After leaving China, the travelers land on a strange island with an acid sea. Some crazy guys in rubber fish suits (they’re called Voords) appear to be the villains. They meet some old dude that gives them some complicated story about a computer that makes everyone on the planet? the universe? obey the laws without complaint. The guys in the rubber suits are immune to the computer and try to stop it. I’ve gotta say I’m with the guys in the rubber suits on this one. The last thing I need is some computer acting as my conscience. Plus, the old guy forces the travelers to go in search of the five keys he needs to run the computer. He puts a forcefield around the TARDIS and won’t let them leave until they bring the keys. The flaw in his plan, though, is he removes the force field as soon as they leave. So, why don’t they just leave and return immediately to the TARDIS? Who knows. Either eay, it’s a good thing he turns the force field off because the rubber suit guys send him to sleep with the fishes immediately thereafter.
To find the keys, the travelers must use these special Dick Tracy watches that take them to where the keys are. The catch is that they have to overcome some dirty tricks. The best of the tricks is a city in which all of the citizens are fooled into thinking they are getting their fondest wishes, but really they live in a rat hole. The strangest fondest wish is Barbara’s. She wants to sit on a psychiatrist’s couch, eat grapes and have everything brought to her by scantily clad women. Why is it that all of the women in the universe are scantily clad except for Barbara?
The best part of this episode is that everyone is being controlled by brains with eyes that live in jars. Does it get any science-fictioner than brains in jars? Awesome. Barbara goes nuts and smashes them all. For once, she’s the hero. One person who is NOT the hero is Susan. More screaming? Oh yes. She screams when a Voord attacks. And again it happens at an episode cliffhanger (the episode is titled The Screaming Jungle of all things), so it was double the screams.
Following the brain smashing, the travelers are joined by Altos and Sabetha, each of whom had previously gone in search of the keys. Good to see they made it far. Altos and Sabetha are painfully flat characters and wooden actors. And neither of them wear very many clothes. This seems to be a theme. Altos’s pants are extremely tight and extremely short. Like hot pants. The Doctor moves ahead with the brilliant strategy of splitting up to get the keys. He doesn’t appear again for a couple of episodes and the story suffers for it. One interesting note is that the doctor is carrying his walking stick, given to him by The Kahn during Marco Polo. And Ian is wearing his ugly dragon shirt through the whole episode. And just like everyone speaks English, no one finds the dragon shirt odd. If some dude landed on my planet I’d ask what the hell the dragons were on his shirt.
The best part of the story comes when the Doctor returns and acts as Ian’s lawyer. Ian is on trial for killing a guard. What is neat about it is the planet on which our travelers are has a system that believes you are guilty until proven innocent. He successfully acquitted, presumably just moments before his execution. There is some decent drama here. The Doctor believes he knows where the key is the whole time, but waits until he can prove Ian’s innocence to bring it up. Why it was hard to do so, I’m not sure, considering the actual guilty party admits it out loud not once, but twice. The first time wasn’t enough, apparently.
The traveler’s return to the acid sea island and return the keys, but, wait! It’s not the old guy! It’s a rubber suit dude wearing his clothes! The rubber suits are dispatched without much issue, though. Immune to the computer, not so hot on the fighting front. Our travelers lead Altos and Sabetha to run the world together. I fear for that world, I really do.
This story had the feeling of an old DOS-based game. Like Commander Keen. Maybe those games were inspired by the Keys of Marinus. Overall, I enoyed it. The concept was clever and it didn’t seem to drag. The least interesting episodes were those without the Doctor (freezing in a cave? a key in a block of ice? more cave jumping?), but he is the most interesting character on the show, so that’s to be expected. I was pleased to see Barbara take more of in-charge role with her brain smashing and investigation of the Ian Affair. It seems that Ian and Barbara are maybe starting to enjoy their travels with the Doctor. Maybe it was the trip to China and the sweet shirt Ian got. I wonder if he’ll take that back to London with him.
Question: Is the Doctor’s Chinese walking stick a permanent part of the show? Do the alien people ever put on clothes?