My Quest to Watch ALL Available Doctor Who Episodes: Serial 5 – The Keys of Marinus

This post may contain spoilers about classic and current episodes of Doctor Who.

Spoiler Alert:  This series of posts will contain spoilers about classic and possibly current episodes of Doctor Who.

The Keys of Marinus is the 5th Doctor Who story. It consisted of two episodes, airing weekly, starting on April 11th, 1964. The proceeding story, Marco Polo, is completely missing.

The Doctor Has a Dungeons & Dragons Adventure.

The Doctor and his companions (Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan) land on the planet Marinus, where the ocean is an acid and the beach is glass. They find a tower with secret entrances, in which reside Arbitan, Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus.

The Conscience is a computer which once kept law and order across the entire planet by eliminating evil thoughts. Arbitan explains how this changed when Yartek, leader of the alien Voord, worked out how to resist the computer’s impulses. Since then, Yartek has been directing the Voord to attack the tower to gain control of the Conscience, and thus the planet.

To foil Yartek, Arbitan hid the five Keys needed to regulate the Conscience. The keys can be found by using travel dials which transport the wearer to preset locations elsewhere on Marinus.

Arbitan has since upgraded the Conscience so it can control Yartek and the Voord again. He sent out various people, including his daughter, to retrieve the keys, but none ever returned. He asks the Doctor et al. to gather the keys together. When the Doctor refuses to help, Arbitan surrounds the TARDIS in a forcefield and refuses to remove it until the keys are returned to him.  

Lacking any other choice, the Doctor and his companions set off to find the keys. Arbitan is subsequently killed by a Voord who managed to sneak into the tower. 

In the subsequent episodes the Doctor et al. encounter various obstacles including mind controlling aliens, a jungle populated by hostile plants surrounding a trap filled temple, a frozen wilderness, murder charges, political intrigue, and so forth.  They also discover a fake key and Arbitan’s missing daughter.  

Yartek, disguised as the now deceased Arbitan, manages to get four of the five keys from the travelers before he is discovered. Ian tricks Yartek by giving him the fake key they found, rather than the real fifth key. When Yartek activates the conscience using the fake key, the machine explodes killing Yartek and his Voord followers. The tower which once held the Conscience goes up in flames. The Doctor and the others hop in the TARDIS, saying goodbye and good riddance to Marinus.

What’s Important


NOTHING? Nothing at all important happens in this story? Seriously?

It is mentioned that Susan is telepathic as a way to explain why she has a total shrieking meltdown in the jungle. One could interpret this as the moment when it was introduced that the Doctor’s race, Gallifreyan/Time Lords, are all telepathic to some degree.

However, in this story Suan’s telepathic nature seems to be a contrived explanation for why she is being more shrill and annoying than usual. Trust me, the mute button is your best friend at this point of the serial.    

What about the unusual structure of this story? Isn’t that important?

This was the series’ first time to use a quest as the underlying motivation for a story. Specifically, one where the overall story depends first on finding a collection of related items. This allowed them to do series of standalone episodes, each set in very different environments populated with their own collection of characters, which were joined by the need to find the hidden keys.  

This type of story would be used infrequently. Most notably, it was used for The Key to Time story arc which would occupy the entire 16th season. Each serial of that season was a standalone story where the Doctor searched for pieces to The Key to Time.

What about Hartnell as the Doctor? Does he do anything interesting?

You can see improvements in all the actors’ performances from when the series started. By this point they are working comfortably together, and developing a solid grasp of their characters. Hartnell, in particular, is beginning to use subtle expressions to slyly imply the Doctor is deducing far more than he is revealing. He has not yet taken over as the central character, that honor still belongs to Ian and, to a lesser extent, Barbara. But Hartnell’s Doctor no longer feels less important than the others. He has become an integral part of the show’s chemistry.

DVD Extra’s

The one special feature of note on the DVD is called The Sets of Marinus. This is surprisingly good, largely because the person being interviewed, designer Raymond Cusic, is refreshingly straightforward about the limitations he was forced to work under.

Features such as these tend to show people gushing about how wonderful it was to be part of whatever their being interviewed about. Mr. Cusic instead exudes the attitude of a seasoned professional who is able to fairly criticize his own work. His dismissive attitude toward the quality of the sets he built, combined with fact ladened explanations for how they came to be created, give real insight into the difficult work conditions which surrounded the early Doctor Who episodes. See the excerpt below for an example of his blunt assessments.

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Next Time

The next storyline is the 6th serial, The Aztecs.