My look at the first season continues with a look at the fifth story in the season: The Keys of Marinus, written by Dalek creator Terry Nation and directed by one-time only Doctor Who director John Gorrie.
For those of you of up on your Doctor Wholore you will have noticed that I skipped story four, Marco Polo, and you probably know the reason why. For those out of the loop, Marco Polo is one the stories that was a victim of the BBC archive purge and no print of the story is known to have survived, an off-air sound track exists but I feel that since the story has no video to accompany the sound I cannot give an accurate and honest examination.
So, Keys of Marinus, is it any good? In short, no. It is the first real turkey of a story and is pretty much a quickly written B-movie by cliché story which lacks any real depth or characterisation and really does sum up Terrance Dicks’ quote about making something to spare 25 minutes of the test card. Yet, it is not totally a wasted of 150 minutes, while the budget is stretched to its absolute limit due to the story nature and the story is still watchable. In essence the story is a portmanteau production consisting of four stories linked within a bigger story, the Doctor and friends are assigned, by crook, into retrieving four microkeys to a super computer-cum-glass climbing frame called the Conscience of Marinus, which essentially is a mind control machine. Each key is in a different location and becomes the focus of episodes 2-5 with episode 6 acting as a coda. Essentially we have four mini adventures with in the story, nonew of which ever feel truely satisfactory save the story set in Millenius.
Episode one, The Sea of Death, opens with an impressive model shot of the island of Marinus but we are let down by William Hartnell stumbling his first line “I don’t think, er I don’t see why not” and once on the island we suffer from cramped sets leading to it seeming our heroes are incredibly blind not noticing things a few feet away (not to mention how on Earth no one spots the enormous building on the island). There are multiple technical errors with stage hands appearing in shot, multiple boom mics wizzing in and out of shot and a very obvious cardboard cut out falling into the sea, but there are plenty of impressive design elements. The torpedo submarines that transport the Voords to the island are due very cleverly done, the scenes of their arrival on the beach are done with minature versions of the props filled with magnets and moved below the stage with another magnet meaning no string visibility issues, a major concern considering they move through water. The full size props are impressive and thought has clearly being given into their design in how they combat the acid sea, they have water tight screw tops instead of potentially leaky joints. The Voords are clearly men in rubber suits… but rather cleverly that is exactly what they are story wise, sadly they disappear after episode one until the second half of part six.
So we meet the islands single occupant Arbitan, who traps the TARDIS in a force field forcing the Doctor and friends to go on his quest, it doesn’t make him an endearing character and it would make more sense if the Voords did it thous giving the TARDIS crew a more justified and heroic reason for the quest.
So the first story is The Velvet Web features a very much honey trap idea; the TARDIS crew are Brainwashed into thinking they are in Utopia and slowly converted to taking part into some great project and slowly losing their identity. Due to being a rough sleeper Barbara overcomes the conditioning and becomes the heroine by solving the problem and this is where the fundimental story flaw comes in, there is no time to develop the individual stories leaving too many unanswered questions: What is the project the brains are working on? Why can they not recondition Barbara? If the conscience machine controls everyone but the Voords how come no one in the story is a shiny happy person?
The Brains are an impressive if mildly gruesome idea for the time and it is a pity the glowing effect doesn’t show well on 405 line TV stock, but what sells them is the vocal talent of actor Heron Carvic, whose name alone sounds like a villian. He exudes threat and menace and it is a pity he was never hired again by the production team.
The budget limitations begin to show here as the money runs out and the costume department appear not to be able to afford to give Robin Phillips’ character Alto any trousers! A problem which becomes a major issue with episode four which is set in a snowy tundra landscape (well polystyrene snow and stock footage of wolves).
Episode 3 is probably the most successful as it has a very simple set up, a scientist has found away to accelerate nature and as a result the titular Screaming Jungle is a tangible and unstoppable threat. Add to that a series of decoys and booby traps and you have a mini Indiana Jones adventure which at least manages to hold tension, and as with Raiders and Last Crusade we have a character killed by his own hubris and leaving our heroes a cryptic clue to escape; De3 O2. OK written down it is clearly a chemical formula (Drivel Dioxide?), but spoken out it does add an air of mystery. Then we are off to another location and a very tangible cliffhanger: Ian and Barbara are stuck in an exposed below zero environment wearing inappropriate clothing and with no visible nearby shelter quite possibly going to freeze to death, I bet Mary Whitehouse had a field day there.
Well I shall leave you on that note. Will Ian and Barbara Survive? Will the story get any better?
To be continued.