THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Return of the Master Trilogy
BBC
The Keeper of Traken
The Return of the Master Trilogy Part One

Episodes 4 The Melkur... a premonition of the past.
Story No# 115
Production Code 5T
Season 18
Dates Jan. 31, 1981 -
Feb. 21, 1981

With Tom Baker, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton.
Written by Johnny Byrne.
Script-edited by Christopher H. Bidmead.
Directed by John Black. Produced by John-Nathan Turner.
Executive Producer: Barry Letts.

Synopsis: An enemy of the Doctor returns as the Empire of Traken begins to collapse.


Reviews

An excellent story to feature the return of The Master! by Cody Salis 26/5/97

I saw this story for the first time as a rerun in 1988. All of the characters were good, from John Woodnut's portrayal of the "Doomed" Seron, to the effects of Kassia being controlled by Melkur. A supprise (and excellent) ending of Tremas being killed, and his identity being taken over by the Master. Tom Baker was excellent as the Doctor, and he used his usual humor to enlighten a difficult situation when he Adric and Tremas were constantly being hounded throughout the story.

The story was good too, by having the Keeper explain (to The Doctor and Adric) how Melkur first arrived on Traken, and mystery and suspense were consistently in the story as the Doctor and Adric tried to unmask Melkur's identity. When the Doctor faced Melkur alone toward the end of the story, there was a nasty surprise as Melkur finally was identified as the Master by the Doctor. Anthony Ainley (Tremas) showed a bounty of emotion as his wife was killed and everything he knew on Traken was being destroyed by Melkur. He was the only one that believed the Doctor and Adric were honest and that Melkur was evil.


A Review by Michael Hickerson 21/11/97

For years, I've heard members of the fandom label Tom Baker's penultimate story a "classic." And, to be quite honest, I didn't understand why.

Was it because it featured the return of the Master? This plotline never thrilled me, maybe because I guessed it was him by the middle of episode two.

So, what was it?

I think I finally understand. It's Johnny Bryne's brilliant creation of the Traken community. Here we have one-off characters who have life and vibrance. We have an alien world that feels alien in their traditions and characterisitcs. We have villians drawn in shades of gray and conflict among characters. And most of all, the Master, for once, has an interesting, complex plan that involves not only his continued existence but also the Doctor's destruction. A lot of small things come together to make the overall picture worth watching. Even Melkur is well realized in his stalking around Traken when it is required.

But the part that throws this over the top is Anthony Ainley's stellar performance as Tremas. Having only seen him as the Master until this point, his work here deserves special credit. He does a fine job and makes the character of Tremas come alive.

My favorite scenes comes at the end when the Master enters his other TARDIS with his new body. I love the hands on the clock that say it is four minutes to midnight--the number of episodes Tom Baker has left in his reign as Doctor. Chilling and wonderful.


A Review by Jason A. Miller 27/12/98

"He dies, Doctor! The Keeper dies!"

Tom Baker's penultimate story is one of Doctor Who's finest-looking entries. It's certainly one of the best of the studio-bound productions. The combination of Johnny Byrne's first Doctor Who script, a small well-acted cast, Roger Limb's background score, and the pretty Orient-flavored sets make Traken a joy to watch.

For the first time since 1965, the Doctor's travelling with just a lone male companion for company -- this time, the much maligned Adric from E-Space. But in spite of 18 years of Adric-bashing in the fandom mainstream, Traken begins as one of his better stories. Tom Baker and Matthew Waterhouse's exchange of witty banter for this story's first three minutes works much better than it has a right to succeed.

The plot's fairly simple, though it's spiced up, as with all Season 18 stories, by Christopher Bidmead's keen ear for techno-babble. The Keeper of Traken is really a morality play, at heart. When Kassia (Sheila Ruskin, the story's weakest link) turns to an inanimate extraterrestrial Evil, the Melkur (Geoffrey Beevers in an array of uncomfortable looking costumes), Traken's paradise falls apart. And not merely in an array of pyrotechnics, or a display of histrionic acting. Rather, it's the minor flaws in each individual which brings paradise to its knees. Pulling the strings is the most flawed individual of them all -- for Melkur cloaks an even greater threat, the dying Master, last seen thwarted in The Deadly Assassin. (Pay special note to Anthony Ainley's first Doctor Who appearance -- though he doesn't become the Master until the story's final minute, it's all here! The over-acting! The snarled words! The incomprehensible stressing of odd syllables!) As the Master within the Melkur wields ever great power over first Kassia and then over the entire planet, characters fall prey to their own vices -- greed for money, greed for power, and in one notable case, one character's done in by his own compulsive honesty.

Traken, as with all great Who, benefits from a small cast, with many characters nuanced and richly played by a group of Who veterans -- look here for the return of Cameca from 1964's' The Aztecs, and the Duke of Forgill from Tom Baker's own Terror of the Zygons.

The story ends on one of Doctor Who's rare tragic notes -- but fortunately, to quote Melkur, this is only the beginning, and for the Return of the Master story arc, the best is yet to come.


