Doctor Who Reviews: The Keys Of Marinus

What are the odds that the Now That's What I Call Music LPs will carry on forever? Expect the kids of 2110 to anticipate Now 178, featuring the great grandchildren of Girls Aloud, Coldplay, and a pickled Paul McCartney. Despite selling well and much as I love the early ones, for some, the issue with the Now's, is that you're only getting brief snapshots of a singer's meisterwork.

That feeling extends to Terry Nation's Keys Of Marinus, which is the man himself's very own Now That's What I Call Clichés. He's good at these greatest hit-style stories, is Terry: The Chase. The Daleks Master Plan. Planet Of The Daleks. The Keys Of Marinus is notable for not featuring any Daleks though: Instead, we're presented with the Voords, a batch of frogmen in flippers and walnut whip masks who plainly can't see where they're walking (one of them nearly trips over his feet at one point). As far as convincing monsters, the Voords rank at the bottom of the pile: the equivalent of Hoddle and Waddle or the Joe Dolce Music Theatre making a claim for the best pop act in the history of music.

Fortunately, the Voords don't feature too heavily in the adventure, only appearing in the bookending instalments. Instead, our intrepid heroes blunder from one run-of-the-mill peril to another, having been set a task by Arbitan, the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus to recover a set of keys that will help to restore justice with the upgraded Conscience machine. The four time travellers have to deal with angry shrubbery, boggle-eyed turds in jars, questionable beardy pervs and a load of men with buckets on their heads. Sounds enticing?

Each threat takes place in the space of the episode (although the courtroom saga takes place for an episode and a half). The impression I get is that each episode could have been a potential story, but in the end, these were only sufficient to last 25 minutes rather than 100. Which is something of a relief, since the episodes are superficially entertaining most of the time, but forgettable.

The most successful of these is the Morphotron storyline, which takes place in Episode 2. The first example of creepy utopian brainwashing in Doctor Who (see The Macra Terror), the plot involves Barbara at odds with the others. The Doctor, Ian and Susan see rich, opulent surroundings, while Barbara (having dislodged the hypnotic forehead device) sees that this is all a sham, and that instead, they're surrounded by grimy, decaying ruin. It's jarring to see The Doctor be taken in by such cheap hypnotism, and this subplot is highly effective. The Morpho creatures look creepy enough for the kids (especially with those bulging eyes), although their voices sound like a strict headmaster rather than an alien threat.

At this point, we're introduced to The Doctor substitutes, Altos and Sabetha: likeable but dull generic filler characters, who decide to join Barbara, Ian and Susan on their quest (Sabetha is Arbitan's daughter). These characters are efficiently played by Katherine Schofield and Robin Phillips, but there's something a bit off about them both. Sabetha looks half asleep most of the time, while Altos has forgotten his trousers for some odd reason.

Still, Hartnell's decided to take a holiday, so The Doctor goes and visits Millennius before the others. Not that he misses much in the third and fourth episodes. The hoary old plot device of Ian getting a fake key is somewhat clichéd, although this sets things up well for the denouement of the story. But the Screaming Jungle and the Ice Soldiers just aren't scary. Vegetation coming to life would be done with much more conviction in The Seeds Of Doom, while the Ice Soldiers look like a gaggle of drunk extras doing bad Ice Warrior impressions. The character of Vasor is more disturbing though, and it's questionable if his attack on Barbara is pushing the envelope a bit too far for the kiddies. At least Vasor gets the point in the end, though.

Alas, events take a dreary turn in Episode 5, with the dreaded courtroom saga, a personal pet hate of mine. Courtroom dramas are boring. They're stagy, predictable and dull. Just look at how courtroom drama generally brings events to a crashing halt in Who: The Stones Of Blood inexplicably takes a dive after the perfect fusion of Hammer Horror and humour. The Trial Of A Time Lord has been rightly lambasted for its never-ending courtroom bickering. About the only exception to the rule is The War Games Episode 10, which packed in drama, poignancy and a killer conclusion.

The Keys Of Marinus Episodes 5 and 6 offer no such attractions, although Hartnell puts in a spirited performance. The problem is that it's blatantly obvious who's behind the whole sordid saga on Millennius. Eyesen might as well wear a sandwich board saying I AM GUILTY, such is his OTT determination to see Ian do the time for the crime. Even worse is Aydan, possibly the most inept criminal in the history of fictional crime. Stammering and blundering his way through the whole sorry affair, Aydan cuts a pathetic figure as he starts squealing about his all-too-obvious guilt in the crime. At least Fiona Walker gives a convincingly evil performance as Kala, as does Donald Pickering as Eyesen, but on the whole, the Millennius episodes weren't the best way to keep the action going until the end.

Which involves chief Voord Yartek trying to convince the four travellers that Arbitan's head has doubled in size, as he flops around in the dead man's cape. Ian isn't taken in by Yartek's dupe though, as he hands him the phoney key, resulting in mass destruction. At least the story's wrapped up satisfactorily, but it's a shame that the dull courtroom shenanigans dominated the final episode. The last 10 minutes are a bit too rushed for my liking.

Overall, The Keys Of Marinus is a bit of a weak link in the first season, although it's enjoyable enough in its B-Movie way. The design from Raymond Cusick is strong, and the acting from the regulars is as good as ever, but for those who want a consistently strong drama, The Keys Of Marinus may be too pick 'n' mix.

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