Classic Doctor Who: “The Keys of Marinus”

The Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Susan find themselves on an island surrounded by a sea of acid and are forced by an old man named Arbitan to retrieve four keys to a machine before they fall into the hands of the evil Voord who hope to use his machine for devious purposes.

One of my main complaints about prehistoric Doctor Who is that the stories are drawn out to the point of lunacy. True, I know that this was done for budgetary reasons, but in my mind boredom is boredom and when I see a six-part episode coming, part of me dies a little on the inside.

But you know… This one was actually pretty well handled. I like how the quest for the keys tied the individual elements of the story together, but I also appreciate how each one of the installments were contained stories in of themselves. If one story was dull and not very interesting, I took heart that another was right around the corner to potentially save me.

“The Keys of Marinus” starts out strongly in the first episode (despite the cheap sets and obvious painted backdrops) and continues strongly into the second – “The Velvet Web” actually being my favorite of the serial with its surprise reveal what was handled extremely well for early Doctor Who (heck, early television to be honest). The episode dolled out the necessary creepiness and it was fun to actually see Barbara play the hero for once in the best way that Doctor Who allowed her too since women were treated fairly terrible on this show.

“The Screaming Jungle” gave Barbara and Ian a chance to have a solo adventure and, while not as strong as “The Velvet Web,” it was still a lot of fun even though there were some cheap special effects and Susan, for her brief time in this episode, was more irritating than usual.

“The Snows of Terror” was not so much fun… it was just a weird choice. The gang (still without the Doctor at this point) has come up against acid oceans, disembodied brains, and a living jungle by this point and now they’re up against a rapey mountain hermit? It just didn’t communicate the same level of dream especially since the mountain man would run away screaming at the slightest provocation. Those knights in the mountain didn’t really do much for the story either.

“A Sentence of Death” was another weird one as everything suddenly transforms into a court drama, but it was a lot more tolerable despite the numbing simplicity of the story, but the twists and turns keep it from becoming boring. Again, though, Susan pretty much proves that her only job on the show so far is to scream and cry.

I like how this serial was executed. It was weird that The Doctor disappeared for two installments and, like I said, one of them was fairly weak when compared to the others, but as a whole it was a satisfying adventure that offered variety over monotony and some well executed ideas.

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