No one can argue with the sheer brilliance of the Daleks. Considering their immense success, one can’t blame their creator Terry Nation for reusing them time and again – often, as Terrance Dicks famously pointed out, in exactly the same type of story. “The Keys of Marinus”, however, is a very rare example of a Dalek-free Nation serial. Whilst I’m a huge fan of the pepper pots from Skaro, I have to say that at present I actually rate this story higher than the original Dalek serial. Admittedly, I’ve seen “The Daleks” far too many times to be able to enjoy it very much anymore, but even so “The Keys of Marinus” is a much faster and more varied serial than Nation’s first.
While “The Daleks” played a couple of tried and tested sci-fi / fantasy gimmicks superbly (the post-apocalyptic society, the bug-eyed monster etc.), “The Keys of Marinus” takes on another time-honoured format – the quest. A machine called the Conscience rules Marinus. In essence, it gets inside people’s heads and stops them committing crime. Artiban, the Keeper of the Conscience, manipulates the TARDIS crew into helping him collect the keys that make the Conscience function. Using watch-shaped dials to travel about the planet, the six episodes of this serial see our travellers voyage to every corner of the planet Marinus in a Lord of the Rings style fantasy adventure. As I mentioned, this makes for a wonderfully fast-paced, imaginative and enthralling adventure, but on the other hand it must have broken the bank to produce! As all six episodes have a different alien setting, new sets will have had to have been designed and produced weekly. This takes its toll at times, for example, when we have some very poorly realised ‘giant brains’ ruling the city of Morphoton, but generally speaking the production team managed to pull off another minor miracle producing this rather lavish six-parter with the time and money that they had. In the third episode, Darius’s jungle is very well realised – particularly the idol. The fourth episode’s ice-bound wilderness is far less visually impressive, and even in terms of the story its probably the worst episode of the six - a fact highlighted by the absence of the show’s leading man for the second week in a row! William Hartnell’s return in the fifth episode, “Sentence of Death,” is well worth the wait though as he takes the task upon himself of defending Ian against a murder charge. The Doctor makes one hell of a advocate!
I think the thing I found most refreshing about “The Keys of Marinus” though is its sheer ambition. Marinus is presented as a planet like Earth, inhabited not just by one culture or even two but by a massive melting pot of humanoids, giant brains, frozen Knights, killer jungles and bureaucrats! Seas of acid, sands of glass… sheer poetry! The story’s scope certainly has to be respected. Moreover, it is one of a handful of Hartnell serials that truly deserves the individual episode titles as each episode is literally its own self-contained little story, and can be either enjoyed as such or as part of the larger ‘quest’ story arc. We even have two makeshift companions along for the journey, Altos (Robin Phillips) and the lovely Sabetha (Katharine Schofield) who inject just that extra little bit of something we need now that after four stories we are getting quite comfortable with the regulars, who incidentally are all in fine form. I have to give Nation credit for the story’s quite shocking climax too – especially with older serials I can normally tell exactly what is going to happen next but “The Keys of Marinus” really surprised me. It’s also a very satisfying ending – after watching the first episode I did think that ‘mind control’ wouldn’t be the Doctor’s ideal solution to crime…
"The Keys of Marinus" presents us with a classic story that almost matches the new series format all by itself. By which I mean that you have a number of individually titled, self-contained episodes that are part of a larger story, and the episodes barely have time to scratch the surface of the characters and background presented to us before they are over and rush us along to the next situation.
Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit admittedly, but it is true that what we are presented with on Marinus is a series of brief vignettes of life on this planet which we never get to see in great detail. A number of reviewers have remarked on the fact that it's rare to get a sci-fi planet that isn't one monolithic culture, and that it's refreshing to see a departure from that with Marinus which features different climates and different cultures. I agree, it is a nice change, though nothing we see on Marinus seems terribly alien, apart from some weirdness with the plants, and of course the brain creatures. Almost any of the locales could be on Earth rather than an alien planet, with the exception of the acid sea, but the variety is still appreciated.
If I were putting the eight stories that make up Doctor Who's first season in order of first to last place, "The Keys of Marinus" would be second from last, just ahead of "The Sensorites" and just barely behind "The Edge of Destruction". I say that because the other stories are quite good rather than because Marinus is deficient. True, it has some cliches and plot issues, but on the whole it's a good solid, entertaining story of the quest variety. Every one of the regulars gets something to do, though Ian and Barbara are most prominently featured of course.
