THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Chase
The Dalek Master Plan
The Sorceror's Apprentice
BBC
The Keys of Marinus

Episodes 6 The Voord
Story No# 5
Production Code E
Season 1
Dates 4/11/64 -
5/16/64

With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written by Terry Nation. Script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by John Gorrie.
Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.

Synopsis: A ruler of a lost people sends the Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Susan across the varied and dangerous world of Marinus, in search of five micro-keys that could either free its people or enslave them.


Reviews

A Review by Cody Salis 20/1/98

This is one of my favorite William Hartnell adventures. There is so much going on during this story that some of it is hard to keep up with. The Companions Susan, Ian, Barbara and the two friends they meet (Sabetha and Altos) are used very well in this adventure, from Barbara caring for her friends in episode two, to Ian on trial in episode five. Even Susan shows some courage in the ice caves from episode four when she risks her life to set up the bridge for the others to safely cross. Sabetha and Altos show their friendship for one another and are tested time after time. The most frightening time was against the Voord in episode six, when Yartek thinks that Sebetha does not care for Altos, when in fact she really does.

The extra cast members\make the quest for the five keys very enjoyable. What was extra spooky in episode two for me was the evil brains. Even though the effects for moving the brains were cheap by today's standards, the gentleman who did the voice of the brains was excellent, and added a quality of eerieness when he spoke. Francis DeWolff did a very good job of playing the trapper Vasor in episode four. He is evil and wants to use the companions tools for himself. The Voord were interesting main villians. They are scary looking and can kill (it seems to me) very easily.

While William Hartnell himself was not in the whole story, his scenes as the Doctor were well done. Hartnell convincingly admires old junk that the Doctor believes to be valuable in episode two. Also when Ian is on trial for his life later, the Doctor becomes a sharp-witted defense attorney.

By this time, the first Doctor's fifth story, all of the main actors have seemed to know one another, and get along quite well. The friendships of the main actors and extras, makes this an interesting adventure to pop in the VCR and watch.


Fusion by Daniel Callahan 2/2/98

Even in the domain of cheap special-effects, The Keys of Marinus stands almost without peer. The first episode alone constitutes a "find the blooper" game: from Hartnell?s infamous, "No, impossible in this temperature. Besides, it?s too warm"; to the stage-hand that ducks his way stage-left through the pyramid. The production team tried too much with too little, a hallmark of Doctor Who, with the endearing charm of a well-placed mole. The story itself has also been trashed as a farcical B-movie adventure on a BBC budget. Now there I must disagree.

Two main forces set the standard for Doctor Who scripts in the first season: David Whitaker and Terry Nation. The Daleks introduces the monster-centric conflict, but Keys provides the next major step.

To back up a bit: Keys is Who?s fifth story. The shape of the series was in flux. (William Hartnell didn?t actually establish his familiar interpretation of the Doctor until roughly episode three of Marco Polo.) An Unearthly Child was a pilot, with Sydney Newman?s educational emphasis seen in the realism of the cave-dwellers. The Daleks was supposed to be an anomaly: science fact that had some annoying monsters thrown in (the wild success of the villains was by no means planned). The Edge of Destruction was filler. Marco Polo offered the first solid achievement of the series, but as a historical did little to shape its science-fiction counterparts.

In regards to the formula that Nation and Whitaker devised for the script, Keys succeeds as Polo did for the historicals. Nation uses the B-movie plot-line, but that?s as far as the similarity reaches to the average flick now satired on MST3K. In the previous four stories, the intense, well-written, well-acted drama that the BBC thrived on is self-evident. The drama surpasses most modern American shows, even though Doctor Who was meant for children. In Keys, the two elements are fused: BBC drama meets B-movie plot.

That fusion is integral to many stories that bear classic status, such as: The Dalek Master Plan (albeit undeservedly), The Evil of the Daleks, Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, The Caves of Androzani, and The Curse of Fenric. No B-movie pulls off what Who does; neither does any other British series. The closest is Red Dwarf, a fusion of B-movie and intelligent relationship-based sitcom.

After Keys, the only element missing from the Who mix was the invasion story, which Nation and Whitaker offered up with the same brand of twist in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. An essential reason why season one was followed by 25 years of exceptional television.


A Review by David Masters 25/3/98

Although the Daleks are recognized as having made Doctor Who a success (and revered accordingly), the remainder of season one's SF-based stories tend to be overlooked in favor of the historical stories. Unsurprising, given that the passage of time has been far kinder to the "historicals" and that the incompleteness of Marco Polo, for example, in the BBC Archives gives them that additional mystique. Nevertheless, the SF stories were successful at the time - look at the viewing chart positions or appreciation index.

Keys is a prime example. Detractors are quick to highlight the wealth of B-movie cliches and budget busting location shifts that are so apparent to the modern viewer. As broadcast, however, Keys was quite popular. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that the story made full use of its viewers' imaginations, rather than simply over-reaching its financial limitations.

The first episode is by far the worst: everyone seems unsure of their lines, and the whole event seems more under-rehearsed than usual. The execution of the sock-in-acid-pool scene is so terrible it appears that an entire camera shot was omitted during recording (possibly a close-up of William Russell). The episode also suffers from the smallness of the studio-- the cast is quite often called upon to ignore items in plain view so they only spot them at the appropriate moment.

The episode is, nevertheless, "cost-effective". There is only one additional speaking part-- and actor George Colouris is only needed for this episode. The next few episodes follow this pattern-- single story threads based in just one or two locations with few guest roles. Only Altos and Sabetha last throughout the remaining story. "The Velvet Web" episode is the most imaginatively executed episode, and possibly the most successful. The only time the budget limitations really impinge upon the story are the "vicious" plants that mar "The Screaming Jungle", and this is really the fault of the writer. Even the polystyrene snow and stock footage wolves are acceptable-- it's the unwittingly comic Ice Soldiers that work against "The Snows of Terror".

With the Doctor out of the way for two episodes, Ian and Barbara get a good opportunity to hog the limelight and take it well. Susan's character, once the establishing scenes are out of the way, is again neglected - a frequent event in season one.

Overall, Keys can be entertaining and fun; all it needs is a little bit of imagination.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/10/98

The Keys of Marinus can be seen as two things. The first is that it set the tradition for monsters to appear in Doctor Who, in the Voord. Whilst the Daleks had appeared previously, they could be better defined as aliens rather than monsters, (given that they were part machine.) The second thing it is notable for is its roots, borrowing as it does from B-movies. This in itself is no bad thing, as rather than being one long adventure, it can be seen as a series of adventures.

The opening episode is the most intriguing and enjoyable, setting the scene for the mysteries awaiting the TARDIS crew. This is carried through into the second episode, with Barbara left to resolve the situation (as she did in The Edge of Destruction). Jacqueline Hill gets to steal the limelight here, obviously enjoying the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, what was built up here slides downwards, until the trial segment, where the mystery is reintroduced.

The third and fourth episodes are simply padding, with nothing more than Barbara being captured or disapearing and being rescued by Ian. Carole Ann Ford as Susan is inept for the most part, with nothing for her to do of any real interest. When William Hartnell does step into the limelight, notably at the trial, he shines, obviously relishing the part. William Russells` Ian, also gets some character development here, as the viewer sees his frustration at being framed.

The Voord don`t come across as much of a threat either, given that they were so easily defeated. The Conscience of Marinus is an impressive looking set piece, which is more than can be said for the rest of the production, which has a cheap feel to it. However, this is part of the story's charm, given that it is viewed as a simple adventure story and nothing more.


