Friday, April 24, 2009

"The Velvet Web"

Hello everyone, the Historian here and, after a few small technical difficulties, Ketina, Ronelyn, Schmallturm, Kroroboros and I settled in to watch this second episode of "The Keys of Marinus" serial. I might add that this episode is also a bit of an event; as of last week, we have made it halfway through the first season of Doctor Who! So, let's begin the second half, shall we?

Episode synopsis: First aired 18 April, 1964. Ian, Susan and the Doctor have discovered Barbara's travel dial--and there is blood on it! Although the Doctor urges caution, Ian and Susan burst through the doors immediately in front of them. The three are then stunned with flashing lights and sound, but come to to see a beautiful room...with Barbara (in a lovely dress) reclining on a couch. She tells them the people here give them anything they want and orders food for the four. Ian is skeptical, wondering how much "the bill" for all that comes to, but Barbara tells him he's being silly. A young man, Altos, enters and welcomes them to the city of Morphoton and offers them anything they desire. Susan asks for a dress made of fine silk and the Doctor asks for access to a laboratory with "any instrument." Ian, however, refuses to name anything. Although the others try to convince him, he is firm. The crew goes to sleep on the couches. As they sleep, a girl, Sabetha, enters and places tiny disks on each of their foreheads. Barbara, however, turns in her sleep and the disk clatters to the floor, waking her just in time to see everyone assailed by lights and sound, which knocks her out. The next day, Ian, Susan and the Doctor are eating a wonderful breakfast. Susan wakes Barbara to show her the new dress, but Barbara does not see beauty. She sees the room for what it really is, a dirty, old shell, and Susan's dress is simply tailored rags. Altos enters and Barbara confronts him--this time, it is Ian who tries to convince Barbara to believe in what he sees. She flees. Altos follows, but Barbara hides behind a pillar. Altos reports to his masters, a group of brains in jars called the Morphon. They are the evil influence who have hypnotised the people and are the true rulers of the city. The Morphon tell Altos that Barbara must be destroyed, the others placated until they can be fully converted, and Sabetha punished for failure. Sabetha happens to be thrown into the very room Barbara is hiding in. Meanwhile, Ian and the Doctor are taken to the "magnificent" laboratory: an empty room with a cracked cup that the Doctor sees as a highly advanced scientific instrument. Altos reports to the Morphon who tell him that the crew's wills are already weakening and repeat that Barbara must be killed. Meanwhile, Barbara has realized that Sabetha has the first Key on a chain around her neck and that she must be Arbitan's hypnotised daughter! Altos enters and tries to take Barbara, but Sabetha knocks him unconscious. Barbara leaves and runs into Ian, who is fully hypnotised and takes her to the Morphon. The brains explain to Barbara that they use humans as their hands and she must be killed, but Barbara begins destroying equipment, which destroys the Morphon! Ian and the others are freed from their power and the four, along with Sabetha and Altos (who was another of Arbitan's followers), escape. The decision is taken: the Doctor will skip ahead to try for the fourth, while the others jump to find the second Key. Susan impetuously leaves a moment before the others. She is now in a jungle and hears screams coming from all around her, unrelenting screams. She falls to her knees, her hands clutching at her ears....

Well, this was just fun. At its heart, this episode is a very simple SF story, but the production makes the whole thing work wonderfully well. (It doesn't hurt that this week was designed by Ray Cusick, who also designed the Daleks.) The highlight was probably the contrasting views between Barbara and everyone else. Seeing everything through the supposedly omnicient camera as beauty and then seeing from Barbara's point of view was a very simple (obviously!) effect, but it was tremendously effective! There was a bit of disagreement in the grouop about the Morphon. True, they were pretty simple props, but Ronelyn and I found them pretty darn creepy (eyes and all). Not everyone felt they worked as well. One thing, though, that undeniable did work was the eerie lack of blinking done by all the "hypnotised" actors. When Ian mentioned that it was odd that Altos didn't blink, we all started watching. Sure enough, he didn't! It did look like it caused a bit of a strain on the actors, but it worked very well...especially when a hypnotised Ian didn't blink either.

As I said, at its heart, a simple episode, and probably a fairly inexpensive one with only four (or so) sets and about a five member guest cast. A very fun little SF mini-story which is part of a larger piece. I can't close, though, without a mention of Ian's Chinese jacket, mainly because Schmallturm specifically mentioned that he wanted me to write that the phoenix on the back looks like a flaming chicken. Trust me, it was funny at the time. We're all having a great time--can't wait until next week! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

First the good: Overall I was quite pleased with the episode. I wouldn't describe it as the greatest Doctor Who episode ever or anything, but it was quite fun. I thought they did an especially good job at comparing the beautiful world with the real world, after Barbara wakes up. Initially it's all from Barbara's perspective, which they show by having the camera angle come from where she's sitting. And they use really simple props, like a broken mug, to indicate one of the laboratory equipment parts. It required some fairly smart acting on the cast. And the lack of blinking from everyone hypnotised was very cool.

The silly: Yes, this episode did have it's share of silly. There's a large face inlaid into the wall of the beautiful room, which initially appears to be part of the Grecian-like architecture, however when the lights and sound kick in while nearly everyone is asleep, the eyes in the face glow in a very goofy way. I also disgree a bit with The Historian regarding the brains in the jars. From behind they looked okay - they're just giant brains in jars, afterall, but from the front when they showed the eyes I thought they looked especially fake, especially when they deflated after Barbara attacked them. But the biggest silly moment for me was when Barbara was hiding from Altos. She was barely hiding behind a pillar. All he needed to do was look to his right and he would have been looking right at her. Does hypnosis impare peripheral vision? Or possibly his vision was messed up due to not blinking in who knows how long?
Oh, and the best line "I think you've been deeply hypnotised under deep hypnosis."

One more thing... I think I've failed to point this out in a few of my posts, but I have been keeping track. So far, in this first season of Doctor Who, not an episode has gone by where we don't get a scream from either Susan or Barbara, typically both. This episode was, of course, no exception. :)



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Alzarian said...

I appreciate the quest nature of this story. It breaks the six episode stretch into several mini-adventures. This episode is by far the most striking, and my favorite. The basic premise of a society which is not what it appears could have grown tiresome over several episodes, although as a premise, I could see it dragging on that long. However, as a simple one-episode diversion, it really works.

And of course, has there ever been any alien as B-movie sci-fi wonderful as the brains with eyestalks? Awesome!