Thursday, 29 January 2009

January 2009, Week 5: The Keys Of Marinus


  1. From the moment the Tardis materializes soundlessly on Marinus I knew that something was wrong.

    The Keys Of Marinus is a 6-art story, featuring some of the worst scriptwriting, acting and direction I have ever seen in Doctor Who.
    Although, for me, the worst thing about it all is just how dull it all is.
    Throughout each episode I really didn't care what happened next. It wasn't until I got to Episode 5 did things perk up for me, and Ian's prosecution provided at least a little tension and the acting seemed to get a bit better with some better supporting cast.

    It just all seems thrown together, for me, with very little care.
    In episode one, a forcefield is placed around the Tardis and the cast all stand there doing their best mime of an invisible barrier. Then Susan walks round the whole box and ends up standing in front of the Doctor INSIDE THE BLOODY FORCE-FIELD! It's so careless, and for me typifies the whole production of this story.

    William Hartnell goes AWOL again for two episodes, but at least in the episodes he IS in he is much sparkier than usual and seems much more like the Doctor, in terms of his intelligence, wit and leadership. His introduction in Episode 5 is very much the arrival of the savior, and the feeling was of him being the only man you would want to defend you.

    Returning to the acting. The actors playing Altos and Sabetha are truly horrific. Their stilted delivery and pregnant pauses make you want to shake them very roughly indeed.

    Other supporting actors are just as bad, and for once even William Russell seems out of character.

    The direction of it all is so poor it's breathtaking, but then again the script is so dire it must have been tough to deal with.

    You can probably tell I didn't like The Keys Of Marinus!

    I refuse to blame constraints of the era or lack of budget to pull off the story etc etc. Because that argument can be applied to all the previous stories watched thus far, and I have no problem with them.

    Collecting keys, as a quest adventure, is a sound enough idea. Doctor Who, of course, went on to make an entire season out of it. In Marinus I never truly got the sense of their importance, and that is a big problem.

    The quest also lacks credibility.

    What are the chances of anyone finding a key, that is hidden in the middle a baron landscape, in the center of a mountain in a block of ice?????

    Why DOES Ian just hand over his travel dial for a piece of fur, when it's his only means of transport????

    It's this type of writing that just keeps reminding me how bad the story I am watching is, and ultimately stops me from engaging with it.


    Barbara is pretty good (except when she's smashing the jars of brain-things and misses)

    The Doctor seems a lot more 'switched-on' and Doctor-ish.

    er... that's it.

    I'm sorry for being so negative. In my defense I do not want to dislike any episode I'm watching. I want to like them all if I can, or at least find stuff to like. With Keys of Marinus I have to be honest and say it's one of the worst Doctor Who stories I have ever seen.

    I look forward to The Aztecs, hopefully!

    Score: 1/10

    Parting of the thoughts...
    Will someone please ask Susan to leave now? Her constant histrionics are now beyond annoying. Even the mildest drama sees her throw herself sobbing into someone's arms.

  2. Keys of Marinus. Hmmm. I'm sorry but, for me, I have to say this is a real clunker.
    The reason, I think, is that unlike stories that have the odd bad effect, a slight plot hole or one poor performance, Marinus is so riddled with them that I just can't suspend my disbelief and be convinced by the reality of anything that I'm seeing.
    There are some interesting concepts eg. Morphoton with it's people enslaved by being convinced that they have everything they desire. But the writing and acting all conspire to defeat any tension, danger or interest in almost every episode. Much of the supporting cast act like they are projecting to the back of the theatre, and I find Altos over precise pronunciation of every word really grating. The death scene of the scientist Darius in The Screaming Jungle is particularly risible.
    The Doctors travelling companions all have their struggles too. This is emphasised when William Hartnell returns in 'Sentence of Death' and the whole production lifts. William Russell suffers from Ian just not seeming to be the same man we have travelled with thus far. Jacqueline Hill, at least, seems to be Barbara most of the time. Susans character changes from moment to moment, half the time being scared witless by any noise, and yet she silently and bravely crosses the beams to reattach the rope bridge inside the ice mountain with the others hardly noticing.
    Many of the problems are in the writing. The Doctor doesn't agree with the machine enforcing a conscience, yet he collects the keys. Arbitan has said he will lift the forcefield immediately they leave so why not turn the travel dial to the end of the journey and walk back to the freed Tardis? Though quite when Arbitan turns off the forcefield as he is killed almost immediately by a Voord I have no idea.
    There are so many examples of things that drag you out of the story. Susans' walk round the forcefield stepping in front of everyone elses mugging, Barbara missing the brain jars, the concept that the stick-thin Altos could force Vassar to do anything, the fact Ian doesn't notice Yarteks voice sounds nothing like Arbitans... I could go on but I don't want to as I feel disloyal somehow to the series I love.
    The story does pick up with the episode and a half spent in Millenius with Ian on trial. The Doctors return is just such a relief and when he says "I am that man" it's just brilliant. The other major plus of this segment of the story is that it makes sense. Phew.
    However I have to say the whole thing is a bit of a trial for me.