Enough camp to pitch tents around! by Charles Christopher 24/7/99

Way before Tom Baker, here's Doctor Who doing "The Key to Time" all in one story, and falling right on its face - probably by tripping over one of those six-square-foot sets! This is supposed to be one of the weakest of the earlier episodes, and it's obviously not one that earned the show's reputation for quality. On the other hand, it completely justifies its reputation for cheap sets and ludicrous monsters!

As soon as our heroes leave the TARDIS, it's clear we're not in for the serious drama of the rest of the season. This one shifts right into camp overdrive, and doesn't stop until they leave Marinus. The opening episode has some crude but effective modelwork that impressed me, but the beach set looks like it's the size of a closet. The same thing for when they reach the temple with it's rotating doors and visible prop men. The worst moment is when Susan doesn't see the leatherman with the knife even though he's about six feet in front of her, and hiding behind nothing at all. There's plenty of good episodes that start effectively with the travelers exploring somewhere mysterious, but this one doesn't work because if they wander too far they'll hit the backdrop.

Luckily, once the travelers get zapped to the rest of the planet, things steadily improve. It would have been nice if the writers lingered at each place they visited, or at least packed each visit with a little more incident. Clearly they were grinding this one out without thinking much about suspense or action, and the scenery budget can't quite keep up with them.

The acting is pretty varied. Jacqueline Hill manages to overcome her resemblance to my grandmother (dear lord, that hair!!), and show that Barbara is a smart and resourceful woman. It's she who destroys the brain creatures, goes after the keys on that statue, and rescues Susan from her kidnappers. It's such a shame Susan is once again reduced to screaming and playing Proffessional Hostage; it's no wonder she was the first companion to go! Hartnell still looks like the Wizard of Oz, and keeps swallowing his lines at every opportunity, but after he disappears for two episodes (I couldn't beleive they did episodes without him) he comes back and slays. His moments in the final episodes completely smoke. Ian is handsome and charming as ever, but he doesn't get much to do except play hero; a least that lion jacket looks good on him. The best acting from the guest cast goes to the guy doing the brain creatures' voices. He made them genuinely creepy where someone else might have hammed their way through this - like the guy playing Yartek. It just reminds us that so much of Doctor Who's appeal comes down to really simple elements like good performances.

The cliff-hangers remind me of the Perils of Pauline, and they were just enough to maintain my interest through the whole thing. The places those travel dial thingies send them to are interesting, but not enough is done with them. The screaming jungle episode almost manages to be creepy, but doesn't quite; the one with the ice soldiers doesn't amount to much; and the brain creatures' city would have been much more effective if they hadn't pretended it was populated by more than three people. The only really good, suspenseful part is the last one where Ian is on trial, because enough time is spent developing it. It's well thought out and exciting - everything the story's actual ending isn't. That explosion is probably the limpest climax of the whole show - call it episodus interruptus. (Ooo-err...)

Spicing this one up are some of the campest moments of the entire show, and for Doctor Who that's really saying something. Did anyone else but me laugh when Ian is rubbing Altos's leg, and he replies "Yes, the feeling's coming back?" Or how about the buttock fondling statue in the Screaming Jungle - notice how much higher up the legs it grabs Barbara than it does Ian. The Ice Soldiers look like they were on loan from Monty Python. When they figure out they can't cross the bridge, they shake their fists and stomp their feet; all that's missing is one of them shouting "curses!" There's also the suspicious shape of the Keys themselves ("oh, look Ian, this one's smaller than the others").

Then we have the Voord... They're definitely some of the best monsters of the Hartnell years - better than the Zarbi anyway - but their flipper feet make them look way sillier than neccessary. I also can't help but think they look like the Teletubbies if they'd discovered SlimFast and developed a leather fetish.

In spite of all this, I really enjoyed watching it. (I obviously spent some time scrutinizing it didn't I?) The best way to sum it up I guess is that it was an experiment in doing the show cliff-hanger style that didn't really work. There's lots of potentially exciting elements mixed in there that maybe the makers weren't experienced enough to pull-off; they're obviously getting better at it as the story goes along. I think the format is why it's watchable 35+ years later, even if the writing and production aren't up to standard. The Keys of Marinus is certainly less of a snooze than The Web Planet or The Dominators, so for that reason I'll probably watch it again - eventually.


A Review by Ben Jordan 10/1/00

The TARDIS lands on a planet where the sand is glass and the sea is acid, and the greatest menace therein are a bunch of hose-headed, diving-suited, rubber-fetishists. To defeat them, our heroes must collect the six keys of the Conscience machine - a device which, when powered up could enslave the minds of everyone on the planet, should it fall into the wrong hands.

Now that the video of this story has been released a little while ago, more viewers are familiar with what can be best described as a scaled-down version of the Key to Time season. One of my favourite scenes in Keys is the very first, as we zoom toward a pyramid on a strange island accompanied by wonderfully sinister music, and where we see the TARDIS materialise for the very first time in the series. The Voord are just too goofy to be scary, but being devoid of any facial expression does work if only a little. By the second episode the adventure really begins, as the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are roped into retrieving the keys by Arbitan, the keeper of the machine. By now, William Hartnell had already toned down his Doctor from selfish to crochety, and he shows genuine concern for his new companions, best demonstrated by his not hesistating for a moment to defend Ian against a murder charge in the city of Millennius. The real leads here however, mainly due to Hartnell's absence from a third of the story are William Russell and Jacqueline Hill. Poor Carole Ann Ford has to scream and carry on throughout the story as usual, more stressed than a horse who has accidentally wandered into a dog food factory, and clumsily tripped over a pile of especially sharp meat cleavers.

The illusory world of Morphoton is another noteable blow for Sydney Newman, controlled by monsters only slightly less bug-eyed than Tom Baker, but are actually quite good right up until the moment at which they die all too easily - though I guess that was the great irony: beings who had evolved into large brains yet couldn't possibly consider their downfall. The beaky Edmund Warwick, part-time stunt-double for the Doctor is entertainingly over-the-top as Darrius, the old man who fears the encroaching jungle. And the warriors of the ice (ice warriors, get it? Oh, please yourselves) are enjoyably pantomime with their silly chase routine. Huh? What do you mean they were serious? Nevermind. However, while I found many aspects of the story entertaining such as these, the whole is not unfortunately greater than the sum of its parts.

It's very easy to appreciate this story from the child's level of fantasy - the audience for whom it was aimed, but rarely does the story evoke any real feeling of danger since every monster/villain is dealt with far too easily, no doubt because as quickly as they are introduced, they must be defeated so that the travellers can move to the next location, thus missing out a middle which would develop suspense. Even the Voord, who get the most villain screen time, suffer this fate, as their leader is introduced right at the end some ten minutes before he's due to snuff it. Introducing the main baddie at the very end works well for ghost stories and murder mysteries, but this is the kind of adventure in which we need time to hate our villain so that we can feel satisfaction at his demise.

Apart from this gripe though, Keys Of Marinus stands up as an example of light fantasy which entertains all but the most demanding audience, with great acting and (almost) never a dull moment.


A Review by Keith Bennett 16/11/00

This was one of those occasions where I watched a story for the first time, having already got quite familiar with it through novelisation, thanks to Philip Hinchcliffe's excellent adaption written some years ago. I had heard it really wasn't that great to view, but I found myself having quite a good time with it - eventually.

The first two episodes kind of limp along a bit, thanks to shaky production values, and a general lack of excitement. Oh, and the dreadful way Barbara supposedly destroys those brains. Things get better with the remaining episodes, though. "The Screaming Jungle" isn't too bad, while the character of Vasor in "The Snows Of Character" works well, although that's more than can be said for the ice creatures in the mountain (what actually were they? One even screamed when it fell down the crevise).

