The Keys of Marinus part 1

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    Craig @craig

    To fill the gap between now and Christmas @bluesqueakpip helpfully suggested we revisit some episodes featuring the first Doctor. As we already know, he’ll be making an appearance at Christmas (played by David Bradley).

    As we’ve done previously, we’re going to take one story and watch it at the pace it was intended (one episode per week) and comment on it as if it was brand new.

    “The Keys of Marinus” is the fifth ever Doctor Who story and follows straight on from the TARDIS’ crew’s adventures in “Marco Polo” (a story sadly lost to us for now). It was the second story written by Terry Nation after his little-known debut “The Daleks” – whatever happened to them?

    The story is a six parter, so will keep us going for a while. It has a “quest” format and so, although it’s one story arc, each episode is its own mini-adventure – how very modern of Mr Nation. There are rumours that Chris Chibnall may take a similar approach with his first season as the new show-runner.

    So on to episode one, “The Sea of Death”. The Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian arrive on an alien planet, Ian still wearing his Eastern outfit from their encounters with Marco Polo.

    Susan, as usual, wanders off and when the others go looking for her they end up captured. They’re all soon set on a mission to find four micro-circuit keys that could save the planet.

    For the best viewing experience this story is available to buy. You can get it from Amazon for less than 7 of our British pounds – other retailers are also available (except the BBC, which has sadly closed its online store).

    Remember, we’re discussing this story one episode per week, as it was originally broadcast. If you’ve seen it before, for the convenience of anyone approaching this for the first time, NO SPOILERS for subsequent episodes please.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Well, since I made the suggestion, I’d better make a post. 😀

    This is the first time I’ve seen this episode and I don’t know how Keys of Marinus ends – though I think I have seen one episode from the middle. So all my thoughts are genuinely unspoiled speculation.

    First thought: I think Verity Lambert had spent all the budget on Marco Polo. No wonder they decided to keep Ian in that costume – get your money’s worth!

    Even for early Who, this looks seriously cheap; apart from the regular cast they have precisely one speaking part. The studio sets also look a bit shoestring – actually, the Conscience of Marinus looks like it may have included literal shoestrings. However, the set builders did a really nice job with the acidic ocean and rock pool, and the props department managed a reasonable glass submarine.

    You’d think that, by now, Susan would’ve picked up on the idea that the TARDIS appears to be taking them all on a magical mystery tour of the universe’s most dangerous spots. But no, she wants to go for a paddle. You can see why Carole Ann Ford decided to leave – Susan was supposed to be an intelligent child, but ends up holding the idiot ball in most episodes. She also has the most twistable ankle in the history of television.

    Getting away from the production mechanics, the fundamental premise that Terry Nation came up with looks like it has interesting possibilities. Given that he invented an evil creature that has its free will designed out (what did happen to them? Anyone know?), I’m wondering whether Arbitan and his ‘force you to be good’ machine are actually the good guys and the Voords are actually the bad guys. It does seem to be the mirror image of the Daleks; an unbreakable totalitarian tyranny, but one which is ‘good’.

    I’m also definitely on the side of the Doctor on this one – let’s get the heck out of here. Except Arbitan seems rather talented at forcing people to do his errands.

    Ooh, and nice cliffhanger. 🙂

    Missy @missy

    @craig:   Loved this, thank you.  As you say @bluesqueakpip, what a cliffhanger.

    Although the special effects and scenery were off, it still drew me in to the point where I actually swore when it ended!


    wolfweed @wolfweed

    The Doctor has a colour telly but it’s ‘Hors de combat’ (LOL)… (I wonder what he would make of his episodes being colourised?)

    One-Man-Submarines with special-suited-soldiers featured in Bob Holmes’ ‘Nightmare Man’ (Itself an adaptation of ‘Child of Vodyanoi’ by David Wiltshire)…


    Probably the greatest Billy-Fluff of them all (‘And if you had your shoes on, my boy, you could have lent her hers’)…

    Lovely that the companions laugh at the fluff (This is what ‘As Live’ TV is all about!)…

    Finding the flipper-prints is very ‘Robinson Crusoe’…

    That Voord design is quite cool. The one that’s about to attack Susan is most definitely ‘Hidden in plain sight’. It’s a bit ‘Alien’ I suppose (That moment where it comes out of hiding from inside the wall)…

    Teleport bracelets would later be used in Terry Nation’s other big success, ‘Blake’s 7’.  AG, it would become a Time Agent thang of course. ‘Cheap and nasty time-travel’, if you ask me!

    Oh no! Babs!!!


    Craig @craig

    @wolfweed as well as the great fluff, which I laughed out loud at, there is also the sexism in the script (or in the Doctor), which made me wince.

