Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Keys of Marinus written by Terry Nation and directed by John Gorrie

This story in a nutshell: The first of Doctor Who’s quest stories featuring flipper footed aliens, brains in jars, sentient plant life, ice soldiers and a murder mystery to boot!

Hmm: I could watch William Hartnell all day long, I find him absolutely fascinating as an actor and as the Doctor even when he isn't quite on form. Unfortunately he drops out of The Keys of Marinus halfway through for two episodes (I know this isn’t how it worked but I like to think that Hartnell took a look at all the scripts and went ‘Well I’m not taking part in that nonsense with the killer plants and rape! I’ll take my holiday!’) and leaves a gaping hole in the show. The Doctor is hilarious when he criticises Ian for not wearing his shoes on the glass beach knowing that he wouldn’t have left the ship without them, the rotter! A laboratory with every conceivable instrument is his greatest desire (don’t be so square, Doctor!). As soon as he gets the opportunity the Doctor dumps Susan (or at least that is what Simon pointed out whilst I was watching). It cannot be a co-incidence that as soon as he turns up again in part five the quality suddenly shoots up again and everybody is acting their socks off again (perhaps Hartnell’s status had an effect on his fellow actors). You can tell he has had a holiday, watch his re-enactment of the crime, you'd be well within your rights to suspect him as the criminal the way he so lustfully recreates it. He looks totally defeated sitting down outside the courtroom, as though he has really let his friend down - a far cry from their fractured relationship earlier in the season. ‘You drive me round the bend!’ the Doctor cries at Ian as they leave and I spat out my coffee with laughter! His words to Sabetha before they leave are very sweet (‘bless you, my child’).

An Unearthly Child: Unfortunately The Keys of Marinus is the story that turned Simon away from Susan for good. I was watching it in bed whilst he was reading Sky News on his phone (yep, apparently that is the preferable option) and Carole Ann Ford was screeching and screaming and wailing and bawling and he begged me to turn it off. I naturally refused and kept watching and as he tried to settle and go to sleep she was still going at it! He suggested I either turn it off or he would start proceedings for divorce. I love the scene where Susan wanders along the perimeter of Arbitan’s home and unbeknownst to her a Voord is in shot holding up a knife ready to stab it into her skull (I can’t help myself, I always end up singing ‘Do it! Do it! Do it!’). The cliffhanger to episode three is Susan clutching her head and screaming which is as good a visual representation of her time on the show as any other. She doesn’t like saying goodbye to her Grandfather (whereas with Hartnell off on holiday he seems to relish in it!). Susan is hysterical as the creepers curl around her legs. ‘I will be your guardian, Susan’ says Altos – is she so incapable of looking after herself? The ‘Do it!’ song made a comeback when Susan is almost shot in the last episode!

Hunky Hero: The Keys of Marinus is the story that really cements Ian’s role as the big, butch hero of the group, especially when the Doctor vanishes from the action. He is very protective of his girls and gets ridiculously melodramatic dialogue like ‘what a fool I was!’ and ‘we have no alternative!' He has a cautious nature when visiting the Morphoton city and he won’t indulge until he knows what the price is. His materialistic side warns him that something isn’t right, how rich do you have to be to offer such luxury for free? At least Ian has the sense to give Yartek the false key at the end of the story, he's probably bored of all the running around is happy to see the whole place go up in a puff of smoke.

Bouffant Babe: ‘Its all right Susan! Its alright!’ she screams at the young girl shaking some sense into her! I always love it when Barbara gets mean and moody and by God does she give those brains in jars a good thrashing after they try and kill her and brainwash her friends! Do not get this woman mad. Barbara wishes that Ian wouldn’t treat Susan and her as Dresden china. Warrior Queen Wright returns when there is some aggressive vegetation that needs a good kick in! Her scenes with Vaser are justly quite uncomfortable to watch, it was especially odd in this camp classic to indulge in something as obscene as attempted rape. ‘There’s no one coming for you! I’ll wait no longer!’ he cries, his intent clear. When Susan is kidnapped Barbara takes the responsibility on her shoulders so the Doctor can concentrate on freeing Ian. She’s going to miss Sabetha and Altos and gives them both a peck on the cheek (what with these two and Ganatus in The Daleks Barbara is fast becoming the first frisky companion in the show!).

