Hello all, the Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm and Kroroboros. We've left Mongol China and are back to science fiction--and getting close to being half done with the first season as well! More about that another time, now on to the summary!
Episode summary: First aired 11 April, 1964. Having left Cathay, the TARDIS lands on what appears to be a beach and the crew go out to have a look. It turns out they are on an island, surrounded by a perfectly calm sea. Unbeknownst to the travellers, several small torpedo-like craft have approached and landed on the island out of sight. Susan discovers a small pool and takes off her shoes, about to wade in, when Ian stops her with a yell. One of her shoes has fallen into the "water" and immediately dissolves! The pool is not full of water, but acid! Ian and Barbara, sending Susan back to the TARDIS in Ian's boots, realize it must be a tidal pool..which means the whole sea is acid! The Doctor has also discovered that the beach nearest to the sea is made not of sand, but of glass. In fact, the whole set-up seems artificial, as if it was all a defense. Ian notices a large building at the center of the island, but the group decides to go back and find Susan before exploring further. Unknown to all of them, they have been observed and stalked by the beings that came in the "torpedos," humanoids wearing protective wetsuits. One of them attempted, but failed to get into the TARDIS just before Susan comes out. She notices strange footprints leading to the building....Meanwhile, the other three have discovered the torpedo submarines, noticing that one of them has a crack in it...and an empty wetsuit with a tear in it. The owner must have simply...dissolved. Susan approaches the city and is nearly ambushed by one of the creatures...who is pulled behind a rotating wall before he can attack her. Then Susan falls prey to a similar trap. The others come to the city and begin to search. One by one, they too are taken within a wall, some of them being captured by a monk-like figure, first the Doctor, then Ian, and finally Barbara. Barbara, Susan and the Doctor are held in a room, while Ian is still roaming free when he finds a wetsuited creature attacking the monk. He fights the creature off and the monk introduces himself as Arbitan. Later, the four travellers and Arbitan stand in the central area of the building. Arbitan tells them they are on the planet Marinus and the large machine they see is the "Conscience of Marinus," a judgement machine that eliminated evil from human minds on the planet. But, ages before, a man named Yartek and his followers, the Voords (who are the wet-suit wearers) learned to resist the machine and threatened the whole planet. The "Keys," circuits that power the machine, were hidden in locations around the planet until the Voords could be overcome. Arbitan has fixed the machine to do just that, but every one of his followers who he sent to gather the keys (including his daughter) have never returned and now he is alone. He begs the crew to help him, but they refuse. So Arbitan extorts them by putting a forcefield around the ship! They have no choice and so Arbitan gives them travel dials, wristbands that will enable them to travel around Marinus. Barbara is transported, then the others follow, as a Voord sneaks up on Arbitan. Ian, Susan and the Doctor arrive at the first location, but do not see Barbara. Ian sees and picks up her travel dial on the floor and discovers there is blood on it....
To call this a change of pace from the last serial is an understatement, both in content (historical back to sf) and, at least a bit, in quality. The opening model shots of the TARDIS landing and the Voord ships arriving are...less than impressive, and the Terry Nation script is a bit of a step down in quality from "Marco Polo." Ronelyn mentioned having to refrain from making silly comments at various points. Things weren't helped by William Hartnell's apparent problems with his lines. Billy-fluffs abounded, especially early on. There were also a few things that made us say, "huh?" Like the sea is acid so it makes sense that the beach is glass? We decided that it fit into the whole "artificial defensive" thing, but I also have the suspicion that Nation had some idea that acid+sand=glass, which is, of course, nonsense. The design of the building, after the wonderful sets in both "Marco Polo" and "The Daleks," was a bit of a letdown as well; Schmallturm kept making Bauhaus jokes. I did like Ian and Barbara's science/history lesson connected with the construction of the building: no mortar between the bricks! Must be perfectly balanced! The Egyptians and some Central American Indians made stuff like this! (Gee, wonder if that'll come up again later this season?) And I have to take a moment to talk about the scenery chewing of George Coulouris as Arbitan. His...dramatic postures were certainly different than the restrained performances from the guest cast of the previous story.
Now, all of that being said, we still enjoyed the heck out of this episode. There was quite a bit to like; the regular cast, Billy-fluffs and all, were a lot of fun. (And it was nice to finally watch this episode knowing where Ian got the Chinese outfit!) The dissolving shoe was very effective, as was Barbara's realization that the pool was tidal. Very nice acting there. And the Voord, while a bit silly, are still a pretty effective design. Sure, it's a wet-suit with a...thing on its head, but the total facelessness and silence of the baddies were a bit creepy. Would have been nice to see them do something rather than kind of keystone cop their way around. (And hey, how about that visible stagehand moving the wall when the first Voord is captured in the city?)
I think the important thing here is to realize we have to reset our expectations a bit for this story. The last one was costume historical epic in the best BBC tradition. But now we have a scifi romp. With all its faults, it's essentially shaping up to be a quest story...with, apparently, a very nasty surprise for the crew at the end, if the Voord attacking Arbitan is anything to go by! It's not brilliant, by any means, but this first episode was silly fun and if that's what we get from this story, we're prepared to enjoy it a lot!
Well, that's enough from me. Until next week, I remain
So, the silly: Well, most of it. :P It was pretty tough to hold off the giggling from the get go, given the "special effects", followed pretty quickly by weird scenery, monsters in wet suits, and many verbal gaffs by the good Doctor. I think the favorite was "It can't be frozen in this temperature, besides it's too warm." Although the later "Too bad you don't have your shoes on Chesterton, then Susan could borrow hers." was quite funny as well. Also The Doctor apparently doesn't know the difference between extortion and blackmail.
Also the companions miming around the TARDIS to indicate an invisible force field was very goofy. I'm pretty sure Ian stepped into said force field several times.
And at one point, when they were pulled into the building, you could see a stage hand manipulating the doorway.
This episode was pretty loaded with the silly. :)
The good: Yes, I started with the silly this week, but the episode seemed to merit it. However, all the goofy aside, it was very fun as well. As much as I complain about the many gaffes, it does look to be an entertaining story. There are a lot of strong Scifi elements. The planet is very alien, in culture, scenery, and architecture. And I'm generally a big fan of "gather the parts of the widgit" types of adventures, which this appears to be turning into. So, I'm looking forward to the next part.
NEXT WEEK: "THE VELVET WEB"