The Keys of Marinus part 2
16 September 2017 at 18:18 #61925Craig @craigEmperor
This week it’s “The Velvet Web”. Barbara is missing, possibly injured or worse. The TARDIS team are looking for one of the four missing keys of Marinus but they must find Barbara first. They quickly discover she’s fine – in fact, she’s better than fine. Barbara’s living in luxury! But as the title suggests, all may not be what it seems.
Morphoton seems amazingly idyllic. Barbara is enjoying herself, thinking it kind and hospitable. Ian is suspicious at first – “We don’t know the price yet” – but soon settles in. Once again it’s Barbara who eventually sees things as they really are. This is a strong ‘Barbara’ episode. In the parlance of our times, Barbara kicks some serious ass.
In the drama “An Adventure in Space and Time” Sydney Newman’s character said he wanted “No BEMs – no bug eyed monsters or brains in glass jars” (which I think is a direct quote from one of his original production notes). Interestingly we get both rolled into one here!
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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.16 September 2017 at 19:03 #61938Craig @craigEmperor
I forgot to say, having watched it again, I was wondering if this was “Doctor Who” or “The Barbara Wright Show”. 😉
[I’m being ironic]16 September 2017 at 20:24 #61940
Well, that was fun.
Much as I enjoyed seeing Barbara chew gum and kick ass (and the gum was an illusion), the acting that seriously impressed me was William Hartnell in the scene where Barbara wakes up and sees the reality. I’ll have to watch this again, later. How did Hartnell manage to make himself seem so very, very creepy?
@craig – the irony will increase next week, I suspect, as the final discussion sounded suspiciously like ‘let’s split up, you do ‘The Barbara, Ian and Susan Show’, and I’ll meet you to restart ‘Doctor Who’ the episode after next’. 🙂 This was still the era when the leading actors were given staggered holidays, rather than pausing the entire production.
Modern sensibilities – I suspect modern Who would be more instantly suspicious if they found themselves with a bevy of servants/slaves for no apparent reason, but it may have been Terry Nation’s little joke about the British national habit of arriving in strange places and expecting ‘the natives’ to provide hotel service.
@jimthefish I know you don’t like Terry Nation, but I’m in awe of someone who was confident enough of his professional scriptwriting abilities that he could commit to delivering six episodes which are, it seems, set in five different locations, with a different cast and different main story. I think Terry would have found himself entirely at home in the world of Post Gap Who. It’s also great that a male writer from the 1960’s is writing an episode where it’s the woman who saves the day. Though possibly he was just basing Barbara on Verity Lambert. 😀
The one bad note is that he appears to have decided that Susan is about twelve. She certainly doesn’t seem like a trainee Time Lord – but then, we’ve discovered since that not everyone on Gallifrey is a Time Lord. Perhaps the Doctor didn’t want her to join the army? 😈
The plot itself reminded me of The Puppet Masters, by Robert Heinlein – certainly the creatures reminded me of that novel, except that they stuck them in glass jars and used hypnotism rather than them needing physical contact to mind control. But while Terry Nation may have got his plot off the back of the SF lorry, he reworked it and made a distinctively Who story. Right down to not allowing Barbara to kill the ‘monsters’ until they’d demonstrated that they were monsters – by mind-controlling Ian to kill her.16 September 2017 at 21:05 #61941
I’m sure I used to go to a goth nightclub called The Velvet Web….
Yes, that was a fun ep too. The Brains of Morphoton were surprisingly creepy and have stood the test of time — although they were surprisingly obliging with the exposition.
Lots of other fine Who tropes on show here too. Like hiding just slightly behind a pillar will instantly render you completely invisible.
How did Hartnell manage to make himself seem so very, very creepy?
Yes, he did, didn’t he. Mind you, he’d pretty much made a career of that kind of performance prior to Who. It’s interesting that the Doctor is still something of a dick here. Would any other incarnation give the remotest stuff about Barbara breaking up a set of ‘exquisite’ glass goblets. He’s also less interested in Barbara’s wellbeing than in seeing his new laboratory (shades of the selfish old arse of The Daleks there). He also seems very keen to get to Millennius on his own (and without Susan), presumably so he can kick back for a while, rather than a burning desire to find the key.
I think Terry would have found himself entirely at home in the world of Post Gap Who
I think he possibly would have. But then again he was also notoriously unreliable which he got away with in those days but absolutely couldn’t now. I’m thinking here of the 11 episodes of the Daleks Masterplan he was meant to write but which he turned in instead a couple of typewritten sheets of ‘notes’ and left poor old Donald Tosh to write the majority of the thing while he buggered off on holiday (but presumably pocketed the cheques anyway).
Mostly I dislike the shoddy way Nation screwed over Raymond Cusick though — who once again produced another timeless classic Who design in the form of the Voord last week, and the Brains this week actually.
You’re right though that he deserves heaps of credit for having Barbara lead the episode. It never struck me before that Verity Lambert herself could be the model for Barbara and I think you could well be right there. I think with the different locations within an overarching narrative he’s trying to channel the old Flash Gordon serials and the like and it’s largely working.
With regards to Susan, there has to be some latitude because the concept of Time Lords as we understand them now hadn’t really been thought of but I suspect that at some level the production team realised they’d dug themselves into a hole by giving Susan that history and that they would either have to explore that and deepen it or get rid of her ASAP to avoid the awkward questions that would inevitably arise. Same with her telepathy, which would surely have been relevant to this story.
