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Morbius

Doctor Who
by Artemis

Philip Hinchcliffe was elevated to the position of producer of Doctor Who in 1974, and brought with him the belief that what the show really needed was gothic horror. With his partner in crime Robert Holmes as script editor, Hinchcliffe injected a big dose of dark and creepy into time and space, resulting in a sharp jump in the show's popularity - this was the time when Tom Baker's Doctor became the legend he is, and Hinchcliffe and Holmes fully deserve their share of the credit. You don't get much more gothic-horror than Frankenstein, and so naturally the modern Prometheus was in their sights, resulting in 1976's "The Brain of Morbius."

"I am still here. I can see nothing, feel nothing. You have locked me into hell for eternity. If this is all there is, I would rather die now... trapped like this, like a sponge beneath the sea. Yet even a sponge has more life than I. Can you understand a thousandth of my agony? I, Morbius, who once led the High Council of the Time Lords, reduced to this - to the condition where I envy a vegetable."

Morbius, you may gather, was not a happy soul. Unlike its literary source, the first concept for the serial focused on the creation, rather than the creator - Morbius, a renowned galactic criminal, was to have been reassembled and revived following a crash-landing by a servant robot, which had no real idea how a humanoid was supposed to look, and thus created a functional but hideous body for his master; shades of Vina's fate from "The Cage," the original Star Trek pilot episode. Heavy rewriting ensued, motivated both by the proposed expense of the complicated, non-humanoid robot, and by a general sense that the horror feel had been lost, and thus it was that the insane Dr. Solon (and his Igorish assistant Condo) became Morbius's re-creator, bringing the story back to its inspiration, albeit with a heavy dose of Hammer Horror included.

Morbius, in the rewrite, was once a megalomaniacal Time Lord, and thus used to appear perfectly human (skipping the internal stuff like the famous two hearts), but his new body... well, wasn't. Solon, one of Morbius's followers, had managed to steal his brain prior to the body's disintegration for war crimes, but evidently his Grand Theft Anatomy abilities were highly variable, since aside from the left hand (Condo's) the resulting mishmash is hardly what you'd call Gallifreyan to look at. The body is primarily a rough, lizard-like form, heavy and rugged-looking with tufts of fur, most notably a kind of crest running down the spine - obviously all one creature, but it's stated that the internal organs are from more varied sources. The figure recreates the costume primarily with sculpt alone, though there are patches of gentle shading to give it more definition, resulting in a slightly mottled, beaten-up look. The fur is a single colour glued-on piece in back, but drybrushed into the brown body elsewhere, with some two-tone work to help blend it in, and as well as the silver staples holding the incisions shut - most visibly across the chest, but also on the left leg - there's a coiled wire extending from the neck to the chest. The humanoid hand - naturally the actor's - is simple enough, but on the other side the colossal crustacean claw is quite a piece of work, with heavy drybrushing revealing the sculpted detail, and applied even heavier over the serrated inner edges. As with the real costume, the joins between the upper and lower arms are concealed by the shaggy fur - soft plastic, so as not to impede mobility.

Solon's plan was to use the Doctor's head to complete his creation (not specifically him, he was just the first suitable head to turn up), but obviously that hasn't happened - bit difficult to continue the show, otherwise. Instead, since the Doctor proved reluctant to surrender his noggin, and Morbius had a fit when he learned there was a Time Lord about the place, his brain was hastily transplanted from the fish tank he'd been moping in into a synthetic brain case (essentially a fancy fish tank).

The clear plastic sphere is mounted high up by necessity - beheading the guy in the suit was no more practical than beheading the Doctor, after all - but the figure has been tweaked slightly in relation to the real thing, lowering the "head" in relation to the suit's shoulders to give it a more convincing look. Inside the clear plastic is a silver techy piece with red and yellow cables protruding, copied on the exterior back so it looks like it's all integrated, and up front the copper eye stalks. And, of course, Morbius's brain takes center stage, looking appropriately wrinkly, though quite dark purple. Mind you, Solon did drop it once during the transplant, so who knows how well he took care of it otherwise - he was mad, after all. Maybe he fed it the wrong fish food, and it got a rash.

Obviously there's the potential for the neck to turn, but in keeping with the real thing, it doesn't. Otherwise, though, Morbius mkII is quite mobile: swivel/pin shoulders, swivel biceps, pin elbows, swivel/pin hips, swivel thighs, and pin knees. Wrists and ankles are missing, but the use of two-axis joints at the shoulders and hips tends to make up for it. In addition, the "elbow" of the right arm has each half of the crab claw attached separately, allowing it to open and close, as well as swivel as a whole.

No accessories for Morbius, sadly - he's a big figure though, 6" tall and quite bulky, and off the top of my head (no pun intended) the only real gadget I can think of for him would be the mindbending apparatus, with which he mentally duelled the Doctor, and that was quite sizeable itself, so it's no surprise that, if it was considered, it was ruled out on cost grounds.

I think this figure is going to be one that sells mostly to hardcore fans and completists - for all that the serial earned its place in Doctor Who history, the compelling nature of Morbius in the story is more the idea of him than the patchwork body he ended up in, and while there's a certain coolness to the figure's look, it's not really visceral or bizarre enough to elicit the kind of horror-fascination you get in things like McFarlane's Clive Barker figures. Still, those fans who do want a Morbius creature - or who have money to burn and like the kitchy-monster look of it - won't find any reason to regret their purchase.

-- 08/03/10


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