Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus. Episode Five – Sentence of Death


The search for the final micro-key takes place over the course of the next episode and a half (this extra time allows for a slightly more involved plot). We’ve reached the city of Millenius and Ian finds himself accused both of murder and the theft of the micro-key. And here, the accused is guilty until found innocent.

Hartnell’s back from his holidays! It’s lovely to see the Doctor again and he turns up at just the right time since he’s the ideal person to speak for Ian at the tribunal. The Doctor’s in his element here. “My Lords, I cannot defend a man when I have not considered every aspect of the case. I must have time to examine witnesses, read statements and to prepare my case.” He just loves the whole court atmosphere, doesn’t he?

Things to love about this episode number one – the hats of the three judges. You don’t often see hats as impressive as this.

Things to love about this episode number two. Raf De La Torre is the senior judge and the only one to have a speaking role. The other two (played by Alan James and Peter Stenson, who doubled up with other roles as well, playing Voords, Ice Soldiers, etc) are noteworthy for several reasons. The first is their stick-on beards and the second is their excessive head movements when Raf De La Torre confers with them. Neither are allowed to speak, as they’re just lowly extras, so they indulge in manic head bobbing instead. It’s a lovely moment of unintentional comedy.

The Doctor’s pretty smug. He’s convinced he knows who committed the murder (it’s elementary, he says) but he has no evidence. Using Barbara and Susan he demonstrates exactly how the crime was committed – but the problem remains, how to prove it?

Things to love about this episode number three – a classic Billyfluff. “I can’t improve at this very moment. I can’t prove this very moment.”

There’s some familiar faces to spot. Fiona Walker, who returned to the series twenty four years later as Lady Peinforte in Silver Nemesis, is Kala. Donald Pickering, whose Doctor Who career culminated (if that’s quite the right word) with Time and the Rani is Eyesen. I love watching Pickering as he’s always a compelling screen presence. It’s not much of a role, but with a less skilled actor it wouldn’t have been half as interesting.

And what’s the Doctor’s plan to prove Ian’s innocence? He gets Sabetha to perjure herself by pretending that Aydan (Martin Cort) gave the key to her. Not quite the sort of thing that you’d expect to see at the Old Bailey. Aydan’s startled admission of guilt (and his murder immediately afterwards) moves the case on a little. But it doesn’t prove that Ian is innocent, so his execution will take place at the designated time. Ian looks at the Doctor, who can only shake his head sadly, which isn’t very encouraging.

And then Susan is kidnapped. Eek!


Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus. Episode Four – The Shows of Terror


It was David Whitaker’s idea that the locations of the story should be quite varied – one week a jungle, the next desolate snowy wastes. This is something that doesn’t occur very often in Doctor Who – normally when the TARDIS lands we’re never expected to wonder what the rest of the planet might be like. Often (picking a few random examples – say, The Daleks and The Krotons) it’s strongly implied that everywhere else is of little interest and where the Doctor is now is all that matters. But The Keys of Marinus, which shows us several cities ruled by different people as well as more barren locales, is quite different and should be applauded for that.

Last time, we left Ian and Barbara freezing to death in the fake snow. Luckily(?) they’ve been rescued by Vasor (Francis de Wolff) a man who lives in a hut all by himself in the middle of the snowy wastes. He shows Barbara how to restore life to her frost-bitten hands (doing so in a way that carries a certain overtone – it’s clear that he enjoys holding her hands in his). Indeed, there’s no two ways about it – Vasor is clearly keen for Barbara to spend some quality time with him (just as soon as he’s got Ian out of the way) and it’s equally clear what he wants to spend this time doing. It’s not spelt out, but then it doesn’t really need to be.

Ian sets out to find the others and hands over his travel dial in exchange for some of Vasor’s furs. Although Vasor, as scripted, tells Ian to pick up a coat and gloves, he only puts on a ratty piece of fur – which can hardly be expected to offer a great deal of protection (a poor bargain for his travel dial). Once Vasor and Barabara are alone he insists on feeding her some more food. “We must fatten you up, eh?” Brrrrr, I don’t fancy Barbara’s chances ….

