Doctor Who #23: The Screaming Jungle

"When the whispering starts, it's death, I tell you, death."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 3 of The Keys of Marinus. First aired Apr.25 1964.

IN THIS ONE... Another key is found in a jungle of fierce moving plants.

REVIEW: The episode starts with one of two freak-outs by Susan. Yay. I'm on board with having her empathic abilities make her feel things more strongly, but when one of the main characters is reduced to a gibbering idiot, it's going too far. Barbara at least shows a back bone when she condemns Ian's Susan-endorsed over-protectiveness, but writer Terry Nation has her eat those words and start screaming for his help soon enough. Still, she holds her own through most of the episode, smashing creepers with rocks, and running off into the embraces of creepy statues with living arms (a clever and fun design, the episode's only one). The Doctor, of course, isn't in this, having split off from the group in the previous episode so William Hartnell could have a two-week holiday. (You'll have to remember that a Doctor Who season back then lasted 40 weeks without interruption!)

So it's a third environment on Marinus, an encroaching jungle apparently manipulated into a disaster zone by a colleague of Arbitan's called Darrius. A fair SF tale about science gone wrong, but without a doubt the slightest of Marinus' short adventures. There's a garden with poorly realized traps in it, a difficult old man who dies on them with a cryptic clue on his lips, and a chemical puzzle that is absolute nonsense (really no excuse for not using known elements in what a supposed to be education entertainment) before Ian and Barbara use their travel dials to get away with the key without resolving the episode's dilemma. The attacking plants aren't too bad, but the only real design or effect highlight is the idol pictured above. With so many environments to create for a single story, the budget's already wearing thin, though one could justify any reuse as design themes that unify the planet. So we've got Grecian statuary in the garden (as in The Velvet Web), and an artificial Medieval knight (more of which we'll see in the next episode). Of course, the latter has to be the slowest, noisiest, most rubbish trap in the history of Marinus, though a close second is the ceiling of wobbly blades that comes down on Barbara. Some of this comes down to staging problems, something director John Gorrie isn't a stranger to - both previous episodes also had moments where supposedly hidden characters were right in the line of sight of someone "not seeing" them.

Between the statues, the knights and the monk's habit worn by the old man, you get the idea they're pulling random stuff from the BBC prop store, but the necessaries of production could all be excused if the script was up to snuff. Sadly, it isn't. In addition to the ridiculous resolution and the frankly inane dialog, there's another important plot hole. Darrius says he would know Arbitan's couriers by the fact they'd have been warned about the various traps. Clearly, Ian and Barbara were not. Why exactly did Arbitan not warn them, or give them all the details they'd need to secure the keys? Only one reason and that's to create jeopardy in each episode. I really dislike turning these reviews into some kind of nitpicker's guide, but Nation hastily-written scripts tend to annoy me.

THEORIES: Susan says she's heard the jungle's sounds before, but where? Whovian scholars seem to agree it was probably on Esto, a planet she mentions visiting in The Sensorites, where telepathic plants screech when anyone stands between them and disrupts their communication. If this means the "Screaming Jungle" has telepathic properties, it may help explain Ian's short bout of claustrophobia as the plants close in. He has trouble thinking, possibly due to interference from vegetable vibes.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - Other mini-episodes in this serial tell complete (if brief) stories, but not this one. Cheap designs and plot holes share the screen for 25 minutes without much respite.


Randal said...

It's just a D&D campaign at this point.

Siskoid said...

And not a very good one.

Saving throws aplenty.


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