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Review: Brit TV-Doctor Who(1964)-The Key of Marinus

Barbara and the opening title

The Key of Marinus is our next episode of Classic Who. We left the Doctor and his companions leaving Marco Polo and the court of Kubla Khan in enough of a hurry they weren’t sure where they were going. They landed on what they realized was  an alien plant with shores of glass beside an acid sea. Not the most hospitable of landing spots. They start to explore and find bullet-shaped submersibles, and one has what is left of its occupant’s wet suit after it sprung a leak and he—melted.

Further exploration leads them to tower in which, they find Arbitan, Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a computer created millennia before to eliminate all thought of evil on the planet, but Yartek, leader of the alien race of the Voord found a way to fight against the good impulses of the Conscience. He sought to gain control of the computer to put the Conscience to work, controlling the mind of the people. It was one of the Voord that Ian and Barbara had found before in the damaged submersible. Arbitan put a force field around the TARDIS, keeping the Doctor and his companions from returning, and he only agrees to release it if they will travel across Marinus to find the five missing keys he has sent into hiding from Yartek. Reluctantly,  they agree, and Arbitan gives them travel bracelets that teleport them to five specific locations across the planet, the last being back in the tower were Arbitan holds one of the keys.

The Doctor and Arbitan discussing the Keys

I found this arc a great deal of fun. It is much more the space adventure that most Doctor Who fans are use to seeing. The Doctor is less of a liability in this arc than he was in Marco Polo, and he really understands Arbitan’s motives for what he is doing. Ian and Barbara are again doing a lot of the leg work, but they are really coming into their own as explorers and leaving their resentment of the Doctor behind them now.

The concept of the travel bracelets is very reminiscent of Jack Harkness and River Song’s Vortex Manipulators. It is very interesting to see the idea so early on in the show.

The next few episodes of the arc: The Velvet Web, The Screaming Jungle, The Snows of Terror, and The Sentence of Death each deal with the different destinations they are sent to.

Their first destination in The Velvet Web is a world of wonderful beauty. Barbara becomes separated from them early on, and they find her travel bracelet on the ground with her blood on it, but that is soon explained. A blinding light and a shrieking noise distract them, and suddenly they find Barbara in a palatial room with all the treasures and wonders they can imagine. They are in the City of Morphoton. It is a civilization of peace and luxury. All seems more than Ian can believe, but it seems to prove out to be just as it is presented.  Each is presented with what they would most desire. Susan is given a dress made of the lovely silk she has found, and the Doctor is offered a laboratory outfitted with every advanced device he could imagine. Very quickly, Barbara sees beneath the veneer and finds that nothing is as it seems. The palace is in ruins, and the silk Susan so loved is nothing but moth eaten rags. Barbara soon finds that the whole city is being controlled by manipulative brain creatures that have out grown their bodies until they are nothing more than brains with eye stalks in life support jars. They manipulate the beings under them to their own ends, brainwashing them to believe they are living in luxury, when they are really living in filth and squalor.

Barbara confronting the Brains

I found this fascinating. This is one of those moments in Doctor Who when an outlandish situation so elegantly leads to a very stunning social commentary of how easily the mind can be manipulated by those in control, and the way the dissenting voice that dares to point at the Emperor’s lack of clothing can actually lead to people taking the power for themselves.  Barbara’s insistence that they are not surrounded in beauty and pointing out the flaws leads to the city being freed from their controllers.

Once free, they find the young woman who had been serving Barbara was really Sabetha, Arbitan’s daughter who had been sent to hide one of the keys, and once her mind is freed she joins them on their search for rest of the keys.

This is another arc written by Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, and you can tell. He brings such a depth and sophistication to the story lines that while it takes place in outlandish and sometimes ridiculous settings, the story is perfectly understandable and reasonable.


Next: The Screaming Jungle


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