No one can argue with the sheer brilliance of the Daleks. Considering their immense success, one cant 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 Im 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, Ive 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 Nations 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 peoples 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, Dariuss jungle is very well realised particularly the idol. The fourth episodes 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 shows leading man for the second week in a row! William Hartnells 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 storys 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 storys 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. Its also a very satisfying ending after watching the first episode I did think that mind control wouldnt be the Doctors ideal solution to crime