Target Review 005 – Doctor Who and The Keys of Marinus

Written by Philip Hinchcliffe

From the Back:

MARINUS
a remote force-shielded island set in a sea of acid, governed by
THE CONSCIENCE
the ultimate computer which rules and balances the gentle life of Marinus, guarded by
ARBITAN THE KEEPER
ruthless protector of a peace loving race threatened by
YARTEK
Warlord of the brutal sub-human Voords, sworn enemy of Arbitan and of Marinus, who has within his grasp
THE KEYS OF MARINUS
the Conscience’s vital micro-circuits, the doors of good and evil.  Can the Doctor find the hidden circuits in time?  Arbitan’s command was ‘Find them, OR DIE!’

Opening Line: “The day–like every day on Marinus–started clear and bright.”

First thoughts are that this is an odd novelization.  Oh, the actual content is normal enough.  In fact, it is quite straight-forward.  What makes this odd is that Philip Hinchcliffe, the producer for Tom Baker’s first few years, is the author.  Hinchcliffe had nothing to do with this story.  Granted, many Target books are like this.  Ian Marter, the actor who played Harry Sullivan (also from the Tom Baker era) novelized a few of the books as well, many of them of episodes he wasn’t in.  I’m rather curious what it was that led to Hinchcliffe writing this particular novel, especially as I would say his heart wasn’t in it.

As novelizations go, if you want a straight script-to-prose adaptation, you will be quite pleased with Keys.  Unfortunately, I prefer the books that go into greater detail and become something beyond the source material.  Since Keys still exists, and has been released on DVD, I would probably prefer to watch the serial than revisit this book.  This is just personal preference.

Final Verdict: Yeah, I realize this is a short review, but I just didn’t care for this novelization.  I was quite bored.  Occasionally I felt I should just watch the DVD because it would be quicker.  I will try to make the next review more interesting.  Sorry.

From lust to gluttony: “Vasor quickly locked the door behind him and turned to Barbara.  ‘There.  We’re alone.’  He gave a funny chuckle.
Barbara shuddered and crossed to the fire.  Vasor followed and put his large hands around her shoulders.  She broke away, trying to conceal her alarm.  ‘He’ll be back,’ she said, ‘I know he will.’
‘We’ll see.  Meanwhile I’ll get us some food.  We must fatten you up, eh?’”

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Intermission #2 – The World Shapers: A Comic by Grant Morrison

“I think a few million years of evil and bloodshed are well worth the ultimate salvation of sentient life, don’t you?”

The Doctor, a Highlander, and a Penguin. What more do you need?

Originally I hadn’t intended to review comics on this blog for one simple reason:  There’s too many of them.  Within the Doctor Who Media Empire we have television, audio drama, novels, comics and each month adds two or more new stories to the mix.  One would need a small fortune to keep up with just one medium let alone all of them.  And yet, the longevity of Doctor Who is quite fascinating.  It is the only television show that I can think of that has the scope of a comic book.  In his introduction to Saga of the Swamp Thing, Alan Moore makes this fascinating observation about horror comics that I believe also applies to Doctor Who: “Anyone picking up a comic book for the first time is almost certain to find themselves in the middle of a continuum that may have commenced before the reader’s birth, and will quite possibly continue long after his or her demise.”  This is certainly true of Doctor Who, as the majority of viewers had not been born at the time of An Unearthly Child and as the show is rapidly approaching its 50th anniversary, there have been deaths of original cast members as well as original fans.  To be able to collect all the stories is a mammoth task, one that I neither have the time or money to devote to it.

The second reason is that so many of the Doctor Who comics I’ve read haven’t been very interesting.  I do understand that the comic tradition in Britain has evolved in a slightly different way to that of America, but in my defense, many of my favorite comic writers are British.  Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins are all British and all great comic writers in their own unique ways.  In fact, the first three on this list have actually done more to shape the modern American comic than many American writers.  What would comics be like without Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or indeed anything by Alan Moore?  But the Doctor Who comics I have read seem less interesting than some of its superhero counterparts.  However, I fully admit that I am biased.  Right now, I feel that DC Comics is going through what may be a mini-golden age with Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison doing amazing work on two major DC titles.  Grant Morrison in particular is shaping and redefining Batman, and while it hasn’t been to everyone’s liking, it has been groundbreaking, original, and (in my opinion) brilliant.  How could I resist tracking down IDW’s republication of Grant Morrison’s comics for Doctor Who. I say “tracking down”.  What I really mean is that I came across the reprints in a comic shop I decided to drop in to on the spur of the moment while on vacation in California.  There was no intentional pursuit, but I was more than happy to passively acquire them.  The stories were originally published in the 1980s, and since one story involves the return to Marinus, and I have just finished reviewing The Keys of Marinus, I decided this would be a good intermission.