    There’s at least twice when the Doctor walks up to Barbara and Ian, who are standing together, and says something like “What do you think of this Chesterton?” Barbara had already been established as a strong character in the earlier stories, especially “The Edge of Destruction”. I thought she might slap him.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    there is also the sexism in the script (or in the Doctor), which made me wince.

    Yes, there were a few moments of serious wincing. Like the ‘we’re fine, because Ian is still free, so he’ll rescue us.’ At which point Barbara points out that Ian got captured before she did. Looking at Barbara’s characterisation, she’s making an incredible number of extremely sensible points – telling Susan she needs shoes with all this glass around, realising the wetsuit is protective, noticing the tear, spotting the footprints, asking why Arbitan doesn’t make some new keys. So the sexism is not in the script – it’s part of the Doctor’s characterisation. His granddaughter is a ‘silly child’ and he automatically asks Ian – even though Barbara is making most of the intelligent remarks.

    This episode seems to be a classic of Billy-fluffs. My personal favourite was:

    BARBARA: It isn’t frozen, is it?
    DOCTOR: No, impossible in this temperature. Besides, it’s too warm.

    Whisht @whisht

    Hooray – New Who (well at least to many of us!)

    So, I thought it might be interesting when we saw a lovely island, then… “The Sea of Death” title.

    (more terrifying is its terrible kerning).


    Loved the Toy Tardis. Where can I get one??!!?
    The exterior of the Tardis seems grubbier than nowadays.

    What struck me was that the Doctor doesn’t know things.
    (he seems baffled by the force field; doesn’t know which planet they’re on; who Voords are etc)
    He’s never even seen a sea of acid!
    btw a sea of acid and yet the air doesn’t smell of it?? Heck, I was up a smoking volcano once and I couldn’t breathe and it corroded my glasses!
    But (as in AG Who) he finds childish glee in new things.

    I loved that the ‘monster’ Voord as it waited for Susan got surprised by the revolving wall-door! Hilarious!
    (couldn’t tell whether to think the person that’s viewable behind the door is meant to be seen… apparently not!)

    Agree with @bluesqueakpip that Susan seems to have been sipping at the “Lets do something stoopid” well (lets follow tracks; jump into pools; etc).

    I must admit I’m thinking we’ll see that the Voords will end up being the good (or at least not ‘bad’) guys.
    Not sure why I think that other than the lone occupant seems… well, maybe I’m just conditioned not to trust lone occupants of temples with a story-to-tell!

    Looking forward to next week!

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord

    Well, that was quite fun.

    First of all, going by her behaviour I’m less and less inclined to think of Susan as any kind of Time Lord. She’s much too much of a wuss. I get that that was how teenage girls were written back then but still.

    As @whisht pointed out, the TARDIS crew was much more even-handed in those days (which is rather in the eye for the ‘it’s just the Clara Show now nitwits’. It is interesting just how much the Doctor doesn’t know, and how much more he shares the limelight with the other members of the crew, with Ian rather being the alpha male. (and yes, there’s some terribly bum-puckering sexism on display here too.) Also interesting to see the edutainment aspect still being pushed in those days. Precise distribution of weights, indeed.

    Ah, the Voord. Or The Alien Voord as it used to be they had to be referred to. I’ve always thought they were rather cool and another classic bit of 60’s design. It’s interesting that for essentially a one-shot man-in-a-rubber suit monster, that they found such an enduring place in fandom’s heart, eventually becoming the proto-Cybermen (which I believe is now canon if I read The Doctor Falls correctly). Certainly, they’re one alien race that Chibnall could totally bring back and do something interesting with.

    In terms of the episode itself, there’s more than a bit of Nation hackery going on, even at this early stage in proceedings. Mysterious city surrounded by a hostile environment. Susan being separated to provide the in-episode peril. Even the ‘wait a minute, is that something on the scanner. Oh, never mind, I’m sure it’s nothing’ moment. And I have to say that all the revolving door business was pure Carry On.

    But I have to say that Hartnell was great. When I first got into Who I never liked him at all. He was always the boring old guy you had to endure to get to the fun ones like Troughton, Pertwee and Baker but I’m really looking at him in a new light now.


    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    In terms of the episode itself, there’s more than a bit of Nation hackery going on, even at this early stage in proceedings.

    That’s a bit unfair, Jim. Keys of Marinus was apparently written because Malcolm Hulke’s The Hidden Planet was sent back for rewrites (it never made it to screen) and they needed something in a hurry to fill the hole. That probably explains why Terry seems to be drawing so heavily on his tropes from The Mutants (a.k.a The Daleks).

