The Keys of Marinus

005 The Keys of Marinus
Doctor Who serial

A Voord attempts to capture a terrified Susan.
Directed by John Gorrie
Written by Terry Nation
Script editor David Whitaker
Produced by Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Norman Kay
Production code E
Series Season 1
Length 6 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 11 April 1964
Date ended 16 May 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
Marco Polo The Aztecs

The Keys of Marinus is the fifth serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in 6 weekly parts from 11 April to 16 May 1964. The serial takes on an unusual "quest" format, where each episode is its own mini-adventure in pursuit of a larger goal.


On a small island with a glass beach, surrounded by an acid sea, on the planet Marinus stands a tower with many secret entrances. Within the tower is Arbitan, Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a vast computer developed two millennia earlier as a vast justice machine which kept law and order across the entire planet. For seven hundred years, the Conscience was absolute, radiating its power across the planet Marinus, and eliminating all thought of evil. But then Yartek, leader of the alien Voord, worked out how to resist its impulses.

When The Doctor and his companions arrive on the island, they are brought into the tower to an audience with Arbitan, who explains that the society of Marinus is in danger. Several submersibles containing Voord, humanoid creatures protected by amphibian-like black rubber wet suits, have washed up on the beach. Inspired by Yartek, the Voord are seeking to enter the tower and take control of the Conscience.

Arbitan explains that the Conscience has now been upgraded sufficiently to control the Voord again, but needs to be activated. Years earlier Arbitan had prevented the Conscience from falling into Voord control by separating the five Keys needed to regulate it. The five keys are in different locations - one is in Arbitan's possession, but the other four are scattered over Marinus. The keys can only be found by following directions pre-set into travel dials, watch-like devices with the power to transport the wearer across the planet to the correct locations. Arbitan asks that the Doctor and his friends help him fend off the Voord by gathering the keys together. Others have tried to accomplish this task - even Arbitan's own daughter - but none have returned to the tower.

The Doctor refuses Arbitan's request, but is unable to access the TARDIS due to a force field Arbitan places around the ship. And so the Doctor and his companions are coerced into aiding Arbitan. As the four teleport away from the tower using the travel dials, Arbitan is attacked and stabbed to death by a Voord that has secretly gained access to the tower.

The first location visited by the travellers is the City of Morphoton. The seemingly advanced and pacifist inhabitants impress the travellers with the luxuries, advances and aesthetics of the city. But all is not as it seems. Barbara is the first to realize the truth when a hypnotic disc intended to make her mind receptive to the hypnotic pulses slips off her forehead, causing her to realise that Morphoton is actually a place of dirt and squalor rather than beauty and luxury. Unknown to the Doctor and crew, Morphoton is governed by four brain creatures with hideous eyes on stalks who, having outgrown their bodies, live in large bell jars and communicate through their life-support machines. The Brains of Morphoton use hypnosis to control the human population, and the entire City is subjugated to their will.

Once the Brains realize Barbara has seen the truth and is thus impervious to their hypnotic control, they order that she be killed. Barbara escapes and hides in the city, there making contact with the slave girl Sabetha, who has been blamed for Barbara's awakening and sentenced to death. Barbara deduces Sabetha is Arbitan’s missing daughter, and sees Sabetha wears one of the Keys about her neck. Barbara helps break Sabetha's conditioning, and together they escape and destroy the jars and equipment protecting the Brains. With their life-support ruined, the Brains die, and all the human subjects of the city are freed. Another slave called Altos remembers he too was sent to Morphoton by Arbitan, and he and Sabetha decide to join the Doctor and his friends on their quest. The six now split up, with the Doctor going ahead to find the final key in the City of Millennius, while the others attempt to find the second key in the next destination.

The next location for the five searchers is a dangerous screaming jungle, which has a particularly debilitating effect on the telepathic Susan. In the jungle is an ancient temple overgrown with plants. Much of the flora is hostile and the travellers are relieved to find the next Key so easily, propped on the top of a statue in the temple. However, this "Key" is a decoy and, when touched, activates ancient machinery that causes the statue to move. Indeed, the whole location - jungle and temple - is a place of danger and traps. When Barbara is caught in the statue mechanism and disappears into the temple, Sabetha argues she may have possibly used her travel dial to move on to the next location. Sabetha compares the "Key" Barbara found with her original and realizes the easily found Key is actually a fake. While Ian remains at the temple to search for the real Key, Altos, Sabetha and Susan go to the next location to search for Barbara.

