Chapter 59. Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus (1980)

Synopsis: A huge pyramid surrounded by a sea of acid. Inside is Arbitan, sole protector of the Conscience of Marinus, a powerful computer that can control minds. The Doctor and his fellow travellers agree to help Arbitan locate a set of keys for the machine, which have been hidden in different locations across the planet. So begins a deadly quest for the time travellers that will involve mind-controlling brains in jars, killer plants, a frozen tundra and a trial for murder. All the while, they are unaware that Arbitan’s enemy, Yartek, leader of the Voord, has captured the pyramid and now lies in wait for their return with the keys…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sea of Death
  • 2. The Marble City
  • 3. The Velvet Web
  • 4. The Brains of Morphoton
  • 5. The Screaming Jungle
  • 6. The Whispering Darkness
  • 7. The Snows of Terror
  • 8. The Demons
  • 9. Sentenced!
  • 10. The Mystery of the Locked Room
  • 11. The Missing Key
  • 12. Arbitan’s Revenge
  • 13. Final Goodbyes

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts Terry Nation’s 1964 scripts, during a period when the story titles for Hartnell’s stories had not been agreed on by consensus, so the title page states that this is an adaptation of Terry Nation’s ‘The Sea of Death’.  So far, this is the biggest gap between the broadcast of a story and its release as a novel, at 16 years, three months and one week. It’s also been three years and 29 books since the publication of a First Doctor story under the Target banner.

Notes: Time is measured in zeniths in inter-galactic time. The Voord submersible pods are BXV sub-oceanic assault craft. Apparently, Barbara suffers from space-time travel sickness and she believes human bodies are not built for time travel – or at least hers isn’t. Hinchcliffe describes the inside of the TARDIS thus:

They were inside a large hexagonal-shaped control room with white hexagonal-patterned walls. A hexagonal console in the middle of the room supported a transparent cylindrical column which moved slowly up and down when the ship was in flight. 

The Doctor has ‘mischievous blue eyes’ (unlike Harnell’s own, which were brown). Barbara and Ian’s first meeting with the Doctor and Susan is summarised and we’re told that the TARDIS can ‘change its appearance like a chameleon’. Ian is still wearing a ‘Chinese jacket’ that he picked up ‘the court of Kublai Kahn’ [sic], which we’re told ‘undermined his air of schoolmasterly interest’. 

The Voord have webbed hands and feet, they’re the same shape as a man, but stronger and more agile:

Its skin was dark and rubbery, its bulletshaped head smooth and devoid of features except for two frog-like eyes and a snoutish protuberance like corrugated piping. The head was flanked by two flat, pointed lugs. The face as a whole faintly resembled that of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egyptian mythology. The creature, however, was far from being any sort of god. It was, in fact, a Class I Voord Assault Trooper, programmed to kill enemy life-forms on sight!

The word ‘programmed’ suggests at least some degree of robotic or artificial intelligence. Yartek developed an immuniser that enabled the Voord to ‘rob and cheat, kill and exploit’; Arbitan’s people were helpless as the Conscience made them incapable of violent resistance. Susan calculates that Arbitan’s temple is a couple of miles all round, while Barbara’s comparison from the TV version of the temple to those of the Egyptians and South Americans is given to Ian for some reason. Vasor is said to be like a ‘Breughel peasant’, which suggests he should have been down an alley, puking. Yartek is said to smile and his face has ‘bulbous eyes’, so he doesn’t quite look like his TV counterpart.

Cover: David McAllister’s first contribution to the range is both beautifully painted and disappointingly bland – the TARDIS hovers in space above a generic planet. Were they too squeamish to attempt one of the Brains of Morphoton for this? As the policy of the time was to avoid having older Doctors on the cover, this might have limited their options, so having the iconic TARDIS might have seemed more marketable, but it’s a shame as we could have had something rivalling Alun Hood’s Terror of the Autons cover for sheer horror.

Final Analysis: This was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. Aside from maybe an episode at a convention in the mid-1980s, I’m not sure if I saw the TV story for more than a decade later, so it’s Hinchcliffe’s version that was imprinted on my mind, alongside The Daleks, as what Hartnell’s Doctor was really like. Good going, considering the Doctor himself is missing for half of the story and Ian is, as on TV, very much the lead character. This is Hinchcliffe’s final novel for the range and it’s such a weird choice for him, but it’s every bit the Boy’s Own adventure that was at the heart of his time as producer (including what feels very much like the belittling of Barbara to elevate Ian more), so it’s perhaps not as surprising as it first appears. It faithfully adapts Terry Nation’s scripts, which acted as a template for what the series would quickly become. It has a quest (although after all those Key to Time novels, that’s not necessarily a positive); four alien lands with hostile environments; repulsive monsters; selfish antagonists who are more than a bit rapey; and a trial! At the end, the Big Bad Wolf-style villain is revealed to be rather disappointing, but as this is Hinchcliffe, the description of Yartek’s demise is much, much nastier than the fade-to-white we saw on TV.

One thought on “Chapter 59. Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus (1980)

  1. I used to love this book, partly because it was *almost* my name!!
    It’s enjoyable, it’s epic with some wonderful ideas.
    As a target book, it rattles along and I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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