The framing sequence that sets up the quest and introduces us to the conscience machine that pacifies the population ought to be more interesting than it ultimately is. The idea of thought control and loss of free will versus peace and a lack of violence should raise questions about trading freedom for safety, but the idea is never really explored. Arbitan, who is willing to curtail free will in order to pacify Marinus, is perfectly in character to deny the Doctor and companions the choice to exercise their free will in refusing to help him recover the keys. He comes across as desperate and rather sympathetic though, despite his actions. Incidentally, the scene where the Doctor is angry about being blackmailed into searching for the keys, then suddenly cheers up and becomes complimentary when he examines the travel dial is pretty amusing, and indicative of what make the Doctor happy - cool high tech toys! So off they go to retrieve said keys, while Arbitan is murdered by one of the Voord.
The Voord are people in wetsuits, with weird headpieces. At least the fact that they look like wetsuits is because they actually are, though it seems as though the Voord would abandon them once they reached dry land. The one man submarine looks good, and the idea of acid seeping in and dissolving the one Voord who is killed crossing the sea is pretty horrible if you think about it. Most acid just burns, which would be bad enough. This stuff destroys Susan's shoe and dissolves people to nothing... nasty.
The various locales are all nicely presented, and we don't stay long enough for them to become boring, with the possible exception of the trial in Millenius. The brain creatures are creepy things, being brains with eye stalks and weird voices. Barbara's point of view where she can see the true state of the city is a nice idea, though as always it's easy to tell when one of the regulars is thought-controlled, because they just don't respond as they normally would.
Altos and Sabitha are picked up at this point in the story. It's enjoyable that once again the TARDIS crew make friends and allies on their trip across Marinus, so they're not so alone in their quest. Altos is pretty creepy while under mind-control, but becomes quite dependable company when freed. The same is true of Sabitha, whom Susan befriends.
The jungle setting reminds me in retrospect of the Krynoid and its control of plant life, although there is of course an entirely different explanation for the hostile plants. The spikes that descend on Barbara wobble alarmingly, but grin and suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it. The snowy plains are genuinely chilling in their sense of isolation and danger. That episode is well portrayed by all involved, and it's only let down by the narrow (and probably very shallow) crevasse in the ice caves. A good jump would clear it! Vasor's unstated intentions towards Barbara are certainly disturbing. I did get a laugh out of the title "The Snows of Terror". : Ooooh, scary snow!
Up to this point the story has moved along at a brisk pace, but things slow down with the murder mystery in the city of Millenius, where the Doctor finally comes back into the picture. It's a compliment to the other regulars that the Doctor isn't missed much during the middle episodes of the story, so good are Ian, Barbara and Susan. But the Doctor's return is welcome, as is his relatively new sense of loyalty to his companions, and his attempts to defend Ian. The trial scenes are typical courtroom drama, but the nodding judges who never speak are pretty funny. The situation is solved with an old cliche (the murderer is tricked into a slip of the tongue) which is a shame, but we move on from here back to the pyramid and the confrontation with the Voord.
One thing that "The Keys of Marinus" does well is convey a sense of a time and distance having been covered. Like Marco Polo, you get the feeling that the characters have spent days or weeks in their journey all over Marinus, though in story terms it's probably less than a week. In the end, though I've enjoyed the story I'm ready for it to end and ready to move on to the next adventure. The story contains some unexplored ideas and cliches, but is saved in many ways by the ever-likeable regular cast, and is carried along by the sense of adventure. 7 out of 10.
One of my favourite Hartnell stories to watch. Not so much because it's an example of one of the best stories from his tenure. Moreso just because it's a fun little story.
Of course, when I say "fun" I don't just mean from a sort of kitschy "wow was that an awful effect" point-of-view. It's also just a fun storyline. Very comic bookesque. Not a lot of substance - just a bunch of "running around and getting into all kinds of trouble and then trying to find a way out of it" -type adventuring for our TARDIS crew. The sort of story the series could never get away with nowadays but, since it was still "finding it's feet" back when "Keys" was produced, it could pull something like this off now and again.
