'THE KEYS OF MARINUS' DVD (BBCDVD2616)
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 2009.
on a REMOTE ISLAND OF GLASS SURROUNDED BY A SEA OF ACID, THERE IS A MACHINE THAT CAN REMOVE ALL EVIL FROM MINDS: THE CONSCIENCE.
FEARFUL OF ITS POWER BEING MISUSED, ITS SOLE GUARDIAN HAS SPREAD THE OPERATING KEYS ACROSS THE PLANET.
THE DOCTOR ARRIVES TO FIND THE ISLAND UNDER ATTACK BY THE VOORD. MARINUS'S LAST LINE OF DEFENCE - AND ITS ONLY HOPE - IS THE MACHINE.
THE DOCTOR AND HIS COMPANIONS MUST UNDERTAKE A DEADLY QUEST TO RECOVER THE KEYS OF MARINUS...
The Keys of Marinus
11TH APRIL 1964 - 16TH MAY 1964
1. THE SEA OF DEATH 2. THE VELVET WEB
3. THE SCREAMING JUNGLE 4. THE SNOWS OF TERROR
5. SENTENCE OF DEATH 6. THE KEYS OF MARINUS
Given their unparalleled success, Dalek creator Terry Nation really can’t be faulted for wheeling out his creations time and again. All told, Nation scripted eight Dalek stories for Doctor Who, the preponderance of which – as Terrance Dicks once famously pointed out – followed the same formula. The Keys of Marinus, however, is one of only two Dalek-free Nation serials, and I have to say that at time of writing I much prefer it to his original Dalek seven-parter. Admittedly, I have seen The Daleks far too many times to be able to take pleasure in it anymore, but even so The Keys of Marinus is demonstrably a much faster and more diverse script than Nation’s first.
The DVD release is beautifully packaged and presented, Clayton Hickman’s luscious claret cover illustration managing to sum up both the scope and the splendour of this unique tale. The illustration on the DVD disc itself is ever more striking than the cover in my view, as the image of George Coulouris’s distinctly human-looking Arbitan is lost in favour of an evocative rendering of one of the Morphoton brain-creatures.
However, bonus material of any substance is noticeably lacking, though given the limited amount of disc space available due to this story’s length this can be forgiven. Further, when considering just how long ago The Keys of Marinus was made, it would also have proved quite a task to compile any sort of substantive documentary, particularly so now that Verity Lambert’s insightful input can no longer be called upon. This is reflected to a certain extent in the commentary, which reveals that the contributors’ memories of the story’s production are vague to say the least, even when stirred by Clayton Hickman’s deft questioning. Director John Gorrie is especially non-committal in his comments, though he is “fairly sure” that he didn’t direct any part of The Reign of Terror, (more or less) dispelling that popular myth.
Above: "The theme of The Keys of Marinus was beg, borrow and steal..."
- Raymond Cusick in The Sets of Marinus featurette
Designer Raymond Cusick (who, according to Richard Molesworth’s rather wry liner notes, won a gold Blue Peter badge for his Dalek design. He wasn’t paid any royalties or anything like that, but still…) appears to recall the most about the story’s production, and his most interesting comments are rehearsed in the DVD’s lone featurette, The Sets of Marinus. To my surprise, Cusick condemns much of his own work on this story, even going so far as to call it his least favourite Doctor Who serial in terms of its design. For what it’s worth, I think that The Keys of Marinus is quite easily on a par with its peers, if not a little bit more grand. Shot as they were in wonderfully forgiving monochrome, the fusion of inset photographs; stock film clips; false perspective backdrops; and even a few model shots all conspire to create a extremely credible backdrop for Nation’s epic tale.
And the Restoration Team have clearly put a lot of care into making the episodes look as good as they possibly could; the production subtitles reveal that they have even digitally recreated a couple of fleeting shots in both “The Velvet Web” and “The Snows of Terror” to ensure that the serial looks just at it did when it originally aired. Of course in 2009, when blown-up on a giant HD television screen, it’s easy to find fault with the look of the serial, but generally I think that the six episodes stand up well.
