Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus

Serial Title: The Keys of Marinus
Series: 1
Episodes: 6
The Sea of Death
The Velvet Web
The Screaming Jungle
The Snows of Terror
Sentence of Death
The Keys of Marinus
(Note from Sarah: See? They really knew how to do it back then...all those delicious titles. Not just 'Episode One" and "Episode 2" that started happening in the end of Hartnell and beginning of Troughton)
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

(Note from Sarah: All further Notes From Sarah will be referred to as NFS.)

Strap in folks. This one is complicated- but in a good way! :-)

The TARDIS materializes on a glass beach by the acid seas of the planet Marinus. When an invisible forcefield cuts the Doctor and his companions off from the TARDIS, they set out to explore the only structure in the area, a colossal obsidian tower maned by Arbitan, Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus. This computer was responsible for planet-wide law enforcement by means of... well, thought-policing. This absolutely-terrifying-in-the-wrong-hands-in-fact-could-anyone-really-count-as-the-right-hands-?-device eliminated all evil thoughts of the society via telepathic mind-control... until, after 700 years of peace, a Voord (humanoid aliens) named Yartek managed to develop himself an immunity. (NFS: This is kind of reminding me of the Voyager episode where no one had evil thoughts and then someone bumped into someone and they thought something mean and they stole it from their mind so they could have an evil thought because they wanted one...or...was that something I just made up?) He spread it to followers, and the Conscience was disassembled to prevent the rogue faction- literally the only crime on the planet- from gaining control of it. It has since been upgraded to re-control the Voord... but the disassembled components, 5 keys, remain scattered across the surface of Marinus where they were originally hidden...(NFS: This is starting to sound like a really good video game...) all 5 must be recovered before the Conscience can be reactivated to re-envelope the planet in it's warm lobotomizing glow. Meanwhile, the Voord, in glass submarines and rubber diving suits, have crossed the acid sea to lay siege to the tower and capture the Conscience device- intent on preventing it's reactivation.

Arbitan has the first key, but must remain in the tower to protect the Conscience- but by holding the TARDIS hostage, he is able to force Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor to seek the others in his stead. He gives each a travel dial (a portable wrist-mounted teleporter, looking very similar to a geographical version of the Vortex Manipulator used by Captain Jack Harkness and others from the New Who series) which is pre-set with the coordinates for each key's hiding place. Others have set out on the quest before- including Arbitan's own daughter (Oh, I bet that won't figure into the plot later on whatsoever... *eye roll*) but none have ever returned. With that encouraging news, Arbitan, guardian of the Conscience, sends them on their way and then promptly fails his guardian duties by getting stabbed in the back 5 seconds later by a Voord that had snuck in the back way. Clearly this 'guardian' thing was a largely ceremonial title. (NFS: Once again...the timing is incredible! Just enough time to give them all the presets! Gee whiz!)

The group arrives in the city of Morphoton, a utopia of advanced technology and peaceful inhabitants. Due to an accidental dropping of her sleep-inducing 'Somnor Disc' at night, however, Barbara is able to see past the 'mesmerant,' a powerful wave of hypnosis projecting false images to everyone. In reality, Morphoton is a dirty, squalid, dungeon-like place run by the Brains of Morphoton- four brains in jars with eye-stalks and powerful hypnotic powers; transcendent beings evolved past their bodies, yadda yadda yadda. You know the drill. The same old sci-fi chestnut. (NFS: in other words....B'omarr Monks, right?)

Barbara makes several unsuccessful attempts to explain the truth to the others in the vaguest, most useless way possible that would never be clear to anyone who wasn't already seeing what she was seeing (NFS: "It's as if...what you're seeing...isn't....well how can I put this? You see there are these talking no...that's not what I meant to if we built a large wooden badger...."), and then, under the guise of medical aid, is imprisoned for knowing the truth. However, slave girl Sabetha just so happens to wear one of the 5 keys around her neck, and Barbara deduces that she is in fact Arbitan's missing daughter. Breaking Sabetha's brainwashing, Barbara is freed, and quickly turns to murdering the helpless brains where they lie. (I call 'em as I see 'em. Yeah, they were villains... but beating them to a pulp inside their helpless jars? That's cold, man...) Thus heroically(?) freeing the inhabitants of the city from mind-control enslavement. (NFS: But how else do you defeat beings that can control like everything with their minds so much so they don't need bodies? I am not saying beating them up to death was the answer...but still...ponder.)

