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Exegesis: The Keys of Marinus

By Richard Scheib and Michael Chisnall

The TARDIS materialises outside a great enclosed city on an island surrounded by acid oceans. Inside they find the Conscience of Marinus - a giant mind-control computer designed to keep the planet free from crime, which worked until Yartek, one of the Voords, found a means of immunising against its influence, necessitating that the Keepers remove and hide the five controlling micro-circuits around the planet in safe-keeping. With no aid left to call on Arbitan, the last Keeper, asks the Doctor and companions to go and retrieve the micro-circuits, placing a force-field around the TARDIS to force them. He gives them teleport bracelets which take them to the locations of the keys; the first the city of Morphoton, a place of riches and splendour where their every wishes are granted. At night, however, the servants place mind-control discs on their foreheads. But Barbara's falls off and she is able to see through the illusion around them, that the riches are really rotting decay, and is able to engineer the downfall of the city's masters, brains in tanks. Barbara and Ian go on to the site of the second circuit, a house converted into a laboratory where an experiment has gone wrong, speeding up plant life which surrounds and attacks the laboratory. They escape to the third key, hidden in a cavern on a mountainside where they face problems with a treacherous hunter and the guardian warriors; and finally on to the fourth key in the city of Millenium where Ian becomes framed for a murder.

Marinus - Planetary Readout
M class world, containing several continental masses. Earth-like in most ways except that it appears to have acid oceans. The Doctor postulates that these could be defensive barriers around the citadel, which would be given weight to in that the Voord seem to be amphibious and can't survive in the acid, necessitating that there be some other aqueous environment for them. The acid could have been added to drive the Voord out. But the idea of acid oceans for defensive purposes is not practical when one considers the amount of acid needed to make the dilution potent enough to be able to dissolve Susan's shoe in a matter of seconds. The minimum dilution ratio required for this would mean that the acid added would have to comprise of 23% of the total volume of the solution. The volume of acid required could well exceed the planet' s total landmass. Further acid at high concentration tends to evaporate so with such a high concentration as this it would not be long before Marinus no longer has an Earth-like atmosphere, which would put paid to the possibility that this is a naturally occurring state. As a defensive measure against sea attack it is ineffective, as Marinian technology would find it extremely easy to build glass and ceramic-hulled vessels. It is more likely again a defensive measure against swimming Voords. What is more likely than a planet-wide acid ocean is that the citadel is an island in the middle of a landlocked sea thus requiring substantially less acid. The Doctor and companions do not suffer from any of the expected effects that would result from evaporation though - perhaps the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. Other possible explanations arise - that the acid is the result of pollution; but it is unlikely this would produce such quantities.

Marinus - Lifeforms

i) Human Lifeforms
By and large the most readily observed. Society is widely spread and variegated - from the high tech-level Keepers, to the medium tech-level Millenians and the superstitious peasantry in the mountains. Marinian humans resemble us, but not identically, which ways never being specified. They have an alphabet with symbols identical to ours, Ian being able to find the key in a jar which is marked by letter combinations given to him by the dying scientist. I think we can rule out parallel lingual evolution as this would necessitate virtually parallel cultural evolution considering the broad bases from which English draws its alphabet. There is the possibility of Marinus being an Earth colony from the Earth galactic empire period, but Marinian humans are slightly different, which may require a separate evolutionary track. In all likelihood it is the Babel fish being incredibly accommodating.

ii) The Voord
Amphibian humanoid race. Described as having black, hairless, clammy, rubber-like skin, a head that is featureless except for two bulbous frog-like eyes, a corrugated snout and two slug-like ears. Description of the head varies from 'Anubis-like' i.e. jackal-like - although they seem to have no protruding snout - to bullet-shaped, although these could just be individual skull variations. Webbed fingers and feet plus the featureless skin suggests adaptation for water, the ears for land, which would make them amphibian, equally conversant with either environment. They are stronger and more agile and nimble than humans but this would be muscular adaptation for living under water. Technologically highly sophisticated. The Voord and human Marinians are deadly enemies. The Voord are also very long-lived - Yartek having to be over 1300 years old (see Prehistory). One point about the Voord does bug me - if they don' t wear clothing where do they keep their knives? There is the possibility of a natural marsupial pouch, which means that their army would have to be female however all the Voord are referred in the male gender reference. We could consider that the Voord are a mono-sexual race - self-fertilising.

iii) The Brains
See Morphoton

Marinian Society

Prehistory and the Conscience
Marinian technology peaked some 2000 years ago (in relation to the story's relative present), this after some thousand years development. It was a highly sophisticated technology, creating the likes of miniaturised teleportation bracelets. Marinus was probably also an interstellar culture, measuring its time to an intergalactic standard. The peak of their development was the Conscience, initially a highly sophisticated judicial computer. This did not satisfy its Keepers and it was expanded to a mind-control device for the purpose of eliminating crime. This prospered for 700 years until the Voord Yartek was able to create an Immuniser that enabled him and his followers to be able to rob, cheat, kill and exploit again.