A Review by Ian Cawood 29/4/01

At the time of watching, back in 1981, I remember the following feelings - after the E-space trilogy, I didn't expect the season to get any better than Warriors' Gate (remember this was only a year after Horns of Nimon). That I was proved wrong, spoke volumes for the heights that the show was hitting at this point. The story starts with almost a clean slate - Romana and K9 have gone, E-space has been left behind - back to one companion and the Doctor. So Keeper certainly doesn't feel like the penultimate story of the longest Doctor's reign - the writing is fresh with some wonderfully playful dialogue ('but what's in a name?') and some of the best set and costume design the series ever saw. Added to this is fine ensemble playing by a very experienced cast (most notably Ainley's impassioned playing of Tremas and John Woodnutt's imperious Seron). But of course, the icing on the cake is the way in which the character of Nyssa is introduced. Has there ever been a less affected, more natural first story for any character in the series? When we first see her at the wedding on the TARDIS scanner, she has her back to the viewer, and only appears in close-up when she comes to receive the Keeper's blessing - she doesn't speak, but her love for her father shines through Sarah Sutton's restrained but expressive body language. In fact, Nyssa only has one line in the whole first episode. In this way she slips into the audience's perception far more naturally than any 'introductory' story. Throughout the story, we see her as part of a wider society, therefore we know how she behaves and how she thinks in her own world - unlike most alien companions, she is not an outsider, she is quite happy to stay with her father at the end of the story, and the pathos of the character is reinforced by the audience's knowledge of this.

Her big scene only comes in episode 3, where she stands up to Kassia, in a way that no other character had yet been able to do. The indignation and anger that Sarah Sutton puts across ('This Melkur has made you mad!') impressed me so much at the time that, from that moment, I was positive that she would make one of the best companions the series had seen. The next scene, where she returns to her room, pauses, and collects the ion bonder, is well worth re-watching, just to see how Sutton's considerable screen experience enabled her to put across the character's thought process without opening her mouth - an ability that only Peter Davison shared during this period of the programme.

The plot itself suffers, to some extent, by having the Master suddenly appear - the Melkur with its silky voice was a much more menacing character - but I certainly didn't feel that at the time - I just felt total surprise - one hadn't yet got used to old villains popping up every other week . But if that wasn't enough, for the first time the Doctor really screwed up - the Master didn't just escape, he reduced the most heroic of the Traken characters to a living husk, and set in train the 'chain of circumstance' that would reduce the planet to dust - only 4 weeks after seeing the Doctor save Traken, I watched, horrified, as all that good work was undone. No wonder the hands of the Master's TARDIS are set at 5 to midnight at the end of the story. Just like Nyssa, I was left bewildered at the end of the story - the Doctor always wins doesn't he? At just the right moment, Chris Bidmead made me doubt the Doctor's ability. The stage was set for the 4th Doctor's last story, and suddenly all certainties and assumptions about the series had dissolved - what on earth was going to happen next?


Doesn't quite cut the mustard by Mike Jenkins 30/11/01

Most of the acting is good here but some is subpar. This is inconsequential however as this is not what lets the story down. Once again, it is a sign of the times. The story, like Full Circle is very much a reflection on the era to be, namely the Davison era. It all has an interesting look but there isn't quite enough plot exposition. Most of the acting is good (Sayron, Tremas Cassia), some is subpar (Katura), some is painful to watch (the Fosters, Luvic). The Mulkur is a well realised idea and Geoffrey Beeves is much better as the Master as Anthony Ainley. Although on the whole Deadly Assassin is a better story, the Master is much well better characterized here. Tom is great but the incidentals are given too many lines and while the world is intruging, I feel that this story borrows too heavily from The Time Monster and in my opinion, although Keeper of Traken is derving of a 6/10, it is much less effective than the former.

Its highlights, like many stories of the 80s are its images and concepts. The European mythology themes in this story make it enjoyable but there are stories that do this much more effectively like Planet of the Spiders and The Stones of Blood. Another problem is that for a, as Tom Baker says it "a civilization held together by people being incredibly nice to each other", they seem awfuly inclined to jump to conclusions and speculations. They seemed to co-dependent on their own false sense of security, a plot line that can wear very thin. On the positive front, the images and concepts prevail so the positive elements are able to outweigh the negative.


Sourcey! by Andrew Wixon 17/4/02

When I first saw The Keeper of Traken in 1981, it was as someone who'd grown up watching the Williams years - well, and one Hinchcliffe story. Apart from the Daleks I didn't think there were any recurring elements in DW stories, beyond the Doctor himself of course. I knew he was a Time Lord, but had no idea what that really meant. And so this story was a bit of a revelation to me. I'll never forget my surprise near the end of episode three where - Melkur vanishes to the sound of the TARDIS! Other people have TARDISes besides the Doctor? The Doctor has old enemies? Wow. Suddenly the show seemed to take place in a proper universe of its own with a proper history and background.

All this aside, The Keeper of Traken remains a classy piece of work. The production designs gels superbly to create an almost wholly plausible alien society. A rich vein of fairy tale runs through it all: from the costumes (Nyssa's in particular) to the sets, and of course the story. The way the Keeper narrates the back-story to the Doctor and Adric, a unique way of setting it all up, only adds to the effect of a fable unfolding. And the narrative itself is steeped in mythic elements - walking statues, wicked stepmothers, and above all the Master's presence as a serpent in the garden of paradise.

Sadly all this gets a bit forgotten as the story proceeds, and things revolve much more around source manipulators and other gadgetry (the Doctor's a bit too handy with that ion bonder if you ask me). But even here it works extremely well - the transition of Traken from benevolent eden to virtual police state convinces and there's never any doubt as to what's going on.

Famously, this is the story that brought the Master back as a regular story element, and it's a pretty triumphant return. Geoffrey Beevers' make-up may be a bit so-so but his vocal performance as Melkur is outstanding. The Master's scheme actually makes sense for once and justifies his machiavellian machinations. It's a shame Beevers wasn't kept on to play the rejuvenated Master, the character might just have retained some credibility. As it is, Anthony Ainley was never better in the series than he is here, as Tremas. The greatest 80s story to feature the Master may be the next one - but this runs it a close second.


