(With “The Keys of Marinus”, we reach Part 5 of our Name Dropping journey through the First Doctor’s character arc as represented by his changing ways of addressing Ian: in which the Doctor takes one of many holidays, Barbara narrowly escapes a fate worse than being married to King Yrcanos, Ian models the kimono as the latest in designer skiwear and the most interesting thing Susan does is change her shoes.)
While watching a reconstruction of “Marco Polo” may have been a snooze from start to finish, at least one can imagine that it might be better if we had the video. Whereas “The Keys of Marinus” exists in all its bland glory as a Playstation game which doesn’t live up to its potential. And a Playstation game is what it is. What else do you think when the TARDIS crew are told upon entering the pyramid that they must find four keys which are hidden across the planet? The only surprise is that Ian doesn’t come across a shop in the ice caves where he can upgrade his kimono to a ski-suit. It would be a rotten computer game anyway because there really ought to be a handy Save Point near that ice bridge. One might have thought that you couldn’t go wrong with a treasure hunt for four keys where the story can keep the viewer’s interest with a sequence of search, find, search, find, search, find, search, find. One would have been wrong.
The best part of this story is by far the introduction. The glass sand, the acid sea, the Voord submariney things. What’s not to like? Even the pyramid is well realised with the simple use of perspective plates. And not only do we get a wonderfully creepy new baddie in the Voord, while lying in wait for our heroes they’re being attacked themselves by some unknown threat.
Unfortunately, from the moment that they first twist their travel dials, snores abound in a strangely edited (or bizarrely directed) story where we frequently happen upon a new scene as if walking in on the middle of a sentence. Darrius leaving Ian and Barbara to enter his room is a case in point as the next scene finds him being strangled by a vine sans any build up.
It’s a bad day for a Doctor Who story when the viewer, in a quest for tension, is reduced to wondering if one of the TARDIS crew is going to be raped by the guy who played Agrippa in Carry on Cleo (“I’m Agrippa” – “And I know one or two holds myself” – boom boom).
The introduction aside, the only decent scenes are the Doctor in his gleeful element reconstructing the crime scene in Millennius. It’s no surprise that Carole Ann Ford described Susan’s character as “pathetic” in this story. While one might appreciate the difficulties for a writer in finding interesting things for four characters to do, the Doctor’s absence for much of this story should be an ideal opportunity but what do they do? They add in the unnecessary characters of Altos and Sabetha to take up the slack.
The absence of the Doctor reduces the scope for our journey through his interactions with Ian. During “The Keys of Marinus”, the Doctor addresses Ian as follows: Chesterton x 4, my dear Chesterton x 1, my boy x 2, dear boy x 1, my dear boy x 1 and (an innovation here) my friend x 1. The Doctor of course is just as likely to address Total Stranger #5 on an alien planet as “my friend” but the use of variants on “boy” seem to dominate here. A little too patronising for the Doctor to yet treat Ian as anything approaching an equal. At least he never gets Ian’s surname wrong.