The two final episodes are the best, however. Doctor Who has rarely ventured into straight out murder mystery territory, but it is brought off wonderfully well here, thanks to a tight and genuinely interesting and well thought out script.

Three drawbacks that appear throughout this story are 1) Susan. Boy, wasn't she a wimp?? and 2) Sabetha and Altos. Those two were nice enough, and... well... Sabetha was kind of... um... pretty. You know... But they had all the personality of cotton wool, and rarely registered at all.

Overall, however, as a longtime lover of the novelisation, I was not disappointed in viewing this story.


The Benefit of Reading Bad Reviews... by Peter Niemeyer 28/1/01

I have read some disparraging reviews of this story, and so was quite dreading it. But I was actually pleasantly surprised. The story certainly had some rough edges around it, but it kept me entertained far more than Marco Polo (which just goes to show you how daft my reviews are).

First off, I liked the variety of character combinations. I'm glad that the Doctor didn't appear at all in parts 2 and 3. Sabetha and Altos are among the first people to travel with the Doctor and crew (albeit for a short time) as equals, and they added some nice variety.

The Morphiton story was nothing terribly original, but I enjoyed the way reality was juxtaposed with the characters' false perceptions. It was classic to see the Doctor hold up a dirty tea cup and state, "Yes, you could measure lots of interesting things with this." I also very much enjoyed Part 4, where the trapper added a real sense of tension, especially when Ian must leave Barbara alone with him.

I have noticed that since the An Unearthly Child premiere, Susan has been given very little to do. This is too bad, as her character has largely faded into the background by this story. It comes as no surprise that, like Sonja Christopher, she was the first one voted off the island...er, TARDIS.

One Thing I'd Do Differently: Reshoot Part One! I counted one visible stage hand, one shot of Jacqueline Hill sneaking out of the background, and some of the worst "he's two feet away but I'll pretend I don't see him" acting. If ever an episode needed to be reshot, it was the pilot. But, this is a close second.

One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The variety of settings used in the story. Perhaps this variety stretched the budget of the program, but we are so often shown only one city on a planet with no discussion of what the rest of the planet is like. The planet of Marinus is demonstrated to be very diverse, and in that sense becomes more realistic than Skaro or the Sense Sphere.


The first great quest by Tim Roll-Pickering 10/9/01

The Keys of Marinus is really five stories, and arguably no more of a single 'story' than the Key To Time season. However because of the continuous characters of Altos and Sabetha it makes sense to review the serial as one story, albeit one containing many sub-adventures set over many locations. Given the series' small budget, it is a sign of Raymond P. Cusick's skills as a designer that each setting is not only realistically achieved but that also it does not look too similar to the others.

The linking theme of the serial is simple - the Doctor and his companions must travel across the alien planet and recover each key before returning to Arbitan's island. The opening episode, The Sea of Death, does suffer in places from the size of the sets, with both the submarines and Ian's boots lying in apparently plain site of the time travellers for some time before they notice them. But this is only a minor quibble. Suspense is maintained as the Doctor and his companions explore the island and there's a wonderful touch when it's revealed that the Voords look like men in rubber suits because that's precisely what they are! The episode is particularly slow and wordy but this is understandable as it has to set up the basis for the rest of the serial.

The second episode, The Velvet Web, fails to properly introduce Altos and Sabetha, with a critical conversation between Altos and the Doctor taking place off camera. Neither Robin Phillips or Katharine Schofield is particularly strong and so this weakens the serial overall since there are no other characters across the entire thing. The episode itself is not particularly strong and has not aged well at all. Trying to combine the hypnotic illusions that the Doctor, Susan and Ian labour under with the reality that Barbara can see does not work without constant changes between the two points of view and thus makes scenes such as the one where the Doctor and Ian see a 'laboratory' painfully dull. The discovery of the brain creatures is a slight recovery touch, though they are by far the most Bug-Eyed Monsters to have appeared in the series up to this point and their destruction by simply hitting their casings with an implement is a little weak.

The Screaming Jungle, the third episode, is perhaps the smallest scale of all the adventures, with Susan, Altos and Sabetha rapidly sent on their way, whilst the Doctor has already rushed on ahead to the fifth episode (and thus gains a holiday). Darrius is reasonably portrayed, but the jungle is somewhat unconvincing since it only comes to life at plot convenient intervals. This is definitely the weakest of all the episodes.

By contrast episode four, The Snows of Terror, is the strongest and most suspenseful. The stock footage of wolves doesn't seem at all out of place and there is a good sense of distance in the story. The manipulation of the travellers by Vasor is intriguing and the ice caves themselves come across well. Even the Ice Soldiers don't let things down to much, though their lack of dialogue is a slight disappointment.

Sentence of Death and the first part of The Keys of Marinus feature a murder mystery under Millenius' twisted system of justice whereby a person is guilty until proven innocent. This gives added trouble for the Doctor as he seeks to get Ian acquitted but he eventually succeeds. This segment is a rather run of the mill adventure that doesn't fit into the most common categories of Doctor Who stories, but doesn't stand out as unique either.

Finally the remainder of The Keys of Marinus sees the travellers return to the island. This section is heavily rushed as the serial is one episode shorter than both The Mutants and Marco Polo, and so the climax feels a little flat. However this is standard for many quest stories, stretching right the way back to the quest for the Holy Grail, if not further, and so this could be seen as a clever reference to such epics. The ending is flat though and, in perhaps the first continuity error in the series, the Voords seem to have become fully rubber monsters as shown by Yartek's failure to remove his head piece when disguising himself in Arbitan's robes. With the Conscience machine destroyed at the end there is a clear sign of the Doctor and companions' priorities - they are glad that they can continue on their way, even though their quest has been to no avail.

The Keys of Marinus is a mixed serial and suffers because it's linking elements - the keys, Altos, Sabetha and the Voords - are not handled as well as some of the other elements in the individual adventures, whilst some of the individual episodes are especially weak. However it contains a lot of good elements and is certainly adventurous by not remaining confined to one particular location. It is definitely worth watching more than once. 6/10


A Review by Alan Thomas Updated 22/2/03

The Keys Of Marinus is an interesting story that comes across as a type of prototype for stories like The Chase, and The Key To Time season. Like The Chase, it's best not to take it too seriously. If you do, you won't enjoy it at all. Far more light-hearted than Nation's earlier story - The Daleks, The Keys Of Marinus stretches Doctor Who's budget considerably. It was a big feat in the 1960's for a story of this kind to be achieved, or even attempted. It takes in many settings on the planet Marinus, pitting our heroes against a different menace each week. Surprisingly enough, this story was criticised for being too complicated in the sixties, when a story like this nowadays would seem to be merely simple. Marco Polo was a triumph in all respects, although that had the advantage of being set on Earth. The BBC has always excelled in making superb period costume drama, and Marco Polo was one of them.

But The Keys Of Marinus was far more ambitious. It was on an alien planet with alien people, and was indeed a challenge. The surprising thing is that it turned out to be a very entertaining serial. True enough, the sets do wobble far worse than a lot of stories from this era, but there is no denying the sheer effort put into the story. The acting is also rather camp, but, like The Chase, there is something that really makes you like the story. And that is a mystery that has never been answered since 23rd November 1963 - the magic of Doctor Who. It's quite indescribable.

The Keys Of Marinus is an unusual story as it the first that sees William Hartnell absent completely for two episodes. But this does allow the other regulars to shine in a way that would not really have been possible if Hartnell had been dominant in this story. Jacqueline Hill and William Russell bounce off each other very well as usual. Altos and Sabetha support them, as stand-in characters. They are both very camped-up characters, especially Altos, who is far too wet behind the ears to take Ian's mantle of "man muscle" away from him. Susan, also, has good bits, but she also has excruciatingly bad bits as well.

