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The BRAIN OF MORBIUS

In 1975 Christopher Barry was initially reluctant to direct yet another Doctor Who story, but applied his customary vigour to a notoriously troubled script. The result was a Gothic masterpiece.
Barry’s wish list for the role of Solon in The Brain of Morbius (1976) included William Russell, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Bernard Bresslaw was shortlisted for the role of Condo.

Below left: Condo (Colin Fay), the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in Solon’s castle.

Below right: A photograph of Colin Fay from his agent, Jeanne Griffiths, and a letter asking Barry to consider Fay for the role of a “humanoid giant” in Doctor Who .

For several weeks in 1975, Christopher Barry directed a tale set in a world of wrecked craft and dramatic clifftops, where passions were raised within Gothic shadows and wild ambitions were born in claustrophobic chambers, only to be dashed by irresistible forces.

This was Poldark, the BBC’s first television adaptation of Winston Graham’s Cornish saga, for which Barry directed the first four episodes.

In 2003 he told Doctor Who Magazine that he was banished from Poldark for reasons he attributed to BBC “internal politics” (see page 15). Exiled from 18th-century Cornwall, he was dispatched to Karn of uncertain date, a remote planet to be realised entirely in Television Centre.

The absence of any filming to help build an alien world was unusual in Doctor Who at this point. Even if a story didn’t go on location, it might have model sequences shot on film or scenes shot at the BBC studios at Ealing, where it might be possible to erect a larger set or mount complex effects sequences. But with The Brain of Morbius Barry had to do without the quarries and caves that, three years earlier, had given texture and actuality to the alien world of Solos in The Mutants. Barry had directed alien landscapes in studio before, most notably the petrified forest in the first Dalek story (1963-64). He varied the Karn set to suggest different locations on the planet, in part by using varying volumes of dry ice, recalling the mercury vapour on Vulcan in The Power of the Daleks (1966). He used a trick of composition and perspective familiar to viewers of The Dead Planet (1963), with Sarah looking down on the wrecked spaceships just as Ian and Barbara once looked down at the Dalek city on Skaro. There was also a much greater deployment of flame than was usual in the studio – a fire to welcome the Doctor and Sarah to Solon’s castle, another to set fire to the Morbius monster’s claw, torches borne by the Sisterhood of Karn, the pyre set alight by the Sisterhood to consume the Doctor, and of course their sacred flame. For the viewer, the threat of combustion helps the settings overcome their studio confines.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

HIDDEN TREASURES FROM ONE OF THE SERIES’ GREATEST DIRECTORS – ONLY IN DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE 541! Previously unseen images and new insights on the stories Christopher Barry directed: The Daleks, The Rescue, The Romans, The Savages, The Power of the Daleks, The Dæmons, The Mutants, Robot, The Brain of Morbius and The Creature from the Pit. Also in this issue: • Director Michael E Briant, actress Kay Patrick and writer Marc Platt recall working with Christopher Barry. • Jon Pertwee reflects on life after Doctor Who in the second part of an interview conducted at his first ever convention appearance in 1977. • David Bradley answers questions from the TARDIS tin. • The Fact of Fiction explores the Eleventh Doctor story The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. • Reviews of the Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 10 Blu-rays and Eric Saward’s Resurrection of the Daleks novelisation. • Part Two of Power of the Mobox, a new comic strip adventure featuring the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends. • The Blogs of Doom, audio reviews, previews, news, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!