021 – The Sea of Death (The Keys of Marinus Part 1)

In which the travelers arrive on Marinus and unwillingly undertake a quest.

Susan exercises her keen observational skills

“If you had had your shoes on, boy, you could have lent her hers!”

Here we see the beginning of The Keys of Marinus, written by Terry Nation.  While not as iconic as The Daleks, Keys does move along at a rapid pace with each episode showcasing a new location on the planet Marinus.  The story begins with our heroes materializing on a strange beach with outcroppings of glass and an acid sea, a Sea of Death, if you will.  Also arriving on the beach are a group of wet-suit clad aliens whom we come to know as The Voord.  There is a single structure on the beach: a pyramid.  Slowly, the travelers and the Voord are captured by an old monk in the pyramid, The Voord are killed while The Doctor and his companions are imprisoned.  Ian, however, earns the admiration of the monk, whose name is Arbitan, when he dispatches a Voord, thus saving Arbitan’s life.  We learn that the pyramid is the home of The Conscience, a device that acted as judge and a controlling agent which compelled the people of Marinus to do good.  They apparently had a golden age, until a man named Yartek and his Voord followers broke the control of the machine and attempted to capture it.  The five keys of the machine were then removed and taken to different locations on the planet.  Now that the machine has been refined, it is time to gather the keys and reactivate it.  Unfortunately, the people Arbitan sent to find the keys have not returned.  He then compels The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan to recover the keys when he places a force field around The TARDIS.  Just how would The Conscience feel about that, I wonder.

My first issue going in to this story is the concept of free will.  An entire planet has relinquished their ability to reason and think, at least where ethics and morality are concerned, to a machine.  How does the machine determine what is right and what is wrong?  What standard or basis does it use?  Does it have a concept of rights or natural law?  Does it appeal to Bentham’s greatest happiness principle, or is it programmed with Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals?  From a certain perspective, isn’t Yartek actually asserting his “humanity” by breaking free of the machine and thinking for himself?  Granted, he may wish to take control of the machine and enforce his will upon everyone else, but The Conscience was probably programmed by committee at worst, democratic vote at best, thus many would have been in disagreement about the programmed morality of The Conscience.  There is, therefore, no allowance for the feelings and wishes of the minority in this particular ethical system, which makes it somewhat suspect.  Although, if it appeals to Bentham, that may not be something The Conscience would care about.
Thankfully, such thoughts are incidental.  It is the adventure that is important, not any particular philosophical concerns.

My second issue with the story, somewhat more superficial than the first, is the wonderful bit of continuity that is created by Ian continuing to wear his outfit from Marco Polo.  Coming from a generation that distinctly remembers toy manufacturers enticing our childhood lusts by offering plastic recreations of Tatooine Luke Skywalker, X-Wing Flight Suit Luke Skywalker, Hoth Suit Luke Skywalker, and Jedi Luke Skywalker, I now wish to appease my inner child by getting a Cathay Traveler Ian Chesterton action figure, complete with plastic sword for fighting bandits and Tegana.  It would be way cooler than Coal Hill Ian Chesterton, which comes with a science textbook and a tie.

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