(The Conscience and Immuniser raise some interesting questions on the origin of so-called anti-social behaviour. We are never told how the Conscience works. We can postulate - crude methods like brain-washing or the stimulation of the brain's pleasure centres to create a passive, docile race. If we go with current psychiatric thinking in that such behaviour is due to chemical imbalances in the brain then maybe the Conscience was a sophisticated monitoring device of these imbalances which would then introduce drugs into the system to counter such. It seems strange that nobody bothered to program the Conscience for the possibility of someone creating an Immuniser or the desire to do so i.e. in order to promote anti-social behaviour. There are the possibilities that such was overlooked or the initial method by which Yartek was Immunised was an accident).

We can imagine the anarchy and chaos that would have resulted from the rampaging Voord. The Conscience would presumably have to be turned off in order for people to protect themselves. It is doubtful that self-protection would have been programmed in, both social and personal as these are at behavioural root only morally acceptable uses of the aggressive urge. The five controlling micro-circuits were hidden around the world in order to presumably protect them from being regained by Yartek, as turning the Conscience back on would create a situation advantageous to him i.e. a totally passive populace ripe for the plucking, which is presumably why he is making such a concerted attempt to gain control of it. Now it has become necessary for the micro-circuits to be regained. Why, we are never told. Has Arbitan perfected some means of overcoming the Immuniser's influence.

The City
This houses the Conscience and is a giant pyramid at least a mile long and several hundred feet high, built of a highly heat-resistant marble. It sits on an island surrounded by an acid ocean, which the Doctor thinks is probably a defensive barrier. This is monitored by meta-radar. Presumably an airborne attack monitor is also included. The heat-fused glass on the beach indicates some attempts have been successful - this is probably from fusion weapons as the TARDIS monitor gives a nil radiation reading. The walls contain an amazing number of hidden entrances - in faces at least a mile long the companions and Voord soldier manage upon four different occasions to lean back against the walls which open up. Such coincidence boggles the mind unless perhaps all walls are like this, but this seems strange in light of the lengths of the island's defence measures. Perhaps Arbitan was monitoring them and opened the panels deliberately by remote control. The Conscience itself is a giant glowing sphere. (Why the glowing? Isn't it supposed to be turned off? Probably what is happening here is that it is only turned off in the figurative sense, only the parts which actually affect people. The machine itself is still plugged in, in a non- functional mode. It could be like a RAM chip in a computer - turn the power off and it forgets everything, it being much simpler just to leave it doing nothing). It is also presumably booby-trapped as it blows up after the fake circuit is placed in it. Altos says that placing it in will cause the Conscience to break under the strain and blow up. We cannot believe that such a technologically sophisticated race has not invented the fuse. Altos's comment can be ambiguously interpreted as meaning a booby-trap. The city, for some reason, seems to have been built on a dormant volcano which blows when the Conscience goes up, this indicated by the descriptions in the story - molten rock, fire going up into the sky. This does show poor architectural planning on the part of the Keepers. This could just be the reactor going up but the explosion description is incorrect.

A city, said to be the capital (of what?), but is derelict and ruined, although at first appearing to the Doctor and companions as lushly decorated in marble, fountains, drapes etc, this in fact proves to be a shared mental illusion created by four brains that live in nutrient tanks who keep the handful of people in the city as lotus-eaters in a perpetual dream. This is achieved by 'the Power of the Mesmeron' and small discs placed on the foreheads of the victims, presumably part of the illusion being that the discs are made invisible. The discs seem to be boosters or amplifiers to the mental control. (The illusion is there when the Doctor and companions enter the city without the discs, but total control is not achieved until they are placed. So the brains are probably able to achieve some temporary direct control but probably find this too tiring or difficult to consistently sustain. They are able to map out a common illusion shared by all the minds, except for Barbara when her disc falls off, which would suggest that they have relaxed direct control. One wonders why the Doctor, who demonstrates considerable mental strength in a number of other stories, could not resist. The brains are also able to wipe and rearrange memory - so one wonders why they simply did not wipe Barbara's memory once she saw through the illusion. Perhaps the fear and hostility that this would undoubtedly create gave her some mental defenses? This suggests that the illusion would only work on those who willingly give into it - they see something offering them a welcome and so lull their suspicions. It is never mentioned why the brains would want people in this state. Work gangs are mentioned but one would think that such physically limited lifeforms would only have very limited use for physical constructs. Possibly they feed off the thought patterns produced by the brain in this state? Although it does say that they not telepaths. One wonders how they communicate with themselves then?