A Review by Rob Matthews 3/6/02

Season 18 is often thought of as Doctor who's most thoroughly science-fictional, and Keeper of Traken - along with the earlier State of Decay - is the exception that proves the rule. It's a fun bit of quasi-mythical, good versus evil hokum, and a variation on one of the oldest stories in our culture, that of the serpent in paradise.

The story's claims to sf-hood are propped up mainly by the jargon and concept-heaviness of the preceding adventures, as well as the retroactive effect of its sequel Logopolis. It is, as it were, standing on the shoulders of Tachyonics and Charged Vacuum Emboitments, with a big pile of Heat Death sitting atop it.?But it's still made of fairy dust. Arguably more than most Doctor Who of this era, it's fantasy. I'd probably agree with Robert Smith? that all Doctor Who is magic wrapped up in rationalist-sounding terms anyway, but this story in particular could perhaps be termed a 'classical' sorta fantasy. The Keeper has 'powers' which may as well be magical for all that we understand them, and senses 'Eeevil...' the way Yoda would sense the dark side*, while the Traken Consuls can only access the source manipulator?by putting their enchanted rings together (the Source itself being an elemental power akin to the Eye of Harmony, again indistinguishable from magic**). Evil beings are drawn to Traken and calcify there, due to the air being so full of creamy goodness. The Master hides behind the Melkur (decades-old spoiler!) like the Wizard of Oz hides behind his little curtain and hologram kit.

* - Probably not the only Star Wars reference I'm going to make. Brace yourselves.
** - probably the only Arthur C Clarke reference I'm going to make, since that quote is the only bit of his work I've read.

This is a story that works better in its particular context - within such an eclectic season, and as the penultimate story of the Baker era - than it probably would have had it been plonked at any other point in the Baker years. Interestingly, the theme of a devious usurper taking control an apparent utopia may well reflect what a lot of fans felt about the show's development at the time; As soon as the next story, Tom Baker - the Doctor for many - would be usurped by a different man, and a sense of gloominess would rapidly replace the bohemian charm of the Baker years. When the Melkur takes up the Keepership the Doctor angrily comments that "I know he's not everything you hoped for but I'm afraid you're rather stuck with him now". The thoughts of a Tom Baker fan watching Castrovalva?

Well, maybe I'm reading too much into it. But from a script editor and producer's point of view it's an unusual choice of story, with an abiding anxiety that any change, unless closely monitored, will be for the worse.

(Wasn't it around this time that Thatcher got in? Hmm...)

The story is simplistic but effective. Simplistic because you never really believe the Traken Union could have been so 'terribly nice' for so long. There'll never be such a thing as a utopia and it's hard to believe in here. Attempting to make it convincing, the story appeals to our twentieth century prejudices and tendencies towards cockeyed nostalgia - the planet appears to be stuck in a sort of permanent 'good old days', a highly-advanced society that nevertheless appears pre-industrial and vaguely agrarian - lots of people tending gardens and making cod-Shakespearean comments; "If I were to labour for a thousand nights and a thousand days?I should not have laboured as hard as this simile is laboured". Girls have puffy sleeves and the men have big beards. I've seen this setup referred to as 'spiritual', but I think we tend to assume that of anything that combines being simplistic and mild with having a lot of flowers about the place. Our anxieties about the drawbacks of scientific progress make a naive pastoral existence seem idyllic, even though in reality most of us wouldn't be able to stick it. Traken has its cake and eats it by being super-advanced, super-civilised and yet also 'back to nature'.

The story's a dressed-up Garden of Eden myth, and myths are entertaining and satisfying when you enjoy them for their creativity and for their evidencing the human desire to make sense of experience. Which is why I say this story is effective. We know that this huge and lovely empire of niceness is the kind of world we all strive for, and we also know that it's been put on the screen so we can watch its downfall.

And this variation on the old myth works because it's genuinely frightening, because there's an inbuilt pessimisim and anxiety in all fictions of this sort in the latter half of the twentieth century. The sense that an idyllic existence can be destroyed by an act of personal greed is replaced by the far more terrifying fear that normal, everyday existence can be destroyed by somebody else's act of cruelty - not simply on the level of one individual harming another, but instead, of a state harming or killing its citizens. The difference between the 'pure evil' of myths and religions - or, in Who, The Curse of Fenric -, and the real, proven evil of fascism, is that the former is a hypothetical obscenity, and the latter a real one. What makes The Keeper of Traken properly scary (as opposed to 'Argh! It's an ugly monster!' scary) is the idea that an apparently fair and compassionate society can be so easily infiltrated by such an evil. Look at that appalling situation in France with LePen. Imagine waking up to that the day after the election and effectively being able to do nothing better than say 'I know it's not what you were hoping for but I'm afraid you're rather stuck with him now". The Star Wars prequel trilogy reminds me of this aspect of Keeper of Traken - an insidious presence quietly manipulating misguided acolytes from somewhere over in the corner until its opportunity to take total control arrives.

(come to think of it, creepy monklike hoods seem quite de rigeur for manipulative evil types - the Master wears one too, as he did in The Deadly Assassin)

Speaking of the Master, he too works very well for this story. As near a correlative of an age-old evil as the show can produce, he's a malevolent presence from what must have felt to many almost like the pre-history of the 'Tom Baker show', the Pertwee years. As a bad guy he has gravitas here (though he quickly lost it again with the ensuing overuse of Anthony Ainley). I read a criticism, probably by David J Howe, that there's a continuity error in the Master seeming less emaciated here than in The Deadly Assassin. Actually, it was made clear at the end of that story that he was beginning to regenerate. If anything he doesn't look healthy enough in Keeper of Traken. But, if we're being that fussy, we can assume his actions in the earlier story helped put a bit of flesh on his bones.