Ian discovers Altos unconscious in the snow, but once Ian’s rubbed some life into his legs he seems able to carry on (yes, you can read something homoerotic into this if you wish). Luckily for Barbara, the two of them get back to the hut before Vasor’s been able to have his wicked way and the four of them then go back out to look for Susan and Sabetha.

They’re taking shelter in the ice caves, which is a decent-looking set. The Ice Soldiers, frozen warriors who are guarding the micro-key, aren’t quite so impressive though. This is another of those inexplicable Arbitan moments. The micro-key is contained within a solid block of ice, but if they melt the ice then the homicidal Ice Soldiers will wake up. Arbitan certainly didn’t like to make things easy, did he?

The excitement level as our heroes are pursued is fairly low – although Vasor gets his long overdue comeuppance from the Ice Soldiers (a sword in the back). Not the best episode of the story then, but Francis de Wolff (at times overacting like a good-un) is entertaining enough.

Next time, Ian faces a sentence of death.

Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus. Episode Three – The Screaming Jungle


It’s not really correct to think of the Voord as the villains of the story as they only appear briefly in episode one and then not again until episode six. Had they decided to shadow the Doctor and his friends as they quested for the keys that would added a little extra excitement, although with their wetsuits and big flippers they probably would have stood out somewhat.

Carole Ann Ford wasn’t particularly enamoured of the way Susan was portrayed in this story and it’s not hard to see why – she seems to be written down in age somewhat (acting more like a very young child at times). So given how hysterical she is in the jungle setting, it’s a blessed relief she’s packed off to the next location pretty quickly.

Things to love about this episode number one – the jungle vines that attack Susan in a less than convincing way.

Things to love about this episode number two – the statue with human arms which gives Jacqueline Hill a quick grope (although in the interests of decency it’s lucky that it could only reach her lower legs).

When they find the micro key in the first few minutes, it appears that this episode will be ending twenty minutes early. Sabetha, Altos and Susan head off for the next location whilst Ian stays behind to look for Barbara. But the key is a fake, meaning that Barbara and Ian still have to find the real one. Slimming down the cast at this point isn’t a bad move since it would have been a stretch to find something for five characters to do (even worse if the Doctor had been there as well).

And since Ian and Barbara are left alone it allows them a decent share of the action. Indeed, had it been decided at the end of The Velvet Web that Sabetha, Altos and Susan should search for the third key, whilst the Doctor went off to look for the fourth, then they could have dispensed totally with the services of Carole Ann Ford, Robin Phillips and Katherine Schofield for this episode and the production would have saved itself some money.

What Ian and Barbara find is a building full of traps. At times, all the suspension of belief you can muster is required – especially when Barbara is menaced by slowly descending spikes (of the patently rubber variety). It’s the sort of thing you might expect to see in a 1940’s Flash Gordon serial, although done somewhat better. And whilst Barbara faces death of an especially unconvincing kind, Ian is struggling to free himself from a prison of solid iron bars.

Except that they’re not solid – it looks like one sneeze would cause them to collapse. Just as it takes all of Jacqueline Hill’s professionalism to make us believe that the spikes are dangerous, so William Russell has to call on his acting experience to make the bars seem solid. Bless them both, they don’t quite succeed but it’s fun to watch them try.

All these traps have been set by Darrius (Edmund Warwick). Rather oddly he tells Ian and Barbara that only couriers sent by Arbitan would have been able to negotiate the hazards that he’s set. But Arbitan didn’t pass this information on – simple absent-mindedness maybe?

The silliest episode so far, it’s somewhat disposable fare – but at least one of the good things about this story is that we’re never too far away from a new location. And as the cliffhanger looms, Ian and Barbara find themselves menaced by some fake snow …..


Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus. Episode Two – The Velvet Web


The first stop on their quest to recover the keys of Marinus takes them to Morphoton. It’s a place where every whim and request is able to be indulged – although if this seems too good to be true it’ll probably comes as no surprise to learn that it is.

This episode is notable for having more edit points than was usual at the time – this was in order to demonstrate the difference between Barbara’s viewpoint (she can see their room for what it is – dirty and bare) and the others (they’re conditioned to view it as opulent). In later years this would be a scene that wouldn’t be at all remarkable, but when watching sequentially it’s another of those small moments which does stand out.

