Ian is accused of murder and theft of the key while The Doctor must act as his defense during the trial.
“You must prove without any shadow of doubt that you are innocent. Otherwise, you will die.”
In this episode, Doctor Who tries its hand at courtroom drama. While there are still elements of science fiction within the story, the core is still the murder investigation and the arguments in the court. Certain aspects of this work better than others. The Doctor determines the identity of the murder rather quickly, and the theory is quite plausible. The only problem is the lack of evidence. Thus, he resorts to trickery during questioning to draw out the murderer. This works, but I marvel at the court which would allow this. If not for the quick assassination of the murderer I’m sure a good lawyer could get him a reduced sentence if not get him off entirely. Before being killed, the murderer makes claims about accomplices, pointing to a conspiracy. This means that Ian may not be the murderer but he could still have planned the theft, at least as far as the tribunal is concerned. The real conspirators have also kidnapped Susan and have threatened to kill her if The Doctor reveals the location of the key.
Sadly, this isn’t great courtroom drama. One could make the argument that a science fiction serial doesn’t need to make good courtroom drama, and that is true after a fashion. However, one of my favorite episodes of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica involved a trial. The bottom line is that The Doctor must make a case for Ian’s innocence, and he hasn’t done this. While it isn’t fun to see one of our heroes facing execution, the court is absolutely correct that The Doctor has yet to provide solid evidence. Granted, this wouldn’t be an issue if the City of Millennius didn’t have a “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy. I wonder how Ian fares in the court of public opinion.
So, as episodes go, this one is a bit slow. There are a lot of characters in this one, and sadly I don’t feel that many of them are distinct enough to be memorable. Since all the guards and law enforcement people have the same uniform, it can occasionally be difficult to remember who is who. One of the things I love about the serial format is that we have the time to actually flesh out other characters. The format for Keys of Marinus hasn’t been as effective at this. This episode in particular showcases this weakness as it only has about 25 minutes to set up the plot. Characterization is shunted to the side. Thankfully, we only have one more episode left.