As a companion-introduction story it's quite poor. Nyssa's likeable but shows no real potential as a long-running character. And she doesn't even go off with the Doctor and Adric at the end, instead she's shoved rather clumsily into Logopolis. I don't know whether or not it was planned during the making of Keeper of Traken to turn her into a companion - it certainly doesn't come across that way. For one thing, you'd think they'd have filmed an insert for Logopolis while the fabulous sets were still standing. Admittedly, the murder of her father and the destruction of her planet are what ultimately push her into the TARDIS, and neither of those have yet happened here. That bereavement and her status as a kind of refugee should have led to plenty of interesting character development later. But didn't. Anyway. The surprise ending of this story is certainly one of the show's most memorable, topping the whole thing off with a sense of impending doom that's informed by our knowledge of Tom's imminent departure. This is really what makes the story a success. It has a standard happy ending, but then a moment of creepy dissonance which reveals an underlying pessimism. There's a cumulative effect to the drama of this season, a phased but rapid upheaval, and it makes for a more satisfying story arc than the Key to Time or Trial of a Time Lord seasons. For good or bad, you can't really watch Keeper of Traken without its neighbouring stories. If nothing else that demonstrates the sense of fluidity and urgency JNT initially brought to the show.


A well crafted Eden by Tim Roll-Pickering 27/11/02

The story opens with effective narration from the Keeper as he brings the Doctor and Adric up to speed on events but this is perhaps forgivable since it means that the story can thus take a more relaxed pace than others and focus on character development rather than explaining the back story. The Keeper of Traken draws heavily on Biblical stories, telling the tale of an Eden that comes under threat from a very deadly serpent in the garden. The plot is simple but exceptionally rewarding for the viewer due to the twists it offers along the way, as well as making the surprise element a bonus to the story rather than the only thing going for it. Drawing also upon medieval influences for the structure of Traken society the result is a strong debut script from Johnny Byrne.

This story sees both the debut of Nyssa and the restoration of the Master as an active and viable foe. The former is ably played by Sarah Sutton but doesn't immediately stand out as being likely to become a companion, especially since at this stage she is left behind on Traken at the end of the tale. The Master's return adds to the sense of foreclosure as the season comes to a close and by this time the original viewers would have known that Tom Baker's departure was imminent as well. The Master's presence in the story is well concealed in the first couple of episodes, but by the end of Part Three it becomes clear that Melkur is a TARDIS whilst the Master has now been shown in a shot. For the fans who can remember the Master's appearance in The Deadly Assassin this is a clear revelation, but it's not until the final part that the dialogue actually confirms this. It makes sense that the Master is finally given a more active form to revitalise the character for future stories. Anthony Ainley gives a good performance as Tremas, making the character extremely likeable and sympathetic after he is brought down by a wife who initially sought only to save him. It is thus a real sad moment when he is absorbed by the Master. The final scene is too brief and so only gives a few hints as to how strong the character will be against the Doctor.

The rest of the cast are competent, with the honours going to Margot van der Burgh as Kassia. The only weak performance comes from Robin Soans as Luvic and makes one wonder how the character ever became a Consul and just how safe Traken is when Luvic becomes Keeper at the end. Denis Carey appears as the old Keeper and gives a dignified performance that conveys a true sense of power despite his withered physical form.

On the production side the design work is good, especially since the story is shot completely in the studio. Each set feels natural and the result is a realistic feeling medieval palace environment. John Black's direction is good and there are some nice little touches, such as the use of two monitor screens with slightly different angle shots inside Melkur which is a detail that many would have overlooked. The result is an enjoyable story that both tells a tale in its own right as well as re-establishing a major character for future stories. This is Tom Baker's penultimate story but his Doctor doesn't feel like he has quite hit the end of the road yet. All in all an enjoyable tale in its own right. 8/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 2/3/04

The Keeper Of Traken is something of a mixed bag;it has both a fairytale quality (the concept of a society where people are nice to each other) and the feel of a theatre production, due largely to the stilted dialogue and indeed some of the acting; the worst culprit being Sheila Ruskin`s Kassia. Geoffrey Beevers is relatively enjoyable if slightly OTT; his voice drips with malicious glee. Anthony Ainley gives one of his best performances as Tremas, as he is somewhat understated and restrained. Sarah Sutton isn`t too noticeable largely because Nyssa as of yet doesn`t play a central role in the action (that comes in in Logopolis), she does convey the closeness to her father, and her quiet reserve adequately well however.

This is also probably Adric`s best story; he doesn`t seem too annoying here, and interacts with Nyssa well. Indeed Matthew Waterhouse seem`s to be playing student to Tom Baker`s Doctor; who himself gives possibly the last glimpse of his trademark humour ("this type`s not really my forte" springs to mind). Great performances aside The Keeper Of Traken is average at best, memorable largely for the return of the Master.


Good and Evil by Mike Morris 1/8/04

There are some stories, according to received wisdom, that you either love or hate. Of course, I'm not quite sure where received wisdom comes from, who received it in the first place, and how true or relevant it is. I'm sure that plenty of the stories that fans "either love or hate" are looked at with indifference by a whole bunch of people. One thing this website shows is that for pretty much any story, as soon as one person says how much they adore it someone else will tear it down. And a good job too. Received wisdom is bunk.

