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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. SK
    October 26, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    I'd date Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus to 1818 rather than 1823, myself (well, that's the text I read, as it's the one Oxford World's Classics uses).

    This has been an anticlimactic first comment.


  2. Steve Hogan
    October 26, 2011 @ 3:27 am

    Well done!

    Real life wound up extending the meta-ness to severely incestuous levels when Georgia Moffett wound up giving birth to David Tennant's daughter.

    Good thing his Doctor kissed Davidson's ass in that charity clip!


  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:12 am

    SK – This is, at least, an interesting correction. I'm not entirely sure where I looked it up and got 1823, but further research shows that 1823 isn't quite wrong – it was published anonymously in 1818, and then under Shelley's name in 1823. Still, 1818 seems more right.


  4. SK
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:42 am

    I understand that the 1823 text is popularly supposed to have been redrafted with Percy's help, while the 1818 version is more authentically Mary's work, but I'm no expert in the Romantics.

    (I have, however, always thought there's mileage, if we must do celebrity historicals, in a story set by the shores of Lake Geneva during that rainstorm, where the explorations of a bunch of dilettantes and their medical friend across the boundary of life and death turn out to be not entirely the province of fiction.)


  5. Aaron
    October 26, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    "(I have, however, always thought there's mileage, if we must do celebrity historicals, in a story set by the shores of Lake Geneva during that rainstorm, where the explorations of a bunch of dilettantes and their medical friend across the boundary of life and death turn out to be not entirely the province of fiction.)"

    So, this has happened. It's Mary's Story, by Big Finish, the last episode of Company of Friends.


  6. SK
    October 26, 2011 @ 9:01 am

    Oh. Well, I suppose it's not entirely bad that Big Finish have ruined all every single obvious idea. Makes everyone have to work harder.


  7. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 26, 2011 @ 9:23 am

    It's actually been done quite a few times. I remember seeing at least one comic book story with that premise.


  8. Adam B
    October 26, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    damn, what an entry.

    very interested to see how your thesis applies in certain eras to come.


  9. David
    October 26, 2011 @ 9:34 am

    "Terrance Dicks pitched a script based on the idea of doing a reverse Frankenstein story in which the scientist was a hideous monster who creates a perfectly normal-looking human."

    Is that true? Terrance has always said in documentaries and the like that his story was about a robot creating a (monstrous) body for the brain, trying to create a body that could adapt to anything (hence why it has a human arm, a giant claw, the lungs of a whatevermajibbit) and not knowing Morbius would rather just look like a normal person because it's a robot and it doesn't know any better. And the robot got junked as it would be too expensive (says Terrance, perhaps jokingly). Terrance mildly criticises the story for not making sense due to Solon being, well, human.

    Also, Brain of Morbius is more Universal's Frankenstein than Hammer.

    But, nitpicking aside, Morbius is so much better than Pyramids. Never liked Pyramids much, especially when it fizzles out in part 4. But Morbius is wonderful for all the reasons you list. A real highlight of the era. Also, as you demonstrate, a lot more important in its own way than I gave credit for – some interesting points made!


  10. Steve Hogan
    October 26, 2011 @ 10:17 am

    I always heard that BoM was based in part on Dicks' script for the "Seven Keys to Doomsday" stage show, but I don't know where the overlap on that is.


  11. David
    October 26, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    I think Seven Keys was set on a planet called Karn, and the monsters in it were the Clawrangulars who bore more than a superficial resemblance to the Morbius monster.


  12. WGPJosh
    October 26, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

    Bravo, Phil. A magnificent entry on what was already one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who. What can I say other than you've nailed it and "Brain of Morbius" is exactly as wonderful as you said it is for exactly those reasons? I really don't have anything to add to that analysis.

    I've always loved the Morbius Faces scene. It blew my mind the first time I saw it, asserting as it did that William Hartnell's was not the first Doctor, not by a long shot, and having the audacity to completely rewrite the show like that. it seems highly fitting that a story so centered around coming to grips with what Doctor Who is about and firmly placing itself as the culmination of a certain intellectual tradition, that it would also give us the first concrete look at The Doctor himself and his own history.

