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Doctor Who story number 5

Before you all go and read the cast list, that is correct, there are people playing two or three roles. This is due to the segmented aspect of the story - The rather ambitious structure is to have the characters sent on a journey to recover the four keys to a machine. This plot device is favoured by the writer for its ability to use multiple settings within a story and comes up in a couple of his other stories.

The thing about this story is that it was commissioned after the success of The Daleks proved that people would like alien monsters more than historical stories - Terry Nation originally had a story called The Red Fort written, dealing with the Indian Mutiny in 1857. The end story at times feels patchy, though it holds up in some places better than others. The plot device of travelling from location to location served to give William Hartnell a two week holiday by merely sending his character somewhere else, which worked much better than some of the later tricks they used when actors needed time off.

Terry Nation

This story has six episodes with individual titles:

  • The Sea of Death
  • The Velvet Web
  • The Screaming Jungle
  • The Snows of Terror
  • Sentence of Death
  • The Keys of Marinus

Plot Overview
The TARDIS lands on the planet Marinus, where there is a powerful machine known as the Conscience of Marinus, which serves, more or less, to keep everyone in line. It has been deactivated for some time due to the ability of the Voord to corrupt it, and the keys have been hidden in some of the other areas of the planet. Arbitan, keeper of the machine, seals the TARDIS up in a force field and forces the travellers to recover the keys for him.

The first stop is the city of Morphotron, which seems like a paradise. Barbara, the first to arrive, is the first to break out of the control they have fallen under - The whole city is in thrall to psychic brains living in jars in a hidden room. She smashes the brains and frees the city, and they continue on their quest with Arbitans daughter and her friend.

The Doctor goes on ahead to the city of Millenius while the rest of the group go to the screaming jungle. Arbitan's friend, the scientist Darrius, has accelerated the growth of the plants and they are running amok. after ecaping with the key they arrive in a frozen wasteland, where Barbara is menaced by the fur trapper Vasor, and the key is found in a network of ice caves guarded by some kind of ice soldier (no explanation is given for them).

In the city of Millenius Ian is accused of murder, and they discover that the local law is "guilty until proven innocent", giving the Doctor a mental workout to keep him alive. They return to Arbitan's island, to find him dead and Yartek's band of Voord in control of the machine. When they are forced to hand over the keys, giving the Voord control of the Conscience of Marinus, we discover that one of the keys is fake, happily causing the machine to explode, killing the Voord and leaving the planet free of the domination of the Conscience.

Main Cast

  • George Couloris - Arbitan
  • Robin Phillips - Altos
  • Katherine Schofield - Sabetha
  • Heron Carvic - Voice of Morpho
  • Edmund Warwick - Darrius
  • Francis de Wolff - Vasor
  • Michael Allaby - Larn, Ice Soldier
  • Henley Thomas - Tarron
  • Raf de la Torre - Senior Judge
  • Fiona Walker - Kala
  • Martin Cort - Aydan, Voord
  • Donald Pickering - Eyesen
  • Stephen Dartnell - Yartek
  • Dougie Dean - Eprin
  • Peter Stenson - Voord, Ice Soldier, Judge
  • Alan James - Judge, Ice Soldier
  • Anthony Verner, Michael Allaby - Ice Soldiers
  • Gordon Wales - Voord


  • The Voord are presumably amphibious, having flippers and rubbery skin (The costumes are wetsuits, but they look impressive). They live for centuries, as Yartek is said to be over 1,300 years old
  • Darrius is never actually named in the story, it only comes up in the credits
  • Ian wears the same clothing he was given in Cathay during the story Marco Polo

I don't believe that man was made to be controlled by machines. - The Doctor

Every Whovian has been in the situation before of trying to explain the premise of Doctor Who. And beyond explaining the premise of the show, there is also the perennial question of its genre. It is usually described as a "science-fiction" show, although it could better be described as a fantasy. Its plots can vary between space opera and gothic horror, and it can be a dialogue-heavy comment on society, or an action-filled adventure.

Many of the templates for Doctor Who stories were already being established in the first season. "The Keys to Marinus" is significant as the first Doctor Who story that was written and filmed as an adventure story. The two previous stories had been the tense psychological thriller "The Edge of Destruction", and the long, slow paced political story "Marco Polo". And then we are dropped into this: a quest for McGuffins across an alien world full of murderous plants, nefarious trappers, brains in vats, scuba-diving amphibians, acid seas, suspiciously happy societies, a locked room mystery, spelunking, and a Perry Mason style courtroom drama. This is the first example of the great Doctor Who principle "If something doesn't make sense, throw in other things that don't make sense until it does."

And although the writing, special effects and production values might seem a bit hokey today, its is a very enjoyable story when viewed in the light of being a prototypical adventure story. Because The Keys of Marinus is basically Doctor Who doing a matinée serial-type adventure. By the next episode, The Aztecs, the show would be back to a serious lesson on hubris and the impossibility of changing history. For "The Keys of Marinus", it was time to enjoy running, fighting, and clever escapes.

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