"The Keys Of Marinus" has some very strong flaws to it, of course. The most obvious one being that the story has nowhere near the budget it requires to be executed with any degree of effectiveness. Particularly since all-new sets had to be built every episode with the location of the storyline changing all the time. Really, I'm amazed the production team even gave this a green light considering how limitted the budget was back then. But what this does spell out for this story is some incredibly propesterous-looking moments where the effects are just so poor that it's laughable (the "ceiling of spikes" descending toward Barbara being one of the more notorious moments that come to mind that exemplify this). But the poor budget also meant minimal re-take facilities too. We get some nice dialogue flubs now and again and some really great "tripping-over-their-own-flippers" moments with the Voords. Quite impressively, however, there are some very nice effects that pop now and again too. The model shots of the island, of course, are probably the best examples of this.
But some of the silliness of this story doesn't just stem from the production values. Some of the writing, itself, is fairly hard to swallow. I mean, I can accept a growth acceleration formulae that affects nature's "tide of destruction" or what-have-you - but specific vines trying to wrap themselves around peoples' necks and legs because of such a formulae seems a bit too much on the implausable side. As are the frozen warriors. Shouldn't they just be dead when they get unfrozen? Of course, good little fans that we are, we decide that they must have special "cryogenic suits" on. But shouldn't that have been established somewhere in the dialogue too?
But, if you can put aside these objections. You do get a very imaginative and creative little run-a-round. Those same frozen warriors I just mocked were also quite neat, in their own way. And the idea of an entire city being one giant illusion was really fun too - with some effects in there when we see things from Barbara's point-of-view that were genuinely chilling.
Really, all the different locations they travel to have some nice ideas at work within them. Which is one of the strong points, overall, of this story. We get a planet that seems as legitimately diverse as our own. Something that happens rarely in Who or any other sci-fi series, for that matter. Most of the time, a planet is a "desert planet" or an "ice planet" or something like that. In Marinus, we have various climate conditions and societies. Even races. Which certainly scores some points in the story's favour. The fact that we get fun little storylines in all these different locations enhances my enjoyment of this tale even more.
Because this is such an early story, a couple of significant things happen in it that I think are valuable to the overall show too. First off, even though the series was labelled by the BBC, at the time, as being for children - there are some somewhat "mature" things that occur in it. Most noteworthy, of course, is the attempt to rape Barbara during the episode in the polar regions of Marinus. But we also get some wife beating and some somewhat viscious-looking knife stabbings. Something you'd never see on a modern-day kid's show! But these moments are significant because it sets an important tone. That the BBC might be pitching this as being for children but that the people making the show itself see it in a very different light. That, already, this is a T.V. series that the production team recognise as having an adult market too. And though they're careful on how some of these sequences are portrayed, those moments are still included in the story rather than just cut out entirely as they would've been had the BBC been keeping a better eye on things!
The other thing we see for the first time in this story is a "softening" of the Doctor. Up until Marinus, he's a bit of an anti-hero, really. Developping some likeability in Marco Polo, but very little. But his somewhat heroic entrance in the city of Milllenius paints him in a much nicer light than we've seen him in so far. His trial scenes and moment of melancholia after he's lost his case improve his likeability factor even more. It helps that Hartnell's "break" seems to have refreshed him and he gives a very strong performance in these episodes too. Slowly but surely, the Doctor is turning into the hero he would be as the series progressed. But we see some of those first signs here on Marinus.
So, overall, there are some very definite moments in this story both in production value and writing that give it a bit of a "Plan 9 From Outer Space" kind of feel now and again. Something we Who fans definitely hate to see in the series (even though it happens all-too-frequently!). But those moments, I think, become forgiveable as we also get a very imaganitive little romp across a troubled planet full of intrigue and danger! I even like how, like the quest for the Key to Time in later years, the quest for the Keys Of Marinus also comes to naught. And we get one of those nice "some things are far too powerful for man to possess" moments as the story concludes. I always loved the way the series handled that kind of theme and it's neat to see that, even this early on, the Doctor's moral tone is getting very clearly defined. That, as heroic as he may be, he knows that even his sense of rightness has its limits and that he has no desire to ever "play god".
Fun stuff. Not necessarilly great stuff, of course. But still lots of fun!