The group, joined by Sabetha, and another slave named Altos- who also turns out to be one of Arbitan's candidates once his memory returns- join forces and decide to split up and cover more territory. The Doctor leaps ahead to the final location so that William Hartnell can have a vacation (sorry, I seem to be overly snarky in this review... it's a good story, really!) while the others continue on to the second key. (NFS: You're just being truthful...I've noticed Hartnell seems to take a lot of vacations...might have something to do with the fact that he was like...80 when he started the show.)

The group arrives in the midst of a jungle of telepathic plants, whose screaming attack particularly debilitates Susan (NFS: Screaming plants debilitating Susan is not surprising at all...a screaming noodle could do the same...even if it wasn't screaming at the time.). A nearby temple provides both a shelter from the plants, many of which are physically agile and deadly, and also the next key, right in plain sight aboard a statue. Sadly, Ian and Barbara are from 18 years before the first Indiana Jones movie and can't spot an obvious temple-trap when they see one; the key is a fake, and Barbara is caught up in a revolving wall. Unable to find her, Ian speculates that she may have escaped with her teleporter, which is a pre-programmed one-way trip, and sends Susan, Sabetha, and Altos ahead to find her, just in case (as Barbara would have no way of returning and telling them she'd left). Ian remains to look for the key, and soon finds Barbara, still in the temple. The two evade numerous traps, and finally are discovered by Darrius, an elderly scientist at death's door, and the temple's only occupant. Darrius is a friend of Arbitan, and had set the traps to foil any incoming Voord (NFS: Why wouldn't he like give the key to Arbitan? That's weird! It's like...yes...protect all the keys from being found by the people who want to turn the infernal thing back on and peace reigning), but the temple harbors a deadlier secret; with his dying words, Darrius tells them of the growth-accelerator produced and tested by himself in this region has created a particularly voracious and deadly, aggressive set of plants, who are growing more powerful by the minute. Ian and Barbara enter the laboratory and begin a frantic search as the carnivorous, lethal vines begin to smash through the walls and tear the building apart (NFS: once again...good timing. They seem to have reached their peak just as Barbara and Ian have come on the scene...ooh...maybe it's me whose being snarky!). Locating the Key- hidden simply in a jar of opaque liquid in amongst many other similar jars on a shelf- Ian and Barbara teleport out of the reach of the thrashing vines as the infuriated, ravaging jungle tears the lab to shreds, shrieking and slashing.

They arrive in a frigid wasteland that is almost fatally cold, and are found at death's door by Vasor, a trapper who offers them shelter... before stealing their Keys, and turning them out into the frozen wastes to die. Well... Ian, at least. Barbara, the sinister trapper keeps with him for... other purposes. (NFS: Surely he just plans to turn her into his housekeeper cook...there can be no other reason...)

Ian finds a bound Altos, suffering from exposure, and discovers that he and the girls had also run afoul of Vasor. The two return in force to retake their Keys, rescue Barbara from Vasor's lecherous clutches, and force the trapper to take them to the ice cave where he abandoned Susan and Sabetha for retrieval at his convenience.

Susan and Sabetha have explored the caves and discovered frozen soldiers, mechanical warriors from an ancient war. The treacherous Vasor severs a rope bridge, stranding them in the cavern. The group finds this places key in a block of ice while trying to escape (not very close on your teleporter coordinates, Arbitan! This wasn't anywhere NEAR where they arrived!) and free it, awakening the ice soldiers, who seem programmed to kill anything that moves and isn't each other. Susan makes a perilous climb over felled icicles, re-attaches the bridge, and saves the day (NFS: Surely not! Susan?! Oh okay...I realize she did have her useful microns of a second. It's funny cause I actually quite like Susan too...I just think the writers didn't.) as the sextet races back to Vasor's cabin, retrieves their teleport bracelets, and escape- as the ice soldiers they'd been fleeing, led right to the ice shack, break down the door and deliver Vasor his just desserts. (NFS: mean they killded him?)