As for The Keeper of Traken, though, that's different; it's the opposite to the "love or hate" type. I don't think I've ever read a wholly negative review of it; although I'm sure one will appear now, just to show me. Still, it's a rare case of a story that most of us like. And lo, Received Wisdom looked upon it and saw that it was good. Good; not, repeat not, great. When we have those silly best-story-ever discussions, The Keeper of Traken will not generally appear. Just as nobody seems to dislike it, it's nobody's favourite either. If there's one word that could sum it up, it's "solid".

This, really, is fair enough, and I largely agree. I think it's, you know, good. Not great. However, what's interesting about it is that it's very, very close to being an absolute all-time no-holds-barred stonking masterpiece. It is possibly one of the most interesting, complex and multilayered scripts ever. It's got a (largely) strong cast, some subtly appropriate direction, and (mostly) beautiful design. All that and those last minute jolts, with You Know Who's reappearance and a shock ending. Cor blimey, that's quite a list.

However, if you look at the story in depth, you'll see that it's not quite as "solid" as you think. Some of the key elements of this tale are fumbled extremely badly. There's a very weak performance in the story's central role, and many subtleties of the supporting characters are lost. If this were a stageplay - and really, it's as close as you can get to one - you'd look upon it as a meritorious but stodgy interpretation of an excellent script. The fact that it is still a resounding success, and one of the better stories in a very strong season, says something about the script itself.

Back to that stageplay point. The Keeper of Traken is hugely stylised, with the kind of dialogue that we like referring to as "Shakespearean". I always find that a hugely irritating phrase, but it's appropriate here because of the immensely theatrical script. It's not just the dialogue, though; the entire setup uses the kind of tricks that Shakespeare was so good at to establish the Traken society. As in a lot of Shakespeare plays we're introduced to a drama that takes place among the society's elders, or in this case, Consuls. There are a lot references to the Traken's society; the people being unsettled at the Keeper's passing, the rumours that the Melkur has been redeemed, and the use of Consular Privilege, which all help the feeling of a complex civilisation with rules, customs and political sensitivities. It's clever, the way that the society is effectively distilled down to a few sets like that, and it's successful enough to make Traken feel real and important. Essentially, this is a standard story of someone trying to take over a planet (well all right, it's the "Traken Union" so maybe there's more than one planet), but it feels bigger than that, somehow. In the same way, the Source feels like more than just a big 9V battery; it really comes across as an awesome and complex thing, and when Melkur starts outlining his plans for conquest in Part Four it seems genuinely frightening. Traken may well be the best-evoked society in the programme's televised run.

John Black reacts to this stagy script by shooting it in a suitably stagy way. There are an awful lot of long scenes without cuts on largely static cameras, and simply assembled shots. That initially suggests that the direction is lazy, but that's not at all true. Black's work here is extremely appropriate given the nature of the script, and tellingly it's very different from his direction on Four To Doomsday - suggesting that he modified his style to suit the story, a pleasing modesty that a lot of directors don't display. The design is simply wonderful, with even the corridor sets being reworked as angled, arched vaults. The main chamber feels suitably impressive, and the Grove is gorgeous. Black may not bother with cutting, panning, close-ups and all that fancy-dan malarkey, but he knows how to get the best out of his sets all right. The first shot of Kassia and Melkur, the creature silhouetted and the moon visible in the background... it's really very impressive indeed. Even if the Source looks a bit like a doily, and the Keeper's bald cap is worse than crap.

While he gets to grips beautifully with the political backdrop to the story, though, the director fails to really establish the character drama in any way. It doesn't help that Sheila Ruskin, in the pivotal role of Kassia, is simply not good enough. This story should, really, have been her tragedy; the descent of a good woman into evil, motivated by love. However Ruskin plays Kassia throughout as a grade A nutcase, and while she handles a few scenes well the performance is hugely uneven. There's some obviously crap bits, such as where she faints, but really she's just too aggressive throughout. Just look at the wedding scene when she's teased by the crowd; her delivery of "I'm sure it does not become us to mock Melkur" is delivered far too frantically, when we should really have seen her uneasily laughing it off. And more; if you were to read through this script you'll find a host of gentle scenes featuring Kassia that end up being rather trampled on. She tells Tremas "I'm doing this for you"; she asks Seron to forgive her, and says she cannot reject the evil inside her; Seron describes her as a "lost, degraded creature"; immediately after killing him she appears to turn to Tremas for help; she threatens Nyssa with her Fosters but relents, sends her home, tells her "this will all come to good in time", and after she has gone she breaks down in tears. Kassia appears to have been written as an innocent, impressionable character, who is manipulated by Melkur because of her "purity of spirit". While were talking Shakespeare, the dynamic is best summarised by a couple of lines from Othello; "Thus will I turn her virtue into pitch, and out of her own goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all." Everything Kassia does, she does because she loves Tremas and can't let him go; her only selfish impulse is to love someone. Now that's really, really good tragedy. When she kills Seron it's more than just a plot-point; it should be a tragic moment for Kassia, and the audience should be feeling gut-wrenching pity for her. As it is, it doesn't come off. It's not entirely Ruskin's fault, either (although it mostly is). Anthony Ainley, who otherwise gives a wonderfully sensitive performance, seems to accept Kassia as the bad guy rather too readily and doesn't convey affection for her beyond the marriage scene. Also, the director gets the tone of some scenes wrong. There's a badly muffed scene at the end of Part Two, when Kassia tells Tremas not to look at her eyes, and when she does shoot him only stuns him. The implication should be, really, that Kassia's love for Tremas stopped her from killing him. When the Doctor notes "he's only stunned," he should sound shocked. Instead he just trots the line out blithely, and that little nuance is lost, the whole thing just coming out like a plot convenience.

