1970s Doctor Who made occasional detours into its own mythology, normally to expand the backstory of the Doctor and the Time Lords rather than (as seemed to happen too much in the 1980s) submit each story as a continuity exercise, as if they were to be marked against some vast concordance which gave priority, for the most part, to the oldest broadcast stories. The Brain of Morbius is the last story where the Time Lords are treated as a near-perfect society, though this is at least the fourth megalomaniac which they have produced, the Doctor is landed by them in a situation without a brief (closer to Colony in Space than The Mutants, then) and the pointers to The Deadly Assassin's apparent rewrite of Time Lord culture are already there.

I'd not seen The Brain of Morbius for years and years before a viewing by the usual suspects last night, and while it's not the best of season thirteen - and all stories from this period work best if seen episodically - it holds the attention. The plotting is akin to Solon's insanity - he is unable to plan very far, moving from A to B to C and presumably unwilling to scrap his monster when the Doctor turns up because he can't see that he can leap to Z by transplanting Morbius's brain into the Doctor's head. (Perhaps there would be regenerative complications.) Solon's credibility as a character is largely down to the performance, judged by Philip Madoc in such a way that his paranoid maniacal ramblings appear perfectly natural rather than over the top; and Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen react accordingly. There are a lot of back-and-forths between the shrine of the Sisterhood of Karn and Solon's lair. Much is made of this story's Gothic design, but it's heavily overlaid with south and south-east Asian or even African motifs. The Sisterhood appear Asiatic in costume (though only one of them seems to be played by an actress of Indian descent) and there are giraffe patterns on the doors (as [livejournal.com profile] calliope85 noted). The death of Maren (or 'Matron' as the Doctor calls her) is a visual nod, though not an exact one, to the climax of the Ursula Andress She. Unsurprisingly for a story rewritten by Robert Holmes, there is a colonial subtext popping up now and then, with the Time Lords and Solon cast as colonisers, and the Sisterhood as the colonised, although in 1970s style, they appear rather dim, for all their eternal youth and telekinesis; who needs a secret passage when the Sisterhood can burn one through space with a smoky electronic effect?

A pity that Morbius manifests himself so late; he gains full consciousness in his monster form only for the Doctor to challenge him to 'Time Lord wrestling' with some apparatus that Solon just happens to have lying around, the point of which seems to be to emphasise the Doctor's ancientness in such a way that both the producer and the script editor, as well as their friends and colleagues at BBC Drama, can dress up and play the Doctor in still photographs. Then Morbius goes mad again, and is despatched by the Sisterhood.

At some point - whether when I watched the story for the first time, at broadcast, or when reading the novelisation later (initially from the library, with the vignette version of the cover illustration, rather than the less interesting all-yellow version
which is the one I actually have somewhere - I wondered if Sarah was going to leave and join the Sisterhood full-time. I was always looking for immortality for Sarah Jane Smith, one way or another, and I'm glad that she has The Sarah Jane Adventures now. We followed up The Brain of Morbius with School Reunion, about which much has been said; but I recently picked up Doctor Who and the Face of Evil from the fairly well-stocked shelves of Target novelisations at City Organiser on Turl Street, and noted that Terrance Dicks has the Doctor miss Sarah, and then decide that he was right to leave her on Earth and make her return to her human life. There's a bit of foreshadowing of the approach taken by School Reunion to the Doctor's relationships with his companions there, if you look for it.


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