So next week Billy is off to Torremolinos and the others are going to have to fend for themselves. Try getting away with that these days.16 September 2017 at 23:09 #61943
left poor old Donald Tosh to write the majority of the thing
According to Donald Tosh. It’s probably completely impossible now to work out the truth of that particular row, but the claim from the Nation side is that he did turn in about thirty pages of script per episode, and then Donald Tosh rewrote them.
The truth is probably somewhere in between – I can very easily see Donald Tosh deciding a rewrite was necessary (he also quite extensively rewrote the Massacre of St Bartholomew, which was the next story) and Terry Nation getting seriously pissed off because he’d been working on Who for longer than Donald Tosh.
But it does seem certain that there was a row, because Terry Nation didn’t write for Who for another eight years and Donald Tosh didn’t get another story editor job for two years afterwards.17 September 2017 at 17:05 #61949
This is a Fake News story! It’s a tale of Utopia (But a a fake Utopia).
Never eat cherries & narcotic powder. It may be drugged! Then you might have a walnut whip placed on your forehead! (It may luckily fall off) The crew all wake up with ice-cream headaches a la ‘Last Christmas’ or ‘Extremis’. Indeed this is a Fake Paradise but it’s not a dream, it’s a Mesmorant Hallucination.
Nobody really believes Barbara, they just assume that’s she’s deluded. Swayed by truffles & trinkets!
If that’s not orange juice they’re drinking, I wonder what it is? (Brain urine?!)
Hartnell is hilarious, holding up an enamel mug and declaring that he can fix the TARDIS with it.
Weirdly, Babs kills the Morphotons by not breaking their jars (Should’ve given Jacqueline Hill a sledgehammer).
I really like this episode (despite the technical complexity perhaps stilting the delivery?). The cleverly executed delusional fantasy & the creepy brains with eyeballs (see also Dr Mysterio) really make it. I just wonder if it’s meant to be a metaphor for something specific and if so, what?17 September 2017 at 23:41 #61952
Weirdly, Babs kills the Morphotons by not breaking their jars
Not weird. I bet those jars came from the BBC Props department and they wanted them back. Unbroken.
It’s possible to play ‘spot the BBC Props goblet’ with BBC historicals between the 1960’s and 1970’s. Apparently all historical periods, from Elizabethan England to Claudian Rome, used a remarkably similar style of goblet. Almost identical, in fact. 🙂
Those colour photos are fantastic, by the way.18 September 2017 at 00:38 #61953
seconded thumbs-up for the colour pics…
So that’s why Billy was so uptight about the glass breakage. He was fearing it was going to come out of their wages….
And what is it about the Brains of Morphoton that is reminding me of Blakey from On The Buses?18 September 2017 at 13:58 #6195518 September 2017 at 16:43 #61958
Cheers for that, especially the designs. I really like Cusick’s work, not least because it points to a time in the BBC’s history when it had whole armies of these guys who seemed to look upon what would now be considered jobs as High Creatives from a kind of National Service-inflected just-a-job technician point of view. I think it’d be really interesting for someone to write a book about him, as a means of being able to talk about the whole Beeb set-up of the 50s and 60s. Plus it would have some really cool illustrations to go with it. I dunno, maybe someone’s done it already.18 September 2017 at 23:30 #6196019 September 2017 at 12:17 #61962
Yeah, saw that. Almost impossible to get hold of, I reckon. Though it may show up at collectors fairs and what have you. No indication of what this ‘signature collection’ might be though. I’d be very disappointed if it was just a collection of signatures, for example…19 September 2017 at 15:55 #61963
I just wonder if it’s meant to be a metaphor for something specific and if so, what?
Given that this was written in the period when the various European Empires were collapsing – the British one being closest to home and most frequently in the news of the day – I did wonder if the definite ‘Roman Empire’ vibe was deliberate. (Rather than a case of ‘we have some lovely Roman Empire costumes in stock’).
The Roman Empire was an apparently wonderful, luxurious environment – except that was an illusion. The reality for most was poverty and/or outright slavery, maintained by brutality and force. That might have been the metaphor.11 October 2017 at 23:11 #62119
So: notes from the audio commentary from the DVD.
Raymond Cusick resorted to ‘borrowing’ the very first wall set from another programme; he was also reprimanded for spending too much on the gorgeous set in this episode. The food was apparently practical – it was cheaper. 😉 Showing Barbara in the beautiful set and the others in the dingy set wasn’t complicated – the two groups of actors were on different sets on different cameras, and the director simply cut between the two. John Gorrie, the director, found the confines of Studio D annoying. He kept having to start with the set (boring) and have the actors enter, because there simply wasn’t room to start on the actors talking and then pull the shot back to reveal the set.
Robin Phillips is another friend of the director. He went on to an extremely successful and highly respected career as a theatre director in Canada.
Carole Ann Ford remarks that if the main TARDIS crew hadn’t got on with each other well, they couldn’t have made the programme, because they were under such pressure of time (‘intense’ is the word she used). The stress would have resulted in constant eruptions. She did sometimes find William Hartnell’s insistence on treating her as if she really was his fifteen year old granddaughter a bit annoying, but it’s pretty clear that she adored him. She also finds the eye monsters the creepiest of all the ones she worked with – she said they literally gave her nightmares.
The jars were not from Props 🙂 They were specially made. Given that John Gorrie gives an extensive lecture on the dangers of smashing glass, I wonder if they weren’t made from sugar glass and so he decided on-set that Barbara should only smash one; alternatively that there was only one sugar-glass jar. Raymond Cusick couldn’t remember what the jars were made of, so I suppose we’ll never know.
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