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.

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Reviews

Around Planet Marinus In Six Episodes by Matthew Kresal 5/4/20

When one sees the name of writer Terry Nation on a Doctor Who story, one might assume Daleks are involved. More so, perhaps, if the designer Raymond Cusick is included in the same serial's credits. But, surprise, no Daleks feature in The Keys of Marinus, Nation's second outing for Who and something of a replacement when another story fell through. And what a story it turned out to be.

The Keys of Marinus is the first quest narrative in the show's history. By that, I mean that the TARDIS crew finds themselves given a mission to perform rather than getting themselves into trouble like, say, the earlier Dalek tale. In this case, to track down the five keys that control a powerful device known as the Conscience of Marinus. To do so, they must travel to different locations around the planet. They'll go from cities to jungles and icy mountains to do so and get back to their travels.

The episodic nature of Nation's scripts is part of what makes this story so compelling. Indeed, one might see a tribute to Jules Verne's Around The World In 80 Days and the 1956 film version with its all-star cast. Both feature planet-hopping narratives, varieties in locations, our protagonists becoming separated, and characters picked up along the way who join our main characters in their journey around the world. Ian's murder accusation and the delay in their quest late in the story share a point of similarity with Verne's Phileas Fogg, who finds himself arrested as an alleged bank robber late in Around's narrative. Even the appearance of George Coulouris as Arbitan (which Clayton Hickman calls Doctor Who's brush with Citizen Kane on the audio commentary) imitates the cameos of the later film version. If Doctor Who, in its earliest years, is paying tribute to the serial fiction that came before it, than Marinus sees Nation paying tribute to Verne's tale.

Nor is Verne the only source on display. One too might see echoes of The Day of the Triffids in the jungle episode with plants moving on their own, killing and destroying. As mentioned above, the latter parts of the serial feature a mini-courtroom drama, with the Doctor playing the role of Perry Mason to save Ian from a system that assumes his guilt rather than innocence. If variety is the spice of life, then this story is very rich indeed!

It's also full of ambition that is a hallmark of this era. There's a new set of locations practically every episode, not to mention changes in casts and costumes. The second episode, set in a city that isn't quite what it seems, perhaps speaks most to those efforts with director John Gorrie and designer Cusick doing everything they can to get the maximum effect. Fans often point to The Web Planet the following year as early Who at its most ambitious and, while there's no disputing the ambitions there, there's an argument to be made that this story is even more so. After all, it's trying to create an entire planet in the confines of the BBC's oldest studio.

Does it always work? Not quite, as one can see where photo blowups get used in the first episode, for example. Some of the dialogue, never a Nation strong suit, is clunky at times, especially where exposition gets involved. More than that, Susan's characterization is all over the place, inconsistent from scene to scene, let alone episode to episode. All of which serve to undermine the story slightly.

At the end of the day, it can be easier to forgive over-ambition where there's a good story to be told. And there is plenty to like about The Keys of Marinus, from its location-hoping, genre-changing narrative and the efforts made to bring it to life. It may not always succeed, but, by Jove, it tries. In the end, it's an overlooked tale from the opening days of the show and one that deserves another look.