The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus

Sentence of Death

Baby’s first procedural! I sometimes have to remind myself that this is a kids show ’cause most of the time it looks more like a poorly made adult’s show. The city of Millennius! With it’s beautiful… rooms. Its probably just a coincidence German sounding, SS looking guards! Its legal system which presumes guilt! Probably a coincidence!

Ian teleports into a room, but this room isn’t just any room, it’s a room of crime! The Key rests in a nice display cabinet. It’s centrally placed which allows for good pedestrian access and has a large window so even the youngest visitor can get a look. Also, there’s a corpse. Ian is a genius so when he teleports into a crime scene his first instinct is to touch the body. He’s belted on the back of the head by an assailant and awakes to a room with no Key but plenty of accusations. There was absolutely a time before “presumption of innocence” but it wasn’t a time of “presumption of guilt” because that idea is bumblefuck insane. You at least had to demonstrate that your nipples had lost their moist lustre when accusing someone of witchcraft, but not Millennius. Fuck it, accuse everyone of everything and rule this hole.

Ian is kind of funny here because he treats this situation like a white barrister being pulled over for speeding. He’s on an alien planet, and he’s getting uppity at the guard about what happened even though he has no idea what is going on. He even insists that his guilt has to be proven. You’re on an alien planet, Ian, being in the wrong spot in a foreign country is enough to get in actual trouble, stop acting like a fuckknuckle. Imagine stumbling on an alien standing behind the counter at a newsagent and it getting narky when you ask it what it’s doing.

So Ian needs someone to speak for him in his bizarro trial and hey, look, The Doctor is back from his holiday! He and the rest of the crew put on their best Perry Mason outfits and begin to investigate. The Doctor’s exploration of the circumstances of the crime are actually pretty good and set up for what could be a reasonably good episode. He comes up with a nice theory and event takes the time to explain that it’s not proof, and they need to actually get some before they think they’ve got Ian off the hook. Hey, reason! I remember you. What a nice treat to see you show up in an episode of Doctor Who an– oh never mind, they trick the guilty party into confessing. Well, “trick” is a strong word.

Susan: We know where the key is hidden

Guilty Guilterson: But you couldn’t know where it is! I… (looks guilty)

This guy commits crimes with all the deft cunning of a dog trying to get a really long stick through a door. Chalk it up to a presumption of guilt making even attempted crimes rare, I suppose. Then he has a loud conversation/punch with his wife while Susan and Barbara listen outside. He does this a whole half second after they leave too so there’s no way they weren’t going to hear it.

This is a fun episode for trope stratigraphy. For me, it’s been like finding evidence that humans were making tools way earlier than previously thought. I’ve dug down into the 60s and found Law and Order arrowheads! This changes everything! Not just the expected procedural elements either, the thing where the first guy is a red herring and the handsome, almost friend is the twist real culprit. It’s here and complete, ah, such a rare find. Humans have been belting out lazy crime narratives in television for so long that the information could only have come here from aliens.

Guiltoplex the Guard is accused in open court and dies mysteriously while screaming that someone made him do it. Naturally, this is all part of a complex conspiracy organised by Ian, the guy who has no records or has ever been seen by anyone here ever before, so he’s still guilty and sentenced to death. This is the absolute best outcome for the people who stole the Key so they obviously fuck it up by kidnapping Susan and telling Barbara about it.

Well, 4 episodes and we’ve not seen the Voord again. But you know what they say, less is more, just ask homeopathy. NEXT EPISODE!

The Keys of Marinus

There are a lot of explanations for bad writing that function as valid excuses. Take Babylon 5 for instance. It had to cut a bunch of shit short because it got cancelled, which obviously led to a bunch of narrative and character arcs being weirdly rushed to get finished. Then the series got renewed and they had to conjure up more plot out of the concluded shit. This is like a changing your mind during a circumcision and asking if they can add more dick, the results are gonna be a tragedy you just have to deal with. So Babylon 5 gets a walk on some of it’s crap because of external circumstances.