Ian is separated from the group and finds himself in a museum of sorts- the key right in front of him in a display case. This is, of course, too easy, and as he moves to retrieve it, he is struck from behind and knocked out... awakening to find the key gone and a dead man beside him (NFS: If I had a dime... :-P). The rest of the group arrives, but Ian is accused of murder and theft; the deceased, Eprin (NFS: Sounds like something you take when you've got a headache from being struck from behind and have woke up next to a dead man), having been another Key-seeker (who apparently decided the other places were too hard and skipped right to the end?) (NFS: Maybe he's like the smart people who do pencil-mazes, he started from the end to go to the beginning) and a friend of Altos. And in another sci-fi cliche, the punishment is death and the justice system is guilty until proven innocent. Only one man can help Ian now... the Doctor! Reunited with the group, he takes on the role of Ian's lawyer, postponing the trial long enough to ferret our the real culprit- Aydan, the relief-watch guard!

Only he gets murdered too.

Just to complicate things further, Susan is kidnapped and used as leverage to get the Doctor to drop the case.

It turns out that the relief-watch guards widow was in league with a lover to bump off her husband; Eprin was in the wrong place at the wrong time and mistaken for Aydan, who hadn't yet relieved him of his watch, from behind. Susan is recovered, the lover is indicted and had the key- hidden in the murder weapon of all places- and Ian is freed.

The triumphant return to Arbitan in the tower is slightly sullied by the fact that he was killed just after their departure- Yartek the Voord (the one with the immunity to brainwashing? The bad guy? Funny how being immune to brainwashing and then killing the brainwashers made Barbara a hero, but in the same situation for the Voord...) is now posing as Arbitan. He has already seized the four Keys, sent on ahead with Altos and Sabetha, and imprisoned them- as the TARDIS crew arrives with the final key, they realizes that the Voord have seized control of the tower. Outplaying Yartek at his own game, the Doctor manages to release Altos and Sabetha and unmask Yartek. However, their hand is forced, and Ian relinquishes the last key on threat of death- Ian tricks him, however, handing over the false Key decoy from the the Screaming Jungle temple. The group flees from the tower as the Conscience explodes, killing the Voord for their sinister crime of not wanting to be brainwashed (well, okay, and for murder and criminal activities and being evil villains who threatened our heroes, but it doesn't sound as ironic when you put it that way...) and Altos and Sabetha set out to find a new life together in the now permanently self-determinate Marinus. (NFS: But they didn't want to be brainwashed because they wanted to be evil...if they didn't want to be brainwashed because they wanted to pick flowers all day it'd be a different story...see? Oh wait.)

Well, it took several months after Marco Polo for us to decide to watch the next one; for whatever reason, it is always a daunting challenge to commit to a new 4-6 episode Hartnell serial; but once we get into it we always enjoy it.

The concept for this serial was a fantastic one; a video game-style quest for multiple parts of a machine- 6 episodes, with the first and last as a framing story, and the four in the middle as 4 separate quests- a sci-fi mystery (with mind-control), a haunted-house story (with evil plants- and what a heck of a scene that house coming a part was- even a year later I remember it vividly as very powerful and tense!), an adventure story (betrayal and a fight to survive in an arctic wasteland), and even a murder mystery (NFS I always hate HATE the arctic levels though! Who plays a video game and wishes for more slippery, cliffs of death, low visibility arctic video game leves!? But I digress)! The pacing of this serial was helped immeasurably by having, in essence, 5 stories told in 6 serials; things really flowed and kept moving in a way that the prior serials nEver did; even Marco Polo with it's well-written pacing wasn't as quick-flowing as this was. (NFS: I have to admit...reading this I kind of want to watch this over again. I feel as though I must have fallen asleep or something because it sounds fantastic and I feel like I didn't see it!)

There was a LOT in this serial! For one thing, a lot more flubs, as has been noted here. It was almost distracting at times, to see how badly goofed some of the lines were. Verisimilitude, I suppose...

There was also a lot of character development. The Doctor had what I consider to be (previous Backgammon winnings notwithstanding, because he lost at the critical juncture) his first chance to be really brilliant; his lawyer persona, and especially his cheer-worthy "I am that man!" is the first time I've ever felt like getting behind Hartnell as the saving-the-day-Doctor that I know and love.

