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10 December 2016 @ 03:19 pm
The Randomiser: The Keys of Marinus  
The Keys of Marinus, much like the later Key to Time sequence sets the Doctor and his companions off on a quest to gather a set of objects from different locations. However where the Key to Time sequences manages to drag this out over a whole season, The Keys of Marinus uses a mere six episodes. I think the story (particularly given the slower pacing in general of 1960s TV) benefits greatly from this, though I am slightly surprised that the show's budget managed to stretch to a new set of sets for each week.

There is a lot of really nice stuff in The Keys of Marinus. The story's format means we are shown a planet with diverse locations and communities (something very rare in Doctor Who). The show uses the episodic nature of the story to play with genre as well as location, so we get the fairly traditionally SF-nal Brains of Morphoton, the horror of the Screaming Jungle and a court room drama/murder mystery in the City of Millenius. The Snows of Terror manages to combine the kind of wilderness complete with psychotic madman genre with a tale of mystical knights guarding a mythical treasure in a cave full of traps which is pretty good going for 25 minutes of television produced in 1964. It all benefits from the knowledge that if you aren't much taken with what is happening this week then something completely different will be along next week.

It's not without its weirdness though. "Only Arbitan could brief someone on the location of all the traps," says Darrius in the Screaming Jungle except that Arbitan has conspicuously failed to do any such thing, not even warning his daughter of the deception involving the fake key. Arbitan seems to have access to technology no one else on the planet is even aware exists (most notably the travel dials) and communication between communities appears to be non-existent, even though the general level of technology certainly seems to be high enough to allow radio.

In terms of the development of Doctor Who, it is interesting that the Doctor agrees to go on the quest fairly quietly (albeit grumpily and under duress when Arbitan seals him off from the Tardis). The keys are needed to activate the Conscience of Marinus (a machine that controls free will). This is precisely the sort of thing later Doctors would have railed against at length and it is clear, certainly in the final episode, that the Doctor doesn't think the Conscience is a particularly good thing and he's not at all upset that their quest to reactivate it ultimately fails. But this all happens without the fierce moralising we would later see. One feels mostly that he doesn't approve but thinks this society is, broadly speaking, not his problem so if they are going to blackmail him into reactivating the thing he might as well get on with it. He's more annoyed about being blackmailed, to be honest, than the dubious morality of limiting the free will of an entire planet of people.

The alien Voord are pronounced Vord. This came as a massive shock, I'd always assumed that it was closer to Vood. For a 1960s Doctor Who monster they also look pretty impressive.

I'm not sure I'd describe this story as under-rated, it just seems to be one that isn't discussed very often which is a shame. Susan doesn't get a great deal to do, but all the other regulars get a chance to shine. Everything moves along at a surprisingly quick pace and the sets and costumes look good. Some of the ideas and plots in the individual episodes are genuinely interesting and clever (some less so) but if you wanted to pick an early Doctor Who episode to watch, particularly if you were not looking for a big event episode or something featuring famous monsters, then you could do a lot worse than this.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/224289.html.
 
 
 
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on December 10th, 2016 06:37 pm (UTC)
I actually watched this again a couple of weeks ago, as part of my in order re-watch. I thought it was pretty good - watched in order while it's far from the best story in the first season, it's definitely the most fun.

I am slightly surprised that the show's budget managed to stretch to a new set of sets for each week.

I'm not sure they quite did! Some of the sets seemed pretty basic even by the standards of the time. (The big face sculpture with glowing eyes from Morphoton would reappear in the haunted house in The Chase.)

he's not at all upset that their quest to reactivate it ultimately fails.

I actually only realized when you pointed it out that this story is a rare example of one where the Doctor fails! Although they make it sound like a victory.

Edited at 2016-12-10 06:43 pm (UTC)
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 12th, 2016 10:35 am (UTC)
I vaguely remember, when I first read the novelisation, thinking that the whole project of reactivating the conscience sounded a bit iffy from the get go. I'm not sure if that's deliberate or not, but I think it certainly helps conceal the fact that the quest essentially fails.