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord


    Yes, must admit I did think I was being a bit harsh. But then again, I will always be a bit harsh on Nation. Can’t help but feel he deserves it…. 🙂

    Certainly I think he’s still chanelling his own childhood influences in these first two series and it’s not until Dalek Invasion of Earth that he gets a bit more interesting when he finds the tropes that he’s more personally interested in — living under fascism and you have to do to survive.

    winston @winston

    @craig  Thank you for the link. It was fun to watch this for the 1st time and I liked it. Yes it shows its age like an embarassing politically incorrect old Uncle but you give it a break because it is of its time. Not to say I didn’t flinch at times but I kept watching and it was pretty good. I got a kick out of Barbara calling the Tardis a ship, and Susan wanting to paddle in the pool- that could have been messy. The 1st Doctor is crusty , impatient and funny, just the way I like my Doctor.

    As usual my comments are emotional and I will leave the insightful,wise words for the rest of you because you are all so good at it. Thanks for that as you help me understand  my favourite show.

    winston @winston

    @jimthefish  I have to agree with you about Susan being a Time Lord. She seems a little dense to me. I can imagine her driving 12 crazy. “stop trying to swim”, “don’t wander away” “don’t follow strange footprints” etc.

    Anonymous @


    thx for putting that up -don’t know anything about it. I really am suspicious of the guy who ‘says’ he’s ‘alone’ and I think the suited up guys are maybe reclaiming what was theirs? Like a doco about Indigenous peoples.

    It’s funny when I think of @mtgradwell and others talking about the Moon as An Egg (and only signing up to complain about it which is understandable -it wasn’t my fav either) but the science here is dodgy as!

    If there’s acid in a sea and they’re near it the oxygen would be odd  too -not near the Tardis where it’s protected maybe but further inland. Where Susan’s about to put her foot in it   😈  Barbara stops her in time (she could have had grandpa fix it with regen energy -or not 🙂 ) but I think that’s “bad science” and yet, really, who cares?

    The story is the thing and I love the octagonal computer which thinks only good things -what  a great story about agency and what happens when everyone is content -it reminds me of a show @blenkinsopthebrave mentioned ages ago where a man had a time machine, it stayed in one place, eventually he went to the ends of the earth where the people were laying around all day swimming and laughing.

    There were no books, or knowledge, just ‘fun’ but there was curfew and everyone had to hide with the ‘night folk’. The time-traveller tried to make them see the ‘night people’ could be fought. In the end, he fell in love with the first  woman he met (innocent) and realised he’d made a bad mistake….

    @jimthefish @bluesqueakpip I’ve done some reading on Tery Nation and is he not liked because he copyrighted the daleks and they had to be seen in every season? Did he affect the show in other ways, though?

    Thank you, Thane

    PS: @winston your comments are always terrific!

    Anonymous @


    Sorry for the tedious questions: what’s “terrible kerning?”

    Also @missrori thank you for answering my qu about space operas.


    Craig @craig

    @thane15 Kerning is the term printers gave to the spaces between letters. It’s a bit of an art, based on what letters are placed next to each other. I think the main problem in “SEA OF DEATH” is the slope of the A next to the T in DEATH. Both letters take up the same space. A graphic designer, these days, would reduce the space taken up by the T and move it closer to the A, as it kinda looks like “DEA TH”.

    If you look at the image @wolfweed posted of VODYANOI, you’ll see the Y following the D actually encroaches into the D’s space (if it was a rectangle). That’s much better kerning/graphic design – although the letters are not all equally spaced they are balanced and look more equally spaced to the human eye.

    Edit: In the same image you can see the effect in the name DAVID. The slopes of the A and the V are lined up against each other, rather than the letters occupying their own space – much more pleasing to the eye.

    Craig @craig

    Just as a weird addendum to my post above. I only found out recently why capital letters are “uppercase” and others are “lowercase”. It’s ridiculously simple and made me laugh, as I’ve been using the terms all my life without even thinking about it.

    Supposedly, printers of old had cases (drawers) of letters and they kept the capitals in the top cases, and the other letters in the bottom cases.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    Yes, Terry Nation definitely affected the show. 😀 He probably didn’t intend to, though. What he intended to do was another scriptwriting job; then he came up with a good idea for an SF story about some racist mutants. The rest is history – or rather, the start of taking Doctor Who away from that ‘educational’ remit and into ‘monsters, more monsters and added monsters’.

    He’s disliked because he had what I’d call a ‘save the cat’ approach to plotting. That is, he’s got a standard story template and by golly, he’s going to follow it. However, following that template allowed him to produce some of the most memorable stories of BG Who, plus create two other cult series – Survivors and Blakes 7. Sometimes you’ve got to look at someone who continually produces music boxes and realise that they’re a genuine artist – if you want a music box.