  3. I loved this story. Or series of stories, if you prefer.

    From the first model shot of an alien pyramid on an alien world to the end, it fair rattles along the whole way.

    Now, to be sure, there's a few inconsistencies. But you know what? I didn't even notice that Susan stepped on the wrong side of the invisible force field.

    I particularly enjoyed having a little mini-adventure each week. Don't know that I'd like it all the time, but it made a nice change here.

    So, having set out my flag as it were, here's the skinny from my point of view. In a series of loosely related and slightly rambling adventures, my comments are likely to be the same. Just warning you in advance.

    A glass beach on an acid sea, aliens in glass torpedoes, jumping through space (but not time) with our travel dials, a screaming jungle, frozen warriors... I just love the pulp imagination showing through here. We've not seen this sort of story since... ooh, it was The Daleks. By the same writer.

    As has been pointed out, there is a basic plot problem. But this is the plot problem of every quest movie, book, or serial, which is this: Why on earth would you hide the plot tokens in such bizarre places, guarded by deathtraps? I mean, you might want to retrieve them yourself at some point, and if some bugger has set off the trap, how are you going to get your token?

    But I can let that pass, just as I do in National Treasure, or Master of the Five Magics.

    Down to the nitty gritty.

    It's never quite clear what the Voord are. In the first episode, Arbitan says they're basically people who are immune to the brainwashing effects of The Conscience. It's also made quite clear that the rubber suits they wear are just for protection against the acid seas, as a tear in a suit dissolves one completely.

    Later on, though, someone asks "Are you a Voord? You do not resemble their race." And, of course, if they are just wearing rubber suits, why not take off the helmets once they're inside the pyramid? It would certainly make hiding inside Arbitan's robe a bit easier.

    Apparently, Barbara Wright's fondest wish is to lie on a couch and have her every whim satisfied by two statuesque blondes in flowing dresses. Aye aye. I like this woman more and more.

    Sadly, it's just in her dreams. Hell of a subconscious that woman's got.

    And, of course, in every Terry Nation story we get a bit of philosophy. In this case, Ian's wonderings about whether it's possible to have a perfect society. Who pays the bill?

    The cracking, character-revealing dialogue continues throughout, from the Doctor's pomegranate to his greatest desire: "A well-equipped laboratory, with every conceivable instrument." And the look of joy on his face when he's led to it, and examines the finest instruments available - in reality, a dirty tin mug - is lovely.

    But even outside of Barbara's Sapphic Subconscious, she's still the star of The Keys of Marinus. Not only does she smash up the brains in jars (yay for brains in jars!) she comforts Ian afterwards for trying to strangle her while under their control. And in the next episode, saves Ian's life pretty much straight away from a trap with an axe.

    Though talking of the traps. "I set my traps in motion. Only those warned by Arbitan could avoid them."

    Bit of a shame that Arbitan didn't actually warn anyone then, isn't it?

    The senile old fool.

    And in the final two episodes, we get to see a highly advanced civilisation. Unfortunately, it's run by Space Nazis. They've even got their own swastikas.

    The villain here is perhaps the stupidest villain we've seen yet. Not once, but twice is he tricked into saying "Yes, it was me, I did it," in public, once in the privacy of his own house, and once in the middle of a packed courtroom. Frankly, he deserves everything he gets.

    A few thoughts for closing:

    The Doctor advises someone to read Pyrrho - and claims that he met the man. As far as I can tell, this is the first time that the Doctor has claimed to have hung out with a real character from history. Wonder if he'll do that again?

    After The Edge of Destruction, the programme doesn't seem to have cliffhangers between serials any more - just within them. Which is a bit of a shame, because I quite liked that.

    Oh, and Screamy Susan. Didn't take long for her to devolve from a smart-if-slightly-strange teenager to someone who screams at the slightest provocation, did it?

  4. This one lost me gradually, despite really enjoying the Screaming Jungle episode.

    The first few episodes are pretty enjoyable. It's nice to be on another alien world, complete with pyramid, acid sea and deeply odd rubber suited villains.

    On the other hand the first episode has more boom shots, camera shadows, fluffed lines and members of the crew in shot than I think the rest of the entire series. Unfortunately this is a theme for the whole story rather than a one off.

    The episodic format can work well when the story is vaguely interesting but unfortunately that isn't always the case here. I was entertained up until the snowy ice region and then the story started to lose me.

    I particularly enjoyed Barbara and Ian tootling around on their own.

    Best bits;

    Arbitan asks them to help him. CUT TO: The Doctor and pals aproaching the Tardis saying 'It's a shame we couldn't help him.' What did we miss? Did the team just laugh in his face and bugger off?

    'I am that man.' Thank God you're back Doctor!

    Not sure why this story was allowed to turn out so dull, especially compared with what was to follow...