First, what do I like about Grant Morrison?  Morrison has this amazing ability to deconstruct characters in established universes to their core characteristics, then redefine the world around them.  In New X-Men, Magneto was always about the superiority of mutants over homo-sapiens.  Morrison introduced the idea of Magneto losing his powers as he grew older.  How would he react when everything he felt made him superior was gone?  Morrison introduced the idea of narcotics that gave the user mutant powers or heightened already existing powers.  Thus, Magneto would start taking these drugs and even become addicted to them.

In addition to the deconstruction of characters, Morrison doesn’t like to maintain the status quo.  In New X-Men he introduced the idea of another race evolving that would take the place of mutants.  He created the social phenomenon of people wanting to be like mutants as a “scene”, not unlike a goth, emo, or vampire scene.  In his work on Batman, Morrison has introduced a new Robin who is actually Bruce Wayne’s son.  Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now the Batman of Gotham City, and the concept of Batman is now being franchised under the guidance of Bruce Wayne.  Essentially, Batman is going global and is now a crime-fighting corporation.  The cultural and political ramifications of this new paradigm for The Dark Knight are staggering and I’m sure Morrison will explore these in due time.  But while Morrison moves the material into new and unpredictable directions, he never fully abandons the past.  Bruce’s son Damien is the result of a night shared by Bruce and Talia al Ghul in a comic from the ‘80s.  In this issue, Bruce Wayne was drugged and manipulated by Ra’s al Ghul who saw Bruce Wayne as his natural heir.  Batman also feared a master criminal who was manipulating Bruce Wayne’s life from behind the scenes and this actually traced back to a comic where Batman underwent a psychological experiment where he attempted to understand The Joker.  The doctor who ran the experiment used his findings to attack Batman all these years later.  Morrison even found a way to work in appearances by Bat-Mite and The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, characters who go as far back as the 1950s.  He weaves these unlikely characters into a mythology where they shouldn’t exist, and he does so in a very believable way, largely positing that The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh isn’t a Batman from another planet but a second personality for Batman should his original personality be compromised due to psychological manipulation or breakdown.  It is a back-up personality.

These are the things I love about Grant Morrison’s writing, the grasp of character while still deconstructing said character to the core, the redefinition of the mythology of the work he is writing, and the complete love of the continuity of the story and finding ways to reincorporate it from different perspectives.  Even though the stories cited above were written in 2000 or later, my question is would these elements be present in Doctor Who: The World Shapers, a story written early in Grant Morrison’s career.  The answer is yes.  While the above elements aren’t as refined, they are still present in some minor ways.

The World Shapers stars The Sixth Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher.  They answer a distress call on the planet Marinus, which The Doctor claims to be a water planet.  While this claim is never made in The Keys of Marinus, one can certainly see why Morrison would go this route: The first episode takes place on an island surrounded by an acid ocean, the Voord wear wet-suits, adhering to the Terry Nation Naming Convention, Marinus would be a

Marinus must have some really abstract architecture if THIS is what the Chameleon Circuit chose.

perfectly logical name for a water world.  The Doctor finds a Time Lord who is dying.  He has exhausted all his regenerations and his body decomposes.  The Doctor is shocked at the speed of this procedure, saying that it usually takes much longer.  The travelers find the dead Time Lord’s TARDIS and discover that he was investigating violent temporal disturbances.  Indeed, Frobisher has begun molting very badly and Peri’s hair and fingernails are rapidly growing.  Time has been sped up.  The only clue The Doctor has is the dying words of The Time Lord, “Planet 14.”  The last time The Doctor had heard reference to Planet 14 was in his second incarnation but The Doctor can‘t remember anything about the place.  So, The Doctor and his companions leave Marinus, which is dangerous anyway due to the temporal disturbances, and go in search of Jamie McCrimmon who traveled with The Second Doctor.

At the end of The Second Doctor’s era, The Time Lords erased Jamie’s memory of traveling with The Doctor.  It seems this mind wipe wasn’t nearly as successful as The Time Lords hoped.  Jamie remembers everything, but when questioned by The Doctor he has no memory of a Planet 14.  The only thing Jamie can recall is hearing a Cyberman mention Planet 14 when they attempted to invade Earth.  The Doctor reasons that if The Cybermen are involved then the situation must be dire.  The Doctor determines to return to Marinus.  Jamie begs to accompany him.  Ever since he had returned to Scotland he has been an outcast.  His life has been miserable.  The Doctor graciously accepts his friend’s return.  They arrive on Marinus one week after they had left it and find a planet devoid of water and populated by half-Voord/half-Cyber men.

