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Fourth Doctor: The Brain of Morbius
Basically an enjoyable story, whose debt to filmic retellings of the Frankenstein story (especially Hammer's, I suspect) I appreciated very much. The brain inna jar got a bit silly at times, especially when it was dropped on the floor! But Solon (obsessive villain), Condo (simple-minded but good-hearted sidekick) and the Sisterhood of Karn (mystic lesbian fire-cult) were all very nicely drawn.

Parts of the set were clearly meant to represent the same volcanic rock formation phenomenon that can be seen at the Giant's Causeway in Norn Iron - but actually the way it was being used meant that it didn't remind me of the real-life Giant's Causeway so much as the cover of the Led Zeppelin album, Houses of the Holy:

Maybe, in fact, the figures climbing up the rocks actually inspired the Sisterhood of Karn in the story? They do seem to be all females, and since they're children, they could certainly stand very well for eternal youth. Plus the Sisters do climb up the rock formation towards Solon's castle in a quite similar way towards the end of the story - although they rather sensibly elected to keep their clothes on while doing so. (I wonder, incidentally, if such an image would be 'allowed' nowadays? And whether I'll get into trouble with LJ for hosting child pornography now I've put it in my journal. :-/ Hope not.)

The one thing that really did bother me about this story, though, was the fact that during the final episode, the Doctor was directly and knowingly responsible for killing Solon with cyanide gas - but that this isn't explained or excused or in any way commented on at all. A degree of distance is created by the fact that the Doctor sets up the gas in a basement room where he and Sarah are trapped, and it then filters up through an air vent into the room above where Solon is working. But still, he knows exactly what he's doing, and seems completely untroubled by it. This seems seriously out of character for the Fourth Doctor (though it wouldn't have been for the First), and I have to count it a failing on the part of the script-writers to include it in the story without any associated angst or at least debate. It could easily have been got round in any case - e.g. by having the Doctor do the same trick with a gas that would merely knock Solon out instead, and then letting him die at the hands of his own monstrous creation (Morbius).

Fourth Doctor: The Seeds of Doom
This time the story is part The Thing from Another World (not, obviously, the 1982 reworking, which post-dates it by six years) and part The Triffids. I'm not honestly sure it deserved to be a six-parter, although in practice it divides quite neatly into two episodes set in the Antarctic and four in Britain anyway. The first two are quite promising, with sinister things at loose in a claustrophobic, isolated setting. And when the story shifts to Britain, there is much to be said for the character of Harrison Chase - a camp, wide-lapelled villain who plays crazy 303 music to his plants.

But there are number of things about it that seem off-key. nwhyte recently commented that the Doctor acts unusually in concert with the establishment here, and it is certainly disappointing that the alien menace is in the end finished off by RAF bombers, leaving you wondering whether the Doctor has really been necessary to the plot at all. Perhaps the problem is that this is a UNIT story, inserted into a series which had clearly moved beyond that format by this stage, so that the script-writers had forgotten how to write stories in which both Doctor and UNIT played distinct and differently-motivated roles?

The Doctor is also frequently cold, angry and intolerant throughout this story, without any meaningful reason being offered for it. I'm quite happy to see him losing his temper with people who are endangering themselves and others through greed or stupidity - that happens in lots of stories, and makes sense in terms of his character. But here, he is just stand-offish for no obvious story reason. It begins to seem like a meta-reaction to being sucked back into the outgrown era of UNIT stories. What's more - perhaps having acquired a taste for blood in the previous story - we're also shown one fight scene in which both visuals and soundtrack combine quite unequivocally to present the Doctor snapping one of the camp villain's henchmen's necks. Except that... no! Split seconds later, the man gets up again, still very much alive. It's even more bizarrely jarring than the death of Solon in The Brain of Morbius - just why would the production team show this anyway, especially if they were only going to undermine it seconds later?

Still, Sarah Jane gets some good moments - rescuing the Doctor from a James Bond-style death in a composting machine, running off on missions through the grounds of the villain's HQ, and sounding off at one of the macho henchmen: "You're not complete unless you've got a gun in your hand!" And the Doctor seems back on normal charming form by the end of the story. But, all the same, it's an oddity, and one that didn't sit too well with me.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Interesting! My opinions of these stories are very different from yours. I don't think we disagree all that much though; it basically boils down to a difference in how much we enjoyed specific aspects of the stories, and the degree to which we're willing to overlook their flaws due to that.

