By Sophie Iles
This is a great serial, there’s no doubt about it. This story gives us action, there’s creepy enemies, Barbara looks stunning even in rags and is bad ass, and after the sad lack of being able to watch Marco Polo, we get a very put together TARDIS team, who have moved on quite drastically since the End of Destruction.
Lets see what happens and pick over some favourite bits. I am going to do this over three parts, just because a six-part format really should warrant the time and the love it deserves.
After landing the TARDIS, the team go outside to check out their new location, Ian is wearing his remnant outfit from Marco Polo, which as now that serial is missing it makes me long even more for that missing story. But alas, onwards we go to see Marinus.
It looks like a normal beach that they’ve landed on until they discover that there’s class on the beaches and the sea is actually acid, which is actually pretty terrifying. Susan, Ian and Barbara only realise this together with the fortunate accident that Susan’s shoe falls in a tidal pool and they watch it disintegrate. Ian gives her his shoes to wear so she can safely recover some shoes from the TARDIS and off she scarpers. This did make me laugh when the Doctor chids Ian for not bringing his shoes when Susan could have worn them when the old dog catches up to them after his own exploring on the beach discovers the glass. They may be friends now but his jibes at Ian are always entertaining.
DOCTOR: Sea of acid. Astonishing. You know, in all my travels I’ve never come across anything like this before. However, Susan wasn’t harmed, anyway.
BARBARA: She was a bit frightened of losing her shoes, but she’s gone back to the ship for another pair.
DOCTOR: Yes, and if you’d had your shoes on, my boy, you could have lent her hers. You mustn’t get sloppy in your habits, you know.
They look round to discover that there is a massive building not far away, which they are keen to explore together when Susan gets back, but she instead finds footprints and decides to follow them.
Now, we finally get to meet the Voord as between these scenes they’ve been trying to get into the TARDIS and failed, and are now going to be our main enemy for this serial. These beings were Terry Nation’s second attempted at bug eyed monsters which, though doesn’t carry over to be as successful as the Daleks in future, I still found them pretty strange and frightening. They look like men in black rubber suits and flippers, with a strange triangular helmet so it covers their faces entirely. We don’t know what they look like inside the black suit either, as whilst waiting for Susan, the other three find a ripped suit and a broken one man submarine — which they assumed meant he was destroyed by the acid so there was no way of surviving the sea of death.
They’ve waited for Susan long enough, and decide she must have gone to look at the building herself. It is so fascinating to see just how easy they accept this fact, when just in An Unearthly Child, The Doctor or Susan wouldn’t have really let each other out of their sight!
But yes, on we go, to the city, whilst our audience is aware of the Voord, our central players only have an inkling that someone else is with them on this planet, and they start following her footprints to the building. A building that has quite a few secret entrances. One by one, the team get split up by revolving walls. We see Susan almost stabbed by a knife wielding Voord, but she is saved by an elderly man in a white hood, who then in turn is saved by Ian and the group are reunited so as to finally get to the bones of what is going to happen in this serial.
This man is called Arbitan and he is the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus, a computer that keeps peace and order across the planet. It’s power eliminates evil thoughts but the Voord, in particular a Voord named Yartek has worked out how to control the computer if he can get hold of it, but Arbitan has figured out how to prevent that from happening, to upgrade it, but they need the keys to active the upgrade. To protect it, these five remaining keys are spread across the planet, as he has one on him at all times, and that even though he even sent his daughter and many others to collect said keys but she and the others has not returned and so he begs the team’s help.
The Doctor refuses to help. This after all is a Doctor who doesn’t want to get involved just yet, that only does these heroic deeds by design of their own survival ala The Daleks. Sure enough, when they return to the TARDIS they can’t get into it, a force-field covers it. Arbitan is now making them do this quest under force, or as the Doctor calls it sheer blackmail.
So, The Doctor doesn’t have much choice in the matter after all that. They are all given travel dials, something that seems to be the influence of the time travel teleportation bracelets we have in the NuWho era, which whisks them towards their first adventure and the first key. Unbeknownst to our travelers however we watch Arbitan fall to the hands of Yartek, with the Voord taking over the building and the computer whilst leaving a good cliffhanger that when the team arrive, Barbara is nowhere to be scene, and there’s blood on her travel dial.