It’s maybe right that Barbara – the voice of reason – should be the one not to fall under the spell. But this wasn’t through any demonstration of free will, it was only because the conditioning disc placed on her forehead slipped off during the night. Note to the brains of Morphoton – it might be better to find a more effective way of conditioning your subjects (or at least use better glue).

The episodic nature of the serial means there’s not really time to develop the horror of Barbara being totally isolated.  She’s the only one of the four to retain her own memories (the Doctor, Ian and Susan have all been thoroughly brainwashed). This is a pity as the concept would have produced good material for several episodes. But there’s still the odd creepy moment, such as when Barbara rushes to the reassuring presence of Ian – but immediately after she’s embraced him it’s clear from his immobile stance that he’s no longer the man she knew.

We meet Altos (Robin Phillips) and Sabetha (Katherine Schofield). Both will join the others on the quest (Sabetha is Arbitan’s daughter and Altos is one of Arbitan’s couriers). Their presence is a good thing, especially as Billy’s shortly off for a two-week holiday. They’re fairly stock Terry Nation characters, so how well they come across depends on the actors (who do the best they can).

The brains of Morphotron are a little disturbing (especially the way they’re voiced by Heron Carvic) although the black and white picture does rob them of some of their impact. Barbara saves the day by smashing their brain cases and killing them. Or, at least, that was how it was scripted – alas, Jacqueline Hill only managed to smash one of the four cases and there was clearly no time for a retake. Oh well.

The Doctor’s decided to nip ahead and look for the last key (so we won’t be seeing Hartnell for a few weeks) whilst the others head to their next destination.

And it’s a Terry Nation favourite – a dangerous jungle!


Doctor Who – The Keys of Marinus. Episode One – The Sea of Death


By going from Marco Polo to The Keys of Marinus we’ve taken a trip from the sublime to the ridiculous. That’s not to say that Marinus is bad – it’s good, pulpy fun – but when watching the series sequentially it’s a little jarring to have this sudden shift in tone. But that’s one of Doctor Who‘s great strengths – the fact that every new adventure might play out in a totally different way from the previous one.

You have to admire the ambition of Verity Lambert’s time as producer. It seems that no story was too ambitious to mount (think of the expertly created props in Planet of Giants or the sheer weirdness of The Web Planet) and Marinus is another example of this. With such a tiny budget the notion of creating a new environment in episodes two, three, four and five obviously placed a huge strain on the meagre resources of Ray Cusick. He manages to pull it off quite successfully, although there are times when you do need to be a little forgiving.

The miniatures that open the story are excellent though. The shot of the island – with a model TARDIS (light flashing) then appearing – is a lovely one. The sight of the Voord’s submersibles traversing the sea of acid is less effective though – mainly because it’s painfully obvious they’re being pulled along by wires (and one of them is reluctant to move, so requires a few hard tugs to enable it to reach the beach!)

The sight of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara surveying this strange new planet shows how far we’ve come since The Daleks. Back then, Ian and Barbara were wracked with fear and doubt (hating the fact that they’d been uprooted from their safe, 20th century existence) but now they regard this bizarre island with nothing more than mild curiosity.

Hartnell’s a bit stumbly over his lines in the early part of the episode (which gives us one of his classic Billyfluffs – “yes, and if you’d had your shoes on, my boy, you could have lent her hers”). This part of the story – as the four examine the beach – is a little problematic. Given that the studio was so small, the beach set couldn’t be particularly large either – which becomes painfully obvious when everybody has to walk around rather slowly.

The moments when they notice the Voord’s submersibles and Arbitan’s building both seem false – there’s no way to imply that they’ve travelled any distance from the TARDIS, so these things must have been under their noses all the time.

I know that examining logical loopholes in a Terry Nation script is a little futile, but the sight of the Voord suit – which contained a man who’s been destroyed by acid – has always irked me. If the suit had a rip then that would have let the acid in, but he was inside a submersible – so that too, must have had a hole (which is rather unlucky really). And if that was the case, wouldn’t the submersible have been full of acid?

