January 11: "The Sea of Death" / "The Velvet Web"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 1 & 2)

The TARDIS has arrived on Marinus -- and Barbara and Susan have changed their outfits since the end of "Assassin at Peking" (so Missing Adventure authors take note -- Christopher Bulis has already taken advantage of this potential gap).  It's an odd episode, to be sure; there are some nice ideas from Terry Nation, like the acid sea which leads to a glass beach, but it's somewhat thwarted by the direction.  "The Sea of Death" feels rather loose because of this: there are an unusually high number of moments where characters are required not to see things that should be plainly visible to them until the plot needs them to: no one sees the first Voord on the beach, the Doctor suddenly sees submarines that have clearly been in front of him for some time, Ian somehow misses the whacking great building dominating the skyline for the first half of the episode...it's almost theatrical in this approach, but it requires a larger-than-normal amount of good faith to see things through.  Which would be fine if it weren't for the obvious errors and bizarre choices that are also plentiful: Hartnell's having a bit of bother with his lines while he's on the beach; a stagehand is visible through the first swinging door; a Voord is stabbed in the back despite being up against a solid wall -- this is just after George Coulouris as Arbitan appears to wander on set, look at Susan, and then wander off for no obvious reason; there's even a script left open and visible on the Conscience set!

This probably would be less of an issue if the script were up to it, but it's essentially marking time until it's time to send the travellers off on a quest.  So we have a number of Voord who lurking menacingly before they get killed, some exploration on a beach, and a plot dump by Arbitan explaining what's going to be happening.  It's functional writing rather than evocative.  Still, as I said before, there are some nice ideas: the trouble is that there aren't enough of them to paper over the other problems.  Even the TARDIS crew's agreement to look for the missing keys feels perfunctory.

Barbara destroys the brains ruling Morphoton.
("The Velvet Web") ©BBC
Fortunately, the next episode goes some way toward redressing the balance.  There's a lot tighter direction this time around, with the scenes from Barbara's point of view showing the city of Morphoton the way it really is worthy of particular praise. It's also interesting how the episode begins with Ian being the most suspicious of their hosts' generosity, yet ultimately it's Barbara who fails to be affected by the hypnosis.  And can we take a moment to acknowledge how gorgeous Katharine Schofield (Sabetha) is?

Really, if anything lets this episode down it's the nature of the overall story.  Because Terry Nation has crafted a quest epic, it means that we're only just starting to know a place when it's on to the next.  This just means that a) everything tends to be painted in broad strokes, with little subtlety; and b) the resolution of the problem is rather abrupt; it's great seeing Barbara smash up the brains, but it does feel a little sudden and therefore unsatisfying -- especially since they also need to spend time setting up the next episode, in a completely different location.