Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Review – Volume 1.2
Since having gone back in time (in a manner of speaking) to review the first three ‘Doctor Who’ stories the decision has been made to push on through the rest of the series. Putting aside the nagging feeling that there is a downright ridiculous number of episodes and DVDs to work through, we’ve knuckled down and gotten the next three stories ready for review…
**Cue TARDIS sound effect.**
The Keys of Marinus
This serial opens with an interesting setting – the TARDIS and its crew lands on a beach made of glass and surrounded by a sea of acid. In a nearby temple they find Arbitan, the keeper of the Conscious of Marinus – a vast computer network that suppresses thoughts of evil across the planet. With the system under threat from the Voord, a race of aliens able to resist the computers influence, the Doctor and his companions must locate the four missing Keys of Marinus that will regulate the computer.
Although it is a needlessly complex and somewhat hokey set-up, this is one of the best stories of the first season. The quest for the four keys takes the companions to different parts of the planet Marinus with each episode making up its own mini-story in a different setting. Each episode is able to stand alone as an interesting story, and each has a unique feel to them. First is a luxurious city where the companions quickly make themselves comfortable and enjoy the pleasures on offer, until Barbara learns that a group of hideous eye-stalks-on-brains are controlling the inhabitants of the city via hypnosis and while they actually live in squalor. Next the must over-come a jungle of dangerous, screaming plants and a booby trapped temple. The third challenge they face occurs when they teleport into an icy wasteland, taking refuge in a cabin with a trapper who quickly proves to be untrustworthy.
In the final location the key is kept on display in a museum, but upon arrival Ian is accused of murder and put on trail. The Doctor must come to aid acting as a lawyer, but comes up against corruption in the court systems that puts them all in danger. The tried and tested narrative of the characters needing to face certain challenges to met their goal is one well suited to ‘Doctor Who’ even though the Doctor himself isn’t involved in many of the trails. It also makes a great character piece for Barbara and Ian, with the infinitely more interesting Susan playing a larger role than usual. When the Doctor does turn up he’s less of an asshole than usual, giving the relationship between him and his reluctant companions more believable.
The anthology style structure of the serial keeps the story from dragging out, with enough new conflicts being introduced to keep viewers on their toes and never losing sight of the end goal.
Following the science fiction adventures on Marinus, the Doctor and crew head back in time for one of their more educational fare. Arriving, unsurprisingly, during the time of the Aztecs they wind up stranded when the TARDIS gets sealed within a tomb and Barbara is mistaken for the re-incarnation of the high priest Yetaxan (as you’d expect). This is the earliest instance of the time travelers having to contemplate the ramifications of their actions in the past, a recurring theme in more recent seasons. Barbara, being an expert in the history of the ancient civilization, wants to convince them to put an end to their ritual sacrifices as she believes this will keep them prepared for invasion by the Spanish. The Doctor argues with her, warning that she can’t take responsibility for changing history. The differing viewpoints are also represented within the Aztec population by the High Priest of Knowledge and the High Priest of Sacrifice (no points for guessing which is which).
The main narrative isn’t strong enough to carry the story through four episodes, so the rest is padded out with insights into the Aztec way of life. Susan and The Doctor both find themselves involved in marriage rituals while Ian finds himself at odds with a warrior who feels he has been shamed by Ian defeating him in combat. As a result the episodes bounce back and forth between several thin sub-plots that lack a long time to reach resolution.
Most the of the time The Doctor is in an extra dickish mood. Whilst he’s trying to do the right thing by encouraging Barbara not to try and rewrite history he could try and pick his words a bit more carefully instead of steadfastly insisting that they let human sacrifice happen. He also earns asshole points for supplying a warrior with a deadly poison to win a duel (unaware that the
duel is against Ian) in order to trick a woman who wants to marry him into giving up the plans to the tomb.
Ultimately it’s got its moments as the companions try to get their head around the unusual customs of the ancient people, but it’s not one of the best stories.
Switching back to sci-fi mode, the TARDIS finds itself on a spaceship trapped in a planets orbit with the crew seeming to be dead. Shortly after the arrival of The Doctor and his companions they suddenly appear to come back to life to explain that the telepathic Sensorites from the Sense-sphere below are preventing them from leaving the orbit. Not long after they encounter the third member of the crew who has been driven insane by the Sensorites. Eventually the crew and companions make contact with the aliens via Susan’s previously latent telepathic powers and learn that the Sensorites had been exploited by previous Earthlings wanting to mine the planet.
With a plague attacking the Sensorite population and their previous experiences with Earthlings, the High Council of the Sensorites is divided on whether or not the new visitors should be welcome. While the Doctor and Ian work on a cure, discovering that the water supply has been getting poisoned, a distrustful member of the High Councils enacts multiple attempts to murder them. The former plot thread is more interesting, with a genuine sense of mystery behind it, whilst the assassination plot gets repetitive as the attempts to kill the humans starts to border on the silly. One major plus for this serial lies in the exploration of Susan’s abilities. The Doctor’s grand-daughter is the more interesting of the three companions and often takes a back seat to Ian and Barbara’s misadventures so it’s good seeing her get an equal share of screen time.
What really lets the episodes down are the Sensorites themselves. It’s easy to dismiss many of the early ‘Doctor Who’ creatures as being goofy and unrealistic (and many of them are) but they are always imaginative and interesting. The Sensorite’s look pretty darn silly having ill-fitting masks that prevent anything even resembling realistic mouth movements coupled with tight fitting one-piece outfits that stretch over the surprisingly chubby actors they chose for the parts. Design aside they’re completely blind in anything other than a brightly lit room and find loud noises extremely painful. Put all that together with their dangerously trusting nature and occasionally stupid decisions and you have to wonder why natural selection didn’t wipe them out a long time ago. Unsurprisingly the Ood, one of the entries in the ‘Goofiest Doctor Who Villains List’ was intended to be a closely related species.
Shonky alien design aside, not a bad little adventure.
As the next two stories have not been released on DVD at present time, the next edition of this series will jump straight to ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ followed by ‘The Rescue’ and ‘The Romans’. I don’t expect to see Rory hanging around the camps though.