Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus Review
The TARDIS lands on Marinus, on a glass landscape surrounded by a sea of acid. Arbitan (George Coulouris) gives The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan the task to find four of the five operating keys for the Conscience of Marinus, which are hidden in unknown locations on the planet.
The Keys of Marinus is a middling serial from the show's first season, tending to be overshadowed by the two historicals either side of it (Marco Polo and The Aztecs) and indeed writer Terry Nation's earlier serial The Daleks. It has a hunt-the-plot-coupons structure over its six episodes – a format later expanded to a whole season with The Key to Time. Each of episodes two to four are a twnety-five-minute mini-adventure resulting in the finding of one of the keys: the city of Morphotron, ruled over by mobile brains in jars; a jungle; and then by way of contrast snow and ice. William Hartnell takes a holiday and isn't in episodes three and four, leaving the other regulars to carry the storyline. Barbara is threatened with a fate worse than death, while Ian carries out the derring-do and Susan is at her wettest. The final two episodes take place in the city of Millennius, where Ian is accused of murder and likely to be executed...
If I've described this sequel as middling, it's still watchable and entertaining, and certainly not as tedious as The Sensorites, later the same season. George Coulouris was one of the most distinguished actors to have appeared in the show up to this point (he's the answer to questions linking Who with Citizen Kane, after all) so it's a pity that he's only in the one episode. The familiarly bulky presence of Francis de Wolff livens up Episode Four, though Barbara certainly doesn't welcome his character's attentions. The chief monsters are the rubber-suited Voords, though they only appear in the first and last episodes. By the end of the serial it's become a courtroom drama, with Hartnell in his element, seemingly invigorated by his fortnight's leave.
However, the real star is Raymond Cusick's designs. At the time, he tended to be given the futuristic storylines while Barry Newbery had the historicals. Cusick's work is consistently inventive, especially when you consider the tiny budget he had to work with. John Gorrie's direction is often resourceful, particularly when cutting between reality and fantasy in the second episode.
The Keys of Marinus is a serial that doesn't attract much love – or much hatred either. As with some 60s serials, you do wonder why this one survived when some reputedly better ones (such as Marco Polo) are lost. Not that I would wish any episode away, of course. As an example of Terry Nation's work for the show away from the Daleks, it passes muster – it was written in a hurry as a replacement for another story that had fallen through. One for the established fans, this story and DVD release – newcomers to 60s Who had better start elsewhere.
The Keys of Marinus is released on a single dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. It has an audio selection menu option, which is followed by an advertisement (1:01) for the DVD range which can only be fast-forwarded and not skipped. As it includes clips from New Who it's anamorphically enhanced in a ratio of 1.78:1, which means that all the Classic Who clips are (ugh) horizontally stretched.
All six episodes survive as 16mm telerecordings, which have been restored to the usual standards, and VidFIRE has been applied to restore a video look to the film recordings. The aspect ratio is the intended 1.33:1.
The soundtrack is the original mono, cleaned up and restored. While preparing this DVD for release it came to light that there were a few seconds missing from episodes two and four (most likely due to damage), which had not been in the previous VHS version. These gaps have been plugged by the appropriate sections of an off-air soundtrack, and the picture gaps filled with cutaways and composite images. It's not quite what was seen in 1964, but as a more complete copy is unlikely to materialise, it's as close as we can get – and the soundtrack is now complete for the first time since the original broadcast. Subtitles for the hard of hearing are available on the serial and the extras except the commentary. In addition there are the ever-invaluable information subtitles, here provided by Richard Molesworth, from which you can learn as much as you are likely ever to want to know about this serial, from detailing script variations to pointing out Hartnell fluffs and other goofs.
A middling serial gets a standard DVD release in terms of extras. There's just the one specially-made featurette, which is “The Sets of Marinus” (9:26), in which Raymond Cusick talks about the challenges of designing this story on a minuscule budget – beg, borrow or steal was a guiding principle. He ends by saying that he's not particularly proud of his work here.
Cusick also features on the commentary, along with William Russell, Carole Ann Ford and director John Gorrie. Clayton Hickman moderates – as I've said before, a good idea with a 60s serial, as forty-year-old memories can be lacking and many of the participants are elderly to begin with. As ever, the rapport is the thing, as almost all of the information imparted can be found elsewhere on the disc, particularly in the subtitles.
The other extras are standard, though not that I'm ungrateful: a self-navigating stills gallery (7:26) and a Coming Soon trailer for the forthcoming four-disc Dalek War box set (1:22). Available in PDF format are the Radio Times listings from 1964. Also in PDF are reproductions of the fifty illustrated cards given away by Cadet Sweets in their packages of sweet cigarettes (now there's something unlikely to be revived). Each card has a picture on the front and some text on the back detailing the adventures of the Doctor against the Daleks and the Voords.
There is also an Easter egg in the form of 8mm footage shot by twenty-one-year-old grams operator Patrick Heigham (1:10). The footage is silent, though a projector whirr has been added, as have some explanatory captions. To locate this egg, click on "PDF Materials" in the Special Features menu, then highlight and click on the Doctor Who logo in the top left.