Wednesday, 8 March 2017
Inspirations - The Keys of Marinus
Another of those early stories that has always gone by just this one title. That's because this is a quest for a set of keys - on Marinus. Not down the back of the sofa these, however. These keys have been scattered across the planet, and the Doctor and his companions have been forced against their will to go and fetch them.
The writer is Terry Nation, fresh from his success with the Daleks. His next Doctor Who story was supposed to have been a historical - popularly referred to as "The Red Fort" and set during the Indian Mutiny. Instead he is given another futuristic story, and he decides on the Quest format.
One of the oldest forms of story-telling, the quest sees an individual, or maybe a group, embark on some hazardous journey in which life lessons are learned. There will be some kind of goal - a prize or treasure - but usually it is the journey itself which is the most important thing. Think of the rite of passage, in which a young person achieves recognition of adulthood.
One of the most famous quest tales is that of Parsifal and the Grail. In more modern times we have had Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' respective journeys through Middle Earth. With the Grail legends, no-one can even agree what the thing they're chasing is. The cup used in the Last Supper, or one used to catch Christ's blood when he was speared through the side whilst crucified? Or is it the Sangue Real, rather than the San Grail - the holy bloodline that has spawned thousands of dreadful conspiracy books.
In every case, there are a series of challenges to be overcome, as the questor(s) traverses alien terrains and meets strange and wonderful people and creatures. Nation had already used the trek through dangerous territory in order to pad out his Dalek story - with lakes full of monsters and deadly cave systems.
With this story, Nation has hit on an idea to make things simpler for himself. He doesn't need to fill six whole episodes with one set of characters in one location. That would be far too much hard work for what is basically an ideas man. Have the TARDIS crew go from place to place to find the keys, and Nation only needs to come up with a fairly slight plot for each - enough for 25 minutes. Six whole episodes of just Vasor, or just deadly plant pots, wouldn't work. He can raid memories of books he has read or movies he has seen. He would certainly have seen the Flash Gordon serials as a child, in which the hero and his friends visit the various realms of the planet Mongo over the course of a number of weeks.
We've already mentioned Shakespeare's The Tempest, in relation to the Doctor and Susan's exile on 20th Century Earth. This story gives us another version of Prospero and Miranda - Arbitan and his Daughter Sabetha on their island, surrounded by its acid sea. He's the scientist / magician, she the innocent young girl.
The first key location is the city of Morphoton. The name derives from Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Apt for a section of the story that deals with people being hypnotised whilst sleeping, then waking to believe that their dreams have come true. According to Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, Morpheus was the son of Hypnos.
The Morpho creatures are realised as brains in glass jars - as 1950's pulp Sci-Fi as you can get. There's a 1957 movie called The Brain From Planet Arous, in which the titular alien possesses people.
Another famous literary journey is that of Odysseus. His quest was to find his way home after the Trojan War. He happened upon the Lotus Eaters, who lived on an island and who were reduced to a sleepy, apathetic state due to their narcotic diet. Odysseus' men succumbed, and he had to snap them out of their lethargy otherwise they would have become equally enslaved.
The second key location takes us to a jungle. As this blog series progresses, you'll see that Nation has a thing about jungles. This one, like some future ones, has particularly deadly plants. They want to kill people. They also make a screaming noise - so we might still be travelling with Odysseus, who encountered the Sirens. Did Nation know about the new film that would go into production in May of 1964 at Pinewood? It was being made by the company who were going to make his first Dalek movie, and would star the cinema Doctor, and the cinema Ian Chesterton. Dr Terror's House of Horrors features an episode about a creeping plant vine that kills. A writer named Robert Gould had pitched a couple of ideas for Doctor Who - neither made, though he might have been put out to see both realised on screen after a fashion. One idea was for the Doctor and companions to be shrunk, and the other involved deadly plants. In 1964, Verity Lambert was hoping to get John Wyndham to write for the series, so everyone had to be careful not to tread on his Triffids' tendrils.
The old hermit who has caused the plants to run amok is named Darrius. Nation likes this name - or variations thereof. In one of the Dalek books of the Dalekmania period, a map of Skaro shows a continent called Darren.
From a hot and sultry jungle, we suddenly switch to a freezing, snow-capped mountain range. We go back to Parsifal / Wagnerian territory here, with Teutonic-looking Knights in armour guarding this week's Grail. Interestingly, Vasor - the name of the lusty fur trapper in this episode - happens now to be an acronym for a sex offender risk assessment. Very apt, considering he clearly attempts to molest Barbara. The idea of the lone fur trapper, or Mountain Man, is a very American / Canadian thing. In Europe it was more of a group or tribal way of life.
Hitler and the Nazis purloined the imagery of the Teutonic Knights, even though they had suppressed the real Order, who were a charitable foundation by the early 20th Century. They reformed in 1945.
And so on to the final segment of the story, before the denouement back on the island. We are in the city of Millennius. The name clearly harkens to the future. Nation rarely ever does much in the way of description in his plots - a favourite bugbear of designer Raymond Cusick - so having the three judges at Ian's trial dress like Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus will have been someone else's inspiration. He had become President of the island in 1960, and was in the news in 1964 as the political situation in Greece deteriorated. There would be a military coup in Athens in 1967, and Cyprus would be divided between Greece and Turkey, as anyone who watches the Eurovision Song Contest will realise when it comes to the voting.
We have the first instance in the programme of the Whodunnit, and of the Courtroom drama. Nation at least flips the first of these, as it is Ian who has dunnit, until he can prove he never dunnit.
The most famous proponent of the guess-the-identity-of-the-murderer (I'm dun with the whodunnit bit) genre is Agatha Christie. There will be a couple of future stories that are inspired by her - including the one that she actually appears in. One of these forms part of a wider courtroom drama - the trial of the Doctor that takes up all of Season 23.
We are still not that far forward from the Kennedy assassination, so Aydan's shooting in the courtroom before he can finger his accomplices (cue Sid James-style fnaar fnaar...) smacks more than a little of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Forget magic bullets and grassy knolls, this one incident tells us that there was a conspiracy.
The Doctor talks of meeting Pyrrho. He's the Greek philosopher credited with founding the Skeptic school. That's where you reserve judgement. You don't simply believe what you're told but insist on proof.
So there you have it - dun and dusted. The Quest was the Quest. The Doctor and his friends have become closer and know and trust each other better. Altos and Sabetha head off together for a new life. There was a prize - the keys - but they get blown up at the end, so it was all about the journey.
Next time, more adventures in History, and you can't change anything - Not One Line...