jan 1976
Time 5.46pm
Duration 25'07"
Viewers (more) 10.1m (23rd)
· BBC1 10.1m
Appreciation 57%
Episode 4
Date 24th Jan 1976
Time 5.55pm
Duration 24'18"
Viewers (more) 10.2m (28th)
· BBC1 10.2m


Cast
Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Sarah Jane Smith
Elisabeth Sladen
Solon
Philip Madoc
(more)
Maren
Cynthia Grenville
Ohica
Gilly Brown
Sisters
Sue Bishop
Janie Kells
Gabrielle Mowbray
Veronica Ridge
Condo
Colin Fay
Kriz
John Scott Martin
Voice of Morbius
Michael Spice
Monster
Stuart Fell


Crew
Written by
Robert Holmes
Terrance Dicks
(as Robin Bland)
Directed by
Christopher Barry
Produced by
Philip Hinchcliffe
(more)

Movement by
Geraldine Stephenson
Production Unit Manager
Janet Radenkovic
Production Assistant
Carol Wiseman
Title Music by
Ron Grainer and
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Title Sequence
Bernard Lodge
Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Costume Designer
L Rowland-Warne
Make-up
Jean McMillan
Visual Effects Designer
John Horton
Lighting
Peter Catlett
Sound
Tony Millier
Script Editor
Robert Holmes
Designer
Barry Newbery


Media
DVD Release
Doctor Who: The Brain Of Morbius (2008)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Audio Release
Doctor Who and The Brain Of Morbius narrated by Tom Baker (2008; novelisation talking book)
Buy: Canada · UK
Novelisation
Doctor Who and The Brain Of Morbius by Terrance Dicks (1977)

Updated 5th October 2008