Why does Arbitan’s building allow people to enter? You’d have thought it would have made much more sense to keep them outside (and since the Voord don’t seem to have any particular weapons, an impenetrable wall seems as good a barrier as any). Instead, its obvious that although there’s interior defences, sheer force of numbers will allow the Voord to succeed once they do get inside.

It was a bit of a coup to get George Coulouris to appear as Arbitan, although he was no stranger to low-budget British science fiction, having appeared in ITV’s Pathfinder trilogy. He’s the Keeper of the Conscience of Marinus and he explains to the Doctor and his friends exactly what the machine does. “At first, this machine was simply a judge and jury that was never wrong or unfair. And then we added to it, improved on it, made it more and more sophisticated so that finally it became possible to radiate its power and influence the minds of men throughout the planet. They no longer had to decide what was wrong or right. The machine decided for them”.

And Arbitan wants the Doctor’s help to restore the machine’s power! The notion of anybody being denied free will would later become something the Doctor would fight against time and time again (for example, The Masque of Mandragora) so it’s astonishing that he sees nothing wrong with this machine.

Thanks to a handy bit of blackmail with the TARDIS (the Doctor’s still the type of person not prepared to launch into a dangerous adventure just for the fun of it – that will come a little later) Arbitan persuades the four time-travellers to set off for a jaunt around Marinus to recover the four keys that will restore the machine to its former glory.


Blankety Blank – Series One


Those hardy souls who’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter feed recently will have noticed that I’ve been tweeting screencaps from the first series of Blankety Blank (I cater for very niche interests it has to be said ….)

Although I’ve a great deal of time for the later Dawson incarnation, my heart really belongs to the Wogan era of Blankety Blank. And thanks to Challenge broadcasting a selection of shows a few years ago (although they could really do with digging out some more) I’ve now got most of the first series available whenever I need a BB fix.

And I do tend to give them a spin quite regularly. Why should a quiz game, no doubt seen at the time as rather disposable, still work so well for me today? I’ll try and explain …..

The presence of Terry Wogan is an obvious plus. Relaxed and jocular, he’s nevertheless quite happy to be the butt of endless jokes from the more boisterous panel members (Paul Daniels springs to mind). On the one hand this shows a refreshing lack of ego, but Wogan was canny enough to realise that by playing the victim he could gain a good deal of audience sympathy (which he does). But whilst he may be a ham (witness his endless array of funny voices when reading out the questions) he’s an endearing one.


The range of guests across this first series is another major plus. There’s plenty of faces that you’d expect to see on a show of this type (Bernie Winters, Lennie Bennett, Lorraine Chase, etc) but it’s the more leftfield choices which really catch the eye. George Baker and Ron Moody are two actors who would appear to be fishes out of water in this sort of environment, but both throw themselves into the spirit of the game with gusto.

The real stars are some of the more regular players. Beryl Reid appears to be gloriously disconnected from reality whilst Peter Jones’ cutting wit always entertains. It’s always good to see Bill Tidy and his cartoons whilst David Jason (not really a quiz game regular outside of BB) seems to acting a part (that of the abrasive quiz game celeb) but he’s still good value.

But goodness, Paul Daniels is irritating. I’ve always been very appreciative of Daniels the magician, but he’s at his impish worst here. Position five, where Daniels sits, quickly came to be seen as the place where you plonk the comic/disruptive element (lest we forget it was Kenny Everett’s favourite seat).

I have to confess that I found the presence of the likes of Shirley Ann Field, Alexandra Bastedo, Diane Keen and Wanda Ventham to be rather pleasing ….

Jon Pertwee only made one appearance during this first series, but it’s a good ‘un. He decided to come along dressed as the Doctor (or maybe that was his usual evening leisurewear) and couldn’t help but aim a sly dig at Who mid way through. It clearly always rankled with him that Tom Baker was more popular in the role than he was.

The Generation Game had already presented us with the spectacle of the contestant as star, but Blankety Blank is more of a throwback to an earlier age. Most of the contestants (bar the odd confident chap – such as the Taxi Driver of the Year) seem more than a little overawed. This is best seen during Terry’s introductory chat, which always tends to be brief and to the point.