The Good Stuff: There is a pleasing air of mystery to the first few scenes what with the deserted island and submersibles coming ashore. Given that they wear protective suits throughout are the Voord the only aliens in Doctor Who that we never actually get to see? The premise is pretty groovy, sending the Doctor and friends off to find treasure in diverse locations but surely it is much more suited to a movie rather than a creaky BBC science fiction show (I can see why they considered turning this into a movie, it probably would have look great). The set dressing in Morphoton is very nice, considering the budget it looks genuinely sumptuous in some shots. It's something you can say of the whole story when you think that the budget had to stretch to a new location in each episode; the jungle looks verdant, the snowy landscape is perfectly acceptable and the Millenius scenes offer some opulent visuals. The only point I really noticed the lack of money was during the ice cave scenes but considering the manifest of landscapes the designer had to conjure up on his meagre budget it is still an impressive achievement. Barbara’s POV shots when she sees Morphoton as it really is is a lovely idea and is nicely executed (I especially enjoyed the fabulous laboratory consisting of a bench and a dirty mug!). The attacking creepers look damn good for the time. After an absence of good material the Millenius scenes creep up on you unexpectedly, diving straight into Agatha Christie territory and using the entire cast well. Whilst he is constructed out of pure void, I rather liked Altos after he broke free of his conditioning.

The Bad Stuff: My warning bells sounded as soon as I spotted a flipper footed Voord. The doors that keep swallowing up the regulars is like something from a bad Saturday morning kids show. You could imagine the kids screaming 'look out behind you!' We learn very little about Arbitan as a character in his own right, he merely turns up, vomits out a great bout of exposition and is never seen again. Another story, another method of trapping the characters away from the TARDIS which is fast becoming one of the biggest clichés of a show that is only in its first year (fluid links, Marco Polo, Arbitan’s barrier, stealing the TARDIS lock, Yetaxa’s tomb…). Barbara’s dial is covered in blood! Worthy of a cliffhanger when we thought she was in danger but deeply disappointing when we discover that she has only scratched herself. A deep form of deep hypnosis (so deep then)? It's nice to know that even though they are hellbent on plantary domination, the brains in jars had decent elocution lessons. The cheapness of the end of the Morphoton sequences is apparent - ‘they’re burning the city!’ and yet all we get to see is firelight shining on our heroes’ faces and a few half-hearted cheers! Barbara is caught in a devastating trap of knives grinding down from the ceiling in a sequence that wouldn't be out of place in the Saw franchise except in this case the ceiling moves at a painfully  slow pace and the cardboard blades wobble precariously. Sometimes it is really hard to suspend your belief.  What on Earth was the point of that idiotic old man screaming ‘help me!’ as he is strangled to death by the creepers? The old gits dying clue is ‘DE3O2!’ rather than just saying ‘the key is in one of the jars.’ Our heroes seem to think a rope bridge is nessecary over a ledge so tiny you could cross it with a decent enough stride. It makes the scenes where they are pursued by the Ice Soldiers unintentionally hilarious because with a small run up they could all cross with ease and yet we have to endure scenes of Susan crawling across with her usual ineptitude. I would have left her behind.
Why is everybody so stupid in this tale? They turn on the hot springs to melt the ice and don’t give thought about the frozen sword-wielding soldiers that have been left in the freezer. The ‘stuff of legend’ ice soldiers are wrapped in bin bags. The icebound sequences really do see the show trying to pull off Hollywood by stretching a piece of elastic. Given that every other time they have shifted location all of the characters have appeared together why doesn't that happen in their transition to Millenius? Oh right, because Ian has to be on his own to push the plot forwards. Why do all these alien planets have a policy of guilty until proven innocent? Taron is the sort of pantomimic, hands on hips character that you only find on the least convincing of Doctor Who alien planets. Terry Nation is getting a little desperate in the final two episodes when he has the villain of the piece tricked into revealing himself in such an obvious way - twice! 'But you couldn't possibly know where it was hidden because I...' 'But she can't have found it!' Nobody would be stupid enough to reveal this information in a court of law where you are guilty until proven innocent. It's at moments like this when you have to question whether Doctor Who is a kids show or not (given the attempted rape this story also sports it clearly cannot make up its mind). As an attempt to create a monster that rivals the Daleks I think we can declare the Voord an abject failiure. We really don't find out that much about them (certainly not why they want the keys) and that is because of their lack of exposure. The Daleks were an instant hit visually and aurally but in both of these respects the Voord fail to convince. Are those wetsuits their actual bodies? What exactly is hiding underneath? Come on Moffat - write us a story where the Voord turn out to be something spectacular. Any monster that can be knocked out by a gentle tap of the Doctor's cane isn't going to down as one of the most fearsome races he has ever encountered (and yet in The Mind of Evil...).