In the end, The Doctor discovers that the temporal disturbances are being caused by a machine called a World Shaper.  These machines were designed to cause rapid environmental change to uninhabited planets to make them more hospitable.  The one on Marinus had malfunctioned and since Marinus wasn’t uninhabited, The Voord began to

If this had been the Seventh Doctor, this would have been part of the plan.

evolve rapidly.  They became The Cybermen.  The Doctor and Jamie confront The Cybermen and Jamie sacrifices his life to destroy The World Shaper and thus inhibit the rapid evolution of The Cybermen.  The Doctor sees his chance to alter the progression of The Cybermen, to prevent them from causing the violence and bloodshed they will be responsible for in the future.  Two Time Lords then appear to stop him.  The Doctor, enraged leaves Marinus, which is now the planet Mondas, homeworld of The Cybermen.  The Time Lords watch The Doctor leave, lamenting his youth and naiveté.  The timeline must be preserved because one day in the far future The Cybermen will complete their evolutionary cycle and become beings of pure thought.  With this final evolution comes a complete embrace of peace, which they use to guide the universe into a new era.   The End.

I’m sure you can already begin to see a few of Grant Morrison’s hallmarks.  Doctor Who continuity is everywhere in this comic, from the return to Marinus and the return of Jamie, to the development of a throwaway line referring to Planet 14.  Morrison provides an origin for The Cybermen, something that hadn’t been done at the time this comic was written. (An origin of the Cybermen was written many years later, and it bears no resemblance to this story.  That doesn’t mean the new story is bad, just different.)  Morrison even does something interesting with The Time Lords, making them more powerful and god-like than the characters we typically see on Doctor Who.  This really pushes the concept of Time Lords, quite possibly bringing more in line with how the original writers of Doctor Who saw them.  In the early years of the show, The Time Lords were a mysterious force and hardly ever seen.  Then, in the 1970s, Robert Holmes wrote a story in which we finally see Time Lord Society and they took on more of an appearance and characterization of bureaucrats.  In The World Changers, Morrison almost presents The Time Lords as a type of galactic Men in Black who protect the Time Line because they can see the ultimate end of many races.  They know where time is going and the present (or past) of any race is irrelevant to the ultimate good.  They are a bit Machiavellian in that the end truly does justify the means.  Who cares if The Cybermen have killed millions when one day they will lead trillions in an era of peace?  This isn’t too far out of line with how The Time Lords are portrayed in Genesis of The Daleks when The Doctor is sent on a mission to prevent the creation of The Daleks because The Time Lords discover there will be no good to ever come from their existence.  In fact the epilogue of The World Changers is almost a mirror of that prologue.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Morrison had that firmly in mind.

The story isn’t without its flaws.  The art is a bit rougher than some styles I’ve seen.  Peri and Frobisher are sidelined most of the time after Jamie joins the crew.  The connection between The Voord and The Cybermen is a bit weak and may be a bit of a joke: the Voord costume was a wet suit, the original Cybermen costume was also a wet suit.  While the connection is amusing and even creative, I’m not sure this really makes for an epic origin story.  The Doctor isn’t quite the same in this story as how he was portrayed on screen (this may actually be an improvement).  But even with these quibbles, the story is very creative and I love the portrayal of The Time Lords.  The story is imaginative and certainly expresses a love for the history of the show.  Really, who would deliberately make a reference back to The Keys of Marinus but someone who had a great passion for the show.  Well, perhaps someone who hadn’t seen it.  Regardless, I thought it was a fascinating story and certainly a fun way to see how one of my favorite writers intersected with one of my favorite series.  I would welcome a return of Grant Morrison to Doctor Who in whichever medium he wished.

Before School Reunion explored an ex-companion's post-Doctor life, The World Changers revisited Jamie.

 

026 – The Keys of Marinus

Ian’s trial is concluded and Yartek is defeated.  All in a day’s work.

The Teletubby lurking in the background is quite horrifying.

“The execution is scheduled for when the pointer reaches the star.”

In the end the conspirators indict themselves.  It is a nice twist that the wife of the murderer was involved.  She also kidnapped Susan.  Despite accidentally giving away her involvement, she did remain loyal to the conspiracy by naming Ian as the mastermind behind the murder and theft.  By this point the chief interrogator no longer believes Ian is involved, but the burden of evidence still rests on The Doctor and he has none that can free Ian.  However, now that the trial is concluded, all the evidence goes back in the cabinet and our heroes plan a stakeout where they catch the final man in the conspiracy: the prosecutor.  With the exception of the wife, none of these characters have been memorable, so names really escape me.

