At the last moment, Marco Polo quickly returns the TARDIS key to the Doctor. Rushed goodbyes, and then—the we hear the sound of the Ship’s great time engines for the first time in what feels like an eternity, and the police box fades away as Marco, perhaps with a renewed since of hope, wonders where the time travelers are now, in the past or the future…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a huge Terry Nation fan, especially considering how lackluster The Daleks turned out to be. No one realized that the Daleks would be back again and again, becoming the Doctor’s most enduring adversary, and the production team were hopeful the Voord would be at least as successful as Nation’s first alien(?) creation.
I’m not going to say that Nation only has “one” story that he retells over and over, but The Sea of Death does share certain similarities with The Daleks: the Ship arrives in a bizarre, inhospitable environment dominated by an enormous, seemingly abandoned citadel (city). Just as Barbara was carefully guided though a network of passageways and to the heart of the Dalek city on Skaro, a series of secret passages and trick doors on the exterior of the citadel swallow up the time travelers one-by-one, and a mysterious figure leads them to the center of the complex. Ian even asks the Doctor about the radiation outside the TARDIS before they go outside.
Furthermore, Terry Nation seems to have an obsession with the so-called “dystopian future.” If The Daleks is an allegory warning against nuclear proliferation in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, then The Keys of Marinus is a warning against giving up one’s free will—essentially one’s humanity—in exchange for a semblance of peace and prosperity. The Voord, therefore, are not so much the enemies in this story, but antiheroes who are actively working to prevent free will from once again being taken away from the people of Marinus—suddenly, once again, we become the enemies in Terry Nation’s view of a broken future through our own complacency. The Voord, while perhaps not completely guiltless, are simply trying to give us back what was taken. It’s a theme that recurs again and again in Nation’s writing.
The time travelers’ own volition is taken away by Arbitan when he blocks them from entering the TARDIS—not unlike Marco does in the previous serial—and demand they travel across Marinus in search of the microcircuit keys that will reactivate the Conscience, and bring the Voord to heel. The Doctor is furious, but recognizes that they must comply in order to regain access to the Ship.
At the same time, however, there are some key differences between this story and The Daleks that are stark, namely the complete sea change between the Doctor’s relationship with the schoolteachers, especially Ian. In The Daleks, the Doctor and Ian are completely at odds with one another, and the Doctor deceives his companions into going to the city, while Ian is completely callous toward the old man. Here, on the other hand, Ian is willing to explore the citadel when the Doctor suggests it, and the implication is that he would have suggested it if the Doctor hadn’t.
The biggest change is in the Doctor, which makes sense considering three months or so the time travelers spent working closely with one another during the course of the previous serial, Marco Polo. The Doctor has developed a great deal of respect for Ian and Barbara, even paying a compliment to Ian’s resourcefulness. He’d hardly admit it, but the Doctor may actually like Ian.
Director John Gorrie—whom designer Ray Cusick described as “totally disinterested” and “very laid back”—does an adequate, if unremarkable job, with some scenes taking on a very slight nouvelle vague feel. It’s nothing compared to Waris Hussein’s spectacular nouvelle vague-influenced direction in An Unearthly Child, which is unforgettable. The real genius lies in the model work done for the opening shots of this serial: the island set against the perfectly still acid sea, the shot of the TARDIS materializing, and, of course, the (anti)heroic Voord arriving in their strange glass submersibles. Tristram Carey’s musique concrète incidental score, while not as well realized as The Daleks, is still certainly unique and memorable.
Arbitan gives the time travelers
teleport bracelets wristwatch-like “travel dials” that will send them instantly to the various parts of Marinus where the keys are hidden. Barbara activates hers, and vanishes from sight. The Doctor, Ian, and Susan follow her moments later. It’s an “exhilarating” mode of transportation, but when they arrive at their first destination, they immediately discover Barbara’s travel dial discarded on the ground—and it’s covered in blood…
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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.)