Doctor Who Sunday – The Keys of Marinus
Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.
We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…
Before this: Marco Polo
Season 1, Episode 4: The Keys of Marinus
The Doctor himself does not appear in episodes three and four of this story, due to William Hartnell having been on holiday. This six-parter takes on a “quest” format, with each adventure bringing them closer to getting the TARDIS back..
The Keys of Marinus starts with an excellent example of BBC modelling during this time, with a miniature TARDIS materialising (silently it must be said – which is odd, although possibly something to do with distance). The serial is actually made up of five separate stories, all held together with an overarching aim: to return the five micro chips to the major ethical computer, the Conscience of Marinus, that guided Marinus before the evil Voord began to manipulate it to suit their corrupt ends. Aside from The Mutants, this six part collection of stories is by far my favourite of the first season of Doctor Who, due to the usefulness of the companions and the strength of the individual stories. The graphics and occasional line mishap adds a certain quaint-ness that makes The Keys of Marinus a fantastic serial to watch.
The companions, especially Barbara, shine in this story. In the second story, when the others are deceived by alien intellect in believing that the rags were riches, Barbara is the only one who (by a fluke admittedly) manages to see the truth. The focus on the companions is so strong that the Doctor actually spends two episodes off screen (getting the final key apparently), while Ian, Susan, Barbara and two others they save from the aliens in the second story find the other keys. The characters are all strong, despite Susan screaming every now and again, and the stories are all fantastically written.
The multitude of stories also allows the serial to explore several different styles and themes within the frame of a larger arch. A clear example of this is the jump from the alien hypnosis and the deception in ‘The Velvet Web’, to the trap filled and suspenseful ‘Screaming Jungle’. Overall, it makes for an interesting serial, even when the Doctor disappears for two episodes, and the companions are made to shine out in this serial.
This story has a very interesting beginning location and premise. As Aidan has covered, Marinus was once ruled by a computer which eliminated all thoughts of evil, keeping their society well-behaved, until a group learns how to resist its power. The Doctor and his companions must retrieve five “keys” to the keeper of the computer in order for it to work again, which they do in order to get the TARDIS back from the keeper of the computer.
In another story, the computer would be an evil thing, bending the citizens’ free will and muffling any resistance. But in this serial, there is no such discussion, which is interesting to not. That’s neither here nor there though. The Keys of Marinus is an intriguing serial, mostly because it brings the audience to a different location every episode and provides some interest from episode to episode. Whether that is done well is up to the individual’s perspective, but I found the location changes, and the fact that the companions spend some time separated from the Doctor (Hartnell was on holiday) refreshing, giving the serial a bit more movement and direction than some previous episodes..
The quest format is a little arbitrary, and is a bit of an obvious plot device, but the mini adventures were interesting – especially in stand-out episode ‘The Velvet Web’, one which finds them in a bizarre illusory world controlled by brains floating in tanks. In this episode especially, Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) gets her chance to shine, which is great to watch. Unfortunately, Susan (Carol Ann Ford) doesn’t often get the same chance, and is instead reduced to shrieking, which the actor herself said was “pathetic”.
Altogether a fun watch, even if it is held together by a flimsy plot device and questionable ethics.