The brains themselves are described as full-sized, with two eyestalks and as pulsating, glowing and making low animal noises. This lends considerable interest as to their possible origin. What happened to the rest of the body, for instance? One could consider surgery but the lack of mobility and sensory blindness would surely work against any possible practicality of this idea. What would seem more likely is that the brains are naturally evolved in this state the connected eyes would lend some weight to this theory. (This could also be as a result of surgery but the lack of attached muscles would leave the brains without the ability to move their field of vision). The central problem remains that a naturally evolved brain has no means of pumping blood into itself without an attached heart. We could theorise that the world the brains evolved on was a giant haemoglobin ocean, which the brains swam in ingesting the necessary chemicals by some type of sponge-like osmosis. There is no ready explanation of how the brains manage to make the low animal-like noises, heavy breathing, shrieking sounds and ordinary talking they do in the story, they not being equipped with any apparent voice-box, certainly no lung system. Perhaps the tanks contain some type of electronic means of doing so or that this is part of the mental illusion, although it is difficult to see why they would wish to have themselves heard as breathing heavily or being animal-like. This still leaves the problem of interpersonal communication. Possibly this is what the glowing effect is, the transformation of chemicals into radiant energy emissions which could be read by the tissue of the receiving brain. Sophisticated computers could be used to translate this into speech for humans. The tanks and nutrient pumps would undoubtedly serve as these creatures' space suits while off world. The question that arises is that how did the brains build tanks, computers and space vessels without manipulatory digits. Perhaps this is what they require human slaves for. The other question is why did the keepers leave the key in such a place as this? But for Barbara's accident (coincidence is something that features remarkably in the Doctor Who universe) they would have most likely not gotten out. Who knows, perhaps it was not the keepers intention to do so and they became trapped while scouting the city for hiding locations, the brains having moved in since the city was abandoned.

Situated in a desert region, this is referred to by Arbitan as a highly advanced society but this is debatable. For example they are technologically inferior, being unaware of the purpose of the teleport bracelets and having no defensive systems to stop Ian from teleporting into the treasure vault. Certainly they don't seem to be a politically superior people, having quite a harsh legal system which despite having had 1300 years to develop it, is still naive by their own confession. Although as to whether this is superior or not comes down to largely a matter of opinion. The governing body seems somewhat totalitarian - probity checks kept on the populace, the use of the death penalty (as murder is rare, it would seem to be a punishment for other crimes as well). Lesser criminals are sent to the glass factories in the desert. (But why glass factories? Glass making is a highly skilled profession that would take an unskilled criminal some time to learn. Perhaps the length of the sentence is such that they do have time. Perhaps they are simply employed in shovelling sand needed, but the quantity of sand actually needed is quite small). It must be said that the legal system contains a certain amount of fairness - public trials, the right to legal defence. It is the sworn duty of the city elders to protect the microcircuit brought to them by Arbitan several years before. Ian becomes an instant murder suspect, teleporting in to the treasure vault just as criminals have set in motion an elaborate scheme to steal the key (another amazing coincidence), leaving Ian as the suspect for the guard they have killed. Why do they want to steal the key? Perhaps it has some value as an artefact or maybe Yartek is offering a reward for it. It also seems a little crazy of Arbitan to materialise Ian right outside the cell. Why couldn't he have made some arrangement with the city elders for the key to be collected?


The Second Key
This is kept in a large booby-trapped house, which is also a laboratory where an experiment in the acceleration of plant growth has gone out of control.

The Plants
There seem to be some particularly bizarre forms of botanical life on Marinus - ones which are able to create a slithering, screeching noise of such high frequency that it causes Susan to black out (these plants are also apparently solely nocturnal in their noise-making); ones with sensory systems and carnivorous diets - why do they all head for the house? How are they able to sense where people are in order to reach out and try and kill them (This is not necessarily peculiar as Venus flytraps on Earth have both these abilities). Also plants with nervous systems - they retreat when cut and struck. There seems to be some intelligence governing all of the plants, from the creepers and trees right down to the mosses. Perhaps plant life on Marinus shares some gestalt intelligence. Perhaps the laboratory has created something like a magnetic field, which could be affecting their behaviour although it is unlikely that there could be something which would affect so many variant forms. An experimental hormone that is also said to be able to accelerate the wear and tear of erosion has accelerated their growth. The latter would seem to be impossible, as the hormone would not be able to replicate the conditions that erosion requires - wear by rain and wind. What is probably meant is molecular decay but this is something completely different to erosion. There is the possibility that what is meant is that the hormone has accelerated the work-rate of some type of lichen or some such which may wear away by the excretion of an acid or some such. Further plant life tends to hamper erosive effects.

The Third Key
This is buried in a large block of ice in a mountain cavern, which also contains four guardian warriors who are brought back to life when the key is removed. The block of ice would appear to be some material other than H20 ice because it has the ability to maintain a non-stick surface despite stalagmite effect. Further it demonstrates an amazingly quick ability to liquefy - a block about 2 metres3 goes from ice to liquid in only 2-3 minutes. An amazing amount of heat would need to be generated and this would tend to vaporise rather than liquefy it. It could be a liquid with a very low melting point, heated by monofilaments meshed throughout the block. Quite possibly this is not even ice - it could be helium, an inert chemical that has no absolute freezing point, held in suspension by a force-field, giving the appearance of a block of ice, a plug appearing in the field to drain it when the key is removed. The warriors are probably androids, certainly not humans as nobody could survive such freezing and probable reheating without considerable discomfort to say the very least, certainly not the ability to be able to come out at fighting readiness.

This item appeared in TSV 9 (October 1988).

Index nodes: Exegesis, The Keys of Marinus