Generally Terry has three questions for them – finding out the quaking contestant’s name, the place where they live and then either their job or whether they’re married. For some, even this brief (but very gentle) interrogation seems like a terrible ordeal.

It’s interesting that much later quiz/panel shows have come in for criticism due to the dominance of male players. Blankety Blank never had that problem – the celebrities were always split equally as were the contestants. True, it’s noticeable that Terry is always keen to clutch the younger, female contestants tightly (plus they also run the risk of attracting the attention of the likes of Paul Daniels) but it was the 1970’s, so that sort of treatment was no doubt par for the course.

If you haven’t seen it for a while, then you could do much worse than seeking it out on YouTube. Genuinely entertaining, series one of Blankety Blank is something of a keeper.


Jossy’s Giants – Series One and Two. Simply Media DVD review

jossy dvd

Sid Waddell (1940 – 2012) might be best remembered as the voice of darts (“the atmosphere is so tense, if Elvis walked in with a portion of chips, you could hear the vinegar sizzle on them”) but there were several other strings to his bow – Jossy’s Giants being one of them.

Graduating from St John’s College, Cambridge with a degree in modern history, Waddell worked in academic circles for a few years before joining Granada Television in 1966 (moving to Yorkshire Television two years later). He produced the news programme Calender as well as creating the well-remembered children’s serial The Flaxton Boys in addition to the cult classic The Indoor League (which is available on DVD for the terminally curious).

The growth of darts in the late seventies kept him busy, but by the middle of the following decade he was obviously keen to spread his wings, so Jossy’s Giants was born. Running for two series on CBBC during 1986 and 1987 (both of five episodes duration) Jossy’s Giants is centred around a boy’s football team. Led by the charismatic Joswell ‘Jossy’ Blair (Jim Barclay) they may be somewhat lowly ranked when he takes charge, but he has big plans for them.

The series one opener, Hungry for the Game, establishes the parameters of the series. Albert Hanson (Christopher Burgess) is the manager of the beleaguered Glipton Grasshoppers but he’s having trouble moulding them into a cohesive fighting unit. Losing has become too much of a habit and it seems that only a miracle will save them …

But wait, who’s this singing stranger limbering up on the touchline? Why it’s Jossy, who’s been watching the Grasshoppers for twenty minutes and now ambles over to give them the benefit of his advice. He’s a plain-talking man, not backwards in handing out brickbats, but maybe this is precisely what they need.

jossy 01.jpg

We also get some backstory about Jossy. A promising youth player, during his first match for Newcastle United at St James Park he was tackled from behind and never played again. So the disappointment of his own curtailed playing career no doubt makes him keen to mould the next generation of hopefuls.

But what of his raw material? It doesn’t look promising. Goalkeeper Harvey McGuinn (Julian Walsh) seems to have an aversion to handling the ball (a slight problem) and would much rather go ice skating instead. Glenn Rix and Ian ‘Selly’ Sellick (Stuart McGuinness and Ian Shepherd) are the team’s two strikers – but they’re more memorable for their outlandish haircuts than their goal-scoring skills.

Ross Nelson (Mark Gillard) is the Grasshoppers flair player – but boy, does he know it. Best to say he’s a little conceited, whilst his ambitious bookmaker father, Bob (John Judd), is a complicating factor. Captain Ricky Sweet (Paul Kirkbright) tries to keep it all together whilst their number one fan – Tracey Gaunt (Julie Foy) – is always on hand with a touch of moral support or a magic sponge. You get the impression that she’d like to play for the team, but this seems unlikely. After all, she’s only a girl ….

It falls to Tracey – easily the most proactive of them all – to ask Jossy if he’d be interested in the job of manager. Some of the dialogue is a little eye-opening (when Tracey interrupts Jossy on his jog, she tells him that she’s been waiting for him – only for him to reply that she’s a little young for him). Hard to imagine that sort of implication, even if it’s only made in a subtle way, would be repeated today.