The rest of the consuls aren't really evoked as they could be either. The apparently stupid Luvic's discovery that there is, in fact, "such greatness in me" isn't emphasised properly; and Seron, in particular, doesn't shine as he should. My theory is that, as scripted, we're supposed to be suspicious of Seron's motivations, to suspect that perhaps he himself is allied with Melkur. His actions tend to be devious, such as the way that he stops Tremas sharing his suspicions rather suspect. He frequently seems to be on to Kassia, but doesn't confront her. When he volunteers to enter rapport, Kassia mutters "that is not intended," which Seron seizes on; "Intended, Kassia? By whom?" A moment later he then agrees to her keeping vigil for him, noting that "under your zealous eye we can be sure that justice will be done." As played, that scene just comes across like Seron is being a bit obtuse, agreeing for someone he suspects to have such power over him. But imagine if we'd been kept guessing; if he'd delivered that line ironically, with a hidden meaning hanging there, and the audience is left wondering whether he wants to flush Kassia out or whether he's working to the same ends as her. Imagine if we thought he might not survive Rapport. Imagine how shocking it would be that, the moment we know for certain that Seron's a good guy, he's slain... would have been great, wouldn't it? Kassia sobbing, asking Seron to forgive her, Seron softly imploring her to "reject this evil", and then Kassia losing that dreadful battle with herself and destroying the man who could have saved her. Seron's death could have been one of the very greatest scenes ever, if they'd got it right. Oh, for what might have been.

Let's not forget, though, that it's still good. The story's good. The Doctor and Adric work surprisingly well in this, and Nyssa's good fun, even if it's obvious that she was never conceived as a companion. It's littered with good jokes; "This type's not really my forte", "It's magnificent. Magnificent. I mean, it's a shame about that chap having to sit for a thousand years in that chair, but it is magnificent", and Adric responding to the Doctor's "what can't be cured must be endured" with "That's the silliest thing you've ever said." It's also littered with excellent dramatic scenes, such as Tom Baker's dark mutter to Neman that "He'll destroy you too, just as he destroyed Kassia", and that brilliant ironic delivery of "Well, when this thing has taken over the entire Source, you'll have the consolation of knowing you kept your honour intact". It's also got what I like to call a mini-great; an incidental little scene that somehow lingers in my memory, a bit like the "I simply don't do that sort of thing" in Meglos. It's when Tremas mutters to the Doctor that "The man's too fond of money to be trusted," and the Doctor replies "really?" It's not overdone, but the Doctor sounds intrigued at this, as if it had just never occurred to him that someone might be fond of money. I love that bit.

All those good bits and the Master too. This is a story that uses him marvellously. Melkur itself is a great villain - visually it manages to be surprisingly impressive, and it's voiced wonderfully - and the knowledge that there's something nasty and ugly inside the clinical exterior makes it even more frightening (you know, a metaphor for the human psyche and all that). That it should be the Master makes perfect sense. Tom underplays these scenes admirably, and the painted teeth notwithstanding, the Master's make-up job looks wonderful. Quite why he's got two TARDISes is a bit of a mystery, although I like the fan theory that the Melkur-ship is Goth's. The Master as a serpent in paradise gives him a real malevolence, and he's all the better for being used sparingly. His absorption of Tremas is a wonderful jolt to close the story. Those last couple of episodes are actually quite disappointing, with a lot of running up and down corridors, being locked up and escaping, and the twin assault on Melkur being a bit opaque - the sanction programmes are never explained in the script. But the revelation of the Master overshadows all of that and, at the conclusion, you don't remember the corridor chases; you remember "A new body, at last!" Great stuff.

So, overall, if the majority is agreed I will concur, of course. This is a very good story, but not a great. Given that some huge elements of it are completely muffed up, the fact that it remains so memorable tells you just how good the original scripts were. It's a pipedream, but I can't help but wish that those scripts might be re-interpreted someday, remade, and the story's theme of innocence ripped apart made clear on a human as well as political level.

Oh well, we'll take what we can get. It remains worth your time. It's significantly better than the norm. It's got a lot of staying power. And a villain who is so often badly-used is used brilliantly. Oh, and it's a great kick into the Logopolis/Castrovalva pairing. That can't be bad, can it? So yes, it's highly recommended.


"Oh no Kassia... it is only beginning!" by Joe Ford 16/8/04

As much as we all love season seventeen (oh come on, it's hardly OFFENSIVE), I am certain many people will agree that season eighteen came as a breath of fresh air. Not only did it re-invigorate the show's look, being the first season in three years to look as though it had any serious money lavished upon it but it also provided a lifeline for Tom Baker's fourth Doctor, a further direction for his character to go in proving his longevity is all down to natural evolution. The show (and the era) had rarely looked better and for Tom it was surely one of his most successful years. Not bad for his finale really. If it hadn't been for JNT and company the fourth Doctor would probably have vanished from our screens, tired and forgotten. Instead he got to go out on top of his game and proving there are still facets to his characters we still have to learn.