I wasn't that impressed with "The Brain of Morbius", feeling that it was too derivative of those Frankenstein movies. Usually, when DW did something like that (quite frequently, at the time) it still managed to make it fresh and new. Making Morbius an eeeeeevil Time Lord didn't really help enough IMO. And I couldn't stand the bloody Sisterhood! All that chanting. And the second-in-command looks like her idea of acting "culty" is to open her eyes REALLY WIDE every so often. I keep thinking "it's Chancellor Gowron!" (Apologies for obscure Star Trek reference)

OTOH, I liked Condo, and Solon was great - the magnificent Philip Madoc in excellent form. And I wasn't that bothered by the Doctor rustling up some cyanide to kill Solon - he is extremely dangerous and must be stopped, and something similar is done in the Peter Davison story "Resurrection of the Daleks" - but I agree that it would have been preferable to find a more "Doctory" solution. Or at least to inject a note of desperation, and maybe regret, so that we feel the Doctor really had no other choice, and would have used less lethal methods if possible.

As for "The Seeds of Doom", I love it. I agree the ending isn't all it could be, but I enjoyed the story so much I can forgive that, and also the rather odd "He's dead - no, wait, he's not quite dead - he's getting better!" moment.

I think the Doctor's bad mood is easily explained - the situation is dire and time is desperately short. He has no time (ahem) to mess about, and is very worried, which makes him distant and tetchy. Again, perhaps this could have been made clearer.

Also, this story features one of the lovable mad old bats they seemed fond of in 70s DW, in this case Amelia Ducat, and they're always great (See "Image of the Fendahl" and "The Stones of Blood" for other examples). And of course Sarah is brilliant, as always.

I'm not honestly sure it deserved to be a six-parter, although in practice it divides quite neatly into two episodes set in the Antarctic and four in Britain anyway.

Robert Holmes, the script editor at the time, and DW's greatest writer ever (although Steven Moffat seems intent on giving him a damn good run for his money now) would probably agree! He disliked 6-parters generally, feeling they tended to drag. They were forced on him for budgetary reasons, but he usually tried to break them up in some way. This one, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and "The Invasion of Time" (which he was only involved in the initial planning stages of) all spend 4 episodes on one part of the plot and 2 on another. And "The Ark in Space (4 eps, all studio) and "The Sontaran Experiment" (2 eps, all location filming) were done with the budget for a 6-parter but separated into two stories.

Well, that's enough geekage from me! May I just mention that I love your icon - do you think the Doctor ever met Marc Bolan?
Mar. 13th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)

Yes, I can see your point about the Sisterhood. But I think for me their over-blown rituals seemed appropriate for the very isolated and fanatical character of what they were doing. I liked the sub-plot about their flame dying down, and the cult leader trying to hide the fact from the others, too. I felt it helped to round them out and give them a bit of pathos.

And as you say - if there'd been desperation or regret around the killing of Solon, I'd have been perfectly happy with it. It was mainly the fact that it was totally un-commented on that bothered me, rather than the basic fact that it happened.


Hmm - but I noticed the Doctor's tetchiness most of all right at the start, when there was as yet no real indication of what was at stake. It just seemed like he was grumpy to be back on Earth being involved at all to me. Although, to be fair, I did notice a bit of "I'm too old to work for UNIT!" angst at the start of Pyramids of Mars, too - so if that's what's supposed to be going on, at least it's consistent.

Amelia Ducat - yeah, she's quite cool! I'd probably really have liked her in the context of a story I'd liked more overall than this one.

And as for Marc Bolan - oh, I do hope so. Hell, it might even explain some of the weirder tripped-out hippy lyrics Bolan wrote if so.

Edited at 2008-03-13 08:23 pm (UTC)
Mar. 14th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
Well, I haven't seen Seeds of Doom in a while so I didn't remember him being grumpy at the start.

Anyway, nice to see you enjoying the greatest TV show in the history of ever! Keep us up to date with your thoughts; it's always great to read the comments of someone whos's seeing the stories for the first time (or at least the first time they can clearly remember), as it gives me a fresh perspective on stories I'm sometimes very familiar with.

I want to watch both these stories again now, actually! 8)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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