The Keys of MarinusBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

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 limited the budget was back then. But what this does spell out for this story is some incredibly preposterous-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 implausible 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 vicious-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. Developing 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 forgivable as we also get a very imaginative 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 necessarily great stuff, of course. But still lots of fun!