The first episode, The Sea Of Death, sets up the central premise of the story. We begin with The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara landing on a glass beach surrounded by a sea of acid. The director does his very best to make it look vast and amazing, but it's painfully obvious that the set's more cramped than an Arctic sauna. All of the exterior scenes fail to impress, and when the travellers venture inside the complex, they find a lot of men in wetsuits (ie The Voord) and have to deal with them before coming face to face with Arbitan (George Colouris of "Citizen Kane" among others). At last, after a very dull, and unintentionally hilarious 20 minutes, we find out what Arbitan wants and we finally get to a plot. Unfortunately, after the travellers leave, Arbitan is killed by the Voord. Surely it would have been better for the sake of suspense had Arbitan lived, and then the viewers would be shocked by the final episode. Anyway, I digress.

The second episode, The Velvet Web, is actually a lot of fun. We know from the outset that things are rather strange. Altos is acting very odd, and never seems to blink. Jacqueline Hill gets a chance to shine in a very clever and impressive piece of direction when the viewer sees the unconditioned Barbara's point of view. This leads us into meeting Sabetha, and then the (rather funny Blue Peter creations) Brain Creatures. Their origins aren't detailed enough, though. Even though they claim to be scientists, surely there must be some more nuance to their plans than is presented here. At the end of the episode, the Doctor has had enough of Susan and decides to travel on alone for a freeloading tourism holiday or to find some more keys, depending on your point of view.

The third episode, The Screaming Jungle, is rather awful. It looks cheap, and Susan is utterly annoying. We also have some dodgy logic that continues from the previous episodes. Entropy increasing? Hmm. Best to look at Logopolis for a real view of entropy. It must have been seen as a very good idea to introduce a fake key as a red herring. But it passes the viewer by. Dodgy production values and the travellers being attacked by hosepipes taken from Television Centre don't really make much of an impact at all. Sabetha sets herself up as a character taken from the set of Dynasty. The other travellers move on, leaving Ian and Barbara to come into contact with a deranged scientist with an uncanny resemblance to Hartnell. They then work out an utterly implausible code and find the missing key. Luckily, Ian and Barbara save us all from the attack of the Lime Grove Studio Vines and they transport to the next outing...

The fourth episode, The Snows Of Terror, takes the hiding of the key to a brand new extreme. Ian and Barbara become involved with Del Trotter... erm, I mean Vasor. When the revelation is made that he is actually a cannibalistic thug, it isn't exactly a surprise. Then they have their quest for the key, which is hidden in a block of ice. Surrounded by Ice Soldiers. In a cave. That's very difficult to enter. That's slippery. The feeling of The Crystal Maze suddenly sets in. After fighting the Monty Python clan, the travellers get the key, defeat Vasor, and leave. Thank goodness.

Luckily, the fifth episode, Sentence Of Death, is the best. The episode, wisely, does not rely on strange locales or complicated sets. Also, the plot stretches out to the halfway point of the sixth episode. The Doctor returns with a slight tan, and claims to have found the other keys. Ian is accused of murder, and the Doctor is gleefully at home trying to prove him innocent. The whole episode has a murder drama fell about it, and it helps that we don't know who the murderer is until the regulars do. The episode ends with Susan being gagged and bound and about to meet her maker...

Unfortunately, The Keys Of Marinus (the final episode) reveals that she lives, but it ties up the murder plotline nicely. When we return to Marinus, the dodgy sets return. A Voord dressing up as Arbitan fools Ian, and the whole thing reaches a less-than-satisfying conclusion. The island blows up, but we don't see it, presumably because the budget is left at about ?2 at this point. The travellers leave after making their goodbyes to the cast of Crossroads.

The story as a whole is an enjoyable piece of escapist hokum. The entire story can be seen as a mini version of The Key To Time, but on a considerably smaller budget. It's entertaining and never takes itself too seriously. As a serious, gripping piece of DW, it fails. But as an enjoyable adventure serial, it works... just. 7/10


The Keys of Variable Quality by David Massingham 5/11/03

The Key to Time in six half-hour episodes? Surely it can't be done? Oh, but it can -- The Keys of Marinus, that wacky season one romp, tackled this idea more than a decade before Williams did. It's just that season sixteen is better. And yes, I've seen Kroll.

The Keys of Marinus has one major advantage over the six stories that make up the sixteenth year -- each adventure is substantially shorter than those in the latter season. This means any dud entires are over and done with before you can get bored with them. This is also, of course, a disadvantage; shorter amounts of time don't allow for in-depth storytelling. Nonetheless, I am thankful that the little adventures of The Keys of Marinus are kept short. I don't think any of them were substantial enough to justify more than twenty odd minutes.

The obvious exception is the fifth and sixth episodes with the story of Millennius. Ian's trial and the investigation surrounding it is by far and away the most interesting segment of Keys. This is for a number of reasons -- the mystery is actually intriguing; Terry Nation takes time to flesh out the story and include enough suspects; and William Hartnell is back and in fine form as Ian's defence. The peculiar justice system of Millennius makes a great springboard for the drama of Ian's arrest, and side characters are given just enough characterisation to justify their presence in the narrative. Compared to the other segments, Sentence of Death moves quite quickly, and although it can be difficult to keep track of all the characters, it is ultimately the most rewarding quest in this adventure.

The other sections are at best a mixed bag. The opening episode is relatively effective the first time it is viewed, but falls apart after repeated viewings. The plot movement is negligible, and the only major guest character, Arbitan, is played by a rather talentless actor. The Velvet Web is better, but still quite flawed -- the plot is basic and not particularly original. There are some fun scenes here, however. The most notable is the quick moment when the Doctor and Ian visit the "laboratory" and the Doctor picks up a grimy mug as if examining a tremendous scientific miricle. The guy who does the voice of the bug-eyed creatures (another blow to Sydney Newman) isn't too bad either.

The Screaming Jungle is a tad more successful than The Velvet Web. Ian and Barbara get some nice bonding moments, and I love Barbara's wish that Ian wouldn't always treat her as someone needing protection. The jungle of the title is achieved with a modicum of success, though thankfully it isn't called upon too often, and the whole affair travels at an amiable enough speed. Likewise, the fourth episode is fine enough, with Vasor coming across as suitably sinister. The idea of the third key being hidden in a block of ice is quite clever, although the travellers manage to recover it a bit too easily. The Ice Soldiers are completely stupid, but they're silly fun if not taken too seriously.

There have been some suggestions that The Keys of Marinus is best taken as a fun romp, light on drama and high on camp/B-grade silliness. I'm not sure if I completely agree with this -- things move too slowly at parts for me to fall into a giggle fit -- though there are a couple of elements that aid the fun. Altos is the cream of the crop. I mean, what a sap. The painfully short skirt, the soft carefully-pronounced manner in which he speaks... hilarious. The guy kept me chuckling the whole way through, and for me, he was the real triumph of The Keys of Marinus. He actually reminded me of a more effeminete and less talented version of Richard E. Grant. The actor playing him is obviously having a lot of fun, and in some of my more surreal moments I decided I wouldn't be against the guy walking into the TARDIS for more adventures. I mean, just watch him in part six, when he gravely announces that the building is going to blow up, yet everyone talks over him and walks off without him, before he meekly follows. He's a sap, but a lovable one.

As I previously mentioned, the story actually benefits from it's serial adventure nature, as each quest is suitably short. This helps to make The Keys of Marinus much more watchable, and despite it's considerable flaws, I cannot bring myself to hate it. That said, it's not the brightest lightbulb in the pack...

