A special post to celebrate the single calendar month until Doctor Who’s return! As the Doctor’s new adventures will once again visit the Sisterhood of Karn – first seen in a Tom Baker classic and last seen propelling the Eighth Doctor into the Time War – it’s the ideal time to look at the random rogue whose history is entwined with theirs. That insufferable and eternally unlucky Time Lord dictator Morbius. He remains shrouded in mystery despite occasional return visits to him over the years – visits that have varied markedly in quality. So, time to cast the verdict on the temporal despot – From The Brain of Morbius to novel Warmonger to Big Finish’s Vengeance of Morbius.
Let the Trial of Morbius commence!
SERIES NINE OF NEW DOCTOR WHO IS NEARLY UPON US, AND THE TRAILERS HAVE BEEN UNLEASHED TO SWIRL EXCITEMENT LIKE THE FIERY SKIES OF KARN. Ah yes, Karn. Beyond the maybe-Tharils, multi-generational Daleks, guitar solos and hmm, trips to Skaro showcased by the trailer, a few things escaped the web of secrecy early. And one was the intriguing return of that neglected planet and its famous Sisterhood!
Early Submissions: A trip to Karn
“It’s so rare that anyone arrives here on Karn…”
The Sisterhood of Karn, the mystic, matriarchal coven that fastidiously and sometimes fatally guards the Sacred Flame first appeared in the classic Fourth Doctor Frankenstein riff, The Brain of Morbius. What a name and what a story – one that features as Exhibit A. Two decades later, Virgin’s New Adventures, the series that did many things for Who not least allow many of today’s show-shapers have their first stab at the Time Lord, took a closer look at the Sisterhood. Within the first few books Marc Platt had uncovered their history, something he would return to at the end of the range in the Gallifrey illuminating Lungbarrow. Before Karn, they were the former matriarchal over lords of the Doctor’s home planet only to be driven from the planet by Rassilon. There would later come oblique glances to this Gallifreyan old religion over at Big Finish, particularly in the 50th release Zagreus. Overall, it’s proved a satisfying backstory, one that’s enhanced their position in The Brain of Morbius, building on the predominantly patriarchal Time Lords of science, the Sisterhood’s rum deal on the nearby backwater planet of Karn and the peculiar, yet light, symbiotic and untrusting deals between the two telepathic civilisations.
40 years after their television debut, the Sisterhood turned up to provide the catalyst for the unexpected. Not only did they facilitate a directional regeneration for the Eighth Doctor, but finally brought the errant Time Lord into the Time War. It was an act that, from hindsight, would define new Who and particularly the 50th anniversary. Expect big Time Lord revelations whenever they appear, but this court hasn’t been convened for the Sisters of the Flame. It’s to address the treatment of their sometime neighbour, the Time Lord dictator who wouldn’t leave them alone, and who their fate is often entangled with. One of Gallifrey’s most evil sons. Morbius. And with a name like that…
Character Reference: Morbius
“You see nothing was ever beyond my genius.”
Morbius is bad, really bad. We know that as he was the first of their own kind that the Time Lords sentenced to death. We also saw the bust of his most imperious face, which couldn’t be cast more like a warlord of ancient Earth civilisation. But then, one nation’s warlord is another’s glorious leader. Unless it’s a society dulled through millennia of stagnation and entropy. He inspired followers when alive, and acolytes in his death. He was a phenomenal tactician, charismatic leader and a virtually unstoppable force – a force that could only be halted by an immense alliance and fatal measures. Even the Time Lord prison Shada couldn’t contain this bad guy. Yes, on Gallifrey we’ve seen skulduggery and political machination ever since Robert Holmes’ The Deadly Assassin. But when Morbius appeared a season before that he was already a different type of Time Lord, albeit one we could only view through the slightly more God-like Time Lords the audience had so far seen in the show. Morbius is unlike most of the Doctor’s bi-hearted, time-traversing antagonists. Neither a figure form Gallifrey’s distant past like Omega nor one of the Doctor’s teachers as we’d later find with Borusa, nor one of his classmates at the Academy in the mould of the Monk, master or Rani. Morbius was a contemporary war criminal. A rise and quashing that quite plausibly happened after the Doctor’s flight from his home planet. The Doctor and Morbius didn’t know each other and the Doctor hadn’t been involved in that particular Time Lord crisis. Or so we thought…