The Keys of Marinus **

The rubber-suited Voord attack in Terry Nation's second adventure

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Keys of Marinus **

Season 1 – Story 5

"Now your coming has brought new hope. Yes, yes! You must find the keys for me" - Arbitan

Storyline

On the planet Marinus, the travellers arrive on an island protected by a sea of acid and meet Arbitan, keeper of the Conscience, a machine capable of suppressing evil thoughts. Fearing it is now the target of the sinister Voords, Arbitan coerces the Doctor's group into retrieving four microcircuit keys needed to operate it from locations around the planet. Their quest leads to Morphoton where brain creatures have enslaved humans, a ruined building under attack from jungle vines, a snowy mountain beset with wolves and ice soldiers, and on to the civilised Millennius, where Ian is framed for murder…

First transmissions
1. The Sea of Death - Saturday 11 April 1964
2. The Velvet Web - Saturday 18 April 1964
3. The Screaming Jungle - Saturday 25 April 1964
4. The Snows of Terror - Saturday 2 May 1964
5. Sentence of Death - Saturday 9 May 1964
6. The Keys of Marinus - Saturday 16 May 1964

Production
Model filming: March 1964 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: March/April 1964 in Lime Grove D

Cast
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton - William Russell
Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford
Arbitan - George Coulouris
Altos - Robin Phillips
Sabetha - Katharine Schofield
Darrius - Edmund Warwick
Vasor - Francis de Wolff
Tarron - Henley Thomas
Larn - Michael Allaby
Kala - Fiona Walker
Aydan - Martin Cort
Eyesen - Donald Pickering
Senior Judge - Raf de la Torre
Yartek - Stephen Dartnell

Crew
Writer - Terry Nation
Incidental music - Norman Kay
Story editor - David Whitaker
Designer - Raymond Cusick
Producer - Verity Lambert
Director - John Gorrie

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern 
Oh dear. After a run of four superlative stories, standards slip appreciably. This was a quick commission for Terry Nation, capitalising on his success with The Daleks, and his scripts are ambitious but slapdash – a sense that permeates the entire production. Verity Lambert found director John Gorrie in his office with his head in his hands, depressed at the paucity of the writing; he'd joined the BBC hoping to work on classics such as Oedipus Rex.

Despite the B-movie material, the regulars just about hold things together. Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are always superb; Carole Ann Ford struggles, as Susan is reduced to a shrieking juvenile; and William Hartnell is shaky on his lines, visibly exhausted by the weekly production treadmill. Give that man a holiday! Well, he does get one and is written out mid-story. (All the regulars were entitled to a fortnight break during the first season.)

Returning in Sentence of Death, Hartnell is re-energised in the courtroom scenes defending Ian, although he does let slip a wonderful fluff. Instead of "I can't prove…" he says, "I can't improve at this very moment…" Hill just nods until he gets the line right.

I have friends who lapped this up as children and for them it still remains a favourite, but with modern eyes it's almost impossible to sit through without a smirk and a titter, sometimes hoots of laughter – rather like the First Doctor might react when faced with something frustrating and ridiculous.

So large is Arbitan's domain with its Conscience machine (a perspex dodecahedron on scaffolding) that other sets suffer. The cast has to tiptoe around the tiny glass beach, suddenly noticing objects in plain view. Model shots and effects have a sub-Gerry Anderson charm but, as the weeks progress, the chop-change of locations in the quest for the keys strains resources.

The promising Arbitan (George Coulouris had been part of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre troupe and starred in Citizen Kane) is slain early on. Lecherous trapper Vasor, determined to have his wicked way with Barbara ("All right, I'll wait no longer"), is a magnificent hunk of ham from Francis de Wolfe.

Otherwise, the incidental characters are a dismal bunch. Arbitan's daughter Sabetha is resolutely po-faced, while Altos, ostensibly her love interest, is apparently as gay as a goose. When Ian rubs his frozen thighs in The Snow of Terror, Altos sighs, "The feeling's beginning to return." Quite.

A number of firsts here: our first sight of the Tardis landing, for which the term "materialise" is coined – by Arbitan; in her TV debut, Fiona Walker plays merciless Kala, Doctor Who's first female villain; and The Screaming Jungle was the first episode shown on BBC1 (there was just BBC tv before BBC2's launch on 20 April 1964).

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Radio Times archive material

An introductory feature set up the six-part story and drew attention to William Russell.

RT billings
1. The Sea of Death
2. The Velvet Web
3. The Screaming Jungle
4. The Snows of Terror
5. Sentence of Death
6. The Keys of Marinus

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[Available on BBC DVD]