The acting with Ian and the Doctor in the 'lab' was fun; like the Doctor treating the cup like a fantastic instrument, and I liked the bit with Ian being especially excited about a 'modern piece of technology' that the Doctor things of as a quaint little toy. (NFS: This from the man who thought a cup was a fantastic instrument!? :-D)

Barbara is also changing; the one I would have pegged as the most useless of the lot... maybe... tied with Susan... back in the Daleks serial is finally showing signs of the strong, indomitable, and valuable team member that so many fans with a greater overview of the series seem to think of her as; though in this serial she hasn't quite shaken off a few less-than-intelligent qualities. (Having jumped ahead to the first chapter of the Aztecs, it seems safe to say that the transformation will soon be complete.) If I hadn't known it was coming, I wouldn't have believed it...! Though Barbara had a good showing in this serial (Her brain-beating, while slightly disturbing, was take-charge and impressive) (NFS: I am sure...I do remember the brain beating part. I don't think one could forget that. She kind of looked like a woman possessed!), and her POV shots were pretty neat, why was she choosing the most illogical make-it-seem-like-I'm-delirious phrasing when describing what she saw? Why not say things like 'What you're holding is a bundle of rags?' or 'This room appears different to me than it was before?' Instead of 'Dirty... filthy... dirty rags... why can't you SEE?!' (This is a common Sci-fi thing, though... misunderstandings due to use of vague, non-descriptive language; for example Deep Space Nine's pilot episode, in which Sisko and Dax debate the conditions inside the wormhole; one sees a garden and the other a stormy cliff-face, and both find the other's impressions of the environment to be strange because they say things like "It's a beautiful day!" "You have a strange deifnition of beautiful...".)

Susan reaches new heights of sobbing hysteria. My wife commented that she feels sorry for the actress; it's not her fault that Susan is being written so poorly. (NFS: See? I knew what I was talking about!) (And in fact, from a hindsight perspective, we have since found out that this is why Susan is the first companion to leave, and so quickly; the actress felt, justifiably, that her character was going nowhere- which is a real shame.) She sobs and screams and hands-to-mouths at everything; (NFS: Susan: "A letter! But who is it from!? WHY CAN NO ONE TELL ME WHO IT IS FROM!?" *hand to mouth* Doctor: "Well why not open it, child, and find out for yourself?" Susan: "Oh".) and the one time it is justifiable, after her release from near-execution at the hands of a kidnapper (a situation in which anyone would be a bit overwrought), she's 'cried wolf' so many times that it almost feels overdone then, too. (Also, in the continuing trend, why does no one listen to her, dismiss things (it must have been some shadows, I didn't really see anything moving, etc.) and generally do all they can to remain ignorant? Haven't these people seen enough yet to learn that seemingly incongruous observations from one of their party should be treated seriously?!) (NFS: I think that EVERY time I watch Cadfael. WHEN has he been wrong about it being murder!? Seriously!?)

I enjoyed the story in this one; at the time I said "not sure it quite eclipses Marco Polo, but I feel like the pacing and story energy benefited greatly from having each episode contain it's own mini-story." - in retrospect and memory, it does indeed come out the clear winner for it's fast-paced and interesting story. None of it seems to drag, or feel 'useless because it clearly won't resolve the plot, being a middle episode'; each concept is new and intriguing- in a Sci-fi era of Star Wars (A planet only has 1 environment) or Star Trek (Every member of a race is exactly alike in beliefs, behaviors, ideals, etc.) it is mind-boggling to see so much diversity on a single planet. That isn't to say that the stories aren't without plot holes galore, and it does feel like the Velvet Web storyline could have been expanded to two or even three episodes while the Snows of Terror could have been severely truncated (had they simply taken the lousy watches WITH them when they set out to find Susan and Sabetha), but I feel like it was a definite improvement over The Daleks (by the time they were encountering the long drop cavern or the deadly pool, I was sitting there thinking "Just get ON with it already!") and even Marco Polo- though it never quite dragged, and always maintained interest, it didn't always maintain energy like this serial did.