OK, so he created the Daleks, but let’s face it – Terry Nation was never a particularly sophisticated writer. The scientific concepts he presents are often extremely tenuous, his writing often lacks sparkle, and barely a scene goes by without someone tripping over. The Daleks were a fantastic idea but, thinking about it, not one that came particularly out of left field; there would have been a reaction to men-in-suit monsters sooner or later. Point of fact: how does Nation follow up his hit Daleks? With monsters that go against everything the Daleks stand for. Monsters that not only look like men in suits, they are men in suits. With a more advanced writer I’d call this postmodernism, but in Nations case I have to wonder what was going on to make him back down on his principals so.
That’s not to say that The Keys Of Marinus is particularly bad, simply that it’s uninspired. In terms of visuals though the first impressions are extremely positive as some excellent model and design work is on display from the ever-dependable Raymond P. Cusick. It’s when the characters open their mouths that Nation’s incredibly dated attempts to be modern and cutting edge (this is the man who proudly brought us magnetic tape recorders in the year 4000), in this case the TARDIS having colour television, now just seem funny.
I know it’s irrelevant, but I couldn’t help but notice in the first episode that William Hartnell’s wig is absolutely rock-solid in this episode, like it’s been moulded to his head. I refused to believe for a long time that he ever wore a wig at all; I should have watched this episode when I was younger. Barbara knocking Susan’s shoe into the acid pool is a very stagy moment, an obvious and somewhat lazy attempt to reveal this particular plot point, but it does lead to a truly amazing fluff from Hartnell (“you could have lent her hers”) that is delivered with such confidence that initially I didn’t realise he’d made a mistake and spent ages trying to work out the logic of what he had said. The further revelation of the acid sea is another example of Nation’s haphazard grasp of science.
While the sets are very well designed it does show the limitations of the time that we are expected to believe that the characters have not noticed the giant pyramid that dominates the island. The picture quality of my VHS is extremely good and while it does show up the painted backdrops designed to lend a sense of perspective and distance for what they are, it’s not a particularly big problem and the improved quality more than justifies it. Less forgivable though is the stagehand clearly visible when a Voord falls through the revolving wall. I should mention now that, from the neck down, the Voords look ridiculous. Although the cardboard cut-out that falls into the acid pit is more amusing than anything else, it is quite painful to watch them galumphing about tripping over their flippers (and in the final episode Stephen Dartnell’s features are clearly visible underneath his mask). I do wonder how anyone thought they would match the Daleks in terms of popularity; as one of only three major monsters present in season one, it has to be said that the programme’s debut season does not score highly in terms of monsters. They are not helped by some poor direction from John Gorrie that sees one hiding in plain sight waiting for Susan.
Maybe it’s the politically correct time we live in, but casually referring to foreign natives as Indians does seem a little tasteless to me. Such concerns are blown away by the presence of George Colouris, as mighty as he had been in Citizen Kane two decades previously, although here he has to fight against some dialogue that, while not terrible, can best be described as staid. Orson Wells – Terry Nation. You decide. It is very interesting that, like in The Daleks, Nation refuses to commit to a moral standpoint and the ethical questions raised by the existence of the Conscience machine are left unanswered until a single token line from the Doctor right at the end. The split-screen effect for the dematerialisation of the travellers is smooth if a little obvious, but the on screen death of Arbitan is an immensely foolish piece of storytelling as it removes all purpose to the quest to find the keys, as well as eliminating any suspense as to what will be found when the characters return.
Nation’s stories are always very clearly divided up into episodic chunks, rather than having the episode breaks not particularly disrupt the narrative as was (and always has been) the norm. Hence, this episode begins in the new location of Morphoton. While it is a nice idea to present a varied and complex planet it is always a bit uncertain how the different areas of Marinus relate to each other, and the total absence of the Voords raises the question of exactly how much of a threat they pose thereby undermining the urgency of the quest. All the locations share a common feature though in that while they all present some interesting ideas they are explained in unconvincing terms (perhaps because Nation has allowed himself so little time to introduce each one). For example, while I am prepared to accept a city where the population are being hypnotised, Morpho, when revealed, is absurd beyond my wildest imagination.