6.5 out of 10


A Review by Brian May 13/1/04

The Keys of Marinus is a particular type of Doctor Who adventure - unfortunately not one of a kind. Cheap and tacky. Some dreadful sets. Unintentionally camp. Acting that ranges from hammy to downright awful. Shots of the crew in the background. A B-movie homage that ends up looking ten times as worse as the medium it's trying to emulate. All in all, a shoddy looking production.

And I love it!!!!!!!

Well, maybe that's going a bit too far. But I have always enjoyed watching The Keys of Marinus, knowing I'm in for a diverting two and a bit hours. Okay, so it's not profound, thought provoking or filled with memorable scenes or dialogue, but there's something about it that has always instilled a fond admiration.

I blame the Target book. It's not that spectacular - Philip Hinchcliffe's adaptation is a simple novelisation by numbers, no different to what Terrance Dicks churned out in his later years. But it competently describes a very entertaining story. I remember being thrilled and enraptured as a youngster, reading this during school recess and lunch. I vividly pictured the different locations in my mind as wondrous, sweeping landscapes, with lots of suspense, wondering where the travellers would end up next. As my eyes moved intently across the pages, I was unnerved by the weird events in the city of Morphoton; the jungle was downright frightening, especially as the screams threatened to overwhelm Ian and Barbara. The sequence in the snow was claustrophobic - I could almost feel the bitter cold, and was terrified when the Ice Soldiers slowly came to life, chasing our heroes through the caves. I thought Arbitan's murder was a wonderful piece of dramatic action and a great plot twist. The courtroom drama and murder mystery in the city of Millennius was engaging - with scenes such as Ian being knocked out when discovering the key, and the murder of Aydan, shockingly and brazenly carried out in a crowded court. I was riveted!

And then, about ten years later, I saw the televised adventure. Oh dear...

I too was a victim of the disillusionment that afflicts many fans since the passing of the Target novelisation as our sole Who sustenance, and the advent of the video age. The realisation that the story we read aeons ago, romanticised and cemented in our minds, was actually pretty crap on screen. The Keys of Marinus probably affected me most. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the piss-poor shots of the submergible vehicles arriving on the beach; the men-in-wetsuits Voords; the badly acted murder of Arbitan; the unconvincing jungle set; the stock footage of wolves in the snow, the cellophane walls of the ice caves, the less than convincing Ice Soldiers etc etc. And William Hartnell seems to fluff his lines more so here than in any other of his stories.

What's a fanboy to do?

Well, I decided that I would enjoy it anyway. The story was the same. Just a bit of mental and emotional adjustment, and I was okay. The magic of Doctor Who, which is the very reason we all contribute to this site, cannot be beaten.

And there are quite a few surprises here. There's a lot to commend. The first shot of the pyramid, after the time travellers spot it on the beach, is impressive. The different point of view scenes in Morphoton are well done. Most of the fourth episode is not that bad - the polystyrene snow landscape is pretty good for the day. And what about that scene when Barbara is alone with Vasor in his hut! No pun intended, but it's chilling. It's obvious the fur trapper has no other intention but to rape her. And on a children's afternoon television programme, of all things! This reflects just how mature Doctor Who could be, even in its early years. I'm going to go off on a tangent here, but I get tired of Peri being referred to as the companion every creature in the universe wanted to molest. How about Barbara? Apart from Vasor, there was Nero in The Romans, even though his attentions on her were conducted in a slapstick, Carry On style. And what about her far from comedic ordeal at the hands of the sadistic El Akir in The Crusade? Doctor Who was grown-up a lot earlier than people like to think...

But back to the story. The final third, mostly taken up by the murder mystery in Millennius, is quite well realised, as it is more character and dialogue oriented, with less necessity for scenery and effects. Despite his fluffs, William Hartnell is wonderful here, clearly relishing his impersonation of Perry Mason. The final act is also enjoyable, with a sense of tension being maintained until the very end, when Ian apparently gives the final key to Yartek. And, as I mentioned above, while the design of the Voords, body-wise, is less than wonderful, the masks are terrific. It's not until episode six that we see them in close-up, but they're quite imaginative for the programme's modest budget.

The absence of the Doctor in episodes three and four allow Ian and Barbara some much deserved character focus. Alas, Susan suffers in this department, but Carole Ann Ford is, as usual, quite underwhelming. Francis De Wolff's Vasor is the only other performance with any conviction (aside from a few minor parts in Millennus, including the chief judge). I also like the voices of the brains of Morphoton - although the voice artist is no Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh), the delivery is suitably eerie. The rest of the cast are rather amateur. As for the actors who played Altos and Sabetha - well, they're supposed to be dull and robotic in episode two, when under the influence of the brains - but they're not meant to be like that for the rest of the adventure! And Altos's toga doesn't leave much to the imagination (surely he and Sabetha would freeze to death dressed like that in episode four?!?).

Although the plot is rather hackneyed, it's the first time a quest style plot has taken up an entire Doctor Who adventure. It certainly helps reduce the padding that affects so many stories of this length. It's also admirable to present a planet with many different locations and cultures. Reading the book drove this home - the televised story, despite its limitations, also puts across this impression quite competently.

There's a lot to enjoy in The Keys of Marinus. It's perhaps my ultimate guilty pleasure - but there are quite a few hidden delights to be uncovered if you look hard enough. I know, in my head, that this story deserves a fairly poor mark. But, for me, it's a tale where the heart wins out! 7/10


The Keys of Mankiness by Andrew Wixon 2/4/04

No less a sage than the great Mike Morris (is he the same Mike Morris that used to be on breakfast TV here in the UK? Somehow I doubt it) has offered the thought that Doctor Who can be divided into roughly two chunks, 'early' and 'modern' (with the corollary that only the second kind is worth paying serious attention to). It's an interesting idea, but not one I necessarily agree with, especially given the sheer diversity and weirdness of a lot of the early stories.

However, if there was one tale to make me seriously consider dismissing the B&W years as wearisome juvenilia, then it would probably be this one (or maybe The Seeds of Death). Actually, juvenile isn't quite the word - this is plainly and simply very primitive. Can you imagine if Terry Nation had submitted this piece of junk as his first submitted script, rather than the second? The net would be a quieter place, we would all be Juliet Bravo fans, and Christopher Eccleston would not be in the process of being measured for a new scarf and frock coat.

Any story where the order of the episodes is transparently inconsequential to the actual plot is obviously not the most rewarding watch, so we need not bother ourselves with the ropy scripting, diversely stupid monsters (the Ice Soldiers appear to have wandered in from the 'Camelot' song segment of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), or frankly rather turgid whodunnit that concludes the tale.

But - oh, well... we're still firmly in 'Ian and Barbara are the main characters' territory here. Mind you, Billy Hartnell knocking off for a fortnight mid-story inevitably foregrounds them, and he is on jolly good form in Sentence of Death. As has been previously commented upon, Vasor's designs on Barbara are pretty strong meat for the teatime audience. And am I mistaken or is the actor doing such a rotten job of playing Yartek the same Stephen Dartnell who's actually quite reasonable in The Sensorites?

Oh, and there's this: for all that the different locales the keys are secreted in show no real sign of all being on the same planet, it is interesting that each of them contains story elements that later stories would explore much more fully and successfully - the set-up in Morphoton isn't a million miles away from that in The Macra Terror, for instance, while many years later The Screaming Jungle would get a far superior homage in The Seeds of Doom. Warriors frozen into Ice getting thawed out? Got that one covered too. Admittedly the Millenius story isn't quite so easy to place, but then it is incredibly bland, and as one of Swaziland's leading pantomime dames observed before his brief crack at the part, 'Doctor Who is basically Sherlock Holmes in space.' (Of course he's not, but it's an understandable mistake to make.)