The travelers return to the island with the pyramid to find Arbitan dead and Yartek in control of the machine.  He takes all the keys and tricks Ian into giving him the final key.  Ian, seeing through the guise, gives Yartek the fake key that was found in the jungle.  This causes the machine to explode, killing Yartek and his Voord associates.

In the closing sequence, The Doctor addresses some of the concerns I had regarding a machine controlling the consciousnesses of humans.  He flat out states that he doesn’t like it.  “Machines can make laws but they cannot dispense justice.”  If he took exception to this idea, then what would he have done if Arbitan hadn’t been killed?  Perhaps The Doctor would have convinced him to destroy or modify the machine.  It all works out for the best regardless.

This entire serial has been a mixed bag.  I suppose for me only half of it works.  The Sea of Death, The Velvet Web, and The Snows of Terror each had some interesting ideas while the latter story touched on some dark material and the cave sequence was rather fun.  Again, I can’t quite get over how much I enjoyed the ice knights.  The other three episodes just seemed slow to me.  The courtroom drama of the previous episode and the investigation in this one seemed rather simplistic, but that’s probably because I’ve been watching a lot of Miss Marple and Poirot lately.  Not to knock Terry Nation too much, but he does seem to be better at coming up with ideas and concepts than at executing them consistently well.  The Daleks worked, and perhaps that is why this one feels so disappointing.  His previous effort was better paced and more interesting.  The lack of sufficient world-building in this story makes it suffer.  Truth be told, The Keys of Marinus is probably just too long.  Perhaps Nation should have followed the rule of three in mythology.  Three keys instead of five would have made the story shorter and possibly tightened up the narrative.  Regardless, The Keys of Marinus is now over and we will be moving on to better, Lucarotti-penned episodes.

025 – The Sentence of Death (The Keys of Marinus Part 5)

Ian is accused of murder and theft of the key while The Doctor must act as his defense during the trial.

Advice for The Criminal Mastermind #326: Always check to see if you have guests before you start spouting off your worries about the plan

“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.

024 – The Snows of Terror

In which Barbara fights a trapper and Ian fights Ice Knights and wolves.

Ian made it look so easy.

“That door will keep anything out.  Or in!”

This episode was a vast improvement over the previous.  Two distinct threats arise, first is the trapper who attempts to hold Barbara prisoner for reasons best left unexplained to a pre-watershed audience.  The second problem is finding the key, which actually proves to be the easier of the two problems.

The trapper rescues Ian and Barbara from the snow and the wolves.  Ian discovers that Altos had helped the trapper carry Ian and Barbara to the cabin before heading down to the village.  Ian quickly leaves to catch up to Altos, leaving Barbara with the trapper, who starts to make threatening comments.  Barbara discovers the trapper had stolen the keys and travel dials of Susan, Sabetha, and Altos.  Thankfully, Ian and Altos arrive back at the cabin before anything to horrific can happen.  They force the trapper to take them to the caves to find Susan and Sabetha.

The situation with the trapper is quite mature given the initial mandate that Doctor Who be a family show.  Yes, the subject of potential rape is handled quite delicately and would likely be lost on a young child who would think that the man is mean and trying to hurt Barbara, but it is still a bit shocking.  In many ways this is probably the most horrific threat seen on the show thus far because it is so thoroughly human.  This isn’t an alien wanting to irradiate humanity or a creature hiding in the shadows in a wet-suit.  This is a human committing a human crime.  It is believable.

The ice caves are the video game section of this story.  In fact, the sequence is similar in some ways to the caves from Terry Nation’s first story.  There is a chasm to cross and lots of ducking and danger all around.  And much like a video game, the key is in a block of ice which is surrounded by frozen knights who come to life when you take the key.  Truth be told, while the video game aspects of the previous episode were a bit lackluster, they seem fun in this episode.  Young Ian is chased through an ice cave by ice knights.  That sound so absurd as to be awesome.  It’s a striking image, even if never really explained in any way.

The episode ends with the trapper being killed by the ice knights and our heroes using the travel dials to leap into an episode of The Avengers. Looks like fun awaits–with a vengeance!

023 – The Screaming Jungle (The Keys of Marinus Part 3)

Ian, Barbara, and Susan continue to search for The Keys of Marinus without The Doctor.  They are joined by Altos and Arbitan’s daughter Sabetha.  They arrive in a jungle of fierce plants.

