Written by Terry Nation
Directed by John Gorrie
Nowadays it’s more or less expected that politicians and cardinals might get a bit rapey, but it has been pretty unusual in the history of Doctor Who characters. Of course, the two men I just referenced here are, at time of writing, only accused of inappropriate behaviour and are quite rightly presumed innocent of any wrongdoing until a jury of their peers declares otherwise, because despite its deficiencies, we live in a country far more civilized than Marinus’ ‘highly civilized’ society. A society in which the courts still employ presumption of guilt, the death penalty, trial without jury, detention without trial, and any number of other frankly barbaric practices.
The Keys of Marinus is a rather unusual Doctor Who story in that each episode is a short tale in its own right, the six of them only being linked together by a rather daft MacGuffin hunt for a bunch of keys. This idea would be reused some fifteen years later by then producer Graham Williams in the far longer Key to Time saga, but whereas The Key to Time is a number of four part stories, each by a different writer, the Keys of Marinus is a much snappier set of single episode stories, all written by Terry Nation.
Nation had made quite a name for himself a few months earlier with his creation of the Daleks, os when the BBC wanted another sci-fi Doctor Who story he was the obvious choice. The villains here, the Voord, were not as successful, not appearing in any other televised story to my knowledge*. But then, they are just guys in rubber suits. Not even monsters that looks like guys in rubber suits, they actually are just evil dudes dressed if daft costumes. They’re hardly even in it either, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the story, with the four episodes in middle somewhat lacking their presence.
The strength of this story, however, does not lie in the ‘main’ villains. Each of the shorts that make up the overarching plot have a great villain in their own right from the wonderfully macabre, and to the best of my knowledge unnamed, Brain Things in The Velvet Web, to the somewhat rapey trapper in The Snows of Terror**.
The unusual structure of this story works to its advantage in that it of all the classic Doctor Who stories I’ve ever watched, this is the only one that can match the pace of the current series. I’m actually a big fan of the more leisurely pacing of the 60s and 70s, but The Keys of Marinus is bracing proof that the classic series could keep up that kind of pace. if it had wanted to. Which it clearly didn’t, and that’s just fine by me.
Barbara hints at her interest in the native architecture of Mexico and Central America in the first episode of this story, The Sea of Death. Perhaps some of that information might be useful in the next story. Or not: detailed understanding of the Aztec’s temples probably won’t stop them from sacrificing you.
*or any audio plays. In fact, the only other story I’ve come across with them is a comic by legendary writer Grant Morrison.
**Yeah, see, that tangent was tots relevant.