Mar 11

Time Reconsidered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Who Eps: #15 THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS

FT20 comments • 1,078 views


… being a show-by-show TARDIS-esque (ie in effect random) exploration of Doctor Who Soup to Nuts, begun at LJ’s diggerdydum community, and crossposted at FT.

Rider Haggard meets Mary Shelley this time, a well (and deservedly) loved tale from 1974– just two stories on from the last one I watched (LOVEfilm is letting them cluster somewhat). SJS and 4 aka BB battle to stop someone incomparably eeevilTM being fully embodied and wrecking the universe forevHANG ON this is the exact same story as this and this and this really and even kinda this… Except in this story there’s many-roled whospian and magnificent experimental surgeon/renanimator Philip Madoc, plus an all-female cult guarding 1 x Eternal Flame + 1 x Elixir of life. So can BB stop the reunification of Headless Salad of all the Galactic Bodyparts with SPACEHITLER’S SPACEBRAIN? NOW READ ON

i: Begin with the sidekick, named CONDO, presumably bcz he is built like an apartment block with a monobrow. Pretty much from the first time we hear him speak (always in two-word phrases: “Master promise?”/”Girl pretty!”/”HULK SMASH!“) we know where we’re going here. Condo will very belatedly realise his master despises and will casually betray him; will be sweet on SJS; will do useful battle with his now-former master; and will not survive to the end of the story. As does he not, BUT — despite being Morbius’s smarter minion’s dimmer minion — he does correctly rename BB: he refers to him as “BIG HEAD”, and so shall we.

ii: SJS doesn’t have much to do besides grimace, huff, puff, snipe, snark and squeak. She does save BIG HEAD’S bacon at one point — he’s got himself tied to a berni steak burning stake, by his usual method, of not explaining anything to anyone, and being huffy and rude when people ask him questions. As a result she is BLINDED — and so for an ep-and-a-half grimaces, huffs, puffs, snipes, snarks and squeaks with her hands stuck out in front of her like a mummy, till the blindness gets better ON ITS OWN. This is an excellent set-up for the funniest cliffhanger: “I can SEEEEE!” Turns and SEEEEEEES hideous and bizarre monster with ONE GIANT CLAW three feet away and closing…

iii: Oh oh I love Philip Madoc SO MUCH!! This role is his tribute to the YOUNG JOHN PEEL. Solon is a misunderstood genius who can achieve just about anything in a surgical theatre but can’t actually think on his feet. And plus Eeverything that goes wrong with his plans goes wrong because he’s so much more eager to shaft everyone around him than he is to let his masterscheme come to careful fruition — presumably this is because he LOVES MORBIUS AND WANTS HIM ALL FOR HIMSELF! (There *is* a bit of a Torchwood-agenda undertow to this tale: here’s a ruined planet with only two organisations operational on it; one ALL-MALE, one ALL-FEMALE… The arrival of BIG HEAD — who Solon clearly rather fancies, in a chop-his-bonce sort of a way — and SJS, who Condo falls for, screws up all the existing dynamics!)

iv: BIG HEAD spends a surprising amount of his time shuttling between the two main buildings actually unconscious. He cleans the sisterhood’s chimney — shut up mr freud! — and kindasorta does the exact opposite at Solon’s house, by turning a vent into a poison-deliverer. His schoolboy chemistry is handy enough, and he only actually cold-bloodedly murders one person — because it turns out that Morbius’s new body can breathe cyanogen. Interesting reveal: when he has a BRANE-BATTLE with Morbius, the screen shows a whole slew of pre-Hartnell doctors, dressed up all Edwardian and the like. (Though apparently fandom decided they must all be earlier Morbius-bodies, apparently terrified of the idea that 1 ≠ 1.)

Backstory sidenote: has anyone ever spotted the doctor reading a book? He claims he did once, in this story: Solon’s book. (Odd one to be the only one…)
This-story sidenote: why does Solo even have the BRANE-BATTLE app set up ready? Does he tussle with CONDO now and then to keep his lobes in?

v: The landscape — the mise en scene if you will — is claustophobic and schematic, and all the better for it: basically two buildings, one a semi-ruined place which doubles as Solon’s lab and flat, one an all-girl temple, and the no-extensive hilly and rubble-strewn pathway between them (complete with dozens of downed ships). We see a lot of it bcz abt 9/10ths of the action consists of BIG HEAD and SJS going from one bulding to the other, one often blind, the other dead to the world.

