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12 March 2018 @ 08:09 pm
The Randomiser: The Brain of Morbius  
When I first entered Doctor Who fandom, fandom wisdom had it that Terrance Dicks so disliked Robert Holmes' rewrites of The Brain of Morbius that he took his name off the script and suggested it be replaced by "Robin Bland" as a comment on his opinion of the result. More recent retellings of the story suggest that the chosen pseudonym was more by way of a joke on Holmes' part when Dicks suggested they just pick "some bland pseudonum". That makes more sense because it is difficult to imagine someone looking at the script for The Brain of Morbius and writing it off as bland.

The Brain of Morbius is the show's take on the Frankenstein story. As is often the case in Doctor Who, it is more interested in the visual trappings of Frankenstein (a monster made of parts, a mad scientist, plenty of lightening) than it is on the story's themes though it is interesting that the driver behind the creation of the monster is Morbius (the monster) himself and not the scientist, Solon. In fact, as is often the case with the Hinchcliffe era, you could argue that the basic plot is fairly straightforward with some idiocies but that acting and production (even when, as here, the production team is clearly grappling with representing a landscape within a studio) lift it above the average for Doctor Who. Even so, while the plot may be straightforward, the script itself still isn't bland.

Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith was given increasingly damsel-in-distress roles as the Hinchcliffe era progressed. The reasons for this are not clear, though the horror tropes the production team were playing with probably were a factor. She spends an extended part of The Brain of Morbius sightless and alone in the hands of Solon and his manservant Condo who (in retrospect - possibly at the time but I recall when reading the novelisation that I was reassured that Condo was at least partially in Sarah's corner) is more creepy than sweet in his attentions to her. I think it is mostly a testament to Sladen's acting that she manages to give Sarah strength and the appearance of agency even when the character is rendered helpless.

The Sisterhood of Karn are an odd beast. They've lingered well in the minds of fans, well enough to have reappeared for the 50th anniversary and beyond, but one can't help feeling here that they are a little bit dim. The seem good at paranoia and jumping to conclusions (and I suppose raising a burning torch wielding mob) but, as the Doctor points out, their lives are essentially fixed and static without any development or, apparently, any need to think through problems. If they are meant as a feminine counterpoint to the masculine Time Lords (as some have suggested) then it is a pretty misogynistic presentation. Though I'm not sure that was what was intended. I strongly suspect it was simply Holmes reaching for a few tropes that could be labelled "secret cult" and going from there.

Despite being distinctly tropey, however, this is the Hinchcliffe era on good form. Whatever its shortcomings, these stories are always eminently watchable.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/489502.html.
parrot_knight: parrotparrot_knight on March 13th, 2018 02:50 am (UTC)
Is it the case with Condo's attitude to Sarah that Terrance Dicks 'script edits' after the fact, as he seems to have done quite a lot? (When he was script editor he was definitely a restraining influence on the baroque tendencies of Holmes, including his attitude to women.)
louisedennis: Who:Sarahlouisedennis on March 15th, 2018 11:23 am (UTC)
I'm not sure. I'd have to go back and compare novelisation to televised episode. I suspect however it has more to do with Sarah's visible reactions - Sladen has her react with genuine fear and so suddenly the repeated attentions seem much more obviously like boundary violations.