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The Keys of Marinus

Production Code: E

First Transmitted

The Sea of Death - 11/04/1964 17:30

The Velvet Web - 18/04/1964 17:30

The Screaming Jungle - 25/04/1964 17:30

The Snows of Terror - 02/05/1964 17:30

Sentence of Death - 09/05/1964 17:15

The Keys of Marinus - 16/05/1964 17:15


The TARDIS arrives on the planet Marinus on an island of glass surrounded by a sea of acid. The travellers are forced by the elderly Arbitan to retrieve four of the five operating keys to a machine called the Conscience of Marinus, of which he is the keeper. These have been hidden in different locations around the planet to prevent them falling into the hands of the evil Yartek and his Voord warriors, who plan to seize the machine and use its originally benevolent mind-influencing power for their own sinister purposes.

Now the machine has been modified to overcome the Voords and can be reactivated, so the keys must be recovered. In their quest, the travellers - transported from place to place by Arbitan's wristwatch-like travel dials - have adventures in the city of Morphoton; in a building besieged by ambulatory plants; with a lecherous and murderous trapper; and in the city of Millennius where Ian is falsely accused of murder and discovers that the legal rule is 'guilty until proven innocent'.

The keys are eventually retrieved and the travellers return to the island. Arbitan has been killed by Yartek, who apparently tricks Ian into handing over the final key. Ian, however, passes a fake key instead and when Yartek tries to use it the machine explodes, killing him and the Voords.

Episode Endings

The Doctor, Susan and Ian arrive at the location of the first key shortly after Barbara, but find that she is nowhere to be seen. Ian sees her travel dial on the floor - there is blood on it.

Susan moves on to the second location before the others and finds herself in a jungle. She covers her ears in pain as an unearthly screaming sound echoes round.

Ian and Barbara turn their travel dials and arrive in a freezing cold environment. Barbara is paralysed by the cold and Ian tells her that they must move or they won't stand a chance.

Arriving in the city of Millennius, Ian finds a body on the floor of a museum-like room. He sees the final key in one of the cases but is knocked unconscious before he can get it. His unknown assailant places Ian's hand on a ceremonial mace before taking the key from the cabinet himself, which causes alarm bells to ring.

While investigating all the possibilities to try and clear Ian of the murder of Eprin, Barbara receives a telephone call. It is Susan, who explains that she has been kidnapped and will be killed if the Doctor reveals the location of the final key.

Having said their farewells to thier freinds Altos and Sabetha, the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara leave in the TARDIS.


Courtroom drama.

30s serials.

Quest epics.

Celtic myth.

Fireball XL5 'The Hypnotic Sphere'.

the Labours of Hercules.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "I don't believe that man was made to be controlled by machines. Machines can make laws but they cannot preserve justice. Only human beings can do that."

Dialogue Disasters

"It's Barbara's travel dial: there's blood on it."


Barbara implies that the scanner shows monochrome images (due to a fault). The Doctor talks about overcoming a problem with the TARDIS's 'time mechanism' [referring to either his lack of control or to his ignorance of their location when landed].

Marinus is a planet with a range of climatic zones (tropical jungles and snowy wastes) [and a large population of humanoids who live in various autonomous groups or nations]. The technology of Marinus reached its peak 2000 years previously with the construction of the Conscience, which influenced thoughts throughout the planet.

700 years after the invention of the Conscience, Yartek and his Voord followers found a way to resist the machine. Key microcircuits were hidden around the planet. 1300 years later Arbitan improved the Conscience so that, if the keys were returned to it, the Voords would be powerless. (Both 'Voords' and 'Voord' seem to be acceptable plural forms, although the former predominates.) [We know nothing of the Voords, except Yartek's long lifespan.]


Several regions of Marinus.



Susan says she has heard the noise made by the 'screaming jungle' before [see The Sensorites]. The Doctor has met Pyrrho, the founder of scepticism.