Altos is a drip (and is a bit posh to be an adventurer really), but Katharine Schofield’s looks compensate adequately enough. It is interesting to hear sound effects that would eventually be used in The Moonbase (a story I’m much more familiar with), and the cuts between the hypnotised characters’ and Barbara’s point of view is excellently done and more than makes up for the directorial lapses in the first episode. However, not letting us see the Doctor’s P.O.V. when in his laboratory is a cheap (but effective) cost cutting measure, a clever way of getting round the expense of having to kit out an expensive set. Oh, and the smashing of Morpho is a cringe-inducing scene sure to put any newbie off the series for life.
Episode three could have benefited from a reprise, as it would have helped the atmospheric cliffhanger tally up with the rest of this part. This and the fourth episode are the best parts of the story, perhaps because the natural world is much better than the thinly-sketched pictures of civilisation. The terrified Darrius warning about the “tempo of destruction” is genuinely creepy, but Susan is truly useless and it’s well that she is written out of the episode as quick as possible. Nation tends to write Susan badly, although Barbara comes off well.
The booby-traps in the forest are the first signs of the Voord threat for some time, but the sight of Darrius being strangled is a bit silly. The plant attack on the building is well realised, but I wonder why Ian and Barbara didn’t look in the jars sooner. They really carry this episode: most of it consists of them avoiding traps and looking for the key, and while there is little of substance it is still an atmospheric and enjoyable episode.
The fourth episode is set on a wintry mountain, and the incidental music immediately buckles under the weight of convention so we get to hear an enigmatic woman going “oooooeeeeoeoooeee” in the background (see also: The Ice Warriors). It is very daring of the series (a tribute to the confidence of Verity Lambert) to have a character like Vasor who wants to rape Barbara, and this is generally an excellent episode and is visually impressive, like the rest.
The chance meeting with Altos is a contrivance repeated throughout this story, but this particular episode gets by like the last one on its atmosphere. The rope-bridge scene is good, as Gorrie shoots it on a horizontal plane and so by not letting us see down below he maintains a sense of genuine depth (it’s just a shame that can’t be said about the script). The Ice Soldiers are poorly explained although nicely enigmatic – which more or less sums up the entire episode. I’m not sure how realistic it is to think that the key would ever be found, and we also get the typically Nationesque touch of one of the girls gratuitously tripping over.
With episode five the sense of high adventure grinds to a halt in favour of a murder mystery, and it has to be said that the guilty-until-proven-innocent idea is a gimmick that doesn’t make much sense really, not really standing up to much scrutiny. This episode is buoyed up though by the superb performance of William Hartnell, who reappears after an absence of two episodes. The plotty dialogue is intelligently written here, although it is sometimes difficult to follow who is who. There are some lapses in tone here as the futuristic city of Millennius houses a fusty old library, and the décor of the living quarters is very mid-’60s. The wife beating is again a daring moment, even though it is only heard. Episode six initially carries on along the same lines: it is compelling to listen to, but is still to an extent a one trick pony. Kala though is a good villain, and the revelation of the murderer is a genuine surprise.
The Voords turn up again – hardly an omnipresent threat, although Stephen Dartnell as Yartek does his best behind his mask, although it is very unconvincing how he manages to pass himself off as Arbitan (or does he…). The explosion is small and simple; the limitations of studio-bound practical effects of this period are forgivable, but there is no need for such a build up to it if it is going to be so small. And then, with only the requisite goodbye, it’s all over.
I don’t hate The Keys Of Marinus and in kinder circumstances I might have been more forgiving – but there’s a lot to criticise and you come to expect something from a man who invented a monster like the Daleks. Sandwiched between two sublime stories from John Lucarotti, this one doesn’t stand a chance.
