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The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus was the fifth story of the first season of Doctor Who, and was the second story to be written by Terry Nation. It was notable for its structure, in that it was the first of several “travelling” serials. Like The Chase, The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Infinite Quest that followed it,Keys had the main cast moving to a different setting in almost every episode. It was also the first of 34 six parters in Doctor Who.

It also introduced the Voords, the first in a long line of deliberate, but generally unsuccessful, attempts to find an enemy as popular as the Daleks.

Episode three, or “The Screaming Jungle”, was the subject of the program’s first serious charge of plagiarism. Robert Gould had complained to Donald Wilson that the notion of a story about plant life in the dominant evolutionary position on a planet had been something he’d outlined to script editor David Whitaker. Whitaker was obliged to write a memo to Wilson on 26 March 1964, in which he offered a detailed defense against Gould’s charge. Whitaker’s successful defense rested on the statement that Terry Nation had independently arrived at the use of hostile vegetation in “Jungle”, and that Gould’s idea was derivative of The Day of the Triffids, anyway. (REF: The First Doctor Handbook)

Like every other Doctor Who story of its era, The Keys of Marinus had to find a way to incapacitate the TARDIS to solve the “why not leave?” problem. However, Nation then created the travel dials and so had to separate the characters from them as well in order to solve the same problem.


Episode 1: The Sea of Death

The First Doctor and his companions, Barbara Wright, Ian Chesterton and Susan, land on an island and find the beach is made of glass and the sea of acid. The latter is demonstrated when Susan tries to paddle in a rock pool. Barbara accidentally knocks one of Susan’s shoes, which were placed on one of the rocks around the pool, into the “water” where it dissolves. Susan returns to the TARDIS for a new pair and is followed by a mysterious creature in a rubber suit. While Susan is gone, the Doctor, Ian and Barbara discover four glass submarines, one of which holds an empty rubber suit with a rip in one leg; it seems that the creature who wore the suit perished in its journey when the acid got inside. When Susan gets to the TARDIS, she finds footprints. She follows them to a tower looming in the distance. As she looks around, the mysterious creature waits around a corner to strike at her. Just before this happens, the wall revolves and eliminates the creature.

Finding Susan is not at the TARDIS, the companions go to explore the tower. They decide to split up. The Doctor is brought inside the tower through the spinning walls, as are Ian and Barbara. When Susan is inside, she finds another of the mysterious creatures which, on the point of attacking her, is stabbed by a mysterious, monk-like figure that Susan encountered earlier. Ian discovers one of these creatures fighting with the same man and pulls the creature off him. The creature is thrown back against a wall during the struggle, a hidden panel opens and the creature plunges down a shaft straight into a pool of acid deep beneath the building. The man introduces himself to Ian as Arbitan. He says the creatures are called Voords and explains that he is Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a vast computer developed two millennia earlier as a justice machine which kept law and order across the entire planet.

For seven centuries it was absolute, radiating its power around the planet and eliminating even evil thoughts. Then a Voord named Yartek worked out how to resist its impulses and corrupted the system. Arbitan explains that the Conscience has now been upgraded to control the Voord again and needs to be activated. Years earlier he saved it from Voord control by separating the five keys that regulate it. The five keys are in different locations — one is in his possession but the others are scattered over Marinus. He suggests that the Doctor and his companions find them, as all his friends and family have failed to return from the effort.

The Doctor refuses and leaves for the TARDIS. When he gets there he finds a force field around it. Arbitan says he has been forced to cut the travelers off from the TARDIS so they will find the keys for him. The Doctor and his companions return to the tower to discover that they are to be moved around the island using pre-set travel dials. As the four teleport away using the dials, Arbitan is overcome and stabbed to death by a Voord that has gained access to the tower. When the travelers reach their destination they discover Barbara, who teleported first, has vanished, leaving only her bloodied travel dial.

Episode 2: The Velvet Web

The Doctor, Susan and Ian search for Barbara on the other side of a set of double doors. As they open them an alarm goes off, accompanied by a blinding light. When they stop they see Barbara reclining on a chaise, her every need attended to as if she were a queen. She explains that as she was transported, she panicked and tore at her travel dial, scratching her wrist; the dial then fell off. One of the inhabitants, Altos, says that they are in the city of Morphoton, an advanced and pacific society. He impresses the travelers with the luxuries, advances and aesthetics of the city. Initially skeptical, the Doctor and Ian are won over by the generous hospitality and beneficence that the people bestow upon them. In the night a young slave-girl Sabetha places a small disc on the heads of the sleeping travelers. While Barbara sleeps, her disc falls off. The powerful hypnotic pulse (the mesmeron) has no effect on her. Morphoton is governed by four brain creatures with hideous eyes on stalks, which communicate through their life-support machines. The Brains of Morphoton use hypnosis to control the entire city. They have outgrown their bodies, and the entire human population of the city is now subject to their will.