vi: MORBIUS is at least a three, although — and I smell a bit of a corporate rat here, courtesy Marvel — this name has no wikipedia disambiguation page. Executed and dispersed bodily for being SPACEHITLER — except for his brain, which Solon sneaked out of the building somehow — he ends up so hapless in this story that it’s hard not to feel sympathy with him. First: because “even a sponge has more life than I!” — a great line much-quoted. Second: because when Solon is persuaded to go back to the experimental plastic braincase he had rejected as flawed and too risky (correctly it turns out), we see him retrieving it FROM THE WASTE PAPER BIN! Third: anyone who cooks will recognise the agony of this one, when you drop the roast at a super-dicey moment — and it CRASHES onto the dusty floor and is visibly misshapen and bent when you pick it up and brush it off and hope yr guests didn’t notice. Pleased to see Chef Solon does not clean up the green goo the brane slurries all round; it’s left as a warm-meat-juice floor-hazard. Fourth: when Morb is his rubbish body and blundering around clicking his claw, he catches sight of himself in the mirror. There is genuine dramatic irony here — we the viewers have known for some time that he’s going to end up in this body. If the brain-damage wasn’t incurred at step four, the self-worth trauma at step four can’t have helped. Fifth: to be fair, he may have been SPACEHITLER, but Morb’s bodycount is only two, and would have been one if fellow timelord BIG HEAD hadn’t failed to poison him FAILED BY THE MEANS OF BLUNDERING. Last, when Morbs does peg it, it’s because he falls off a cliff — he isn’t really pushed even. (Certainly not telekineticised in any way: the sisterhood seem to have forgotten they can do this: they could eg have popped his brane out of its box and into the Eternal Flame, on gas mark 9…)

vii: forgetful or not the sisterhood are FAB; they look fab — actually in a carnaby street kind of way, all gold-red garb and face-paint — and they have all these tics and hand tremblings and and flickery camera effects and ritual gestures. The top sister, MAREN, wends an intriguingly pragmatic way between the LAWS and let’s-suck-it-and-see (for example over the execution of BIG HEAD: she’s hardline for convenience at the start, then happy to see what his actions will do for her). Her deputy/successor, OHICA, has terrific starey eyes — you don’t notice this straght away, bcz the make-up somehow obscures it. They’re a bit jumpy at the start — which BIG HEAD doesn’t help, in his usual wind-up way — but they are GOOD face-painted EGGS and eventually deliver accordingly.

I enjoyed this enormously. It’s standard twit-not-nature Gothic at one level, but the gendered segregated counterpoise of the Coded Male Domain — driven solitaries undone by their own asocial nerdiness — with the Coded Female Domain — temple of max-factored sirens grounded by shrewd political practicality — stands energetically away from its own potential swamp of stereotype.

ps also ahem MORE DISAMBIGUATION needed:


  1. 1
    Andrew Hickey on 23 Mar 2011 #

    “has anyone ever spotted the doctor reading a book? ”
    Yep, Destiny Of The Daleks and the TV Movie.

  2. 2
    JimD on 23 Mar 2011 #

    Fun fact: one of the sisterhood grew up into AMY POND! Oh wait no, that was that other identical sisterhood.

    Isn’t it The Time Machine that McCoy is reading at the start of the movie? Such a DO YOU SEE clanger.

    The brain on floor SPLUT moment is maybe my favourite ever bit of Who comedy.

  3. 3

    Andrew, do you see the what the book is in DotD?

  4. 4
    Andrew Hickey on 23 Mar 2011 #

    Yep, it’s one by Oolon Colluphid. Can’t remember the title.

  5. 6

    Oh actually I do remember that, yes!: he doesn’t really READ it though, does he, he turns a mistake on page one, line one, into snark and that’s it. In this^^^ he’s referring to a fairly abstruse scientific work somewhat outside his own direct area of interests.

    Any others?

    (Sorry, this threatens to turn into something resembling my obsession with actors who can actually really play the piano properly…)

  6. 7
    Billy Smart on 23 Mar 2011 #

    We see Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor examine a copy of Shaw’s ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’. He also uses a juggling manual at one point.

    The Master reads ‘War of the Worlds’ in ‘Frontier In Space’.

  7. 8
    Garry on 24 Mar 2011 #

    He also read one briefly while stuck halfway down the pit in, err, Creature from the Pit. It was a mountaineering book of some kind.