The Voords wear clichéd but surprisingly effective wet-suit costumes, with cleverly-designed rubber masks bearing - except in Yartek's case - antennae of various different shapes.

There is a surprisingly adult scene in which the burly trapper Vasor tries to rape Barbara.

The Doctor does not appear in either the third or the fourth episode as William Hartnell was on holiday in the weeks when they were recorded.

The TARDIS arrives and leaves without the engine sound being heard outside the ship.

Darrius, the friend of Arbitan's whom the travellers meet in The Screaming Jungle, is never referred to by name in the story's dialogue; his name is given only in the closing credits.


Yartek's people are called the Voord. (Although 'Voord' is used as the plural of their name on a couple of occasions, 'Voords' is used more often and is the spelling that appears on the closing credits of the relevant episodes.)


Darrius has found a way of accelerating nature's 'tempo of destruction'. The bottle containing the key is labelled De³O² [DrivEl dioxide?].


The radiation counter is on the opposite side of the console from its location in The Daleks.

After the Doctor vanishes into the pyramid, to the right of the screen a studio technician's leg moves out of shot.

Just after Susan falls through the pyramid wall, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill enter for their next scene.

After Ian falls through you can see Hill sneaking through the background.

The Voord that falls to his death is a cardboard cut-out.

When establishing the extent of the force-field around the TARDIS Carole Ann Ford walks in front of William Russell (and thus into the 'barrier'), despite the extravagant miming of the latter.

Although only seconds ahead of the others, when Barbara arrives at Morphoton she has time to discuss her taste in fabrics and meet the ostensible leader, Altos.

The shadow of the camera appears to pass over Susan's sleeping form in episode two.

At the end of this episode Barbara fails to break the domes of the Morpho brain creatures.

Why is Ian so ready to barter his travel dial - his only life-line back to the TARDIS - for a piece of fur from Vasor?

Sabetha slips when running from the ice soldiers.

The Voord following Sabetha in episode six trips over his own flippers.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Altos - Robin Phillips

Arbitan - George Colouris

Aydan - Martin Cort

Darrius - Edmund Warwick

Eyesen - Donald Pickering

First Judge - Alan James

Guard - Alan James

Ice Soldier - Michael Allaby

Ice Soldier - Alan James

Ice Soldier - Peter Stenson

Ice Soldier - Anthony Verner

Kala - Fiona Walker

Larn - Michael Allaby

Sabetha - Katharine Schofield

Second Judge - Peter Stenson

Senior Judge - Raf de la Torre

Tarron - Henley Thomas

Vasor - Francis de Wolff

Voice of Morpho - Heron Carvic

Voord - Martin Cort

Voord - Peter Stenson

Voord - Gordon Wales

Warrior - Martin Cort

Yartek - Stephen Dartnell


Director - John Gorrie

Assistant Floor Manager - Timothy Combe

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Raymond P Cusick

Incidental Music - Norman Kay

Make-Up - Jill Summers

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - David Conroy

Production Assistant - Penny Joy

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Peter Murray

Studio Sound - Jack Brummitt

Studio Sound - Tony Milton

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Terry Nation

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Terry Nation uses his favourite B-movie style of the episodic narrative to little effect. There's not enough room to develop the individual stories, most of which are very dull. The budget is also stretched to the limit, with the icebound landscape being stock footage wolves and polystyrene snow.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The premise of the tale, a replacement for Terry Nation's abandoned historical story The Red Fort, is simple: the Doctor and his friends must find and collect four hidden keys, using 'travel dials' to move instantaneously between their predetermined locations around the planet. One wonders, in fact, why Arbitan did not travel to collect the keys himself (the Conscience machine is useless without them, and he could have returned with reinforcements should the Voords have invaded in his absence). Be that as it may, the immediate difficulty presented by a plot such as this in production terms is that new settings and often new creatures need to be designed and created for virtually every episode, rather than just once per story. It is a tribute to the talents of designer Raymond P Cusick that he manages to bring this off effectively here on an extremely tight budget.