‘The Keys of Marinus’ is, in my opinion, the first disappointment in Doctor Who. This is largely because it has enormous promise, which it almost completely fails to live up to. Essentially, ‘The Keys of Marinus’ is a quest. It’s been described in The Discontinuity Guide as a B-movie plot and it is, but the thing it most reminds of is those Fighting Fantasy Adventure gamebooks that Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone made popular. ‘The Keys of Marinus’ has a quest for lost keys, during which our heroes must overcome monsters (the Morphos), traps (in Darrius’s ruined fortress), wolves and icy tunnels, and even (after a fashion) the undead. Consequently, there is little time for plot development, as the TARDIS crew is whisked from place to place on an episodic basis. And therein lies the real shame, because Marinus is actually one of the most interesting alien planets featured in Doctor Who. The reason I say this is simple – Marinus has different races of men, different cities, different environments, and different types of flora and fauna. How many planets in science fiction series end up being represented by one city and a stock set? How many, like Earth, are actually shown to be complex societies with different power blocks, races and religions? The answer I think is very few, even in Doctor Who and especially in, for example, Star Trek. This is usually because of time and budgetary constraints, but occasionally, it really grates. Marinus avoids this, but fails to exploit this advantage. We see the city of Morphoton, and its ghastly ruling brains, but we learn almost nothing about how they managed to take over in the first place. We see men frozen in ice reanimated to protect one of the keys, but get no explanation as to how this is achieved – they act like zombies for the most part, but one of them screams horribly when he falls down a crevasse. And then there are the Voords.
We learn almost nothing of the Voords. They are often referred to as “the alien Voord” presumably because of the blurb on the back cover of the Target Novelisation, but as far as I can tell, they are actually another race of the humanoid population of Marinus. All we know about them is that Yartek is well over one thousand years old, but then in episode six it is suggested that Arbitan invented the Conscience, so he’s two thousand years old, which doesn’t support Yartek being a different species. Also in episode six, Stephen Dartnell’s very human eyes and mouth can be seen through Yartek’s mask, which is probably unintentional, but doesn’t lend credence to the alien Voords theory. In fact, the only tenuous evidence is that Yartek at one point refers to the other Voords as his creatures, but that could mean several things.
The other main issue I take with ‘The Keys of Marinus’ is to do with the Conscience, which is basically a brain washing machine. With his increasing moral stance following the events of the first three Doctor Who stories, much could have been made of this, especially since he only agrees to collect the keys under duress, when he and his companions are denied access to the TARDIS. Instead, we get a warm and fuzzy feeling towards Arbitan as soon as the travelers are ready to return to his island, and a throwaway line from the Doctor about man not being meant to be controlled by machines.
We also have the first big plot-hole in Doctor Who, in episode two – Barbara, arriving in the City of Morphoton seconds before the others, somehow has time to have a dress made, get to know Altos, and learn about the city. This is a pretty gaping flaw.
Despite all of this, I can’t totally condemn ‘The Keys of Marinus’ – it has redeeming features. Firstly, the regulars really give it their all, resulting in convincing acting throughout (and thus making up for Arbitan’s gurning in episode one). Susan, who I have always loathed, is actually fairing better during my Who marathon than I would have expected from memory – here she still has bouts of irritating hysteria, but is brave enough to struggle across the ice bridge to save herself and her friends, although she is admittedly galvanized into doing so by the threat of the ice soldiers. Later, when she is held prisoner in Millennius, she looks terrified, but manages not to turn into a complete gibbering wreck. The Doctor comes over very well in ‘The Keys of Marinus’ – we saw the TARDIS crew acting like a team in ‘Marco Polo’, but here he really shows how much he has come to like Ian and Barbara, entrusting Susan to their care without hesitation, and showing real concern when he is trying to overturn the charges against Ian. The scenes in Millennius are generally pretty good, with sound acting from all concerned and a reasonable plot, although the unmasking of the real criminals does depend on stupidity on their behalf, falling for bluffs and giving themselves away through verbal slips – something of a cliché. Ian and Barbara also get yet another chance to shine, due to Hartnell’s absence during episodes three and four – Ian is at his most resourceful, and Barbara also demonstrates courage, especially in light of the rather disturbing hint that Vasor intends to rape her. Interestingly, she notes at one point that Ian treats her like Dresden China and she finds it annoying, but notice how she smiles gently after him as she says this, and contrast it with her genuine annoyance in ‘The Daleks’ when Ganatus asks her if she always does what Ian tells her to. This is a clear sign that they are getting closer.
Overall, the part of me that used to like Fighting Fantasy books does still quite like ‘The Keys of Marinus’, and I can’t totally condemn it. Sadly, I can’t totally recommend it either, but it passes quite quickly and is, for the most part, an enjoyable if lightweight romp. But the lost potential really frustrates me, and if any authors out there fancy writing a sequel, which revisits Marinus, I for one would buy it.