  8. 9
    Tom on 24 Mar 2011 #

    In the About Time books, one of the less convincing running arguments is that Who in the 60s and 70s was pro-literacy and in the 80s it became anti-literacy. I don’t think there’s a huge amount of evidence for this and this comment thread seems to back me up.

  9. 10
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2011 #

    In the list so far, McCoy and the Master are the only ones arguably* dabbling in actual real LITERATURE** (if “examine” means read properly; or even “read for reading’s sake”) — as opposed to pretending to viewers the play’s somehow about him. Unless the story it’s in is about whether the rich should be offered expensive but completely unnecessary treatments in order to fund essential medical activities for the poor.

    *Except not obviously
    **Yes I am totally an intemperate snob where D’Ugg Le Ass O’Dumms’s books are concerned.

  10. 11
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 24 Mar 2011 #

    ps I should have noted this in the review, but this is I think the first of the 15 I’ve reviewed tha I wanted to watch again straight way, largely to re-view how the underlying gender stuff plays. I didn’t actually have time: but I think more could be said in this regard. The Sisterhood NEED TO GET A MAN IN to give their flame some oomph; the No-Girls-Allowed Den is devoid of feminine common sense, hence Solon builds a TOTALLY UNSUITABLE BODY for his boss; Sara is the first girl to see it and SHRIEKS WITH DISGUST at its twitching, her revulsion a good practical sign that ALL WILL NOT BE WELL. Also she doesn’t drink any of the crepey host’s wine, while BIG HEAD slugs enough to get instantly blotto.

  11. 12
    Andrew Hickey on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Tom, I don’t think the About Time books argue that Who became anti-literacy in the 80s – certainly I don’t remember that bit, and I’ve read them a few times. And the argument that the show is pro-literacy makes quite a lot of sense to me – while the Doctor very rarely read on-screen, he’s clearly very *knowledgeable*, and knowledge is made out to be A Good Thing. And of course the primary way of experiencing Old Who was through Target books. Certainly Terrance Dicks did far more to make me a reader than any other writer, and I can trace a lot of my intellectual preoccupations back to various Doctor Who books.

  12. 13
    Tom on 24 Mar 2011 #

    #12 it’s in the Davison book – the “JNT ruined everything” essay, there’s a sniffy bit where they go “you only ever saw Davison reading the TARDIS manual”

  13. 14
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 24 Mar 2011 #

    I’ve still never seen a complete McCoy, but based solely on the shift from BIG HEAD to 5ive, I can imagine a change from “know how stuff works (esp.science)” to “knows and minds how people work” being strongly deprecated as “not real knowledge” — it’s a type of arseyness you encounter daily on the internet. And obviously Rusty is a lot better on empathy than he is on high-school physics or biochemistry. But it doesn’t make much sense as an analysis if you include 1-3 or Fatt Colin, does it?

  14. 15
    Andrew Hickey on 24 Mar 2011 #

    Ah, the “Chris Bidmead smells of wee because he likes computers” essay? I see what you mean. That’s just Tat Wood (reads more like him than Miles) complaining that he’d grown up by 1980, I think :-/

  15. 16
    almondslice on 25 Mar 2011 #

    A couple of different modes here:

    Asserted fictional reading – As in this instance ^^^, Pertwee claims to have read guest character’s scientific papers in Green Death and Invasion of the Dinos (TB visibly bluffs this claim in Stones of Blood)

    Implied ‘actual’ reading – poetic recitation from TB in Horror of Fang Rock (Flannan Isle) and CB in Twin Dilemma (Lalla Rookh)

    Explicit fictional reading (ie books on screen but books not real) – TB’s Oolon Coluphid moment as noted above, Davison is given book on botany in Black Orchid, mostly looks at pictures, but by start of Earthshock claims to have been actually reading it AND finding it interesting (who’s he trying to impress?)

    Explicit actual reading (real books on screen)- McCoy’s Time Machine as above, Tale of Peter Rabbit in Creature from the Pit – although TB is only holding book while K9 does the reading.

    Anti-literacy agenda? As noted above, no.

  16. 17
    Jet Simian on 26 Mar 2011 #

    Er… Is that pic of Ohica supposed to remind me of Dawn Porter?

  17. 18
    thefatgit on 20 Apr 2011 #

    And we say goodbye to Elizabeth Sladen :(

  18. 19
    thefatgit on 20 Apr 2011 #

    and my zpelling iz atrociouz ^^ (Elisabeth)

  19. 20
    crag on 21 Apr 2011 #

    :( indeed…

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page