Doctor Who #25: Sentence of Death

"I can't improve at this very moment." (Billy fluff)TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 5 of The Keys of Marinus. First aired May 9 1964.

IN THIS ONE... Ian is accused of a murder he didn't commit, but the Doctor hopes to clear his name.

REVIEW: Doctor Who does Law & Order, but in a fascist state where you're guilty until proven innocent. William Hartnell comes back from vacation fresh and energetic, while the rest of the cast are a little ashen, to tell you the truth. It makes sense in story terms too - they've all been through hell (x2), while he's been enjoying the perks of civilization in Millenius (which I bet has stood for a thousand years). Playing Ian's lawyer, both the Doctor and William Hartnell seem to be enjoying themselves (himself) immensely. The CSI moment where he reenacts the murder with Barbara and Susan is methodical, but also gleeful. Great fun (been a while since I could say that). Altos and Sabetha are finally put to some use in a paralegal almost-montage, researching the law. Let's just say their presence as companions has been a little redundant to date. Barbara and Susan play detective and visit a suspected guard, so only Ian, sitting in jail, is short changed this week.

Sentence of Death has a good cast too. Raf de la Torre as the judge has a great presence. Donald Pickering as prosecutor Eyesen is believable as a hardass lawyer who believes in what he's doing, but also has something to hide. I, Claudius' Fiona Walker brings the abused but malign housewife Kala to life with hypocritical smiles and crocodile tears. And Henley Thomas is effective as the unimaginative copper who's just doing his job, neither friend nor foe to our heroes. The exception is Ayden (Martin Cort), Kala's husband and the real killer, who very stupidly almost gives himself away twice by blurting out something like "but you can't have, because I--". It may well be that it's impossible to do those lines any better. The Doctor's scheme to out him, framing the framers, as it were, by using the other copies of the stolen key is quite clever. It's a bit less so in context because Ayden is so dumb. So Ayden gets shot for his trouble, but the conspiracy goes higher up and Ian's sentence is not commuted. After all, HE could have been Ayden's boss.

Sure, there are flaws in the episode, like the one contemporary phone in the vault clashing with the tube phones in the rest of the episode, the badly restaged cliffhanger at the front of the story, and some cheap designs generally (the money's fast running out), but the plot holds together and Hartnell's performance reminds us of later, more manic Doctors. Nice to have the characters stick around beyond this episode too. Definitely more meat to this one.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Hartnell is in good form, and Doctor Who shows how it may be adapted to any genre by doing courtroom drama and not allowing it to be boring. For me, the highlight of the serial.

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