This story is the weakest of the first season. Its episodic tales are novel but all characters are a bit wooden – the script doesn’t really flesh them out very well. There are lots of unintentionally funny moments as well – I particularly like the Voord escorting Sabetha tripping up as he enters the room, and Barbara hitting the vine that attacked Susan with a stone is very funny. The direction is a bit loose – one of the behind the scenes staff is seen when a Voord falls behind a section of the wall in The Sea of Death. The Doctor and Ian suddenly noticing the Voords’ submarines, then the building, is also rather forced – I find it difficult to believe they didn’t notice the building that dominates the island the moment they set foot on Marinus.
Unfortunately there is a lot of corn in this story. The Voords look rather pathetic even though there’s a reason why they have suits. Yartek is simply a two dimensional power mad villain, though I liked the way Ian tricked him with the key. I also have grave doubts about Arbitan – at the end the Doctor consoles Sabetha saying Arbitan was very wise – but was he? He fully intended to use the machine again and uses blackmail to force the crew to help him (incidentally I found the fact that the crew initially didn’t want to help him rather funny). He certainly lets Ian and Barbara down – he didn’t tell them about any of the traps surrounding Darrius’ home, convincing Darrius they were enemies. His death gives Yartek his chance, but when Yartek unintentionally destroys the machine (in a rather pathetic explosion) the Voords are defeated and thankfully are never seen again.
The story isn’t a total disaster. I rather liked The Velvet Web (good episode title). The Morphotons are not bad – they look suitably creepy and the voice is very good. It’s all a bit clichéd (evil creatures that have mutated enslave a society and use illusion to trap more victims) but it works. There is a very good scene where the audience sees what Barbara sees – Susan’s ragged dress and the drabness of everything. Also the scene when the Doctor picks up an old mug, admiring its qualities as an advanced laboratory instrument, is simultaneously amusing and effective. Overthrowing a corrupt society in one episode is not bad going…
The next two instalments are rather weak however. The “threatening” jungle is not that threatening at all really – just a few vines waving about. It is the sound it makes that saves it from being a total failure. Susan and Barbara are irritating here, for the script merely has them descend into hysteria. Darrius is also a walking cliché – initially a scary old man but actually a kind soul. And what’s that talk about a growth accelerator? Looks like he’s responsible for all the mess. The traps aren’t too bad (though the descending ceiling’s spikes look very flimsy indeed) but they are just a weak attempt to make the episode interesting.
The Snows of Terror isn’t much better (and what does the episode title mean – frightening snow that attacks?!). The ice soldiers are awful – was there even one member of the audience who didn’t think they would move when the ice melted? Also the gap where the bridge used to be really is rather small isn’t it? I’m sure it could be jumped… Vasor isn’t too bad – the scene where he rubs Barbara’s hand is suitably repellent and he is a dangerous cunning man. Even so he is still a stock villain full of cackling laughter. I also think the resolution could have been better – Vasor could have gloated, thinking the crew trapped, then the crew turn their travel dials and the shocked Vasor is then killed by the ice soldiers.
The final episodic tale set on Millennius is a bit more thought out and has a couple of twists to keep people interested. The first courtroom drama in the series is seen and it’s not too bad – the Doctor is at home as Ian’s defence counsel and using Sabetha to trick Aydan about the key is rather clever. The pleasure lies in the unravelling of the mystery rather than the characters who are pretty shallow. The key in the mace is a good plot device – it is possible for the audience to work it out and results in Eyesen’s capture. Also it’s nice to see the Doctor working out the murderer was the relief guard so quickly. Eyesen is suitably slimy in a sophisticated way, but Kala is a bit melodramatic (however the actress later portrayed Lady Peinforte, so maybe melodrama is what she’s good at). I found the judges sitting next to the senior judge very funny – lots of nodding and shaking of heads, obviously extras who mustn’t say a word.
The resolution is average and not surprising at all. The Altos/Sabetha romance comes to the foreground though it is corny and unconvincing. The end result is a story that’s a bit of a mess – the only novel point is its numerous settings, though the only one that engaged me was Morphoton. At least Norman Kay’s music was pretty good. Even so, I wasn’t that upset when the TARDIS finally left Marinus…