When Barbara awakes, she sees the truth: the city is a place of dirt and squalor. She disturbs her fellow travelers with her assessment, claiming that what appears luxurious is squalid. When Susan shows her new dress, she says it is rags. Barbara is taken from her friends but escapes from the clutches of Altos. She finds her way into the dungeons and meets with Sabetha, the same girl who put the discs on the travelers’ heads. Barbara deduces Sabetha is Arbitan’s missing daughter; she is wearing one of the Keys of Marinus about her neck.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Ian are taken to what appears to be a state-of-the-art laboratory, but is just an empty room and the so-called scientific instruments contained within are just old cups and plates. Barbara tries to break Sabetha’s conditioning but fails. Altos comes to take Sabetha away as the Brains of Morphoton order, and stops Barbara’s escape. Sabetha knocks out Altos. Barbara leaves, promising Sabetha she will return for her. As Barbara prowls the corridors she comes across Ian, whom she embraces. As they talk, she realizes that the Brains of Morphoton now control him. They will punish Sabetha, make Susan take her place, put Ian to work, and make the Doctor work in the lab. Ian takes Barbara to the Brains of Morphoton, who order Ian to kill her. He begins to strangle Barbara, but she breaks free and smashes the control room and life support systems. They die, and all the human subjects of the city are freed with their original memories returned. They start to destroy the city. Altos remembers he too was sent to the city by Arbitan, and he and Sabetha decide to join the Doctor and his friends on their quest.

The six now split up. The Doctor goes ahead to find the final key in the city of Millennius, while the others venture to find the second key in the next destination. Susan arrives first, wanting to avoid a long goodbye with her grandfather, but soon her ears are deafened by a growing screeching.

Episode 3: The Screaming Jungle

The next location for the five is a dangerous, screaming jungle, which has a particularly debilitating effect on Susan. In the jungle is an ancient temple. Ian finds an archway but it is overgrown with the copious flora. While Ian, Sabetha and Altos look for another entry, the flora reaches out to grab Susan. Even though Ian instructed Barbara not to go into the temple, she finds that the flora can be moved easily. She walks down the passage where she finds a statue — which to her surprise has the key propped on the top.

However, when Barbara takes the key, the statue holds onto her and the wall reverses, trapping her. Her companions decide that if she were in real trouble she would use her travel dial to escape, but Ian is skeptical and wants to ensure her safety. He tells the others to go on while he stays to rescue Barbara. As they go, Sabetha realizes that the key is a fake. It is shorter than the other one. This gives Ian more reason to stay on. Once they are gone Ian replicates Barbara’s movements and is likewise trapped. He finds Barbara in a large, booby-trapped hall. Barbara saves his life by shouting as a statue brings its axe down where he was standing. They find doors which need a metal bar to open. Ian finds a bar, but this is also a trap and brings prison walls down around him. Barbara is the victim of a trap when she walks through the doors that have magically opened and is trapped in a net as the dagger-filled roof lowers itself on her.

In the temple is an aged and dying scientist, Darrius, who wears a robe similar to Arbitan’s. He stops the roof to save Barbara. He suspects she may be a Voord. Doubtful she has been sent from Marinus, he takes her time dial to inspect. Ian, who has escaped from his prison, finds them just in time to save Darrius from a creeper. The weak, old man explains the traps of the temple are for the Voord. He too is a friend of Arbitan. Before dying, he tells Ian and Barbara the key is hidden in “D-E-3-O-2” and points to a door. On entering the next room they find it is a lab. Their attention is drawn to a safe, but the letters and numbers given do not correspond to a code. As they search the room, Ian finds Darrius’s research, mutating flora with a growth accelerator, increasing the rate of nature. As night falls, the screaming of the jungle starts and tree branches enter the laboratory to destroy the equipment. Ian realizes that the letters and numbers are chemical symbols. The two barely retrieve the key from a jar before the vegetation overruns the room. Jumping to the next location, they find it bitterly, paralyzingly cold.

Epsiode 4: The Snows of Terror

Ian and Barbara teleport to an icy wasteland. Unable to move in the crippling cold, they pass out. They wake to a suspicious trapper, Vasor, who saw Susan and Sabetha in a nearby cave but would not risk his life to save them. Ian offers to go and trades his dial for some of Vasor’s furs, leaving Barbara alone with Vasor. As she clears away dishes, she finds the chain that Sabetha was wearing, along with four travel dials, in a drawer. Vasor sees her looking and becomes angry, saying that he left them to die. This is his plan for Ian, too.

In the wastes, Ian finds Altos, bound and abandoned. Altos tells him Vasor is to blame. They return to the trapper’s hut and confront him, before he can attack Barbara. They order him to reveal the stolen keys in his possession and take them to the caves where he abandoned Sabetha and Susan. Vasor refuses, claiming there are demons in the cave, but the two men force him.

