More-bius; further reflections on an unforgettable Fourth Doctor adventure
I know I talked my head off (get it?) in PODSHOCK #327 about how much I love THE BRAIN OF MORBIUS, but I'm not through yet. If you're already sick of me talking about it, and why wouldn't you be, really? Then move along -- nothing to see here ...
... Still with me? Oh, good.
I mentioned on #327 how much I appreciated the screenwriting touch, the elegant pathos of having Condo's arm sacrificed to Solon's master work ... and of Condo then seeing the arm and recognising it. I realized later that this is only part of a larger virtue of this script. Where BRAIN OF MORBIUS excels, I think, is in putting sympathetic characters in credible danger. And maybe nowhere is this more striking than in the plot element of Sarah Jane's temporary blindness.
A flash from Maren's ring (which uses god-only-knows-what technology) and Sarah's sight is taken from her -- apparently forever unless the Doctor intervenes. This aspect of the script gives us one of our best-ever examinations of the heroic nature of this partnership: the Doctor immediately places his own life in danger in the hopes of restoring her eyesight, and Sarah -- brave little Sarah! -- navigates a "haunted castle" and a cruel planet -- blind -- in the hopes of rescuing the Doctor. Each of them proves to be the kind of friend we all wish we had and would perhaps like to be.
(It is also worth pointing out that it's harder than you might think to convincingly act blind ... Elisabeth Sladen does wonderful work here, bumping into things she can actually see and apparently not knowing quite where to walk ... some lovely acting, this.)
This script also puts the Doctor in an unusual amount of helpless danger as well. Usually he is the master of the situation, taunting the bad guys and outsmarting the evil aliens. But in this serial he is drugged senseless, teleported against his will, threatened with sharp blades while unconscious, bound to a pyre for auto-da-fé ... it's a bad time for the Doctor all around. And yet he carries on with his jaunty wit throughout. "You mean you still practise teleportation? How quaint! Now if you got yourself a decent forklift truck . . ."
The serial gives us excellent role-modeling of heroism from the Doctor and Sarah Jane both. And even in such a melodramtatic, over-the-top theatrical story like this, there is real human emotion and plenty of reasons to care about what happens.
I don't want to leave this little dissertation without mentioning that on this most recent viewing of the serial I realized for the first time that the genius behind Philip Madoc's spectacular performance here is that Solon -- as Madoc plays him -- is in love with Morbius. Oh, sure, it's a Platonic love, or at most the idealization of Pygmalion for Galatea, but listen to the way he talks to brain-in-the-jar Morbius. This is his chance, clearly, to matter to the great Morbius, to be at his side in a way he could never have been before. Of course he's in a hurry to make a physical body for this man, using whatever horrible things happen to come to hand -- Solon needs to be able to touch Morbius, to relate to hm as a fellow being. I'm not suggesting Solon wants to have sex with Morbius -- although there's no reason to rule it out -- I just think he wants to be able to relate to him as something approaching an equal, to be in a partnership with the Time Lord he idolizes.
Watch it again; you'll see what I mean.
-- Prof. Chronotis aka Lee Shackleford