The last couple of seasons have seen an increase in frightening imagery, grotesque monsters and grisly horror, and this comes to a head (ho-ho!) in The Brain of Morbius, which is basically a classic horror story in sci-fi clothing.
In an obvious adaptation of Frankenstein, a crazy scientist (Doctor Solon) and his hunchbacked assistant (Condo) are building a creature out of spare body parts in a spooky castle on a misty night. I assume they’re in the Cliché District of Parody City, but it doesn’t specify (actually, it’s planet Karn). An evil Time Lord called Morbius, long thought to be dead, is sitting in a jar in Solon’s lab, a floating brain waiting for a new body to be completed.
This must have been one of the scariest Doctor Who stories at the time. Unfortunately, as an adult, it looks too corny and fake to me, but any kids in 1976 would have been given nightmares at the sight of a headless monster sitting up, not to mention people getting killed, beheaded, shot and burned alive. Even for me, it’s decidedly creepy; the moment when Solon is measuring up the Doctor’s head makes me wince just a little.
This story also introduces some more Time Lord lore in the Sisterhood who guard an elixir that they use for eternal life, and that the Time Lords have used to prevent failed regenerations. During the final battle of minds, I also enjoyed seeing the many past faces of the Doctor (and, presumably, Morbius?) being displayed on the screen. Having recently seen ‘Nightmare in Silver’, where a similar scenario occurs, I see a definite homage here!
As for the Sisterhood itself, this small group of cultish space witches did not make for good viewing, particularly with all the irritating chanting they do. The Doctor makes a good point about the futility of life without death, but the words ring hollow when spoken by a 749 year old Time Lord, and the Sisters go on using the elixir at the end anyway.
Overall, as a corny horror story, this was fine. I would have liked to see Morbius fleshed out more, as he comes off as little more than a ravaging monster. Sarah Jane gets to act blind for a while, which she does well, but I am getting tired of the way her hysterical lines are delivered as though she’s hyperventilating. I can’t stop noticing it now! The Doctor is remarkably watchable and gets some great lines. I love how matter-of-fact and calm he is in ridiculous situations.