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Doctor Who: The Keys Of Marinus

1/01/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: The Keys Of Marinus in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: The Keys Of Marinus in the UK

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Region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 2616. 1 DVD 126 minutes 6 * 24 minute episodes with extras. Price: 11.00 (UK) if you know where to look although oddly, I got it cheaper locally). Stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Carole Anne Ford.

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If anything, 'The Keys Of Marinus' is an act of creative budgeting in the first season of 'Doctor Who' back in 1964. In the extras, designer Ray Cusiak has little good to say about it, largely because he was making something from nothing throughout playing between set and special effects budgets. When you consider that the story was between two period pieces of 'Marco Polo' and 'The Aztecs', it isn't difficult to realise where the budget had to be centred on. With the group bouncing between four different settings, budget was even tighter. With television resolution being more greater today, not to mention a stronger attention to Science Fiction content, it's hardly surprising that there might be a little distain for this particular story. I mean, which of the three stories mentioned in this paragraph would you buy on DVD? Of Season One's eight stories, four were period history, three future SF and one a bottle show. It's hardly surprising that the budget was on period history since this was the BBC expertise even up to modern day. TV SF was what could be gotten away with because there was less expectation as to its requirements. Considering that 'Doctor Who' was supposed to be a Science Fiction show and, to coin producer executive Sydney Newman, with a strong element of history education to appease the parents, that was hardly surprising. As a callow youth at the time, you tended to watch but not really remember the history stories as much. Then again, with the advent of the Daleks, that was hardly surprising. The only other aliens in Season One were the Sensorites and I still have a strong memory of them. The Voords, in comparison, were masked frogmen with little to show for their alienness.

The story has the TARDIS arriving on an island surrounded by a sea of acid, stopping a brief assault by the Voords and coerced into retrieving four of the five keys missing that once installed in a machine will bring peace to the planet. Using wrist teleporter devices, the Doctor (actor William Harnell), his grand-daughter Susan (actress Carole Anne Ford) and companions, Ian Chesterton (actor William Russell) and Barbara Wright (actress Jacqueline Hill) travel to different places on the planet to get the keys and find out what happened to the other travellers sent to get them. With the length of seasons, this story was also used to give William Hartnell a two episode break. The strength of the story, written by Terry Nation, carries the story along so his absence isn't that noticeable.

I'm not going to give away too much about the story elements or you might avoid it. With six episodes, it's really just window dressing for three smaller stories dealing with hungry plants, isolated snow terrain and court intrigue. You would have thought they might have bumped into more Voords, considering they are all on the same planet. Then again, you have to wonder about the planetary environment that can survive having seas of acid. Still, TV SF was still pretty nascent at the time and you took things as read without necessarily questioning it back in the 60s.

The audio commentary with actors William Russell and Carole Anne Ford, together with director John Gorrie and set designer Ray Cusick, is a delight and honest and if you want a taste of 1960s BBC this is a must.

Quaint yet enjoyable, don't forget to add this one to your collection. Now, if they can only get 'The Sensorites'...
GF Willmetts

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