More negatively, I was slightly irked to see that the (apparently unskippable) “Ten Times the Adventure” trailer that debuted on The Twin Dilemma DVD earlier this month has retained its place. I’d have thought that if we are to be bombarded with it every month from hereon in, 2|entertain would at least make sure that its aspect ratio is set correctly - as things stand, one either has to watch short fat versions of Doctors one through eight or tall thin versions of nine and ten! It’s hardly the best advertisement for the technical quality of the range, it has to be said.
As I’ve already intimated though, the serial itself is a real gem, and well worth braving a dimensionally-challenging advertisement for. Whereas The Daleks played upon a couple of tried and tested science fiction staples quite superlatively (the post-apocalyptic society, the bug-eyed monster etc), The Keys of Marinus sees Tony Hancock’s former gag writer turn his hand to another time-honoured format – that of the quest.
Purportedly written in the space of just a few weeks as a late replacement for Malcolm Hulke’s aborted Hidden Planet, Nation’s “three or four different adventures in one serial” truly does what it sets out to. Indeed, The Keys of Marinus is one of just a handful of first Doctor adventures that truly deserves its individual episode titles as each is its own self-contained little story, and can be either enjoyed as such or as part of the larger narrative.
What I find most refreshing about The Keys of Marinus though is its sheer ambition. Although the planet Marinus appears to be tiny if one gives any weight to the scale of the map seen in the first episode, it is one of the most diverse explored by the series, inhabited by a melting pot of humanoids; giant brains; frozen Knights; killer jungles; bureaucrats; and even – most shockingly - wife-beaters and would-be rapists. The grittiness of such things is contrasted marvellously with the poetry of seas of acids and sands of glass.
The plot itself is rather compelling too. A machine called the Conscience rules Marinus. It gets inside people’s heads and physically prevents them committing crime. Arbitan, the Keeper of the Conscience, manipulates the TARDIS crew into helping him collect the four keys that make the Conscience function. For the most part this makes for a delightfully fast-paced, inventive and enthralling adventure, though I did find that the story seemed to run out of steam a little in the Doctorless fourth episode’s ice-bound wilderness. The return of William Hartnell in the fifth part, “Sentence of Death”, is well worth the wait though as he takes it upon himself to defend Ian against a murder charge. The staid first Doctor certainly makes one hell of an advocate.
I’m also a fan of the visually-striking Voord, and though I can clearly see why they didn’t take off in the way that the Daleks did, I think it’s a real shame that they never got the chance to make a return appearance on television (at least not yet…) The two makeshift companions along for the journey are good fun too – we have ‘Captain Underpants’ himself, Altos (Robin Phillips) and the lovely Sabetha (Katharine Schofield), who both shake up the dynamic just a little bit, which I feel was much-needed after four stories with the regulars (who are all in fine form here, particularly Babs).
On a final note, I have to give Nation credit for the story’s riveting climax. Particularly with older serials I can often work out precisely what is going to happen next, but The Keys of Marinus really surprised me. The finale is also very satisfying too, as throughout the serial I couldn’t work out why the Doctor would help the Conscience. After all, ‘mind control’ would never be the Doctor’s ideal solution to crime, would it?
On the whole then, The Keys of Marinus is a lovely little addition to the range. Given the comparative dearth of bonus material, it would have been nice to see it retailing at a few pounds less than the ‘full’ releases, but as we’re getting six episodes instead of the usual four – all of which have been painstakingly restored – it would perhaps be a little churlish to whinge too much.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
It took Terry Nation a decade to write another Dalekless adventure, and after watching The Keys of Marinus it is easy to see why he stuck to the creatures that assured him good ratings over and again.