Tracey has a convincing argument for him though. They need a nasty and bossy manager, so Jossy seems ideal! This is a lovely comic moment, typical of Waddell’s style. Eventually Jossy’s worn down and so one change of name later (to the Glipton Giants) he begins to mould them in his image.

jossy 02.jpg

Foul Play sees star player Ross defect to another team (he’s disgusted at not starting their latest five a side match). Of course, Ross’ new team ends up meeting the Giants in the five a side cup final. Can Jossy’s boys win their first trophy? A lovely turn from Tony Melody as the rival manager (he’s something of a martinet) and some lengthy football action (shot on VT and cut very rapidly) are two reasons why this one’s entertaining.

The Battle of St James’ has some delightful moments as Jossy – anxious to prevent the council from redeveloping their football pitch – pays a visit to an amorous female councillor, Glenda Fletcher (Jenny McCracken), who may just be able to help. Mind you, it seems unlikely that when he goes along to her house (for some wine, nibbles and Sade on the stereo) he’d have invited the whole team plus Tracey (and all dressed in balaclavas) to maintain a watching brief outside the window. Never mind, it’s the excuse for some lovely character comedy. Unsurprisingly, the always-sensible Tracey eventually saves the day.

The Promised Land sees Glenda and Tracey take on Jossy and the boys at netball (no prizes for guessing who comes out on top). Although when Glenda is elected vice-chairman of the Giants, her female solidarity with Tracey begins to crumble (“give a dictator an inch” mutters Tracey darkly). Later, Jossy and the lads receive a guided tour of St James’ Park from Bobby Charlton. As a non-actor he’s a little stilted, but it’s still a wonderful scene.

jossy 03.jpg

A couple of familiar faces – Tony Aitken and Harry Towb – guest-star in the series one closer Final Demand. There’s a big match coming up, but Jossy’s gambling (a running thread throughout the series) comes to a head here. If Jossy agrees to throw the cup final, then his gambling debts will be written off. It’s another of those plot-lines that seems a little less than credible, but the performances carry the story along.

The rejigged theme tune at the start of series two indicates that girls will prove to be more of a distraction than they were during the first series. The opening episode, The Glipton Romeos, develops this, as Jossy discovers that all of his team have been bitten by a bug (of the love variety) and so have forsaken the beautiful game. Since Jossy’s only been gone two weeks, clearly the lads are all fast movers.

Mind you, if the concept of Jossy’s Giants as ladykillers is odd, then that’s nothing to the revelation that Jossy and Glenda have become engaged (at the end of series one they were barely speaking to each other!) The love bug means that Jossy has to recruit another team for a match on Saturday (otherwise they’ll lose their ground) and so with Tracey’s assistance rounds up a scratch team of girls ….

jossy 04

Like series one, the second series has a celebrity football cameo. Bryan Robson, no less, who Jossy and the Giants meet before the recording of A Question of Sport. Robson, like Bobby Charlton, is a little wooden, but that’s all part of the fun. It’s also a lovely treat to see inside the Question of Sport studio (and the legendary David Coleman too).

The Italian Take-Away find the Giants tackling a crack Italian team (although the lads are more concerned about the way these smooth-talking foreigners are making eyes at their girls) whilst Home and Away finds Jossy still attempting to corral his distracted team back into shape. Will a trip to the seaside (with plenty of fresh air) do the trick? Or will they find other distractions beside the sea?

The final episode, A Perfect Match, sees Jossy stretched to the limit. There’s a big match on Saturday, but there’s also the little matter of his wedding to Glenda on the same day. What could possibly go wrong?

Most of the youngsters weren’t terribly experienced, acting-wise, and occasionally this shows (some of the performances are a little broad). But they also feel natural and some – especially Julie Foy – handle the material very well, demonstrating real comic flair. Jim Barclay’s Jossy is the glue that binds the series together, the very experienced Christopher Burgess is another plus on the acting front whilst Tony Melody, always a joy, returns for several entertaining appearances during the second series.

Although some of the plotlines are a little unrealistic, the sheer fizz of Sid Waddell’s scripts, the number of good one-liners and the interplay between the cast more than makes up for this. Jossy’s Giants is a comic delight and comes warmly recommended.

Jossy’s Giants is released by Simply Media on the 12th of March 2018, RRP £24.99, and can be ordered directly from Simply here.

jossy 05