The Keys of Marinus, both the titular final episode and the story as a whole, doesn’t have this luxury because it simultaneously draws out a plot that doesn’t need to be and leaves a very necessary one languishing. How anyone thought this was going to get the Voord to take off as a villain is beyond me because they are the focus of maybe 15 minutes of the 2 hour story, which would be still stupid if the other episodes were so full they simply couldn’t make room. This isn’t the case and the conclusion to Sentence of Death is stretched into the final episode of the story, further starving the Voord of any relevance, when the only reason for this stretch is a wildly unnecessary third act twist. Guilty the shitty Guard could have easily been the actual villain, and his undoing stretched out by having it not be so ridiculous, but Nation opts to throw in a twist that his wife and the prosecutor were secretly working together to steal the key. Speaking of which, it was hidden in the club used to bash Ian which is how it got passed security. The Doctor was tells us he was working on getting it this whole time but I believe he was just accusing people of things for fun.

Only 12 minutes of The Keys of Marinus, the conclusive bloody episode, relate to the main arc with the first 12 devoted to wrapping up Sentence of Death.  GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

The Voord, wait who? Oh yeah, that’s right. They’ve been hanging out in Arbitan’s house for the past 5 episodes doing nothing but wait to be crowned New Daleks. So with Gaunto the Positive and Sheboygan back there already and the TARDIS crew on their way, something interesting has to be brewing at least.


Yartek catches Gaunto and Sheboygan, leveraging what I assume to have been Nation’s idea of a budding romance to find out where the final Key is. Sheboygan breaks and tells Yartek what he needs to know, allowing him to launch his most fiendish plan yet: steal an idea from Little Red Riding Hood.

Ian and Susan walk into Arbitan’s room to give him the final key and find Yartek wearing Arbitan’s cloak.

Five episodes built to this.

That’s his plan. This villain, who has a team of frogsuit wearing stabby-men, doesn’t just send his stabby men out to murder the child, old-man, and pair of English people, he just plays pretend instead.

In a testament to Ian, Ian sees through this amazing fucking ruse and gives Yartek the fake key from The Screaming Forest. They flee the city and the botched key causes the Conscience of Marinus to kill him and his goons. Like when you fuck up installing Linux and it sterilizes you.

This is the villain’s arc

  • These people are bad
  • They take over the Conscience of Marinus
  • They are not seen for 5 and a half episodes
  • The leader’s plan is thwarted by Ian having eyes
  • End

Gaunto and Sheboygan remain on their planet and decide to live in Millennius because demented fascist justice beats HYPNO BRAINS, a murder forest, and a shack full of rapist corpse. The Doctor keeps one of the Keys as a keepsake and now, finally, brings up the point that maybe it’s better that a machine doesn’t think for everybody. This is fun as Marinus is one of the canonical places Cybermen arose naturally in the comic The World Shapers which was mentioned in The Doctor Falls.

Aside from some of what is now deep lore, this episode is another example of a problem the series has had literally forever: shitty conclusions. The Voord are nothing so even if the final confrontation had been anything better than tricking a villain whose best plan is “coat”, so anything else at all, it would still have been a terrible end as it would cap an abysmal build. Ever thought you can’t write a show? Doctor Who proves otherwise.


Ah, the great vulnerability! A venerated narrative tradition. Werewolves have their silver bullets, Cybermen have gold, Superman has kryptonite, and the Voord have FUCKING EYES. On the plus side, this idea would be effectively recycled into the Weeping Angels many years later.

I’m kind of perplexed as to how Nation wrote this story. I feel like it was a bunch of recycled short stories with some crayola modifications made. The Voord are fucking useless which is a tragic waste of a, rare for its era, well designed monster/alien race. How well designed? Oh just you fucking wait. Wait until we’re supposed to be scared of a fridge sized roomba with a boomyknocker arm or what looks like a metal raspberry robot Boston Dynamics built to see if it’s possible to body shame a machine.

This the Rorschach’s mask of mixed bags, a swirling blend of quality and shit that never mix into gray. This means that the bits that are good stand alone very well. The Velvet Web is a good episode and the general production values and story concepts aren’t bad, but all this does is prepare you for good things that never happen. All tip, no dick.

Ultimately, there is not really enough deep lore here to recommend it to anyone but the weirdos.


Fuck it. Next story is The Aztecs! The Doctor likes Latinas is canon!

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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