The Shallow Bit: How funny is the idol that grabs hold of Babs' ass before nabbing her?

Result: The Keys of Marinus would have made a far better four parter since the first two episodes set up the story quite nicely and the last two episodes are the most interesting but the middle episodes are overlong, amateurish and stretch the budget far beyond its limits. Terry Nation’s second script lacks the subtlety and tension of his debut and puts the characters in continual moments of false tension that after a couple of set pieces you know they will escape at the last minute. This is Doctor Who so there are always moments to cherish, be they intentional or unintentional and this story has plenty of both. I would have loved to have seen this story produced as a movie as was suggested in the sixties because hacked to pieces to halve its length, shot on film with endless resources and injected with some pace and dynamism this could be a fantastically engaging piece of action adventure. Asking for a location hopping adventure that explores a myriad of settings across an entire planet in Lime Grove Studios is massive ask and whilst the designer tried to keep up with Nation's demands the director isn't giving this the same sort of thought and care that was lavished on the shows first science fiction tale. I have heard it suggested that the show belongs to Ian and Barbara at this early stage (because they are our identity figures) but losing William Hartnell for two episodes handicaps the production beyond repair and it is clear he has already made a huge impact. Fun to watch as hokey slice of sixties nonsense but lacking substance and sparkle and at times it feels like it isn't being taken entirely seriously: 5/10


Carson said...

Joe! I am THRILLED to find your site; I had no idea you were collecting your reviews online. I just came across your review of "Marinus", noticed your mention of Simon, and thought "could it be...?" I've been a fan ever since your reviews on OG, not least because we seem to have similar tastes in Who, often defending episodes (and characters) that other fans deride. Although I think I liked "Marinus" a bit better than you do, haha :) Anyway, it's great to find your site, and I'll be bookmarking it for future perusal!

Joe Ford said...

Hi Carson,

How nice to find a kindred spirit! Yeah, I've been running this blog for about two years now and it has bloated out of all proportion! I hope you like the content but feel free to comment/agree/disagree with what has been written - that's all part of the fun. Marinus is an odd one for sure, I admire a lot of what they were tyring to do, I just don't think it was always pulled off so well (and certainly not as well as those stories around it). Really glad you found me, let's get some dialogue going :-)

Joey x

Carson Maynard said...

You're on! It'll be fun to get to compare notes "in person" now, haha, and start discussing stories! I've always been a huge Mel defender and it always tickled me pink to see other people singing her praises. Not that this is germane to "The Keys of Marinus", but, you know. ;)
(If you're ever curious to hear my thoughts in more depth, I've been gradually posting reviews too: )

Joe Ford said...

I've followed your review twitter feed and your personal one too. Let's get talking :-)