The opening episode features the island of glass and, more particularly, Arbitan's pyramid housing the Conscience. Aside from some fairly blatant painted cloths to represent the sides of the pyramid extending into the distance, this building, with its hidden doors and winding corridors, provides a convincingly mysterious location for the scene-setting action.

The travellers next find themselves in the city of Morphoton, ruled by a collective of bodiless brains in jars. Despite having arrived only minutes ahead of the others, Barbara has apparently found time to have a dress made, get changed, have the concepts of the city explained to her and begin a sumptuous meal, but this glaring plot inconsistency is conveniently glossed over. Fortunately things improve in the later scenes where, having alone escaped full hypnotic conditioning, she sees through the illusory beauty of the city and realises its true squalor; this is very nicely handled by the director, so that things are seen from Barbara's point of view when appropriate and from the standard 'viewer's eye' perspective when the illusion is perceived by the Doctor, Ian and Susan.

The brain creatures are eventually destroyed when Barbara smashes their glass cases, and the travellers move on accompanied by Arbitan's daughter Sabetha and her friend Altos, whom they have rescued from Morphoton. Their next arrival point is a jungle where the 'tempo of destruction' - entropy, roughly speaking - has been increased and the plants are running amok. The sequences outside the heavily overgrown walls of the house of Arbitan's scientist friend Darrius are somewhat painful to watch as first Susan calls out and Barbara fails to respond, although she is in no danger at the time, and then Barbara calls out and Ian takes an age to answer. This may help to increase the tension, but it also makes the characters appear slightly deaf. Matters are not improved by the fact that Ford is unfortunately rather less than convincing when trying to appear terrified, although Russell and Hill are again on top form.

As the episodes pass, so Nation continues to rely on the technique, already becoming well worn by this stage, of splitting the travellers up and subjecting them to different dangers. First the Doctor decides to travel on alone to the location of the final key (allowing Hartnell a couple of weeks' holiday), then Susan, Altos and Sabetha move on to the next location ahead of Ian and Barbara.

The Snows of Terror's ice cave sequences stretch credibility. One wonders how Arbitan ever thought that the travellers would find the key when it turns out to be hidden inside a block of ice inside a cave inside an ice mountain that is riddled with tunnels. The 'Ice Soldiers' are also something of a mystery. They are frozen solid and yet come alive when the key is defrosted. One of them screams when he falls down a crevasse, so they must be something approaching human and feel fear. Their origins and exact nature are never explained, however.

As the story draws to a close, Ian finds himself facing some rough justice in the city of Millennius, where one is assumed guilty of a crime until proven innocent. This taxes the Doctor, but his obvious delight at working out all the twists and turns in the plot is a joy to watch. Entertaining though this part of the story is, though, it would perhaps have been even better if the script had clearly indicated why the culprit wanted to steal the key in the first place.

Fortunately the story comes to a satisfying conclusion in the final episode when the fake key obtained in the third is put to good use by Ian.

The Keys of Marinus was not universally liked by those who saw it on its original transmission. 'The overall plot seemed very complicated at the time and I struggled to follow the subplots such as the frame-up of Ian in the human colony,' wrote Stephen Poole in Oracle Volume 2 Number 10 dated July 1979. 'It was all very overwhelming, especially since new monsters were constantly being introduced to us - a trend of Doctor Who in those days. New creatures would suddenly appear for one episode, more often than not, never to be seen again. The Voords... for example only appeared in parts one and six - a great waste of potential.' It would however be fair to say that, despite its rather disjointed nature, this story is one that ultimately rewards the viewer. In each episode Nation presents an obstacle - sometimes mental, sometimes physical - and the Doctor and his friends have to figure out how to escape so that they can continue with their quest. In these early days, viewers of Doctor Who were really kept on their toes, not even knowing for sure where one story ended and the next began as they were generally linked by cliffhangers in exactly the same way as were episodes within stories. This element of unpredictability was one of strongest features of Doctor Who's original format, and was to continue to stand the series in good stead throughout its long run.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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