The story was also reminiscent to several others; a marked similarity to Star Trek's 'Gamesters of Triskelion' (Which I watched just a few days prior to this serial,) and I also can't help but wonder if this serial also served as an inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom... A deadly trap room with descending spikes (which were horribly flimsy, wobbly, and fake-looking, by the way- the most laughable bit of the serial, IMHO), a rickety rope bridge (I would not trust my life to that thing!!!) which is severed, brainwashed friends who act like strangers in the service of the enemy...

There were quite a few nitpicks:
The Sea of Death, in retrospect... Wow... the opening made no sense, in context- was it Arbitan that stabbed that Voord through the wall? Why would a fortress under attack have not only invader-friendly walls, but inadvertent-entry walls (NFS: Watch "You Only Live Twice"...some people just have paper walls for no reason whatsoever. I mean...I know it's Japan and all but...come on!)??? (As soon as we saw Susan against the wall, I said aloud "Oh no, not another Dalek hallway!" The producers needed to work just a little harder on matching the camera angle to really sell those extending-the-background-with-a-painting shots...) I assumed these would be later explained, but they never were. Also, where did that trap door the Voord feel through come from? (NFS: Did you mean to write "feel" through? I wasn't sure. "Fall" through doesn't work either...that makes it sound like they all just continually fall through a trap door for no reason.) It looks like Arbitan triggered it, but why was it there, exactly? (NFS: oh...maybe you did mean 'fall" through.) How was that part of the apparently-island-based tower over water? Interesting, also, that whether it was supposed to be a purely sci-fi notion or a product of the times, a free-will removing mind-control computer seems to be a GOOD thing; if everyone is a do good zombie, the planet's a paradise! (I'm tempted to think this is a product of the times, as some early Superman stories seemed to have the same attitude: Mind control to remove evil, and as a byproduct, choice and free thought = good.)

It's a little confusing, on the beach of glass, with the deadly acid sea, once Ian and Barbara discover the tidal pool, that no one is concerned that once the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the TARDIS, which will be surrounded by acid! It was my first thought, but no one else seems to think of it. Also, the miming for the invisible shield seems exceptionally poor; clearly nothing is there, as they're very inconsistent with the boundaries and their movements. (NFS: If only the 'HMS Bounty" could have jumped Gillian over to the past real quick so she could give them some miming lessons.)

It seems to me that a lot of story jumps- from their agreeing to the quest to the reveal of the murderer in the last chapter- happen offscreen in this episode. (NFS: "I escaped somehow.") It is a little jarring, but it works, as the gaps are always clearly filled in. Some of the physical acting is really quite atrocious, especially the 'stabbing' of Arbitan... of course, I can't help but wonder if it was just as bad in Marco Polo but we see it only as still and thus through rose(not Tyler)-colored glasses.

The Velvet Web time-lapse is an issue, too- how was Barbara so well-established, as if she knew everything going on in the city and had already settled in there- when she arrived only seconds before the rest of the party? Also, WHY was the city considered a safe hiding place for one of the keys in the first place? Most of the other hiding places at least made some sense... (NFS: Because the best place to hide in plain sight.)

So... this revolting city... they're just left there to riot and rot, then? Perhaps if Sabetha is looking to do some good and carry on her father's work, she can start by teleporting there and helping the likely confused, in-chaos citizens of the realm they just overturned and then abandoned?

The Screaming Jungle is a good one; I liked it a lot. Despite that... Barbara seems to have been taking her poor judgment pills for this one; and Ian has been sneaking a few behind her back. Chief offenders:
-Barbara's 'treat us like China' sentiment (tired of being treated so delicately as a woman, expressing that she is able to take just as much as Ian can and wants to be treated equally) is another sign of her evolving character, and it's a valid statement... but expressed at the wrong time, as she and Susan just decided to stay behind to rest! (NFS: That is one of the most obnoxious things they ever put into any movie, the chick saying "Please! Let me stop a minute to rest!" I might happen in real life but it's happened so many times in fantasy that I don't think any woman would be caught dead saying it now.) Obviously under those circumstances, they're going to be treated as someone needing protecting; so would any weary member of the group!
-So, wait, let me get this straight... Susan screams (again), Barbara tears a moving/prehensile vine (which looked pretty weak and sickly; I doubt it could have strangled a squirrel) off of her leg, BEATS IT WITH A ROCK (NFS: That must be her mutant power...beating things with rocks), and then tries to convince Susan that she imagined it?!?! Am I missing something here?! (NFS: Why would she try to convince susan she's imagined it? Didn't she spend a whole bunch of time in the beginning trying to get people to believe she was telling the truth and now she's lying?)
-Barbara decides to go in to the door without Ian, after already stating there were known traps, because she couldn't wait a few minutes? (NFS: Sounds like...someone I know...but not me...of course...not me)
-Ian, after Barbara screams, still messes around with the pickaxe?!
-So... why DIDN'T Arbitan warn them about these traps? Thankfully, they survived anyway. (NFS: He was about to...he starts to run after them to tell them but then he gets stabbed in the back. No wait..I'm lying.)