Having said that, of course, if we didn't have the actual tapes to watch I expect Keys of Marinus would be considered a fast-moving picaresque romp, fondly remembered by farts even older than me. Which may be the moral of this story, at least: best viewed from a long distance, ideally with one's eyes shut.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 10/5/04

Like many of you, I expect, I read the book of this before I saw the film. With a stunning cover of the TARDIS travelling through Space Philip Hinchcliffe (peculiar choice of author looking back now) gave us a great little story about the Doctor and companions trying to find these keys. It was a quest story, and as a lover of that genre, I was hooked. Keys of Marinus for many years was my favourite 1st Doctor story. Recently I have finally seen the TV version, and whilst being not as good as I remember the book, it still has some good moments.

Starting with the TARDIS landing on a glass beach with acid sea, this is early DW trying to be alien and mysterious. Combine strange capsules arriving on the shore, a huge edifice in the centre of the island and weird wet-suited aliens, it largely succeeds. You just know the edifice is going to attract our heroes, and when Susan disappears within its walls the story can begin. Arbitan doesn't really convince though. Bad acting is probably the main reason, but the fact that he hasn't gone to fetch the keys himself also shows up his inactive personality. But the quest seems like an interesting idea, and you are left wondering where the TARDIS crew will end up and how good Ray Cusick is as a set designer.

The first segment (episode 2) with the brains is standard sci-fi stuff. Putting Rolos on their head, hoping they won't turn over in their sleep seems a pretty silly way to control the populace. But then letting the un-brain-washed Barbara into their lair wasn't the smartest thing to do either. Not the brainiest brains in the universe these. Nice to see Barbara rather than Ian saving the day too. The sets - Cusick up to the job, extravagance done simply and well.

The second segment (episode 3) sees the Doctor gone and Ian and Barbara taking up the reigns. Susan is just plain stupid in this part, she screams at this, she screams at that, and threatens to faint away at the slightest movement. The jungle is pretty good though (Cusick success again) and that statue with its real arms is excellent. The old man's lair is sufficiently chaotic, even though the medicine labels are a bit too clear.

The third segment (episode 4) is also Doctor-less, and this time we are in the ice wildernesses of Marinus. The trapper come across a nasty piece of work well, and the snow effects are pretty good - it helps it is in black and white though. The 4 ice guards are pretty silly though. They appear humanoid under those masks, yet they have remained inert for ages in an icy waste, guarding a block of ice with a key in it. This rather elaborate protection of the key is a bit much I thought. The scene with Susan over the chasm without the bridge is good one though, and Susan definitely redeems herself after the screaming of the previous one. The ice sets made me shiver, so Cusick's done well again.

The fourth segment (episode 5-6) is found in a bureaucratic nightmare. Millenius is a terrible place. I hate court-room dramas, and DW style they are even worse than usual. The Doctor has returned, so it does have some merit, it is great to see the Doctor solving the mystery. But the stupid guards defy belief. The silly hatted adjudicators are incredibly daft. And it all happens in a series of bland, boring rooms (marks off for this one Mr Cusick, but I suppose you were reflecting the story).

In the final episode we return to the island, and the Voords rule (which we knew would happen back in Episode 1). There is typically rushed ending, and Ian fools these stupid creatures by giving them a false key. The machine blows up, and our heroes are left to reflect on a fruitless quest. The pyramid at the centre of the island is Cusick's best contribution to this story - full of corridors and spacious control room.

And so the Keys of Marinus quest was a waste of time for the intrepid TARDIS travellers, but was the journey (however fruitless it appeared) worth it? The story does have some good points. Moving to quite a few different settings makes it varied, and Ray Cusick's sets are excellent considering the budget. Ian and Barbara benefit from the Doctor's absence, showing why they are remembered as some of the most developed companion characters in all Who. The story changes as much as the settings. Episode 5 specifically is very dull, and overall it has to be considered one of the weaker scripts of the early years.

I nearly forgot to mention the 2 Marinusans who join the TARDIS crew. Altos and Sabetha don't win any prizes at all for supporting characters. Altos spends all the story with a ridiculous outfit that shows off his legs - it just looks silly. Sabetha has almost nothing to do, except get in the way of things. Their inclusions were a waste of time, a bit like the quest itself. All in all, with all the diverse episodes considered, Keys doesn't quite deliver as well I thought it might do after the first episode. It's worth a look, it isn't a bad story, but I don't really fancy watching it again for a while. 5/10


You go that way, I'll go this way... by James Neirotti 27/6/04

A little beyond half way through the series' first season Terry Nation introduced to us to the planet Marinus and what was to become the show's first truly epic piece of work. Granted it is by no means a masterpiece but the grand scale of the story spanning several corners of the one planet does make it feel a very grand scale. The original TARDIS crew, the born leader Ian, the passionate and mature Barbara and the headstrong but naive Susan and of course the Doctor venture out onto the glass beach of Marinus to find they are surrounded by a sea of pure acid. Deadly of course to the touch. The planet's population, at least in this section of the planet, travel by way of cigar shaped coffin boats, as I like to call them. Venturing out of the tiny island they materialised in the crew meet the strange and very desperate Arbitan, the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus. A computer that controls the very mind's of the planet's population. Now here is where the problem comes in. An evil faction, known as the Voord is about to breach the city gates and take control of the machine. And allowing such a device to fall into the wrong hands is extremley dangerous. When the Doctor and crew refuse to help, that in itself was rather odd, Arbitan steals the lock to the TARDIS marooning the crew on Marinus and thus blackmails them into helping the man. Without giving too much more away the crew are forced to search the planet for four keys belonging to the Conscience. They all split up and here is where the fun begins. The benefit of having the crew work separately is good for so many reasons;

  1. It gives the oppurtunity for each actor/actress to do their own thing and 'be the star of the show'
  2. Not having the Doctor in several episodes gave the show a new sort of feel. Not one I would want repeated again too many times.
  3. If you got 'bored' with one of the storylines, by the next episode another one had began.
  4. This was we truly got to see an entire planet. Not just one city or country.
  5. On a personal level for the actors it gave William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill I beleive from memory time for them to go on holiday from the show.
The sets were quite magnificent in this story for such an early 1964 black and white classic. From steaming hot jungles crawling with killer plants to a wintery ice cave full of pack wolves. I am very fond of the early episodes, it's sad and rather unusual the series could not perform on such a scale as it did in it's humble beginings. Keys of Marinus was yet another story way ahead of it's time.


A Review by John Greenhead 1/3/07

The Keys of Marinus is not regarded that highly by fandom, and in many respects this is understandable. The direction is shoddy in places, some of the performances are below par, and Terry Nation's script can be quite casual and sloppy, doubtless reflecting the fact that this was a last-minute commission. However, I must admit that I admire the story's scale and ambition, and even if the execution is often poor it still makes for a diverting, escapist adventure.

