The Keys of Marinus was the fifth story in season one of Doctor Who. It features the first Doctor alongside Susan, Barbara, and Ian. Written by Terry Nation this six episode story is one of the first ‘moving serials’ in Doctor Who, with each episode taking place in a different setting.
The Keys of Marinus is a bit of a whirlwind quest, with each episode seeing the Tardis crew – and the planet-side friends they have accumulated along the way – solving puzzles to retrieve the five keys of Marinus. These quests are set against a range of backgrounds: Acid seas, Eyestalk-brains with mind control powers, a jungle that attacks, a cold snowy mountain with a cruel trapper, and a world with an guilt driven justice system. It’s a quick flurry of setting changes, ideas, and adventure. There are also some uncomfortable moments in this story including an attempted rape and domestic abuse.
The splitting of the Tardis crew into different narratives is very much in Terry Nation’s style and each individual story remains on the underdeveloped side. It is also clear that the budget required to hold each episode in a different setting wasn’t there – the stock footage in the snowy mountain stood out the most as a clear example of where money was trying to be saved. Similarly, the ice caves really did look like they were made of plastic wrap.
The villains at the root of this story, which force the Tardis crew on the key adventure at the start, are the Voords. The Voords are essentially actors in wet-suits with rubber masks and hand prosthetics. They are a bit lack luster and the ridiculous costuming made me laugh, but they are effective enough to move the story forward.
Despite some of the criticisms of the Keys of Marinus, I actually really loved this story. It was my kind of adventure, character building, world exploring story. I think this is the first Hartnell story that upon finishing I thought I might actually watch again. I don’t know if that says more about this episode about my feelings for the Hartnell era as a whole.