I have never been a fan of quest stories. I found The Lord of the Rings trilogy a chore to get through, and that was with the benefit of luxurious resources. But with a programme of Doctor Who’s meagre budget, you are really pushed what the designers can achieve over six episodes. Subsequent stories with an umbrella theme over various locations such as The Chase have similar problems, and later producers would realise it was better to have entire seasons with a single theme so individually budgeted stories could bring that theme to life. Both The Key to Time and Trial of a Time Lord seasons work well in this respect, and even the recent new series spectacular of Utopia, The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords leapt from a barren alien world to modern day Earth to a post-apocalyptic Earth of the future. Stretching Doctor Who’s budget has always been a problem and the more locations they have to achieve, the shoddier the production. The Daleks’ Master Plan is the very rare exception of pulling off an epic location-hopping serial, but that story had the benefit of three stories’ budget over twelve episodes.
It feels churlish to criticise Doctor Who on its visuals alone but in a story as ambitious as this it is inescapable. We visit a glass beach that is clearly a tiny BBC studio, a dominating city with faceless corridors and cardboard doors, the empty and dank splendour of Morphotron, a plastic forest, a polystyrene ice cavern and finally the plain architecture of Millenius. Each segment is set around a few basic sets barely disguising the paucity of the shows ability to realise these disparate locations. You can only stretch a piece of elastic so long before it snaps with catastrophic results.
The problems with The Keys of Marinus don’t end with the budget though, and coming hot on the heels of Marco Polo (which established some groundbreaking development for the characters) the treatment of our four heroes is less than impressive. Go and watch the first episode and you will see that the Susan rut has really set in now; she is portrayed as nought but a whimpering child clinging onto Ian and Barbara and cowering from her Grandfather’s scolding behaviour. It’s interesting that Susan is practically written out of the next story and it is all the stronger for it. William Hartnell pops off for a holiday, and his absence is keenly felt over two episodes and the “I’ll just pop on ahead and get the last key whilst you guys do all the hard work” never really sits well with me. His reappearance in episode five really lifts the end of the story for me. Furthermore, Nation keeps finding stupid things for Ian and Barbara to do, juggling as many adventure story clichés as he can (the ridiculous sequence where the statue grabs Babs’ arse, being pursued through the Ice Caves) and the nature of the story fails to let them act like real people. Even the attempted rape scene feels gratuitous.
The mini-adventures are hardly thrill a minute either. It feels as though Nation has thought up a location and then sketchily thought through each story set there before getting bored and moving on to the next one without fleshing it out with any intelligent detail. Thus we have a miracle city run by some brains in a jar, a living and murderous forest, a dangerous rapist seeking refuge from snowy wastes, and a political system that seems designed to lock people up for fun. Each segment of this story has a very basic narrative which if you pick at the one thread it could happily unravel in your hands. Logic is thrown out of the window and atmosphere seems to be the word of the day.
After the huge success story of The Daleks, it pains me to announce the first of a long list of failed Doctor Who monsters: the flipper footed, sundial-nosed Voord. Who exactly are the Voord? Where did they come from? What is there history? Why are they so obsessed with obtaining the keys and the power they hold? The Voord are the biggest casualty at the core of this story, visually unappealing and logically unsound. I for one am certainly not sorry that they didn’t return for a rematch.
I don’t like grumbling about Doctor Who stories and I think fandom does get bogged down far too much in what doesn’t work rather than what does, but some stories do deserve the grilling they get simply because there was no real way they could ever have worked. Doctor Who should never stop trying (next year sees the event stories The Web Planet and The Chase) but it should ensure that the writing is strong and the direction is tight even if the budget cannot create the worlds in the writers mind. The Keys of Marinus is sandwiched between two superb historical adventures and might have a lot of responsibility for the poor reception of the early science fiction tales that have been re-evaluated by fandom. Marco Polo pulled off a quest story with far more aplomb; it turned the lights down and created a vivid world of gorgeous customs and terrifying horrors in history. The Keys of Marinus is the antithesis of that story, swapping atmosphere for adventure and reducing the show to children’s farce.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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