    I will argue passionately to this day for viewers to not disregard this scene because, to me at least, it's never explicitly contradicted and it's far more beneficial to keep it then to render it "non-canon" because of later episodes. I know there's the part in "The Five Doctors" where Hurndall does that "The Original, you might say" bit, but if anything the Cartmel Masterplan seems to render it once again fully within the realm of possibility and eve the New Series hasn't yet tried to undo that (although Moffat seems to be trying). I tend to approach "canon" extremely loosely because this show is so good at rewriting itself. I'm anxious to hear what you have to say about the "12 Regenerations" mess that starts with "The Deadly Assassin".

    Fanwank aside, to me anyway it's a far more interesting concept to conceptualize The Doctor (any given Doctor) as the current incarnation of an incalculably long-lived muse than it is to have his entire life story written out in a meticulously detailed biography. I love having an element of mystery and hearsay about his character and this is the first time since Troughton (and arguably one of the last until McCoy) that becomes an explicit part of the story. It seems to me a very logical and appropriate conclusion to this story and very definitive to the essence of Doctor Who.

    I still think "Pyramids of Mars" is shite, but here I'm completely on the same page as you 😉


  13. William Whyte
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    I think you mean "one of my many astute commenters".

    As everyone else has said, bravo. This is a very nice description of what's great about Brain of Morbius, although I think you slightly understate the gloriousness of the cheap pleasures — no dialogue riper, no scene knowingly underplayed.

    One thing about the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era that your discussions have brought out is the difference in how Tom Baker's Doctor reacts to the world compared to the others. Where Hartnell and Pertwee were irritable and self-important, and Troughton was fussy and cowardly, Baker doesn't bring any personal vulnerabilities or concerns to the role. He seems to be entirely outward-looking, unconcerned with himself: burnt free of ego. As you note, he walks here, as he did in Pyramids of Mars, into a situation that means almost certain death. None of the other Doctors did that before Planet of the Spiders; maybe Hartnell at the end of Dalek's Master Plan, but that's it. Note that in the very similar scene at the end of the Web of Fear, where the Doctor gets something attached to his head and has his VERY BEING sucked out by the Big Bad, Troughton has already messed with the controls. He knows there's an out. Here and in Pyramids, Baker doesn't. Baker's Doctor just accepts that defeating great enemies requires a great risk. Doctor Who was written by a lot of people over a long period of time and they didn't all pay attention, but there is a real sea change in the Doctor's attitude between Pertwee and Baker and it flows naturally back to the cleansing he goes through at the end of Planet of the Spiders.

    There's a story of Eastern spiritual enlightenment here. And yet, although Tom's by some way less aristo than the Doctors that came before him (though equally posh), he's also perhaps the most explicit portrayal of specifically British virtues: Dunkirk spirit, not making a fuss, lovable eccentricity. (Hartnell and Pertwee, by contrast, illustrate the corresponding British vice of making a huge fuss about trivial shit because you can't do anything about anything that matters). That great Terrance Dicks joke about foreigners in Robot is a springboard for this new approach, a Doctor who's comfortable in the Britain of Private Eye and Monty Python without being cynical in the same way.


  14. William Whyte
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    And this is the crazy thing: to you, me and everyone sensible, this is one of the highlights of Hinchcliffe/Holmes and of all of Doctor Who. Yet in poll after poll, Pyramids beats this, Deadly Assassin, and Ark in Space. Why?


  15. William Whyte
    October 26, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

    Oh god I can't stop commenting.

    FWIW, on "so bad it's good", my problem with your defence of Terror of the Zygons was that it seemed to be a defence not just of the production values but of the whole approach — "critique of the Pertwee era" is next door to "pisstake of the Pertwee era" is next door to "can only be enjoyed 'ironically'". But I applaud the way you turned this into a fantastic defence of the way the production team, from here to the end of Horror of Fang Rock, chose to go about their work.

    But more importantly. Even before the twelve lives palaver comes into it, the crazy thing about the retcon of the Doctor's faces is that it's clearly intended to imply the Doctor's being pushed back into his history, and that as such it clearly breaks the implication of the early Hartnell era that the Doctor is very new to adventuring (you've already addressed this, but as evidence: in the first four stories he nearly dies of banal diseases twice; in The Edge of Destruction, the TARDIS doesn't recognise or trust him, nor he it; in The Reign of Terror, with his friends in mortal danger, he can think of nothing better to do with Robespierre than lecture him in unspecific terms). I reconcile this with the heads scene by concluding that whatever the Doctor did that precipitated his flight from Gallifrey, that killed Susan's parents and wiped Susan's memory, also split his timelines, and what we're seeing here is past Doctors that never were or future Doctors that could have been.


