Keys of Marinus
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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ere’s a vintage “Who” entry – from the series’ very first season, in fact – that proves the show was wholly capable of producing crap from the very beginning. Indeed, from now on, when I hear some old fogey complaining that the new series isn’t as good as the old, I’m going to point them in the direction of “Marinus” and tell them to keep walking. Apparently, “Marinus” was a last minute replacement for another story that fell through. It was scripted by Terry Nation, who’d written the far more successful “The Daleks” earlier in the season, but he seems to have spent little more than a couple days cobbling together this tale. Actually, I’m being a tad unfair, because one of the six episodes of this tale is actually very good, but we’re not quite there yet, so hang tight.
In the first episode, which is actually titled “The Sea of Death” (this is back when every single episode of “Who” had its own individual title), the TARDIS lands on the planet Marinus, where the beach is made of glass, and the sea is made of acid – and a tab of LSD would certainly have done wonders for my perception of this story. The crew travels to a nearby tower and meet Arbitan, played by George Colouris, who was also in “Citizen Kane,” but he’s the only thing the two concepts have in common. Arbitan is the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a giant computer which kept the planet in check for hundreds of years. In order to prevent the machine from falling into the hands of the villainous Voord (aliens who are really just men in rubber wetsuits), Arbitan dispersed four of the keys which help run the machine across the planet. He essentially blackmails the Doctor and company into trekking across the planet via some handy travel bracelets (which are not terribly unlike the one Jack Harkness possesses) to find the keys, and each episode takes place in a different location. It’s actually not a bad premise, and it could have been a really fun quest story – only it isn’t. It’s mostly tedious, and the bulk of the places they visit and the situations they find themselves in are mind-bogglingly dull.
Well, except for Episode Two, “The Velvet Web,” which is surprisingly good – so good in fact, it would’ve been a great jumping off point for an entire “Who” story in its own right. The crew arrives in the city Morphoton, where it seems any wish they desire can be granted. They’re treated to a decadent meal and told to go to sleep, and their requests will be granted in the morning. (The Doctor, for instance, requests a laboratory.) But there’s something very wrong here, and only Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) seems to notice. The episode ends with some of the strangest looking aliens ever seen on “Who,” but it’s best not to say any more since it would spoil one of this story’s only treasures. From there they move on to other locations, none of which are in the least bit stimulating – although one does have to give mild props to a ‘60s kid’s sci-fi series for an episode that proposes what looks like the attempted rape of Barbara at the hands of a crazed mountain man. Further, William Hartnell took a two week vacation during this story, and doesn’t even appear in Episodes Three and Four, although it doesn’t really matter, as William Russell always does a fine job of taking over as the leading man when Hartnell is absent. Episodes Five and Six involve Ian being put on trial for stealing (!) before they inally return to the Conscience, although by that point, as the viewer, we’ve all but forgotten what this story was supposed to be about in the first place.
It actually says a lot, however, about the attention spans of the kids of the ‘60s versus the kids of today that they could spend six weeks following this storyline and somehow stay invested in it enough that by the time they got to the last episode, they still cared and remembered about the mission and the evil, rubbery Voord. Of course, when you’ve only got two or three channels to choose from, I guess you take what you’re given.
Special Features: In addition to being a pretty lame story, this also happens to be a disc that’s incredibly lean on special features. Aside from the usual production notes subtitles, the photo gallery, and the DVD-ROM material, there are only two story specific extras. The first is an audio commentary with William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, director John Gorrie and designer Raymond Cusick, which is moderated by Clayton Hickman. The second is a nine-minute interview with Cusick called “The Sets of Marinus” that ends on a hilarious note (you must watch through the credits to see this). The interviewer, referring to Cusick’s work on the story, asks him, “Looking back, is there anything you’re really proud of?” Cusick matter-of-factly replies, “I can really say, no.” Finally, there’s a kick-ass trailer for the “Dalek War” box set that’s coming out in March, which is easily a highlight of the disc.