October 10, 2008

Doctor Who Geekery Report - Brain of Morbius & Trial of a Time Lord

The Brain of Morbius (by Robin Bland, 3-24 Jan 1976)

Robin Bland is a pseudonym used when Robert Holmes substantially re-wrote Terrence Dicks' original scripts to the point where Dicks demanded his name be removed.

AT LAST! One of my all-time favorite Dr Who serials is finally out on DVD. My favorite Doctor and my favorite companion at a time when the production team was (usually) firing on all cylinders; seasons 13-14 are the peak of the Classic Series. With Phillip Hinchcliffe producing, Terrence Dicks writing, and Robert Holmes script-editing, ratings regularly topping 10 million, they knew exactly what the show could and couldn't do, where it could & couldn't go due to budgetary and technical limitations, and drew from classic horror and sci-fi themes to produce an era of unequaled popularity and excellence, at least until the current revival.

The Brain of Morbius is a brilliant combination of horror pastiche and sparkling wit, sprinkled with a smidgeon of camp. A dark and stormy night, a castle on a hill, a mad scientist on the hunt for cadavers, a hook-handed servant, a... thing on a slab in the basement; this serial definitely wears its Frankenstein reverence on its sleeve. Add to the mix a coven of witches, a fountain of youth, and a maniacal talking brain in a tank.

Brilliant acting; regulars Tom Baker and Liz Sladen possess effortless chemistry. Philip Madoc as Solon and Colin Fay as Condo give multi-dimensional human faces to what could easily have been campy cliché mad scientist and hulking manservant. Cynthia Grenville generates pathos as Maren, matriarch of the Sisterhood, remaining stoic as her coven faces death with the dwindling of their Elixir. When the Doctor restores the Sacred Flame that produces the potion, there's a twinge of regret on her face. A lovely moment.

And of course fanboys have argued and debated about the "Mind-bending" contest in episode 4; just who are those faces that follow the images of the Doctor's first three incarnations?

Grade: A

The Trial of a Time Lord (by Robert Holmes, Philip Martin, Eric Saward, and Pip & Jane Baker, 6 Sep - 6 Dec 1986)

An ambitious concept that took up the entire 23rd seaon, and exceeded the grasp of the production team, even allowing for the behind the scenes chaos and tragedy. Intended as a metaphor for the series itself, but nobody thought things through. Any cliffhanger from a flashback tale that involves the Doctor is automatically robbed of its power, especially when given a line like "I think this could be the end!", simply due to the fact that it clearly wasn't. Constant cuts to the courtroom rob the various stories of their momentum.

Not that it didn't have its moments. The opening shot of the space station is actually quite marvelous even by today's standards. Glitz and Dibber are Robert Holmes' last great character pairs (even if his script echoes his first Dr Who story, The Krotons). The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is light and relaxed (not in the same league as Tom & Liz, but certainly a refreshing change from the previous season). Brian Blessed has some lovely subtle and gleefully eccentric moments that tend to be lost among all his trademark bellowing. Sil rocks. And yes, we know it's a bald-cap, but Peri's last scene before her demise is stunning. And we never quite know if the Doctor is really unhinged or if the Matrix has been tampered with. And the Master turns up in much more witty Delgado-eqsue form than we'd seen him to this point.

But the bickering between the Doctor and Valyard is stupid, the trial turns from an inquiry into the Doctor's behavior into a capital case on a dime, the "Mindwarp" section is a muddled mess, Melanie Bush is a trainwreck of a companion, and Pip & Jane should never be let near a typewriter (or a thesaurus) again:
  • "I intend to adumbrate two typical instances from separate epistopic interfaces of the spectrum."
  • "Whoever's been dumped in there has been pulverized into fragments and sent floating into space, and in my book that's murder!"
  • "On the previous occasion that the Doctor's path crossed mine, I found myself involved in a web of mayhem and intrigue."
  • "Fire alarms are not playthings for irresponsible buffoons."
and of course, the classic:
  • "There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!"
The special features are quite good, though. And the feature on the last disc covers the very tricky ground of the dissolving of the professional relationship between producer John Nathan Turner and script editor Eric Saward, and how Colin Baker got the sack. Actually quite touching to see them admit their own culpability about what went wrong with that era, from Colin's infamously godawful costume to Colin's own character choices.

Still, not a set of DVD's I'll watch regularly. If ever again.

Grade: D+

1 comment:

Scoopernicus said...

But worth having for completeness sake.