  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 26, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

    Surely the simpler explanation, if you want to stick with the implication of Brain of Morbius, is simply that the Graham Harper Doctor never left Gallifrey, or only did so via officially sanctioned travel in a sort of company fleet of TARDISes, no?

    As for "so bad its good" and Zygons, as I said at the time, the critique of the Pertwee era it's trying to perform really can only work if you do it in the course of also putting together a top notch Pertwee story. Terror of the Zygons works because it plays completely fair – it never lets the reason the Pertwee era is shown to be flawed be because it's being badly done. Instead it does everything well and by the book, but then shows that there are still ludicrous problems with it.


  17. Spacewarp
    October 26, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

    I think this ranks as your best post so far…at least IMO (as the kidz say on the interweb).

    The appearance of the "Morbius Doctors" blew me away as a kid, showing me that the series that I loved and thought I knew all about, could still offer me more and exciting possibilities. A door seemed to open…a door that unfortunately was decisively slammed shut (and dead-locked) by "The Deadly Assassin".

    However I have always felt that the issue of the Morbius Doctors hasn't been fully closed. Rather it's been buried under the patio in a shallow grave. All it needs is someone who's already resculpting the garden to dig it up and do something interesting with it. That person wasn't Russell T Davies, but it might be Steven Moffat…


  18. Wm Keith
    October 27, 2011 @ 1:21 am

    Almost sensible point first:

    Doesn't the Mind-Bending Contest complete the work begun by the Planet of the Spiders regeneration? By the time that the Doctor dies on the floor of the laboratory, his fight with Morbius has stripped away all remaining traces (Moffat would say memories) of his former self/ves. The Doctor is no longer tied by his past. He is ready to return to Gallifrey.

    Completely silly point second:

    It's notable that the elixir of life tastes of:
    nectar – the drink of the gods
    apricot – the "golden apples" for which Hercules tricked Atlas
    and, of course, custard.

    As Henry Lincoln would say, this clearly proves that The Doctor is a god who tricks others into constantly recreating the world for him.

    in the alternative, you're welcome to make something of Diderot dying after eating an apricot.

    None of this explains why the Sisterhood of Karn wear hats with a chimney on the top.


  19. David
    October 27, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    Just read the "story about a monster making a perfect being" comes from About Time 4, though I've no idea if that's the script Terrance actually ended up writing as I can't remember it being mentioned as his script on the Morbius DVD extras. So maybe that was his original idea but then he abandoned it and went with the robot one, and then that got more heavily Frankensteined afterwards?


  20. Jesse
    October 27, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    I saw a fan site once that speculated that the pre-Hartnell Doctors were incarnations of the Other. This may be the Platonic ideal form of the Fan Theory: a thesis that (a) is consistent with the evidence*, and also (b) could not possibly be what the production team actually had in mind.

    (* Well, at least I think it's consistent with the evidence. I haven't read the tie-in books and only know the Other stuff second-hand.)


  21. WGPJosh
    October 27, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    @ Spacewarp, Jesse

    I really, really don't want Moffat to go and tie up all the mystery about The Doctor's character, up to and including the Morbius faces-that would just ruin him for me. I am adamant he should always be a mysterious, contradictory and guarded figure and works best when scripts play to that aspect of his personality. I certainly don't want Moffat to attempt it himself especially as I'm none too pleased with him and the direction he's taken the series. I think the person, or persons, you are looking for were honestly Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronvitch and Mark Platt. Jesse's right in conjecturing the Cartmel Masterplan resolves the Morbius Faces problem, handily sidesteps the deadlock of "The Deadly Assassin" and was absolutely intended by the production team. I don't want to go into too much detail about it right now and will save my proper gushing until we get to the McCoy era proper, but suffice to say you're on the right track because this team had one hell of a story arc planned.

    But even those writers almost got themselves into the trap of revealing too much about The Doctor: The best thing that ever happened to the Cartmel Masterplan is that "Lungbarrow" was never made into a serial and replaced by "Ghost Light": As a result we have two whole seasons of mysterious, hushed speculation that just makes McCoy's Doctor seem so eerie and fascinating. Sure, we can piece certain things together and come up with theories, but in the end the mystery about who he is and where he came from still remains and I find that wonderful. Mysteries stop being interesting once they're solved.

