Who Review – The Keys of Marinus

Posted by Richo On February 2, 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Welcome to the Fifth instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to watch and review all available episodes of SF’s longest running television series, Doctor Who. This week, we’re off to locate the hidden Keys of Marinus!

For a complete listing of the previous Who Review posts please click here – Who Review Archive


The Keys of Marinus (6 Episodes)


11 April – 16 May 1964


William Hartnell


Susan Foreman

Barbara Wright

Ian Chesterton


The Keys of Marinus opens with the Doctor and his companions landing on the planet Marinus, on an island surrounded by a sea of acid. Exploring, they find several torpedo-like submarines, designed to transport a single occupant. Unbeknownst to them, the occupants of the torpedos are a race known as the Voord, who now lurk menacingly on the island, watching our intrepid explorers.

The TARDIS crew also discover a large tower looming in the centre of the island. When Susan becomes separated from the group, the others, concerned for her wellbeing, head towards the tower. Eventually, they find their way inside to discover Arbitan, the keeper of the all-powerful device known as the Conscience of Marinus.

The Conscience is a supercomputer created two millennia ago. The machine kept law and order on Marinus for 700 years by eliminating all thoughts of evil from the planet’s inhabitants, until Yartek, leader of the Voord, learned to resist its influence.

Arbitan explains that five Keys are needed to power the device. He possesses only one of the Keys, while the other four are scattered across Marrinus. He tries to enlist the aid of the Doctor and his companions to track down the Keys, but the Doctor refuses. In response, Arbitan places a forcefield around the TARDIS, forcing the Doctor to agree to aid him. As the Doctor and his companions depart to find the Keys, the Voord, led by the malevolent Yartek, infiltrate the tower and murder Arbitan.

What follows is a series of single episode adventures, as the TARDIS crew split up to search for the Keys.

In The Velvet Web, the crew discover a seeming paradise in the city of Morphoton, where their every wish is made reality. The paradise is soon revealed to be an illusion, created by living brains in jars known as The Brains of Morphoton that seek to enslave humans for sustenance. Barbara is given the spotlight, as she is the first to see through the illusion and not only manages to free the others, but is also responsible for destroying the Brains.

Once free from enslavement, the crew splits up to retrieve the Keys, with the Doctor breaking away from the others. They also find two new companions who join them after being freed from slavery at the hands of The Brains: Sabetha, daughter of Arbitan; and Altos, a courier despatched by Arbitan to retrieve the Keys sometime in the past.

The Doctor isn’t seen for the next two episodes. William Hartnell was on holidays at the time and therefore unable to appear for episodes 3 and 4. His omission from the story is quite noticeable, but writer Terry Nation is able to easily overcome his absence with interesting storylines and strong character writing for the companions. These episodes give the companions a chance to stand on their own without the assistance of the Doctor. The addition of Sabetha and Altos to the line-up adds an extra dimension, but neither character is really fleshed out enough for their stories to be overly compelling.

In The Screaming Jungle, Ian and Barbara search through a living jungle for the Key, which is hidden in an overgrown temple. They barely manage to escape with the Key and their lives as the jungle almost overwhelms them. During their adventure, they even manage to find a fake Key, one that comes in to play in the final episode of The Keys of Marinus.

In The Snows of Terror, the Key is hidden in icy caves deep within a frozen mountain. Ian, Barbara, Susan and their newfound companions must fend off a greedy trapper, the dangers of the icy caverns and several frozen knights/guardians to retrieve the Key.

The most intriguing of the Marinus tales is Sentence of Death, in which Ian is falsely accused of murdering a guard protecting the final Key. The Doctor is called on to defend him in a trial, with the penalty of execution looming over the verdict. Here we see the Doctor in all his glory, as he pieces together a puzzle of conspiracy and murder and manages to save Ian’s life. There’s kidnapping, betrayal, court intrigue and manipulation, but the Doctor remains steadfast through it all. It is his genius and deductive reasoning that saves the day.

Part of what makes Sentence of Death stand out is that it is unlike any other story to date, not just within The Keys of Marinus but amongst all of the Who episodes to date.

Finally, the TARDIS crew and their newfound companions return to the island. Unfortunately, Yartek has impersonated Arbitus and manages to convince Ian to hand over the Keys. He powers up the device, only to discover that Ian has substituted the fake Key for one of the real ones. The machine overloads, killing Yartek and his followers and destroying the tower. The Doctor and his companions all manage to escape.

The Keys of Marinus was a last minute replacement for another script, The Hidden Planet, which was deemed problematic and never shot. It was broken up into separate stories to allow for easier script rewrites and to ensure that supporting cast were only needed for a single episode. Despite this, the story holds up remarkably well, and the single story format makes for some tight scripting. There are no lulls in this story. It’s also a credit to writer Terry Nation that each episode is intriguing in its own way. Each of the stand alone stories that make up the Keys of Marinus could have been its own multi-part storyline.

There are some rather obvious technical problems apparent in these episodes: a boom microphone shadow behind Barbara in episode one, a guard tripping over a doorway entrance in episode 5, and numerous forgotten lines causing brief pauses in dialogue or results in characters talking over one another. Fortunately, the strength of the script overcomes these sometimes humorous moments, making The Keys of Marinus a thoroughly enjoyable storyline.


The Doctor is noticeably absent from several episodes, but when he is present, he really shines. His efforts in Sentence of Death showcase all of his finest qualities, and William Hartnell delivers his best performance to date. The courtroom scenes are definite highlights.


The Doctor’s absence ensure that both Barbara and Ian are given time in the spotlight. Ian’s stoic resolve holds the team together when the Doctor is absent and he faces impending death by execution with particular tenacity. Barbara’s deductive mind and intelligence, evident in The Edge of Destruction, shows itself once again.

Unfortunately, Susan isn’t given the same opportunities as her companions. She spends most of the story screaming, being kidnapped, or worrying about the Doctor. It’s a shame, since she’s been the strongest of the companions to date.


Yartek and the Voord have a strong visual appeal and excellent design, but as villains they don’t really stand out. Their singular goal of gaining control of the Will of Marinus makes them relatively two-dimensional, as they seem to have no stronger motivation beyond the gaining of power. They are, in effect, nothing more than a plot device. It’s not really surprising that the Voord have yet to make a second appearance in Doctor Who.


With his first two storylines, Terry Nation quickly establishes himself as the standout writer amongst the Doctor Who crew. The Keys of Marinus is a thoroughly entertaining and highly creative series of stories linked by a strong quest for the Keys themselves.

3 Lukes.


We travel back into human history as the Doctor and his companions meet The Azteks.

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