The Keeper of Traken epitomises everything season eighteen does well. Budgetwise it looks very impressive with some huge and detailed sets and a fantastic design for the Melkur creature. It is a powerhouse of a likable SF ideas, the Keeper, the Source, Universal Harmony, etc, that all bubble away quite nicely while a almost poetic good vs. evil plot takes place. There are some terrific actors jotted about, John Woodnutt, Anthony Ainley, Sarah Sutton who beef up the story by playing it deadly straight and selling the material one hundred percent. Incidentally it takes what is a potentially catastrophic Doctor/companion partnership (the fourth Doctor and Adric) and makes it work really well.

I can remember vividly standing in Forbidden Planet in London and listening to two girls taking the piss out of this story whilst flicking through a copy of The Legend. It was the usual Star Trek: Voyager loving mooses, those who cannot accept science fiction if it hasn't been made on a million dollars and had all the storytelling juices sucked out of it by years and years of repetitive tales. Listening to them bicker and dribble on about "the Mystic statue" and "the jelly baby man" made me hunger for a good challenge and when I heard one of them mention how she hated Andromeda but watched it because one of the guys was "fit" (an innit word I loathe) I realised I was wasting my time. The Keeper of Traken is clearly meant to be watched by a half intelligent creature and it was wasted on these two evolutionary throwbacks. The story is clever, involving and not for your average television viewer.

There is a very gentle atmosphere to the story that would make it unwatchable to any male who was brought up on films like Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels. But it is that very passive mood that I find so delicious, a delicate culture, drowned in niceness and brought to the verge of chaos by a malevolent force. The scenes involving the regular affairs of Traken are a joy to watch, the society is set up vividly through the marriage of Tremas and Kassia, the gentle ribbing, the jokes, the supernatural but comforting visit from the Keeper, it all seems very natural and unforced. You would think a story set on a planet where everybody is nice would be a dull chore to watch but even these early scenes are perfectly watchable. It is fascinating to see that even though all events are geared to make it appear the Doctor and Adric are evil spies on Traken, Tremas and Seron still wish to aid them, such is their generosity of spirit on the planet.

I love the look of the story, a planet that is lavished with technology but enjoys a splash of gothic architecture. There is an intriguing mixture of old and new, the dungeons are drab and vast, the source chamber is painted in a variety of gorgeous rainbow colours, the Grove is clearly a studio but the bird sound FX, soothing lighting and clever shots all help to convince you this is outside. There is no real attempt to hide its studio limitations and instead the director and designer decide to dress everything up lavishly so it pleases because it is all filmed inside. I like that. The lighting is especially good, suggesting when it is day and night and even dawn. It adds colour and atmosphere and pushes the story along without having to tell us what the time is.

A real aspect that JNT was trying hard to push into the show was the idea of the family. He started with the TARDIS crew, Daddy Who, Mommy Romana, Little Adric and pet K.9. He went to push the idea even further next year, having entire scenes driving home the point that the TARDIS crew is a family, albeit a dysfunctional one and allowing us to become close to the regulars as they slowly adjust to living together. In my opinion it was far more successful this year and by introducing secondary characters who have relations we can see them reacting against you get a far more believable idea of who they are, Pangol and his mother Mena in The Leisure Hive, Adric and his brother Varsh in Full Circle, Ivo and his son Karl in State of Decay and Tegan and her aunty Vanessa in Logopolis. Rather cleverly then, writer Johnny Byrne (or perhaps it was the work of Christopher H Bidmead who has claimed in interviews that he re-wrote every script he accepted) stages The Keeper of Traken around the family unit of Tremas, his new wife Kassia and his daughter Nyssa. Given that Kassia has made a pact with the devil it becomes inevitable that this idyllic family we have been introduced to will soon be destroyed and there is a little that is more disturbing than watching loving relationships turn to poison.

Tremas is a staggering believable character despite a staggeringly unbelievable beard. Played by (at this point) the unknown Anthony Ainley the character comes alive in unexpected ways. Its wonderful to see how eager he is to speak to the Doctor when he realises he is another scientist, he practically leaps into his arms! His protection of Nyssa is sweet and how he tries to protect his wife despite the list of crimes she is building up is heartbreaking until she tries to frame him for those very same crimes. Seeing Tremas and Kassia kiss and cuddle in those early scenes leaves you distraught when suddenly she is framing her husband for all sorts of crimes. He is a gentle, intelligent, likable man and there aren't many of those in Doctor Who so kudos to Ainley for making him so.

Rob suggests in his review that Nyssa does not make enough of an impression for Nyssa to be potential companion material but I would have to disagree. Nyssa rocks in this story, she is a very reassuring presence, helping out the Doctor and Adric when everyone else has turned their backs on them and not above picking up a weapon and shooting men down in her cause. Her scenes with Adric are nice because it gives Adric somebody his own age to bounce back from, suggestions of a romance between them are scarce and an opportunity was missed here. Nyssa looks gorgeous; Sarah Sutton is one hell of a babe and even when she is only in the background there is something about how she plays her character that makes me pay attention. Her "He is no traitor! Nether are the strangers, this Melkur has made you mad!" scene is powerful stuff.

Kassia is probably the weakest link of the family and yet the most important and Sheila Ruskin's rather overdone portrayal does threaten to tip the story into melodrama on the odd occasion. I suppose it is appropriate for the villain of the piece to shout and stomp and be a bit nasty but when it is blatantly obvious that Kassia is the evil force behind Melkur it does make some of the characters appear naive. Still, throughout Ruskin concentrates on the fact that Kassia loves her husband and is doing her evil deeds for his good, it makes her a more sympathetic character than you would imagine. Her conversations with the silky voiced Melkur are quite chilling, watching how he slowly manipulates her into bringing down the Traken union.