    Of course, Platt had to go and ruin all that by turning "Lungbarrow" into a bloody great tell-all autobiography for Virgin thus spoiling the whole thing, and then mucking up the end of "Thin Ice" for Big Finish so it tied in with his book to boot. However, if you pick and choose the bits of the story to accept and reject you can avoid the issue and build up your own wonderful canon interpretation yourself.

    In sum, "Brain of Morbius" is entirely consistent with both what came before it (like "The Mind Robber") and what's going to come after it (like "Remembrance of the Daleks", "Battlefield" and "Ghost Light"). It's exactly on the path Doctor Who should be on both "canonically" and intellectually and does a bang-up job reaffirming what that even is. Hinchliffe and Holmes should be praised to no end for it, and if their entire run had been like this serial there'd be no contest as to what was the most successful era of the show.


  22. Jesse
    October 27, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    Josh: I'm sure Moffat knows better than to "tie up all the mystery about The Doctor's character." I say that as a Moffat fan, but even if you don't like what he's doing with the show you have to give him enough credit to recognize that he knows better than to drain all the mystery from a figure like the Doctor.


  23. WGPJosh
    October 27, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    @ Jesse

    I certainly hope so. I was just really taken aback by that "ultimate question that needs to be answered is Doctor Who" bit at the end of "Wedding of River Song". It bothered me for a couple reasons: one because it seemed overreaching and presumptuous of Moffat to think he could answer that, two that he seems to think it's a good idea at all to even attempt and three because it's grammatically incorrect: "Doctor Who" is a placeholder, not a question. That's why it doesn't have a question mark at the end. Little things like that annoy me.


  24. Jesse
    October 27, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

    I don't believe it was said that it "needs" to be answered…


  25. WGPJosh
    October 27, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

    @ Jesse

    Oh no, I didn't mean to imply that's what YOU were saying. I was responding entirely to the last two minutes or so of "Wedding of River Song", just using your comment as a jumping off point. You're absolutely correct: You said nothing of the sort. Sorry if I was unclear.


  26. Jesse
    October 27, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    No, I got what you meant. I'm saying that the episode didn't declare that the question needs to be answered. It said it "must never be answered." And yes, it said more than that too, but given the self-referential context ("Doctor who?" as the first question in the universe, a.k.a. the show) that very phrase suggests to me that Moffat knows that a full answer to the question would be bad for the series.


  27. WGPJosh
    October 27, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    @ Jesse

    It seemed awfully vague to me, which I guess was the point. I get the whole self-referential context, I do, but to have the phrase "Silence will fall when the question is asked" and then Dorium issue a challenge for The Doctor in the closing moments…That seemed an awful lot like the setup to a new story arc where "Doctor Who" as a question is going to be very prominent and something The Doctor is going to have to address explicitly. I grant Moffat is most likely a far more clever writer than I'm giving him credit for, but that whole scene really made me bristle a bit. It's like the old fantasy cliche: "You're tampering with forces you have no business tampering with".

    Also, considering what Moffat has said about the show in the past, who he cites as his favourite Doctors (and who he's been pretty vocal in slamming), the direction he feels the show should be going and my general displeasure with this year's arc as a whole…It just feels to me like the evidence is continually mounting the show will very soon go in a direction I'm not terribly looking forward to and that Moffat and I have two wildly irreconcilable notions about what the show even is and what we want out of it.

    Oh well, it's all part of being a Doctor Who fan. That's what makes the show so great.


  28. William Whyte
    October 28, 2011 @ 5:21 am

    @ Philip: You can of course look on the Graeme Harper (sp) Doctor as someone who lived and died quietly on Gallifrey. My theory, however, has the twin advantages that (a) it's consistent with Brain of Morbius and with all the later references to twelve lives, to the fifth Doctor being the fifth, and so on, and (b) it's insane. But, at the same time, not. How come the Doctor's the only Time Lord we ever see meeting his past self?

    (I'm not familiar with the spinoff literature at all, so this could well be contradicted by everything out there).