Ian activates the statue mechanism and is also taken into the temple, where he finds Barbara again. Hiding in the temple is an aged and dying scientist, Darrius, whom Ian saves from an attack by a creeping vine. Very weak, the old man explains the traps of the temple are to fool the Voord, and that he too is a friend of Arbitan. Before dying, Darrius tells Ian and Barbara the Key is hidden in "D-E-3-O-2." The plants, mutated by a growth accelerator built by Darrius, become more and more aggressive. The two friends only just manage to retrieve the Key from an experiment jar before the vegetation overruns the temple.

Ian and Barbara now teleport to an icy wasteland where they meet the duplicitous trapper Vasor, who steals their Keys and sends Ian back into the wastelands where he hopes Ian will be eaten by packs of wolves. In the wastes Ian finds Altos, bound and abandoned, and works out Vasor is to blame. Ian and Altos return to the trapper’s hut and confront him, forcing the wicked man to reveal the stolen Keys in his possession and to take them to the ice caves where he had earlier abandoned Sabetha and Susan. The two girls have meanwhile searched the icy caves themselves and uncovered mechanized Ice Soldiers. The travellers are soon reunited and find the next Key frozen in a block of ice. Their act in removing it revives the Ice Soldiers, who begin a vicious rampage. They flee back to the trappers' cottage and retrieve their stolen dials, getting ready to escape. Vasor takes Susan hostage and demands that they stay. An Ice Soldier stabs him down from behind and they escape.

When the travellers reach the next location Ian finds himself accused of the murder of Eprin, a friend of Altos, who had discovered the key shortly before his death. The Key has now disappeared and Ian is accused of theft and Eprin’s murder. The punishment will be death if he found guilty before the court of Millennius. The other travellers are reunited in advance of Ian’s trial, at which the Doctor takes on the role of defence counsel. He succeeds in postponing the trial for two days while he gathers evidence and uses this time to work out what really happened to Eprin. He works out that the relief guard, Aydan, is implicated in the murder, but Aydan too is murdered during the course of the trial before he can reveal the truth of the plot. Things take a turn for the worse when Susan is kidnapped and used as a hostage to try and persuade the Doctor not to investigate the crimes any further. The kidnapper is Kala, Aydan’s widow, who is in league with Eyesen, the Court Prosecutor, who has succeeded in persuading the Three Judges of Millennium to find Ian guilty of Eprin’s murder. Luckily, the others find Susan bound and gagged in Kala's house before Kala can kill her, like she did to her own husband, and the plot is uncovered. Tarron, the Chief Investigator of the City, is now also persuaded of Kala’s guilt but they must still uncover her accomplice to prove Ian did not kill Eprin. The Doctor helps unmask Eyesen and uncover the last Key, which had been hidden in the murder weapon, and Ian is freed.

The travellers now return to Arbitan’s island using their travel dials. Altos and Sabetha have travelled ahead with all but the last Key in their possession. They do not know the old Keeper is dead and that Yartek is now in charge, clothed in Arbitan’s robes to maintain the ruse. Yartek has seized the first four Keys and holds Altos and Sabetha prisoner while he awaits the fifth and final one. When the Doctor and his three friends arrive they soon realize that the Voord have taken control of the tower and the Conscience. The Doctor frees Sabetha and Altos and then unmasks the Voord. Ian too has played his part, and given Yartek the false key from the Screaming Jungle. When Yartek places the false Key in the Conscience, the machine explodes and he is killed along with the occupying Voord. The Doctor and his friends flee the tower with Altos and Sabetha before the growing blaze overtakes the ancient structure.


This story was written to replace a different script, The Hidden Planet, which was deemed problematic. Because the replacement script had to be written quickly, it was decided to base it around a series of largely self-contained episodes, each with a different setting and cast, to make it easier to write in a short time.

Model filming for The Keys of Marinus commenced in March 1964 at Ealing Studios, with the rest of the studio recording done in March and April at Lime Grove Studios.[1] The tank-top Susan wears was knitted by Carole Ann Ford's mother.[2] Ford has expressed displeasure with the portrayal of Susan in the serial, calling her character "pathetic".[2]

Cast notes

The Doctor himself does not appear in episodes three and four of this story, due to William Hartnell having been on holiday.[3] Stephen Dartnell was cast as Yartek, leader of the alien Voord. A few weeks later, he appeared in The Sensorites as the troubled astronaut John. Fiona Walker, who played Kala, later appeared as Lady Peinforte in Silver Nemesis. Francis de Wolff later played Agamemnon in The Myth Makers. Donald Pickering later played Captain Blade in The Faceless Ones and Beyus in Time and the Rani. Edmund Warwick later played a robot duplicate of the Doctor in The Chase.[4]

