What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Keys of Marinus” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The time is not specified, but the advancement of the planet and the talk of its history appear to indicate that this adventure takes place in the future.

Place: Marinus, a technologically advanced but stagnant planet.


1. “The Sea of Death” (Season One, Episode Twenty-One)
2. “The Velvet Web” (S1, E22)
3. “The Screaming Jungle” (S1, E23)
4. “The Snows of Terror” (S1, E24)
5. “Sentence of Death” (S1, E25)
6. “The Keys of Marinus” (S1, E26)

Today’s Lessons

1. The TARDIS has color television!  So says the Doctor, though he noted it doesn’t always work. Ha!  Meta jokes.

2. One is eternally curious.  In fact, that might be the whole theme of this Doctor incarnation.  For One, it is about the science and exploration.  He wants to test, poke, prod, sample, observe.  One is a scientist above all other things.  His greatest desire as of “The Velvet Web:” a well equipped laboratory with every conceivable apparatus/device.

3. Susan, on the other hand, though she takes after her grandfather in terms of his curious streak, lacks years of intelligence and wisdom and tends to repeatedly get into trouble.  Why does she wander toward the building in “The Sea of Death” rather than toward her grandfather after she loses her shoes to the acidic lake?  That girl!

4. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show the effects of, say, a large cavernous structure or building with many corridors and alien architecture, one only needs to build a partial set and convey size and strangeness with paintings and backdrops featuring perspective drawings.  See also: every other television show from the era.

5.The Doctor just called Ian resourceful!  He really must be warming up to his companions. Perhaps, these are the seeds of doubt regarding the Doctor feeling lonely and enjoying his explorations with others…?  Though, I’ve seen (and shared) a meme quoting One as saying, “Fear makes companions of all of us.”

6. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show or indicate an invisible force field around something, say a TARDIS, one only need to have the actors mime touching an invisible wall in front of them.  In other words, when in doubt: learn to mime.

7. Device introduction alert! Teleportation bracelets?  They’re from Marinus!  Also, as the Doctor says, they are a perfectly acceptable way to travel.  And the ultimate fashion accessory.

8. One’s favorite foods include: pomegranates and truffles.  In addition to salty bacon.

9. When The Doctor decides that the party should split up to look for the remaining keys after the brain aliens are defeated by Barbara, Susan teleports away quickly. She mentions to Barbara that she didn’t want to stay around until the last moment because she doesn’t like “goodbyes.”  Doesn’t that sound familiar?

10. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, when you have a statue with moving arms and no mechanical prowess to clasp the arms shut, grabbing and trapping whomever is in front of the statue, use real human arms.  They may not match, but at least they work!

11. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, when one needs to have a cavern made of pure ice, simulate the effect by hanging a bunch of cellophane.  Of course, your lack of historical special effects prowess may do nothing to muffle the sound of moving “shattered” ice made out of cellophane, but the visual is convincing enough…

12. The Doctor, as of these episodes, is definitely warming up to Ian and vice versa.  When Ian is falsely accused of murder in the Marinus capital, The Doctor takes it upon himself to defend Ian in the resulting trial, where the accused is deemed guilty until proven innocent.  The Doctor gives each of his companions, including the two from Marinus, tasks to complete. When Ian asks what he can do, The Doctor simply responds, “Trust me.”  Ian doesn’t even try to argue. Evolution! Progress!

13. The Doctor resorts to subterfuge to trick one of the guilty parties to admit his wrongdoing in committing the aforesaid murder.  Sadly, it doesn’t really add up to much of a defense in this unusual legal system.

14. One’s “a-ha!” moments are kind of cute.  William Hartnell did an adorable job of creating a demonstrable giddiness when his Doctor is pleasantly surprised, either by the solving of a mystery, such as the case of who really committed murder in the capital – as opposed to the falsely accused Ian – or by being surprised by some trick or bit of cleverness by one of his companions. He was also giddy, and then a bit grumpy, when Ian revealed that he tricked the alien race in the tower by providing them with the fake key that they had acquired in one of the earlier quests.  I think it’s fair to say that giddiness in general is a common attribute to all of the Doctor’s personae.

15. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show, say, a TARDIS in relation to a fictional, large structure, such as an alien pyramid-like tower, one needs to only build a model.  While the model itself doesn’t have to be exactly to scale, or the detailing on the model exactly accurate, one should really invest in realistic looking greenery and shrubbery to better mask the illusion.  The final shot of episode 26 contained what was clearly a model TARDIS on, most likely, the base of a train set.  I know, it was 1964.  Perhaps the budget was a bit too limited for realistic shrubberies – some that looked nice and were not too expensive, at any rate.

16. “The Keys of Marinus” serial is ultimately the most interesting and riveting set of episodes in the One era so far.  Setting the Doctor and his companions in a place where, first, the conceit of the planet/world is that minds are run by machinery, allows for a social commentary/subtext that is both timely to its era and ahead of its time, considering the then-prevalent real-life fear that a surge in advancement of machinery and/or technology could result in a loss of control by the people who created this machinery/technology or greater dangers.  In fact, at the end of the serial, the Doctor advises Sabetha, Arbitan’s daughter, to relinquish the final key and to leave the machine in its dormant state of disrepair, as he suggests that no good comes of people being controlled by machines, or something to that effect.  This statement ultimately serves a double purpose: it’s a warning to the Doctor Who audience about the impending and very realistic dangers that technology can pose to societies and races of beings at large, and in the wake of atomic warfare, twenty years after the conclusion of World War II but deep within the Cold War, this attitude is not surprising.  Yet, the statement provides a secondary effect, in terms of some narrative foreshadowing: after all, are not the Time Lords held somewhat captive by their own advanced technology?  Was the Doctor not making some kind of veiled reference to his own people?  This is, of course, long before Gallifrey disappears in the time stream, but the Gallifreyans are a technologically advanced society who manipulate and control time and events in time.  Interesting to consider, eh?

The second element that makes this serial particularly fascinating and fun to watch is the scavenger hunt underlying the search for the keys.  The Doctor and his companions, including Sabetha and Altos, when they are found in “The Velvet Web,” must travel to pre-programmed destinations via wrist teleporter to search for a set of keys that control the mind and mood altering machinery created by Arbitan.  Each location has different environments and dangers, and each episode is, ultimately, a self-contained story serving a larger narrative arc.  For the first time, it appears, in the show’s history, the writers created a layered and complex story involving the talents of all of its characters, where Ian, Susan, Barbara, and the Doctor himself are able to have a rotating hand in playing victims, heroes, and solvers of greater mysteries.  Of all of the One serials I have seen so far, “The Keys of Marinus” is my favorite to date.

Next serial: “The Aztecs” (Season 1, Episodes 27-30).


One comment

  1. kyliekeelee · December 29, 2013

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