  29. Heather
    November 27, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    I, too, saw Whale's Frankenstein movies while watching this serial, but then again, I've never seen Hammer's versions, so I have no idea as to which this is more likely to be referencing.

    Actually, what I saw most was Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein came out in 1974. Whether it had any influence, I have no idea. It's entirely possible that both Brooks's film and Brain of Morbius are independently parodying the same source material. But I completely agree that this serial certainly is more a parody of Frankenstein than anything else.

    Your comment about Madoc's performance is dead on. I was surprised that you didn't bring up his appearance as the War Lord in The War Games. I was impressed with the quiet magnetism he brought to that part at the time (I kept repeating to myself, "Who IS that guy?" as I watched it), and I'm even more impressed now to see him portray mad-doctor Solon. It's delightful to see him in such a different role.


  30. Nickdoctorwho
    November 22, 2012 @ 5:42 pm

    Regarding grammatical incorrectness: "Doctor Who" works as both a question and a placeholder.

    Here's why–in our world, where the Doctor is a TV character, there's a superstition that movies and TV shows will fail if there's a question mark at the end. So you get things like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (no question mark) and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (also no question mark).

    But in the Whoniverse, "Doctor who?" is a variant on the age-old question: "Who WAS that masked man?" It also ties into Homer's "Odyssey" ("My name is Nohbdy," he said to the Cyclops), to Verne's "20,000 Leagues under the Sea*" (Captain Nemo = Captain "No Man"), and to the legendary "Man with No Name," who rides in, fights evil, and rides away.

    Also, "answering the question" sounds to me more like "the Doctor has to answer the question ''for his own benefit''."

    "Who am I?" is more in the sense of "What is my identity?" and "What do I stand for?" "A Good Man Goes to War" and a couple of previous stories saw him teeter dangerously close to Valeyard territory, so he MUST answer the question, or else he'll fall off the precipice.


  31. Nickdoctorwho
    November 22, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

    I don't know about the "Other" stuff, but I like to think that half of the faces are of a younger First Doctor, and the other half are Morbius.

    Here's how regeneration works in my mind. You are born, you grow up, you go to school and earn your degree. When you earn your degree, you are "whammied" with twelve/thirteen extra lifespans. So, when dear old Uncle Bingo comes to collect, you can give him "the finger" and grant yourself another hundred or so years.

    BUT, what happens is, your lifespan restarts from the point at which you received it. In relatable terms: I'm 25 right now, so if I were a Time Lord, and I died, the regen would reset my body-clock to 25, but my chronological age would remain constant as I'm not technically "dead."

    In theory, you COULD live thirteen whole lifespans. In practice, the Doctor burns through regenerations faster than the average Time Lord.

    Which brings me back to the Morbius Doctors: Age brings about changes in looks and styles. It's not hard to imagine a pre-Hartnell First Doctor (that is, before he looked like Hartnell) trying on a Western look for a while, then switching to three other ideas before getting old and living the rest of his life in an older man's clothing.

    Again, the problem is, the Doctor regenerates faster than he can try on several different looks.


  32. orfeo
    August 20, 2014 @ 5:56 am

    "We have already been told, after all, that the flame is drying up because of a lack of progress and change."

    Well no, we haven't. We've been told that it might be drying up because of tectonic movement, then we're told that actually it's drying up because no-one's cleaned up the soot. The Doctor specifically DISAVOWS any kind of mystical or spiritual reason for the flame dying, and says the reason must be a physical, scientific one. In stark contrast to the deep meaning you're trying to give it.

    In fact, he says that the flame and the elixir is CAUSING a lack of progress and change. The flame is the cause, and the impeded progress is the effect. Whereas you're claiming the reverse, with the lack of progress as the cause and the flame being affected.

    So while your thesis sounds terribly impressive, it's the exact opposite of what the Doctor actually says.


  33. Arthur
    September 22, 2023 @ 8:44 am

    I may be so late to the dance here that you never answer this, but just in case: what do you make of the parallels here to H. Rider Haggard’s “She”? That’s another slice of 19th Century literature which got various 20th Century cinematic adaptations, and the borrowings are pretty blatant: the secret of immortality, stemming from a mysterious sacred flame, guarded by a woman.

    The big difference is that in “She” only one woman gets to enjoy the benefit – whereas here the secret of longevity is shared among the Sisterhood, and that ends up creating a very different society from the one Haggard depicted.


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