The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus

And we’re back, after what was probably a thrilling adventure with some alien called Marco Polo who rode Ian like a horse as he belted Barbara about in a giant hamster ball.


This is Terry Nation’s (ancestor to Uha Nation) second episode and it starts quite well only to piss about and fall down at the end. The story differs from the prior ones in that it’s a narrative with a mission, retrieving the titular Keys of Marinus, as opposed to the explorers “accidental adventures”. The first episode fits the standard mould of landing somewhere and poking about, but then it’s 5 episodes of mission. This idea would be returned to in season 16’s Key to Time, which was a multi-story arc lasting the whole year. It’s a good way to drive narrative and one I wish the modern series would dip into again. The show has been weird about series arcs, preferring to repeat the hidden arc idea over and over again which seems about the only way the series can approach an idea.

The Sea of Death

Ian explaining why Bleach is better than Naruto

There’s been a pleasant amount of immediate story continuity in these early episodes and this one continues that tradition by having Ian in his finest weeb gear for the whole story. The TARDIS crew have landed on beach made of glass lapped by a sea made of acid. Naturally, the screaming death magnet, Susan wanted to paddle in it but manages only to see her shoe dissolved. This opening episode drags and I’m torn as to whether it’s a fault of the episode itself or the slower pacing of a medium still in the process of separating from theatre. There’s a lot of standing around and remarking on things, which is less a development of any of the characters and more a kind of hollow retread. Some dildos wash up on the beach which, when not in a miniature-based long shot, turn out to be mini-subs filled with this story’s weakest feature, the Voord.

Probably from Bad Dragon or something

I’ve read three things that have said that the Voord were a failed attempt at striking more Dalek gold which is fucking amazing considering these were probably their best stab before the Cybermen. Doctor Who is littered with failed Dalek attempts which failed because they were either lazy retreads of the Dalek concept or just fucking stupid looking. The Voord cut a reasonably threatening figure and actually stand out from the other failures, so why have you never heard of them? Their sum screen time is probably under 6 minutes across a whole 6 episodes, split only between the first and the last, and the viewer is only ever told that they are jerks. You hear about the leader, see him a bit, and are told that they are villains but in a sort of odd way.

From a Radio Times photoshoot.

See, the Keys of Marinus are for a machine called the Conscience of Marinus, a computer with perfect judgement that exudes a field capable of modifying human behaviour to be more peaceable. There’s ample room here for some classic sci-fi debates about the conflict between peace and free will, with a twist where the Voord are less villains and more crusaders for free will, but none of this eventuates. The idea that this planet has a machine that does your thinking for you is just okay and the Voord leader, Yartek, wants to fill it with dickhead juice or something so he must be stopped.

That a show doesn’t pursue the idea you have for the story, which you consider better because it’s yours and you are lovely, is a weak criticism but it gains more traction when leveraged against the internal faults of the episode. As focal villains with delusions of Dalek, the Voord are never on screen or active enough to be relevant to the plot. Point of fact, they kill the Conscience of Marinus’ keeper, Arbitan, in this episode and spend the rest just waiting for everyone to get back with the keys. While the Daleks were let down by some loose plotting, they were an active presence in their introductory story and manifested their characteristics through on screen behaviours. You also GOT TO FUCKING SEE THEM. HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A NEW DALEKS IF NOBODY EVER FUCKING SEES THEM, JESUS FUCKING SHIT. The next episode literally has better enemies you actually get a better sense of and they are only the threat for a single episode.

It’s a shame. The other Dalek attempts are failures on sight alone but the Voord have an appearance you can take seriously and could even be expanded into a species with a motivation and culture. Ah well, here, have a gif of a guy in a scuba outfit fondling the TARDIS.

The Voord, everybody.

Aside from this tragedy, this episode is a great example of the “why don’t they just leave” thing that Doctor Who kind of struggles with. In this episode, Arbitan puts a force field around the TARDIS and blackmails them into helping. This is an example of the utility of The Doctor as a superhero. Firstly, it’s a viable and actually canonical development of his character, manifesting most notably in Second’s speech on evil in Tomb of the Cybermen. Secondly, it removes the “why don’t they just leave” thing from a lot of situations. He won’t leave because he’s slowly morphed into a fixer of problems over the years works better than coming up with a new way of hiding the TARDIS key each episode.

So Arbitan has blackmailed them for help and given the crew some nifty teleport bracelets that will take them close to the keys which are scattered about the planet. Then Yartek and his goons kill him and hang out for a week or so.

I wonder if the next episode is called The Killing Time of the Voords. It’s not? Shit! Next episode!

One Reply to “The Keys of Marinus”

  1. Y’know, I’m really craving some crappy old Doctor Who now. Maybe I’ll settle for some b-movies from the same time. Very well written as always, Gabe!

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