Other than that, this was a nice episode. Great set design and props, the statue trap was nicely realized, and though the aforementioned descending blades and knight-with-axe traps were relatively lackluster (NFS: you haven't seen anything til you've seen the ones in Street Fighter the movie. That one doesn't have the excuse of age), the overall episode was enjoyable; most especially the jungle breaking in at the end- tense, exciting, and enjoyable; it was a very impressive scene superbly pulled off.

The Snows of Terror was interesting; I immediately took a liking to the rescuer who could break a wolf's back with his bare hands...
...some judge of character I am. :-)

So, a very... confused episode; this one probably has the most logical issues of the bunch. Who were the knight guys (the ice warriors)? Why, after capturing their surly host, did the group wait to retrieve the watches and keys, necessitating a return to the wood shack later, when they were being pursued? Why did the wolves look so Earth-like, and couldn't they have found a stock footage clip with a little less grain? (Actually, probably not with the budget they had to work with, most of which was likely spent of the excellent props and sets in this episode.) And most importantly, how did Ian stave off the frostbite in Altos' legs with circulation restoration when Altos was still in direct exposure to the cold, previously shown to be so numbing that it instantly incapacitates Ian and Barbara (though not the less clothed Sabetha) (NFS: Everyone knows that the less clothes you wear the less bad stuff happens to you on's just how it works. Frostbite isn't can figure out the rest!)? How did Barbara get her little energy spurt to jolt back up directly afterward, for that matter? Adrenaline, perhaps?

Then we have Sentence of Death and the Keys of Marinus. A good mystery, a lot of fun moments. A few notes: When the wife slips up and mentions talking to Susan, I caught it too, but just assumed another time-skip in the story had happened (whilst they explained the situation to her) and I'd missed it.
These people obviously believe in cruel and unusual punishment... even before the execution, the accused is tortured with that incessant and irritating clock beeping! Maybe it's designed to ease their passing; so that by the time the execution rolls around, the accused WELCOMES the relief! ;-)
Only one unresolved question... why DID Eprin disappear and fall out of contact? Why did he not get the key, and return immediately months ago, when Arbitan dispatched him? Or at least return to report his success to Altos? It's never explained why he apparently decided 'Well, I have a good life here...' and settled down, forgetting his mission. Perhaps he was a Voord idealist, and was having second thoughts about aiding and abetting the mind control scheme once he saw how people lived on the outside? Could be an interesting story to explore...

And finally, the finale. (That's kind of redundant, isn't it?) Nothing much to say here; clever of Ian to pick up on the stranger comment; Yarnek's a bad faker, though. :-) The explosion effect is very cool, though sadly truncated, as is the whole escape sequence- and subsequent shots show no exterior damage to the tower.
Was the Doctor's key ever brought back in a future storyline, with it's advanced microcircuits? Seems like a follow-up possibility to me.
And finally, the serial ends just like it began; with a reverse pull-back of the original zoom-in... a nice bit of symmetry; even if the ending music was a little to creepy to fit the mood. :-)

Great moments:
Almost too many to count. The screaming jungle tearing the lab apart, and the Doctor's re-appearence- "I am that man!" are the two I find the most memorable.

I liked this one! 4.75 out of 5 blessings of Orb; most of the episodes get 5, but a few glaring production errors and illogical story bits (Snows of Terror) bring the curve down a little.

No comments:

Post a Comment