In the lead-up to Doctor Who’s Fiftieth Anniversary, Grey Wolf’s Blog will be hosting the event “Monday Favourite Dr Who Story“.
This week, we take a look at the First Doctor story, The Keys of Marinus, starring William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell as Ian, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Carole Ann Ford as Susan. Originally broadcast in April and May 1964 ‘The Keys of Marinus’ was one of the later stories in Doctor Who’s first season.
A six-parter, ‘The Keys of Marinus’ is very much an ensemble piece. As Doctor Who was made almost all-year round, rather amusingly William Hartnell’s two-week holiday fell within the middle of filming, necessitating his absence from the story and allowing the two supporting characters to play a greater role.
The story has the theme of a quest for the scattered keys to a mind-control device, the Conscience of Marinus, spread out across the planet to prevent the machine being used by the wrong people. The same theme would be used again in Tom Baker’s time to make a whole season of stories, ‘The Key to Time’ which in many ways has the episodes of this story as its antecedents.
The Doctor and his companions land on an island possessed of a large building and surrounded by a sea of acid. Although the relatively cramped nature of the set is evident, clever use of camera angles generally gives a good impression of a much larger scene. Also, whilst it is evident on modern televisions where the break between the set for the giant building and the painted backdrop is, on 1960s black-and-white televisions the picture would have been much less distinct, and it would have looked far more natural.
Once the quest begins it takes the form of hopping between predetermined locations in a pattern, first here, then there, then the next as the designer of the machine, the sole person left on the island has programmed their teleportation devices. These locations include some very nicely done scenes, each one the location of that week’s quest. The jungle laboratory where the trees have been accellerated is an excellent set, with a simple but dramatic story, whilst the mountain ice and snow, with the single hunter-trapper in his hut is another.
I omit one of the more dramatic episodes here, because the spoilers spoil it. But it is one where the surviving colour photographs of the set and actors are very effective indeed. The brains in a jar motif would later be used in a Blakes Seven episode, showing again how much science fiction series borrow from each other.
My favourite location is the last one, the city where Ian arrives ahead of the others and accidentally stumbles into the murder of a man in a museum, a murder in the middle of an act of burglary, the target of which has been the final key to the machine. The Doctor is absent at this time, having gone ahead a deal in advance of the story (in story terms) meaning that when Barbara and the two others (the ensemble cast) arrive they find Ian under arrest, and the Doctor a rumour.
The court case before three judges in the Byzantine manner is good drama, and the out-of-court adventures are worthy of Perry Mason right up to the last-minute twist. The Doctor, William Hartnell having returned from his holiday, and the others now use the teleportation device to return to the island.
In the first episode we came upon a dead Voord, the enemy that the keeper of the machine had feared would seize it and use it for their own ends. Although he looks like a man in a wet suit with weird appendages, he is an effective looking creature. Whether he is intended to be some sort of bio-mechanical entity (half man half rubber) or a semi-human is never made clear, and perhaps we are better for not knowing. Their return at the end is inevitable, much like that of the Black Guardian in Tom Baker’s Key To Time series, and the denouement is probably obvious, since what else was going to happen?
All in all this is a very enjoyable story. The frequent change of scenes within one mission, and the addition of two extra characters help a lot to keep the pace going, whilst there is genuine mystery and drama in the court case.
Buy The Keys of Marinus at Amazon UK
Buy The Keys of Marinus at Amazon.com