January 12: "The Screaming Jungle" / "The Snows of Terror"

(The Keys of Marinus episodes 3 & 4)

So last episode they had a fairly lengthy discussion of how the Doctor was going to go two jumps ahead and look for the fourth key; in other words, William Hartnell's on vacation for these episodes (the first time a regular's been given time off this way), which means it's up to Ian, Barbara, and Susan to carry the day.  Unfortunately, Terry Nation seems to think that Susan's only there to scream and act generally hysterical -- realistic, perhaps, but not terribly pleasant viewing.  So that leaves Ian and Barbara.

Really, though, "The Screaming Jungle" feels like pure pulp.  There's what seems to be an abandoned building in the middle of a thick jungle, and it's simply full of traps.  And they're not very exciting traps either.  Ian getting nearly cleaved in two is probably the best; his getting trapped behind bars isn't very exciting, while Barbara being trapped under a net as a spiked ceiling descends might have been better had it not been shot quite so undramatically from the side, showing a shaky board with obviously not-at-all sharp blades juddering down.  (I do have to say, though, that I quite like the idol with the obviously human arms that grab people.)  Then there's some guff about nature's "tempo of destruction" having been accelerated; this seems to mean that plants crawl around and smash windows and things.  Like I said, pure pulp.

The ice soldiers awaken. ("The Snows of Terror") ©BBC
Things get better in "The Snows of Terror", but that might be because the actors have someone to react to, rather than just some vines wrapped around a pole.  Francis de Wolff turns in a memorably creepy performance as Vasor the trapper.  He's thoroughly nasty, even at the beginning when he's ostensibly helping Ian and Barbara, but there's a nice turn of cowardice from him when fortune shifts against him.

Other than that, though, this is simply the next place on the quest list: we had a jungle, so the opposite is clearly a snow-blasted mountain range.  That said, there's clearly effort being put into the design side of things: the jungle set last episode was quite nice, and the ice caves here are really good.  It's just a shame that the script doesn't have the same degree of care.  To be fair, this was a serial written in a great hurry after another script fell through5; it's just a bit of a pity that you can tell.

5 This was apparently The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke; we'll hear more about him starting at the end of Patrick Troughton's run.