The two girls have searched the icy caves themselves and have uncovered a block of ice connected to piping. It is protected by Ice Soldiers, seemingly statues. As they run from the statues, they meet their friends, who have crossed a rickety rope bridge. In revenge, Vasor unties one end of the bridge, trapping them on the other side. While Ian and Altos make a bridge of tree trunks to cross the chasm, they find the next key frozen in the block of ice. They remove the key by turning a dial on one of the pipes, which releases heat from a volcanic spring. This also revives the Ice Soldiers, who chase after the travelers to regain their key. Susan bravely crawls across the wobbly trunks over the chasm and reattaches the bridge. They flee to the trapper’s cottage to retrieve their stolen dials. Before they use them, Vasor grabs Susan and forces the travelers to fight the soldiers. Vasor is killed by the Ice Soldiers as they break into his cabin. The travelers activate their travel dials.

In the next location, Ian discovers the key in a display case, with a dead man lying on the floor nearby. Soon Ian himself is knocked out by a man who steals the key. Before he leaves, the man frames Ian for the murder of the mutilated body by placing the bludgeon in his hand.

Episode 5: Sentence of Death

When the travelers reach the next location, Ian finds himself accused of the murder of Eprin, a friend of Altos who discovered the key shortly before his death. The key has disappeared and Ian is accused of theft too. In the city of Millennius, the legal system is “guilty until proven innocent”. In other words: Ian is already guilty of the crimes of which he is accused, and the sentence will be death unless he is found to be innocent by the court of Millennius. It is up to the defense to prove Ian’s innocence beyond reasonable doubt. The other travelers are reunited before Ian’s trial, at which the Doctor will serve as defense counsel. He gets a postponement for two days while he gathers evidence and uses the time to work out what really happened to Eprin. The relief guard, Aydan, is implicated in the murder. To find evidence, Barbara and Susan go to the apartment of Aydan and talk to his wife, Kala, who gives away nothing. When Aydan returns home, he is angry with the women and orders Barbara and Susan to leave. Outside in the corridor, they hear a loud slap and a scream of pain from Kala; Aydan has obviously hit her across the face.

During the trial the Doctor calls Sabetha as a witness. He tricks Aydan into confessing by claiming that one of the earlier keys is the one that they found in Aydan’s hiding place. Aydan confesses, and is murdered by an unseen person before he can implicate anyone else. As the Doctor sums up, Barbara and Altos discover that Susan has been kidnapped and is being held a hostage to persuade the Doctor not to investigate the crimes any further.

Episode 6: The Keys of Marinus

Altos, Barbara, and Sabetha decide not to tell the Doctor of Susan’s disappearance and to visit Kala to see if she has any information on who might be connected to her husband’s death and Susan’s kidnapping. She says she can’t help them and breaks down in tears, but begins laughing when the trio leave. Susan is bound and gagged in another room. Kala takes a phone call from someone saying that Ian has been sentenced and Susan can be killed. The trio realize it may be Kala that has taken Susan hostage, as she had talked of the call they got from Susan without them having mentioned it. They return before Kala kills her as she did her own husband with a hidden gun, and the plot is uncovered. Reunited with the Doctor, they learn that Kala has admitted her part in the crimes but they must discover her accomplice to prove Ian did not kill Eprin. They are thwarted when Kala swears she was working with Ian. Susan remembers that when Kala was on the phone, the man said he would pick up the key later that night. The Doctor and the officials of Millenius wait where the Doctor has deduced the key is being kept — in the mace used as evidence in court. The man trying to sneak it away is Eyesen, the Court Prosecutor. Ian is freed and the trio return to Marinus.

Altos and Sabetha have traveled ahead with all but the last key. They do not know that Arbitan has been killed and that Yartek now rules Marinus. Yartek has seized the first four keys and holds Altos and Sabetha prisoner, awaiting the fifth and final one. The Doctor and his companions arrive and fail to find Altos and Sabetha. They split up, Ian and Susan going to find Arbitan with the key and Barbara and the Doctor going to find Altos and Sabetha.

Ian and Susan find someone who appears to be Arbitan, but his face is hidden beneath the hood of his cowled robe; he warns they must not come near him as he has a dreadful disfiguring disease caused by a power surge from the Conscience. However, this is actually a disguised Yartek. Ian gives “Arbitan” the key and goes to get the Doctor. He finds him releasing Altos and Sabetha, who tell them the Voords now reign on Marinus. Ian says he gave Yartek the false key from the Screaming Jungle. Although pleased, Sabetha and Altos warn the travelers that this will cause the Conscience to explode when the key is put inside it. The travelers run. When Yartek places the false key in the Conscience, the machine duly explodes and he is killed along with the occupying Voord. The Doctor and his friends flee the tower with Altos and Sabetha before the growing blaze overtakes the ancient structure.

With the Conscience destroyed, the people of Marinus must now find their own answers, which the Doctor believes is a good thing: man was not meant to be ruled by machines. The travelers say goodbye to Altos and Sabetha who say they will start a new life together in Millennius.


The First Doctor
Susan Foreman
Ian Chesterton
Barbara Wright