Fortunately, Barbara seems more than fine when they rush to her aid. She’s actually relaxing on a chaise lounge, looking as merry as ever. The trappings and world they have been sent too is beautiful, and that a man named Altos lets them know that this is the city of Morphoton, an advanced and pacific society. Whilst Ian and the Doctor are completely skeptical at first, they are one round by food and wine and the promise of tinkering in a science lab. Things really are just too good to be true however, when Barbara wakes the following morning to discover their trappings are really just rags and dirt.
Now this is one of my favorite serials for bad-ass Barbara moments. We’ve seen her stand up to the Doctor, we’ve seen her work things out in the Edge of Destruction, but in this moment she’s basically on her own. Her friends have all been seduced just as she was by whatever power that this town has, and despite her telling them they don’t believe her. It turns out that in the night there is a hypnotic pulse that was sent through them all, but Barbara’s disk slipped off so that it didn’t take effect on her. She appeals to her friends greatly, but to no avail. So, she’s going to have to figure it out by herself. The big bad here are called the Brains of Morphoton, which are terrifying creatures, brains on stalks that have grown out of their bodies because they were no longer needed and are hypnotising the entire city.
DOCTOR: Here, drink this.
BARBARA: No, it’s filthy!
DOCTOR: Now you’ve broken it.
IAN: Barbara, what’s got into you?
BARBARA: Why can’t you see?
DOCTOR: This is going to test our host’s patience, you know. It’s one of a set.
Barbara keeps trying to appeal to the others but they just laugh and wave her off, so Altos tries to take her away from her friends to his masters but she able to gets away from him and discovers Sabetha the slave girl. It’s there she realises, because Barbara has the powers of the deduction that we can only dream of and she’s greater than she’s ever given credit for, that this young woman is the daughter of Arbitan that went missing looking for the key, when she has said key around her neck. She tries to break the hypnotic hold on her, but fails, it’s only when Altos arrives to try and take Sabetha away at the Brains orders that she knocks him out and so Barbara runs promising she’ll come back for the girl.
Like I said, for Barbara, this is one of her strongest moments in the series and as a Barbara fan I couldn’t be prouder.
Barbara tries to go back to her friends, to explain what she found, and runs into Ian. Who she hugs, but alas, despite the tender moment he is also being controlled by the Brains of Morphoton, and he takes her to the masters who make him try to strangle her to death. As a fan of these two teachers, watching this scene is horrifying, as Barbara begs for Ian to stop and control himself, but alas, Barbara fights back, but not before breaking the machinery as she escapes his hold to break the hypnotic spell on Ian and their enemy with it. the Brain of Morphoton chanting ‘Kill Her’ the whole is utterly terrifying and only gets louder and louder in agony and desperation when she starts destroying the machine that keeps them alive.
For me, the heartache comes afterwards, as we don’t know just how much Ian remembers but as he cries out when the Brains are also destroyed, he asks where he is before rushing and hugging Barbara, who comforts him and tells him everything will be alright. She really is a great role model for future companions here, and perhaps what inspired strong women in the role in the years to come.
Everyone and everything is back to normal on Morphoton, the TARDIS team have their first key of Marinus and everyone has regained their memories. It turns out that Altos and Sabetha were both on the hunt for the keys also, so they join the time travelling party to continue what they started. They decide to split up, The Doctor to forth to get the fourth key, whilst the rest of them, to Susan’s dismay go to get the second key. In a bid to not have to say goodbye to her grandfather again, she teleports early, but this results in a cliffhanger where she’s stood screaming….
And that’s all we have time for! Overall, the episodes are good, and set up a really good structure for six part episodes as they continue for the rest of the Classic Who era, if anything, there’s almost too much story here for two episodes and it could have easily been seven like the Daleks. Still, as our heroes do not know yet of Arbitan’s fate we have still yet to see just how they will deal with that as time goes on….
Next week we look at The Screaming Jungle and the Snows of Terror, as we search for the remaining keys and whilst we wait, here’s a doodle of the TARDIS Team!