I certainly hope the guy who is lowering this backstage doesn't get tired.

“Now stop it, Susan.  Stop it!”

The Keys of Marinus was obviously ahead of its time.  Long before George Lucas had the idea to make a movie so he could sell a pod racing game, Terry Nation wrote a story that would translate excellently to a video game.  You play the part of Ian Chesterton, a time and space traveler in a side-scrolling adventure: The Keys of Marinus. Each level is a new location, from the acid beach with a pyramid to explore, to a grant palace that keeps morphing into a rundown warehouse.  This week’s level is a jungle with killer plants and stone ruins full of traps.  Ian must collect all the keys to access the final boss Yartek the Voord.  The only flaw in Terry Nation’s plan is that video games hadn’t been invented yet.

The Screaming Jungle is a fairly straight-forward adventure.  Not much depth here.  This is a shame, really, as the previous episode had a few good ideas, but was let down by motivation of the villains.  This episode had killer plants.  Perhaps the episodic approach is already wearing thin.

Next episode: The Snow Level

022 – The Velvet Web (The Keys of Marinus part 2)

Our heroes find Barbara in the city of Morphoton, where things are truly not how they appear.

Zardoz appears as an extra in this scene.

“You can’t apply Earth’s standards.”

The episodes of The Keys of Marinus are not unlike a short story cycle.  Basically, each episode is a complete story in itself, but when taken together they form a larger narrative.  The first and final parts are bookends with individual stories that take place between.  Thus, The Velvet Web is a complete story that only refers back to the overall narrative at key points (no pun intended).  This is somewhat unique for this era of Doctor Who. While the current series does standalone stories that are typically 45 minutes in length, Keys of Marinus tells complete stories that are 25 minutes.  It is a nice change from what has come thus far on the show, but if this had been the format for Doctor Who, I suspect the show would have become stale very quickly.

The travelers have arrived in the aptly-titled City of Morphoton.  The name of the city itself is a clue.  This may or may not be deliberate, however, due to Terry Nation’s Naming Convention.  You see, whenever Terry Nation creates a planet or city, he tends to take the primary physical description of the planet to create a name.  Thus, a planet scarred by war becomes Skaro.  An arid, desert planet becomes Aridius.  See if you can figure out the convention for Morphoton.

The travelers discover Barbara unharmed and living in the lap of luxury.  She is being served like a queen with choice fruits and has even been given beautiful clothes.  Ian is suspicious, believing that nothing is free.  The leader of Morphoton insists that it is their desire to cater to the needs of all who live in and visit Morphoton.  Susan gets a new silk dress and The Doctor gets a laboratory with every conceivable instrument.  Quite impressive indeed.  On the first evening, however, while our travelers sleep a servant girl places discs on their foreheads.  Barbara awakes, the disc falling off.  Klaxons sound and she passes out.  The next morning we see The Doctor, Ian, and Susan eating breakfast in the same room as before.  But when Barbara wakes we see the room from her perspective.  It is plain.  Susan’s dress is rags.  The elaborate table ware are in actuality dirty cups and

Sure, our motivation is weak, but we had such a great plan that we went ahead with it anyway.

plates.  The entire society is a mental projection from a race of brains in jars which uses a device called the Mesmeron.   Or something like that.  The strength of this story is in the subversion of perception.  It is a story of concepts, the plot being fairly straight-forward and secondary.  In the end, Barbara dispatches the evil brains in jars by destroying the jars.  A bit simple, but effective.  If the creatures had been more mobile, Barbara may have been in real danger.

One of my favorite moments of this episode is when The Doctor gets to see his laboratory.  It is an empty room.  Naturally, the production couldn’t afford to outfit the room as a real laboratory, so the perspective shifts now that we know it is an illusion.  It is amusing to see Ian and The Doctor marvel over an empty room, and the best moment is when The Doctor picks up a dirty mug and say, “If I can have access to instruments like these I could overcome the fault in the time mechanism aboard the ship!”  Great piece of acting by William Hartnell in this scene.

Again, what works best in this story are the concepts.  The story and production give us a setting, then turn that setting on its head in an effective way.  Once the twist has been revealed, the luxurious world begins to fall away as the audience sides with Barbara.  The motivation of the villains is a bit vague, but again, it is the concepts and the twist that are the core of this episode, not so much the world building of Marco Polo or The Daleks. Regardless, this is a good piece of experimental storytelling that attempts to push the bounds of what can be realized on television.  It may be fairly sub-standard fare to modern eyes, but at the time, this would have been well-realized.