Susan activates her travel dial ahead of the others, and finds herself in the middle of a jungle at night. There are strange sounds and noises that seems to come from every direction at once, advancing attacking. Clutching her head in terror and anguish, Susan falls to the ground…
Here’s a question: who (or what) are the Voord? Curiously, it’s not clear that anyone on Marinus has ever actually seen a (living) Voord. Arbitan recognized the wetsuit-clad invaders in The Sea of Death as Voord, but he was uncertain whether the time travelers were Voord, too. Likewise, in The Screaming Jungle, Darrius is unsure whether Barbara and Ian are Voord agents who have come to steal the microcircuit key in his possession.
The true nature of the Voord isn’t explored in any detail in The Keys of Marinus, unfortunately. Arbitan’s account of the history of Marinus and the Voords’ role is one-sided at best, which the time travelers accept more or less without question. Viewers of modern Doctor Who—and even later in the classic series—might find this odd: we expect the Doctor to consider the wider context of any situation, but that’s always been a little bit of a conceit, and in any case, Arbitan has Doctor’s Ship. No one can blame him much for doing what he has to do to get it back.
Of course, from that perspective, there’s just a touch of irony in that Doctor doesn’t appear in The Screaming Jungle. This is very much the Ian and Barbara show. William Russell recalls that there wasn’t meant to be any indication of any burgeoning romance between Ian and Barbara during the series, this patently isn’t the case, and for the first time, we really get a sense of just how much Ian cares for Barbara and her well-being. On the same note, Barbara clearly has at least some feelings for Ian, commenting that she appreciates how much he fusses over them all—even if she wants to rebel against his idea of what’s best for her sometimes.
Terry Nation doesn’t linger on this point, however, and The Screaming Jungle works surprisingly well as a one part story in the larger narrative, even if the plot, which concerns the “balance of nature,” is somewhat less succinct and thought-out than it could be. Nation is concerned with consequences. In The Daleks, he focuses on the consequences of nuclear war; here he imagines what might happen if the delicate web of ecological processes—in this case, the living jungle itself—is disrupted, accelerated, mutated, into a destructive force that happens over a matter of weeks or months rather than decades.
The tangential idea of the jungle as a vast, sentient gestalt that has some sense of volition, if not necessarily complete free will doesn’t work quite as well, however. Darrius, Arbitan’s colleague in this zone, is terrified of this sentient jungle, which he believes is determined to destroy him. “The jungle is coming,” he says. “When the whispering starts, it’s death!” (Lost, anyone?) It’s a compelling idea could have been integrated into the story much more skillfully. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the story, but it doesn’t do quite what I believe Nation had intended.
There is a genuine sense of suspense, though, as the jungle begins to whisper and push it’s way into the building, literally tearing the structure apart, actively seeking out Barbara and Ian. At the last second, they understand Darrius’ dying message that reveals the hidden microcircuit key. The vines of the jungle circle around them like tentacles, smothering the life from them.
Ian and Barbara activate their travel dials, and immediately find themselves in a frozen wasteland; the snow, wind, and unbearable subfreezing temperature crushing them just as efficiently as the jungle vegetation had only seconds before. Barbara falls to knees, hugging herself to keep warm. She can’t go on…
Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)