The faults are sometimes glaring. For starters, why doesn't Arbitan appear to warn the TARDIS crew of the booby traps and dangers they will face in hunting for the keys? Having blackmailed them into going on the quest out of his desperation to find the keys, it's ridiculous that he doesn't trouble to warn them, or even tell them exactly where the keys are hidden; indeed, the old man in the screaming jungle later tells Barbara that she should have known about his traps if Arbitan sent her! Another problem are the Voord. They are supposed to be the major villains of the piece, but they only appear in two episodes and we never get any real handle on their motivations or personalities. When we finally meet their leader Yartek in the final part, he just comes across as a standard-issue bad guy, with no interesting features whatsoever, apart from his obvious rubber fetish and his appalling line in Arbitan impersonations. John Gorrie's direction of the arrival in Millennius is also annoying, as we cut from the Doctor's companions leaving the snowy wastes straight to Ian entering a room in Millennius containing one of the keys, having seemingly arrived in the city some time earlier. How did he get there? Where are Barbara, Susan and the others? None of this is explained, and neither are the frozen warriors we meet in the fourth episode. I also think that too much time is spent in Millennius in the latter stages, leaving too little for the conclusion.

Such problems are annoying, but I still can't help enjoying this story. This is partly because, as a Tolkien fan, I am always a sucker for a quest narrative, and I like the fact that the story keeps on moving to different places in each episode, keeping things fresh and giving the viewer a chance to see the diversity of Marinus. Nation also shows a considerable amount of imagination in some of the scenarios he devises. I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in Morphoton, where Gorrie is actually quite clever in using point-of-view shots to show us how Barbara sees through the illusion of luxury. The scene where the Doctor goes into his "lab" and starts admiring a tatty old mug is hilarious, and the brain creatures look suitably horrible. Indeed, Raymond Cusick's designs throughout the story are very impressive, considering the budget he was working with. There are some ridiculous effects, notably the all-too-human stone hands which appear out of the wall in the jungle, and the silly creeping vines that feature in the same episode, but these are enjoyably naff and add to the entertainment.

Performances are variable, but Hartnell, Russell and Hill are all on good form, the latter two doing an excellent job of holding centre stage during Hartnell's holiday in the middle two episodes. Upon his return in part five, Hartnell turns in a vibrant performance as the Doctor seeks to clear Ian of a murder charge. This is another significant moment in the character's development, as really for the first time since the show started he takes the lead in trying to resolve a dangerous situation, and it shows the respect that he has developed for Ian after their initial hostility to each other. His little moral at the end about the dangers of man being controlled by machines is also notable, and has some relevance in our own technologically dependent age. Susan, alas, is back to being pretty useless here after her improved role in Marco Polo, and the supporting characters are largely unremarkable, with the exception of the burly, brutish Vasor. He gives off a genuine sense of menace, and the scene where it is implied that he intends to rape Barbara is remarkably dark and bold for a supposed children's show.

All in all, I have mixed feelings about the story. It could have been a lot better, but it does look pretty good and it has some memorable, imaginative moments. The whole may be rather unsatisfactory, but there is still quite a lot to enjoy in the individual parts.


A Review by Declan McKeown 15/9/08

Despite its hammy acting, The Keys of Marinus is an impressive piece of television.

Its first episode is like many of the Troughton episodes because it is incredibly creepy. Also, the acid sea is a wonderfully cynical idea and the Voord are intriguing monsters.

Some of the action in this story is surprisingly brutal as well.

The second episode is weird and has some humorous moments. The Brains of Morphoton, although they serve no purpose, are brilliantly realised and have some excellent modelwork, yet the less said about their voices the better.

The hammier acting is portrayed from this episode onwards. William Russell is becoming very cliched, yet the Doctor is played very enthusiastically by Hartnell and episode two is Barbara's episode.

Episode Three is generally scary because of the realistic-looking jungle sets and a city hidden behind a statue. The way the screaming starts could definitely cause some nightmares.

Episode four is where the whole thing starts to go pear shaped. The plot makes absolutely no sense and, like the third episode, William Hartnell is absent. Like the first episode, it can at times be gruesome and the Ice Soldiers are quite scary. The fact that the whole thing is filmed in black and white adds a chilling overtone to the production, increasing the general aura of creepiness.

Sentence of Death is riddled with selfish and untrustworthy characters, and William Hartnell is back in again. But it has been padded out mercilessly with endless discussions. Why the two theives wanted to steal the key in the first place is never explained.

The finale in the story is a little rushed, but all the elements of the plot are well put together, although the viewer might ask why would anyone kidnap Susan in the first place as all she does is scream and shout. The ending works quite well and they have to say goodbye to Altos and Sabetha.

The Keys of Marinus has a legacy because it is the first time we see the TARDIS materialising, albeit as a silent model shot.

It isn't the best Hartnell story, because it drags on in the last three parts; however, it's certainly not his worst - that's The Web Planet - but it's before a true classic that I can't wait to review, The Aztecs.

7/10


Season 16 in Microcosm by Michael Bayliss 23/5/12

The Keys Of Marinus is essentially season 16 in microcosm in that both share central 'find the missing pieces' themes and both have their grandiose panoramic ambitions exceed the capacity of their respective eras' technology and budget. If the 'Key To Time' season struggled with its budget over a season, I do wonder how many in the production team of this story suffered stress-related disorders in coping with the set-change requirements over the course of this single 6 parter. It is a miracle actually that they mostly pulled it off. Most of the sets look okay, particularly in episode 2 where it is (almost) possible to suspend disbelief on several occasions.

There is a constant unease of claustrophobia as each episode attempt to achieve a sense of scale within very small set spaces, and certainly the episodes that are character and dialogue driven (The Velvet Web and Sentence of Death) are more effectively realized than The Screaming Jungle or The Snows Of Terror, which are action-based and rely on the setting rather than characterization for narrative. The net result feels like trying to pull off Indiana Jones minus the special effects (what's left?).

Terry Nation has a tendency to write his Doctor Who stories as linear puzzle solving set pieces, which is great if you are writing for a an RPG video game, less effective if you are writing for television, and The Keys of Marinus is perhaps the prime example of the potential shortfalls.

Score: C+


A Review by Finn Clark 24/11/13

It's great! No, I'm not playing devil's advocate. I loved half of it to bits, although obviously I got off to a good start when my favourite episodes turned out to be the first two.

1. THE SEA OF DEATH

One of many things I cherish about Hartnell's era is that its universe was the most alien. Monsters aren't trying to look like monsters. They're stranger, often profoundly. Look at a Slyther or a Rill, for instance. To modern eyes, there's something fascinatingly wrong about them. Even something as generic as a Cyberman isn't just another Space Robot Person and is instead odder and eerier than they'd ever be again.

Similarly, Hartnell walked in more wondrous eternities. He visited the Planet of Giants, The Celestial Toymaker and The Web Planet. Back then, there was no limit on the show's imaginations. They'd do the impossible every week, in those glorious days when a painted backdrop could be an entire alien landscape. It's like the 1960s equivalent of CGI, but better!

All this is right up Terry Nation's alley. He loves exploring places where, unbeknownst to our heroes, even the air or the water is lethal. He's all about the struggle for survival and so he creates more fully realised worlds than any other Doctor Who writer. Look at his 1960s Dalek books. Skaro in those must be the universe's most bizarre planet (including more acid seas), while even Hartnell's TV stories show it to be geologically heterogeneous (lakes, mountains) and teeming with killer flora and fauna. Nation's mid-1970s stories too are built around the physical nature of their overwhelmingly hostile worlds (icecanoes and killer jungles in Planet of the Daleks, energy leeching in Death to the Daleks, a thousand years of war in Genesis of the Daleks, radiation in The Android Invasion).

Marinus, though, is the most complicated planet in... hmmm, possibly in TV SF. It's had many civilisations (some now fallen), with wildly varying cultures and tech levels. It has different terrains and climates. It has acid seas, frozen wastelands, screaming jungles and medieval knights sleeping in ice. It has a rich implied history, with every location illustrating a different reaction to the collapse of the Conscience. There's future antiquity. Twice we visit ancient stone structures with Indiana Jones booby traps, while the Ice Knights are medieval Crusaders. (Why? No idea.) Oh, and I think these people came from Earth (Roman alphabet, wolves, chemical formulae, etc)... although if you read the comics, of course, you'll know I'm wrong and it's Mondas.