Broadcast and reception

Serial details by episode
EpisodeBroadcast dateRun timeViewers
(in millions)
"The Sea of Death" 11 April 1964 (1964-04-11) 23:20 9.9 16mm t/r
"The Velvet Web" 18 April 1964 (1964-04-18) 25:37 9.4 16mm t/r
"The Screaming Jungle" 25 April 1964 (1964-04-25) 23:45 9.9 16mm t/r
"The Snows of Terror" 2 May 1964 (1964-05-02) 24:54 10.4 16mm t/r
"Sentence of Death" 9 May 1964 (1964-05-09) 25:03 7.9 16mm t/r
"The Keys of Marinus" 16 May 1964 (1964-05-16) 25:11 6.9 16mm t/r

Following the debut of BBC2, "The Screaming Jungle" was the first Doctor Who episode to be shown on BBC1 (the previous episodes had been screened on BBC-TV, the single channel available).[1]

In retrospective reviews, The Keys of Marinus received generally unfavorable reception. Radio Times reviewer Patrick Mulkern wrote that "standards slip appreciably" after the four preceding serials in terms of "ambitious but slapdash" script quality and the below-par sets and supporting characters.[1] DVD Talk's J. Doyle Wallis gave the serial a rating of two and a half stars out of five, feeling that the weakness was attributed to the Doctor's absence (deeming the two episodes Hartnell was absent for as the weakest of the serial), the lack of a main antagonist that would thread the episodes together, the "lacking and disparate" world of Marinus and the "ramshackle" execution of the concept.[8] Arnold T. Blumburg of IGN gave The Keys of Marinus a score of 4 out of 10, describing it as "a clichéd premise ... handled poorly and with no spark at all apart from Hartnell's late-hour rally". He cited the poor production quality and the "hodge-podge" leaps to various locations on Marinus which were "boring if not inept".[9]

However, the story and its structure was met with some positive reception. Graham Kibble-White in Doctor Who Magazine derided Susan's character for "devolving into a bit of a shrill" but was generally positive towards the episodic story structure and the timing of Hartnell's holiday. Despite this, he wrote that the scripts of the final two episodes "never truly engages with the tenets of courtroom drama".[10] A Den of Geek felt that the different locations structure "works incredibly well" by keeping the momentum and making each episode "fresh".[11]

Commercial Releases

In print

Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus
Author Philip Hinchcliffe
Cover artist David McAllister
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
21 August 1980
ISBN 0-426-20125-6

A novelisation of this serial, written by Philip Hinchcliffe, was published by Target Books in 1980. This is the only one of Hinchcliffe's three novelisations that did not come from his own period working on the programme.

The artwork on the novelisation had originally been prepared for an aborted adaptation of The Edge of Destruction. Incoming Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner was unhappy with the grey colour of the TARDIS and the red colour of the light on top. Although he requested that the artwork be amended appropriately, his suggestions were not acted upon.

Home media

UK DVD front cover

The story was released in episodic form on VHS in March 1999.[12]

It was also released on DVD on 21 September 2009. Although the story was previously thought of as complete, it was discovered during remastering for the DVD release that episodes two and four were slightly edited from the originally broadcast versions; these cuts were reinstated using off-air audio recordings and other visual material.[13]


  1. 1 2 3 Mulkern, Patrick (5 October 2008). "Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  2. 1 2 Cusick, Raymond, Carole Ann Ford, John Gorrie, William Russell (21 September 2009). Audio Commentary for The Keys of Marinus (DVD). The Keys of Marinus DVD: BBC Worldwide.
  3. "The Fourth Dimension: The Keys of Marinus". BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  4. "The Chase". BBC. Retrieved 4 February 2012.
  5. Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Keys of Marinus". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-08-03. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  6. "The Keys of Marinus". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  7. Sullivan, Shannon (2005-03-31). "The Keys of Marinus". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  8. Wallis, J Doyle (25 February 2010). "Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus". DVD Talk. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  9. Blumberg, Arnold T. (19 January 2010). "Doctor Who - The Keys of Marinus DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  10. Kibble-White, Graham (11 November 2009). "DVD review: The Keys of Marinus". Doctor Who Magazine. Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent: Panini Comics (414).
  11. "Doctor Who: The Keys of Marinus DVD Review". Den of Geek. 31 August 2009. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  12. Roberts, Steve (18 January 1999). "The Keys of Marinus". Doctor Who Restoration Team. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
  13. "The Keys of Marinus - DVD". Doctor Who Restoration Team. 2009-07-10. Retrieved 2010-07-15.
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