Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Brothers misplaced their keys reviewing this classic Dr Who story
The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara have just left Marco Polo and have materialised on the planet Marinus. Luckily for the TARDIS crew, they realise quickly that Marinus has seas of acid just before Susan tries to go paddling. They are soon forced into performing a task for the mysterious Arbitan—who has put a force field around the TARDIS. Their mission—and they have no choice but to accept it—is to retrieve the five keys to a device, the Conscience of Marinus, that influences the minds of the planets’ population in a beneficial manner. In order to overcome the malevolent Yartek, leader of the evil Voords, the keys must be retrieved from their hidden locations around the planet and brought back to Arbitan so he can reprogram the machine.
Through the use of travel-dials (devices that are worn on the wrist and can transport people instantaneously over vast distances) the TARDIS crew are sent to several locations on the planet, but things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, especially when Ian is eventually framed for a murder he didn’t commit and is sentenced to death…
It could be argued that if writer Terry Nation was a building, he would be a bungalow because he only has one storey. This assessment would be a little unfair, because although he tended to just rehash his original Dalek script over and over again, The Keys of Marinus proved that he was capable of doing something different when Skaro’s greatest exports did not figure in the story. It should be noted, however, that story editor David Whitaker had more than a guiding hand in the structure of The Keys of Marinus, which might explain why it feels a little different to the average Nation Doctor Who story.
The Keys of Marinus has a fascinating premise, one that is remarkably similar to a certain season of the Tom Baker era. The quest to find the keys is one that should have been great fun, presenting a new challenge with each episode. Whilst the story does not really live up to the potential that was initially promised, it’s still a fun romp that is more entertaining that quite a number of other stories from the Hartnell era.
The Hartnell era of Doctor Who veered between historical romps and futuristic stories—it has been said that the historical stories have aged better than the sci-fi ones, but this is to be expected. The Keys of Marinus falls somewhere between these two stools in that although the story is presented as a sci-fi one, there are episodes that almost seem to take place in historical settings, including on set on an icy environment, where the TARDIS crew (minus Hartnell, who was on one of his holidays at the time) encounter the devious and savage Vasor (Francis De Wolff, in a performance more full-bodied than a good merlot), who—in an event that was never revisited again in the series’ history—tries to rape Barbara. This scene is pretty distasteful, even though Vasor’s intentions remain somewhat vague; only the really wee kiddies watching would have wondered precisely (or should that pre priapisely?) what was on Vasor’s mind when he was chasing everyone’s favourite ‘with-it’ female schoolteacher around his dwelling. A scene very similar to this was scene toward the end of the decade turned up in Barbarella, but the difference is that Jane Fonda ended up getting ravished by her caveman-like suitor.
William Hartnell suffers a number of fluffs in this story, with a couple of them being particularly jaw-dropping, but he puts in a compelling performance in The Keys of Marinus. Hartnell was away on holiday during episodes three and four, but the rest of the cast are able to keep things rattling along until his return in part five. It is in the last two episodes that Hartnell’s occasionally commanding presence really comes to the fore, as he effectively represents Ian during his murder trial and is quite wonderful in the role.
Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are both good in this story, with each of them being given a chance to shine; Hill is great during the scenes in Morphoton and when confronting Vasor and Russell excels when Ian is fighting for his very life for a murder for which he was not responsible.
It’s sad to note that this story was the first sign that Carol Ann Ford’s character of Susan was starting to turn into the stereotypical screamy girly assistant. When her character originally appeared in An Unearthly Child, Susan was a plucky, gutsy and extremely intelligent, but in this story, she just seems to whine, trip over and get captured.
Despite the opinions of Ray Cusick (which can be found on the audio commentary and the featurette), the production designs really aren’t bad, with the pennies being stretched creatively in order to accommodate the demands of the story. The different environments are all distinct and have a unique look—the seemingly idyllic city of Morphoton effectively had two sets of each location built, one pristine, the other run-down. The scenes set in the domain of Morphoton are particularly good, as it combines an interesting premise—all of the inhabitants think that they are living in some sort of Shangri-La, but in actuality their minds have been altered to think this way and that they are being manipulated by brain-like creatures, known as Morphos. These creatures are wonderfully designed and really cop it when Barbara wakes up to what has been done to her. The harsh icy lands send an appropriate shiver up the spine now and again, even if you can tell that it is studio-bound—it’s probably the stock footage of wolves that help to sell the thing.