Marinus is amazing, but for me it's at its most special in episode one.

It starts out just like all Nation's other first episodes, exploring a dangerous environment, but the storyline's far more complicated than that. It has deathtraps, rubber-suited killers with knives and our heroes being sent on a mission to start up a machine that will eliminate free will from the entire planet. However, before we get there, I love Arbitan's island. I simply adore it. I go gooey at that pyramid on a glass island in an acid sea, all the more fascinating for being unexplained. I love the way it feels as old as the similar pyramid in the following story, The Aztecs. Similarly, the Voord too are appropriately low-tech. They could walk into a James Bond movie, although I squealed at their torpedoes.

It's a sinister episode, not as mere horror but more thoughtfully. There's something uniquely unsettling about knives, but of course the big one is that Arbitan's dedicated his life to reviving a totalitarian dystopia that he remembers as a golden age. "They no longer had to decide what was right or wrong. The machine decided for them." He's also delivering a peculiar performance that at one point had me wondering if George Coulouris was drunk. In hindsight, I think that fits. Anyway, our heroes turn him down. (I love the anti-heroism in Season One.) His response is to lock them out of the TARDIS and send them to what's most likely to be their deaths, just as he sent off all his other friends (including his daughter), who've never returned.

Great Voord design, by the way. I also love the painted backdrop, telling us so unconvincingly that it's almost Brechtian that a stage the size of a postage stamp is in reality a pyramid, stretching far into the distance.

2. THE VELVET WEB

The Keys of Marinus is Nation's most thematically rich Doctor Who story. The Daleks and Genesis of the Daleks are more powerful, but this is subtler and better explored. The reason, of course, is David Whitaker, who in discussions with Nation helped to sow the seeds for the two most interesting episodes (2 and 5).

This theme is the one Nation always returned to: tyranny. By splitting The Keys of Marinus into lots of one-episode stories, each becomes a different exploration of that, albeit more loosely in parts three and four. These tyrannies are: (a) benevolent mind control that stops you from doing wrong (or defending yourself), (b) an evil counterpart of the above, or perhaps of the physical form and/or the evidence of your own eyes (c) of nature, (d) of brutal men in a wilderness beyond civilisation, (e) of unjust law, (f) of power in the wrong hands.

Part two is the best episode, I think. It's approaching the mind/body dichotomy from all kinds of different horrific directions at once. It's creepy. It's also a technical marvel, pushing the limits of what was achievable in 1964. Jacqueline Hill rules, obviously, while you can't go wrong with talking brains in jars. It felt a bit silly that the Brains of Morphoton were so easily defeated, but it's thematically appropriate, just as the Conscience left the people of Marinus unable to defend themselves from the Voord.

Then there's Robin Phillips.

This serial has two non-characters: Altos (Robin Phillips) and Sabetha (Katherine Schofield). Both are 100% cardboard, although in fairness the serial's villainous characters are more interesting. Schofield is dull, although she improves slightly when taking charge in episode four. Phillips though I found mesmerising. He's creepy as hell when hypnotised by the Brains of Morphoton, with those vampire eyes, but more importantly he's dressed like a rent boy. Seriously. What is that outfit? It's like a Roman toga, but slashed below the underpants in the male equivalent of Liz Shaw's miniskirts. Were they trying to create a gay icon? Episode after episode, I was convinced Phillips's character had to be homosexual (note his chemistry with William Russell)... until in the final episode, to my horror, Terry Nation decided that Altos and Sabetha were in love. (However this is so poorly motivated as to make you think better of Leela and Andred, so I haven't abandoned my gay theory. It would make the drama more interesting if it were one-sided from Sabetha, for instance.)

While we're thinking along such lines, incidentally, in one scene Barbara and Ian are standing so close that you expect them to start kissing.

3. THE SCREAMING JUNGLE

This episode lost me a little. Not bad, but a tad boring. It feels as if it's ripping off the same pulps that inspired Indiana Jones. The themes are weaker, the foe's unintelligent and the episode's tending in that direction too. Why doesn't Barbara try to crawl along when she's got a net on top of her? Why did the old man die after what looked like a non-lethal attack? (A really bad tentacle allergy?)

It's interesting to think about, though. One wonders what this city was like before it fell - perhaps recently since the jungle hasn't swallowed everything yet. It also feels characteristic of Nation to show us the death of a civilisation as it's crushed by the forces of nature, leaving no survivors. There's nothing our heroes can do except not get killed. The time acceleration technology's also a bit like the machine in The World Shapers.

4. THE SNOWS OF TERROR

This is the other episode I love. Francis de Wolff is always great in anything, but I'm marvelling at the way his character goes from "thank God!" to "I'm getting worried now" to "bloody hell, can they do that in Doctor Who?" He doesn't quite get as far as attempted rape, but it's clear that's what he had in mind. It's de Wolff's episode and you can't stop looking at him.

However, that's not the half of it. You've got William Russell at his most badass, making this the second of two good episodes for him. Don't piss off Ian Chesterton. I hardly noticed that Hartnell was on holiday. Meanwhile, it's Schofield's non-useless episode, while there's amusement to be had from seeing Phillips still wearing his tunic and posing pouch even in a frozen wasteland.

Then we have the Crusaders. These fascinate me. They turn the episode almost from SF into fantasy, like The Snow Queen. One can of course ignore this, like the painted backdrops, but these clearly aren't meant to be robots or anything like that. When they fall to their death, they scream. These are men in suits of armour, so what was going on with that suspended animation? Were they really just frozen? Is it more time-twisting technology, as with The Screaming Jungle? It's reminiscent of the myth of the King Under The Mountain, especially given the fact that we're given no explanation of how these knights crossed a chasm without a bridge. It's like magic.

5. SENTENCE OF DEATH

In contrast, I don't adore this episode. I merely think it's good. Hartnell returns and gets lots to do. There's lots of juicy courtroom stuff, even if at the end of the day it's courtroom stuff.

The "guilty until proven innocent" legal system looks unworkable at first glance, but even a little thought makes it all too disturbingly credible. All you need to do is abandon the notion that the purpose of a criminal trial is to uncover the truth. Look at Russia right now, for instance. Trials under a totalitarian regime are often a formality... and tyranny is what Nation's writing about.

In most ways, Millennius isn't that bad. It looks as if it should be fair and civilised. You'd think it was a normal city, possibly even quite a pleasant one... but they've formalised laws that make no sense. Was this overreaction to the loss of the Conscience? Had they lost their perspective and thought this was the right thing? Alternatively, is it simply inherited from the days when everyone did and thought as the machine told them to?

And are the judges meant to look like rabbis?

6. THE KEYS OF MARINUS

The last episode! It's perhaps less memorable than it might have been, though, because it's half-and-half. It finishes off the Millennius storyline (which needed an episode and a half) and then for an encore goes back to sort out Yartek and his Voord as well. Whoah. It's good and I liked it, but what if they'd given Nation a seventh episode?

Is this the worst serial in Season One? I don't know, but I also don't care. Season One is amazing. It'll suffer from comparison with Marco Polo and The Aztecs, but... well, wouldn't anything? It's fast-paced, if not downright breathless. I'm sure it would go down better with children than your average six-parter, but at the same time it's got enough history, themes and intellectual meat for an entire season of any normal show. It's got Hartnell, Hill and Russell. There's nothing else like it, not even The Chase. I love it.

"No, impossible in this temperature. Besides, it's too warm."