    But a lot of the resentment is due to the Estate, who’ve realised that the Terry Nation Estate has one big money spinner that can potentially spin money right up to the copyright expiry date – and so (it is persistently rumoured) insisted that they would not allow the BBC to reuse the Daleks for the story Dalek unless they appeared in every Who series produced thereafter.

    It’s entirely possible, however, that they were thinking like everyone else – that Doctor Who had had its day and that new series would only last a season, maybe two if they were really lucky. If it was lucky enough to manage two, better have it in writing that the Daleks were in both. 😳 Certainly, if the rumours are true, they are now flexible enough to treat ‘appear in every Who series’ as ‘but one scene is acceptable if you want to rest them for a bit’.

    JimTheFish @jimthefish
    Time Lord


    I totally want to see 12 meeting Susan just for that to happen….

    Whisht @whisht

    @thane15 – ah, thankfully @craig has explained kerning better than I could.

    Apologies for my rather tired ‘joke’ about kerning.
    I’ll blame tiredness when posting for the lack of ‘funny’, as I think we can all agree that typography is a fascinating subject that can be deeply mined for comedy.


    For more on typography in Sci Fi, you guessed it, there’s a blog for that.
    (not me btw – I don’t know any topic in the detail this guy goes into!).

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip @craig @whisht

    thank you for all those definitions and explanations: I asked for some and got more than I bargained for. The kerning thing I never knew about but the “upper case” story is awesome! That’s a tale for a party (our nerd parties are nerdy -we still use those foam guns and camp out in cupboards waiting to knock down our enemy

    No tears -it’s like a sonic really 😉

    Thank you! Thane


    Craig @craig

    @whisht (and @thane15) it’s not just you…

    Form Cartwright @formcartwright

    Hey Guys i just joined and I just wanted to say, hey. I’ve been checkin’ out the community and it seems right up my alley. I am a hip-hop artist and a who fan, obviously…I know, who woulda thought right? Anyways I don’t know if this is how I’m supposed to post new things; or if I’m supposed to start my own thread, but I recently wrote a rap song with only Doctor Who references. So it would be be great if y’all can tell me what you think, you know?…whovian to whovian! Thanks. Now I’m of to find an ill photo for my profile. Here’s the link

    Anonymous @


    Hey! Welcome to the site.

    Generally, if you want to post something new like a “hi I’m new” you can go to The Sofa or The Pub, even.

    But welcome and I really liked your song. It’s great.

    Some people on the Forum are watching some of the older Who shows from the ’60s and this is the thread for that.

    Only moderators start new threads but there are plenty of places to write things. There’s a Fan Thread for all things fannish like songs, art work, graphics etc so you can maybe put other songs there later?

    We also have a Song Thread for general music.

    Thank you.


    Whisht @whisht

    hey @craig – apologies for delay in responding.

    Probably (certainly!) too late now, but…


    “I doubt that phrases by the Tories can ever be fully justified”


    [grabs coat]

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Okay, a replacement DVD has now made it through; the audio commentary is with William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Raymond Cusick (designer) and John Gorrie (director).

    All the special effects were made by Shorecraft Models. Ray Cusick had a budget for set design and another budget for special effects – so the Conscience of Marinus was designed in such a way that it could effectively be the set – but come out of the special effects budget. Model work was probably at Ealing, though neither the director or designer could remember. That suggests it went very smoothly.

    Carole Ann Ford rather obviously loathed this story; she comments that Susan seems to be much younger than she should be and that she spends a lot of time either screaming or cuddling up to Barbara. Her faintly SF top was made by her mum.

    The video cassette used for recording was incredibly expensive, which makes it more understandable that the BBC idiotically wiped so many pieces of TV history (not just Doctor Who). The cost mentioned for the cassette is about £2000 – to put that in perspective, a typical week’s wages would be about £10 to £20, and the star, William Hartnell, was earning about £300 a week. So the tape cassette for each week’s filming was probably costing as much as the budget for the entire cast.

    John Gorrie obviously finds it rather strange that the kids loved Hartnell’s bad tempered old git (which sounds like he’d suffered a bit from Hartnell’s exhaustion). Notable that Carole and William spring to his defense – Carole Ann Ford likens Hartnell’s Doctor to the Wizard of Oz. William Russell remarks that he didn’t stop the filming when Hartnell fluffed his lines because he felt it was both eccentric and lovable – something that became part of the character. He mentioned that Hartnell didn’t seem to notice when he fluffed; in hindsight that suggests the first symptoms of his arteriosclerosis.

    Proving that one of the best ways to get jobs is to go to drama school with someone who later becomes a director, John Gorrie cast all his mates in the bit parts. I’m sure they felt happier about that in later weeks (because their faces weren’t seen in this episode, he also cast them in the later episodes); this episode was apparently memorable for the wetsuited Voords fainting on set because of the heat in Studio D.

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