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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 508 > The Brain of Morbius

The Brain of Morbius

Doctor Who meets Gothic horror, as the TARDIS lands on Karn… where an obsessed scientist plots to bring a Time Lord criminal back from the dead!

The Fact of Fiction

Scratching beneath the surface of Doctor Who’s most fascinating tales…

Little reeks more of the 1970s than a vintage Mary Whitehouse moan. Here she is, the crusading figurehead of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, writing to BBC Chairman Sir Michael Swann early in 1976, to ‘recount the substance of a recent telephone call… from the mother of a little boy of six who had been terrified by the headless creature in The Brain of Morbius and he woke up screaming every night and she could not get him off to sleep again…’

Well, I was a little boy of six early in 1976, and my mother definitely didn’t telephone Mrs Whitehouse to complain about the headless creature in The Brain of Morbius. Because I’d been losing sleep over the Mummies from Pyramids of Mars, bdm-tish! Besides: we didn’t have a phone!

That wasn’t the only complaint that Whitehouse made about Morbius, though; her comments about Part Three containing “some of the sickest and most horrific material ever seen on children’s television” – the blood spurting from poor Condo’s gut; the brain on the floor – were widely reported at the time; she accused its makers of ‘a obsession with manic atrocities’, too. But elsewhere, The Brain of Morbius lingers on the horror of sudden blindness; it dwells on scalpels, on surgery, on fire, and the terror of being burned alive…

Never mind the headless creatures. Those are the things that phobias are made on. The stuff of nightmares.

Part One

FIRST BROADCAST: 3 JANUARY 1976

An insect-like being (John Scott Martin) crawls across Rocks towards a bubble-shaped vessel – only to be attacked by a hunchback (Colin Fay) with a hook for a left hand.

■ Kriz, as the wounded creature is named in the closing credits, only became an ‘insect-like Mutt’ after director Christopher Barry chose to cannibalise two monster costumes made for his earlier production, The Mutants (1972), rather than go to the expense of creating something new.

■ In Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of the TV scripts by ‘Robin Bland’ (1977) – a pseudonym to disguise script editor Robert Holmes’ rewrite of Dicks’ original – Kriz is a six-legged insect with a ‘huge head’ and ‘shining, multi-faceted eyes’, on a mission to find a lifeless world where his highly moral Race [sic] might establish a new Nest.

Returning to the Hall of a Castle, Condo presents his master Mehendri Solon (Philip Madoc) with the creature’s severed head. Solon berates his servant for bringing something unsuitable; he can only complete his work when “a true humanoid species – warm-blooded, with a central nervous system” comes to this planet, Karn.

■ An idiot hunchback returns to his run-down castle of his scientist master, to present the fruits of a bodysnatching expedition…? The Brain of Morbius is, of course, indebted to Frankenstein – but not the novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818 so much as the sequence of horror movies produced by Universal Pictures in the 1930s and 1940s (often described, where credit was given, as simply ‘Suggested by’ Shelley). Universal’s original Frankenstein (1931) opened in a graveyard, where dwarfish hunchback Fritz (Dwight Frye) – a character who appears nowhere in the Shelley’s novel – helped crazed medical student Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) disinter a freshly buried corpse for the purpose of harvesting body parts. Direct sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1935) featured grave-robber Karl (Frye again) in a very minor role; but it was second sequel Son of Frankenstein (1939) that established the archetypal Frankenstein sidekick, in the form of the treacherous, broken-necked Ygor (Bela Lugosi) – who returned in third sequel The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).

‘Kriz was dying.’

■ Fritz, Ygor and others all informed the character of boggle-eyed hunchback Igor (Marty Feldman) – assistant to Dr Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein (1974), an elaborate black-and-white parody of the first three films in the Universal sequence co-written by Wilder with director Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein, it must be noted, was released in the UK on Thursday 27 March 1975, barely a month before Terrance Dicks’ original Brain of Morbius storyline was commissioned; hugely successful, the Oscar-winning Young Frankenstein was still on release in August, when script editor Robert Holmes worked on his pseudonymous rewrite.

“ Even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony?”

■ Beginning with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Britain’s Hammer Films company stitched together its own sequence of Frankenstein movies, this time in bloody colour. Hammer’s chosen Baron, who essayed the role no less than six times, was actor Peter Cushing (‘Dr Who’ in the two 1960s Dalek films). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cushing figured high on director Christopher Barry’s wish list for Solon. Most likely, though, Cushing was unavailable. Between Tuesday 21 October and Saturday 1 November 1975 – ie, beginning on Morbius’ last scheduled day in studio – he was otherwise engaged at the Horseshoe Theatre, Basingstoke, making what turned out to be his last-ever stage appearance: as Dr Austin Soper in The Heiress, based on a Henry James novel.

■ By startling coincidence, Cushing would soon after feature as a brain surgeon in a Robert Holmes story produced for the BBC. Aliens in the Mind, a sci-fi thriller in six parts written by Rene Basilico from a Holmes outline, aired on Radio 4 from Sunday 2 January 1977. Here, Cushing shared top billing with another horror movie legend, Vincent Price – who featured on Barry’s list of possible Solons, too!

ESSENTIAL INFO

■ The turbulent tale of The Brain of Morbius (1975) started out as an ‘inverted Frankenstein’ story by former script editor Terrance Dicks, about ‘a galactic super-criminal’ – Morbius – ‘who has a super robot assistant – a sort of devoted robot Jeeves’. Fleeing his enemies, Dicks later told In Vision magazine, the villain’s spaceship crashes – and the robot can save only Morbius’ head. “Now for some reason, spaceships do crash on this planet. So the robot goes out, scoops up the remaining bits of alien lifeforms, and whacks them together into a roughly functioning body, onto which he puts Morbius’ head. But as Morbius has always been something of a handsome Greek god, he is far from pleased.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

1970s special! Contents include: an extensive interview with writer Terrance Dicks; actor and writer Mark Gatiss and Katy Manning (Jo Grant) remember the 70s; Gary Gillatt takes a nostalgic look at everything that was happening in the world of Doctor Who in November 1977; a feature by Jonathan Morris asks whether the 1970s really were the 'golden years' for Doctor Who; a new comic strip adventure for the Twelfth Doctor and Jess – Doorway to Hell part one, by Mark Wright, with art by Staz Johnson; the Fact of Fiction examines 1976's The Brain of Morbius; previews; TV and audio reviews; news; the Watcher's column; prize-winning competitions; PLUS 20 bonus pages, paying homage to the 1970s comic Countdown, and reprinting the Third Doctor adventure *Sub Zero;
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