Doctor Who #26: The Keys of Marinus

"He told us what was going to happen and we saw it."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of The Keys of Marinus. First aired May 16 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The true culprit in the Chesterton case is exposed and arrested, leaving our heroes free to travel back to Arbitan's isle. However, it's been taken over by the Voord who blow themselves up by putting a fake key into the Conscience of Marinus.

REVIEW: The first half of the episode continues the story begun in Sentence of Death, without a doubt the best part of this serial. Barbara shows some guts and a real caretaking streak by not telling the Doctor Susan was taken hostage and gets her free with only the minimal help of Altos and Sabetha. It doesn't get Ian off the hook though, because Kala continues to point the finger at him, protecting Eyesen, who appears to be her lover. Fiona Walker is very good at this kind of melodramatic villain, convincing as the grieving widow, but also relishing in her evil actions. Unlike Ayden, she doesn't give herself away stupidly. It's a subtle slip-up that allows the audience to perhaps figure it out just before Barbara does. Meanwhile, the Doctor is sitting on a bench in the courthouse, stunned. We have never seen him so defeated. But that all changes when Barbara brings him new information, and the energetic Hartnell from the previous episode returns to expose the mastermind and the solution to the locked room mystery (and it's a clever one worthy of any episode of CSI). Sadly, Eyesen's arrest happens off screen, because look, we have to go to the island for the real finale, so we're just told what happened next. Bit anticlimactic, that.

But CAN a single 25-minute episode handle a SECOND resolution? As the characters return to the beginning, there's yet another temporal incongruity: Altos and Sabetha have been captured by Yartek, leader of the Voord, and are being played one against the other to reveal the location of the last key. Barbara, Susan and Ian, meanwhile, are just wandering around, oblivious to all this. And the Doctor, who left last, arrives later. It's nice that Altos and Sabetha finally get a little subplot, a romance that wasn't hinted at before, but is unsurprising. To save Sabetha, Altos reveals who has the final key, much to her chagrin (but it doesn't break them up or anything) - he's the weaker of the two. And after a couple episodes spent in jail, Ian gets to shine by pulling the same trick as Barbara - catching Yartek-posing-as-Arbitan in a lie - but doing her one better by foisting the fake key from The Screaming Jungle on him. The Doctor gets to cane a Voord on the back of the head, so he's having fun too.

Unfortunately, this second half of the episode, ends much like the first, anticlimactically. See, we're TOLD the machine will blow up with the fake key in it, and only then does Yartek go through the motions of inserting it, and causing his own downfall. There's no suspense or dramatic irony because it's all been telegraphed. That's a problem with both the writing and the direction. The sequence could easily have had the reveal from Sabetha AFTER Yartek had set things in motion. Twice in a row now, the ending has really been told instead of seen (even if we do end up seeing it in the second case). At least the Doctor now says people shouldn't be controlled by machines and that the destruction of the Conscience is a good thing, a sort of about face from the start of the story, but maybe he just didn't want to argue then. And another flashback to The Daleks as Terry Nation writes another interminable goodbye scene where every character leaving must say goodbye to every character staying. You know, based on the dialog alone, I'd be tempted to say Terry Nation was a big Ed Wood fan.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The conclusion to the courtroom drama is definitely a medium, but the return to B-movie SF in the second half is rushed and boring.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The Keys of Marinus is so slim on story and an obvious drain on production resources that it's hard to imagine why they let Terry Nation use the same structure twice more. The highlight is the courtroom stuff in episodes 5 and 6, but episodes 2 through 4 are easily skippable.


snell said...

Maybe the Doctor was just planning to logic the Conscience to death later, a la Kirk in Return Of The Archons...


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