I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now… Trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords, reduced to this — to the condition where I envy a vegetable.
Made during what may be considered one of the most successful seasons of Doctor Who — Season 13, the “horror” season — The Brain of Morbius (originally broadcast between 3–24 January 1976) features a monster so absurdly weird it almost challenges some of the bizarro creations of Japanese kaiju eiga.
As much of a pastiche as the plot itself, the monster is a delight. “Dead” renegade Time Lord Morbius is just a brain in a jar until “mad scientist” Solon — who has been constructing a body from the survivors and non-survivors of assorted alien spacecraft that have crashed on the planet — gives up on his search for an appropriate head and attaches Morbius’ brain to the chimeran body encased inside a sort of fish-tank helmet with wires, eye-stalks and other gizmos to facilitate sight and speech.
The result, with stitches, a grotesque patchwork of skin textures, and mismatched arms (including a giant lobster claw), is wonderfully strange — one of the best and most oddly convincing monsters in the Doctor Who menagerie. It is said (by Morbius himself) to be “built not for looks but for practicality”, though it probably fails in the latter ambition.
With its referencing of gothic horror and in particular the Frankenstein story (as re-constructed on film), the episode remains a favourite — well-acted, effectively designed and wonderfully dark. To my mind the controversial development of the script (originally written by veteran Terrance Dicks, extensively re-written in his absence by script editor Robert Holmes to up the horror quotient and to remove a technically challenging scavenger robot, and thus, by Dicks’ chagrined request, given a pseudonymous writing credit — “Robin Bland”) was probably a blessing, though as outlined in the “making of” doco on the DVD, the original, more-scifi script would have worked, too. It just would have been a profoundly different experience.
An Unfulfilled Wish: Though Philip Madoc does a great job as the mad scientist, I would have loved to have seen Peter Cushing in the role. His Frankenstein (as depicted in a string of Hammer Horror films) is the definitive mad scientist and he was in his prime at the time. In the “making of” doco director Christopher Barry says that he considered Cushing (and Vincent Price) for the role, though he doesn’t explain why it didn’t happen in the end.