Though the Doctor Who Restoration Team have performed their customary miracles on this story, the results can vary from episode to episode, with some looking pretty sharp and others looking a little on the blurred side. During the restoration, some differences in the running times of the episodes against the off-air recording made by fan David Holman and the RT have managed to reinstate the audio of the missing material into the story by clever usage of cutaways—this has been done before to great effect on Hartnell’s The War Machines. It’s this degree of dedication that really makes you love the Restoration Team.
The restoration of certain excised parts has been mentioned above, but as for the rest of the audio, it sounds as fine as it’s going to get, with a nice clean-up job evident. Hartnell’s fluffed lines are clearer than ever and the audio in general is much sharper than you would ever get on VHS.
The Sets of Marinus: The Keys of Marinus represents an interesting change of tactic for 2Entertain’s Doctor Who releases—OK, so the DVD release of The Sontaron Experiment featured a sizeable documentary entitled ‘Bred for War’, but other than some of the usual expected features, the only notable extra is this ten minute featurette. Production designer Raymond Cusick talks fairly candidly about his work on this story. He criticises the sets in a fairly constructive manner, but the most interesting part of this featurette comes after the end credits, when Cusick reappears and gives a blunt answer to a direct question…
Audio Commentary: This is a pretty entertaining effort, with a relaxed atmosphere and everyone seems to be enjoying the experience. Moderated by the enthusiastic Clayton Hickman, director John Gorrie, set designer Raymond Cusick, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford point out many intriguing aspects of the production, including how Hartnell gave a much better performance and was in better humour once he came back from two weeks holiday! With Ford’s infamous entrance into the appropriately ‘screaming’ jungle, it is noted out that her throat must have been wrecked after filming, but Ford points out that she was shown to shriek without hurting herself, and how she now trains other actors in the same technique. The reminiscences about Jacqueline Hill are a real joy, and all that about a wee lassie from a Midlands’ Bourneville factory! This is good stuff, light on awkward pauses and heavy on enjoyment.
Photo Gallery: This has a nice selection of pictures, the most interesting of which are the colour pics taken during the production, which presents the story in a different light. It’s easy to forget how vibrant and colourful some of the sets and costumes were, despite the fact that it was shot in black and white. The images of the brain creatures are particularly striking.
Subtitle Production Notes: Once again, a plethora of facts, figures and interesting anecdotes about the production of The Keys of Marinus can be found when you activate this option.
PDF Material: Along with the usual Radio Times listings for the story, you can also check out the entire set of the ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’ sweet cigarette cards. You’d never get away with marketing such a product to kids these days…
Coming Soon Trailer: A preview of the eagerly-awaited Dalek War box-set can be found on this disc. It’s pretty cool stuff, even if it does contain a Pertwee Dalek story, and it’ll be great to see the colourisation work using the new methods on episode three of Planet of the Daleks.
On a personal note, other than the material shot for Shada (the uncompleted Douglas Adams-scripted story from season seventeen), watching The Keys of Marinus represented something significant for us—this was the last of the surviving Doctor Who stories that we hadn’t seen. There are no more classic Doctor Who adventures for us to watch. Yes, it’s nice to finally see everything, but there was always something in the back of our minds that didn’t want to see all there was to see, as we almost wanted some of it to remain mysterious, yet within reach. It was almost sad when the end credits rolled on episode six.
Anyhoo, The Keys of Marinus is an entertaining romp—it could have been much more if there was more production time to develop the story, but as it stands, it’s a fun slice of Hartnell-era Who. This release is a bit light in the extras department, but this was going to happen eventually, as the amount of archive material is finite and it’s amazing that enough stuff has been released already. Despite the comparatively paltry amount of extras, we still highly recommend The Keys of Marinus, as even poor Hartnell stories are worth sitting through—well, maybe with the exception of stuff as bad as The Gunfighters…
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 21st September 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurette, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitles, PDF Materials, Coming Soon Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Gorrie
Cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carol Ann Ford
Length: 147 minutes
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