Even the less important characters; the shy and cherubic Luvic, the aristocratic and icy Katura, the money mad Neman... they are all pulled off well by some strong, well chosen actors. The society is cleverly built around scientific concepts like the Source but it is the characters that make it come alive and this bunch of politicians are realistic enough to make the whole grandiose idea of Traken work.

The grace of the story extends to the mock Elizabethan costumes and ethereal music, Roger Limb providing a debut score that would impress enough to secure him regular bookings for the next three years. Even when he is writing music for evil doings there is a still an element of beauty to it.

But what of the Master, my least favourite of the recurring villains? After his emaciated and spectacular return to form in The Deadly Assassin he returns to plague the Doctor's life but intriguingly revenge is not his sole motive this time. Byrne starts a trend of Master stories now where his motivation would be survival, at any cost. Although having a weak villain, one close to death would appear to make him seem more pathetic, it in fact has the reverse affect, reminding me of a line the third Doctor said to the Master in The Daemons ("I've got nothing to lose so you better watch it!"). This Master will do anything, ANYTHING to ensure his survival and if the universe gets swept aside to ensure that fate then so be it. I find that bloody scary. Its what made him more interesting in Survival and the TV Movie and (less so) Planet of Fire. It's surprising to see how effective and vicious the guy can be when his existence is threatened.

Here is Geoffrey Beevers' one shot at being the Master on TV and he does a fair job. There is a feeling that he has rejuvenated since Assassin but he still has an element of bitter hatred for the Doctor that always lingers. He looks a mess; his body scarred beyond recognition and it helps to buy into the fact that he is dying and desperate. And true to form he is still trying to position himself in the seat of power even when trying to save his life, by becoming the Keeper of Traken he gets to control people at a whim and immediately sets about getting off on it when he is given access to the Source.

It is rather brave to refuse to reveal who he is until episode four. This is the work of JNT, tactician extraordinaire and well aware that revealing his identity too soon might gut the story of its powerful ending. During Hinchcliffe and Letts eras this would be inconceivable but JNT knows how to manipulate and effectively gives The Keeper of Traken one of the best ever endings to a Doctor Who story, up there with Vengeance on Varos and Caves of Androzani. He is building for the future and the Master creeping from his TARDIS and stealing Tremas' body provides a brilliant twist here and a suave and Delgado-ish Master for the future. Strange how close that future turned out to be...

Matthew Waterhouse is squat, awkward and squeaky voiced and despite all these faults he manages to make quite an impression mostly because next to the LARGER THAN LIFE Tom Baker he can't be anything but subdued so he doesn't bother to try and dominate any scenes. Those early TARDIS scenes show two friends, one wise and all knowing and one willing to learn and their chemistry works that way. The Doctor showing Adric N-Space could have been a running theme, his wide-eyed pupil act offers a likable Adric and not the irritating prick of next year. It was only when the stupid fifth Doctor put Adric in charge in Castrovalva that he started getting a big head and acting all high and mighty that he became unbearable.

"What can't be cured must be endured!" says the Doctor during their escape from the penal wing. "They say evil just shrivelled up and died! Perhaps that's why I never went there!" he points out in episode one. How cool is the Doctor in this story, outwardly looking quite tired but still full of adventuring spirit and willing to fight evil as ever? Tom gives such an understated yet hypnotic performance here, he isn't trying to take over like he did in the last two years and instead the story, the ideas, etc seem as important as his Doctor. This humility he has gained adds a whole new dimension to his character, instead of having him forced in your face you are given the choice whether to watch him or not such is his role in the background of the story. Tom's presence is unmistakable but this witty AND sombre version makes him glow on screen.

The story gathers momentum superbly, after a slow moving first episode events soon pick up with the Doctor and friends on the run, locked up and Melkur finally gaining access to the Source. The cliffhanger to episode three is especially good, defying all our expectations by having the worst thing that could possibly happen... well happen.

The Keeper of Traken deserves its strong reputation, it is a terrific set of scripts and the production is given a little extra polish that makes it shine bright, even next to the surrounding season eighteen powerhouses. In my eyes this is the last really good Tom Baker story.


A Review by Brian May 30/1/06

Before Andrew Cartmel, another producer had a "master plan" for Doctor Who: John Nathan-Turner. Out with the pantomime silliness of season 17, in with hard sci-fi, a more stylish visual approach and a more serious mood. In fact, a sweeping change throughout. Much of this was realised over the course of season 18 - by The Keeper of Traken it was nearly complete: Romana and K9 had departed, leaving Tom Baker as the only link to the recent past. But he would have one story left, and this one sets up his departure.

The design is wonderful: the grove is superb; you know it's a set, but it's a damn good one. The night scenes are even more spectacular, actually looking like they've been shot outside. The costumes are also excellent. The framed narrative in part one is remarkable and unique in the programme at this point. It's an excellent means of exposition: the Keeper informing the Doctor and Adric of the state of affairs on Traken is an obvious info-dump for the viewers, but it's achieved in an oh-so-clever way. The direction is divine: my favourite example is the image of the wedding being watched on the TARDIS scanner; the camera slowly zooms in until we're no longer in the Doctor's craft, but we're actually there at the festivities. It's seamless and elegant. The simulated storm in episode three is great, and the Melkur is quite frightening, especially as it walks through the night, eyes glowing. It was one of my childhood Who fears; the scene when it looks inside the sanctum, and the Keeper is the only one to see it, I remember as particularly scary. John Black's Doctor Who debut is an impressive one indeed.

It's not only easy on the eyes, but also on the ears. The music is wonderful, with several numbers you can truly describe as gorgeous. The accompaniment to the wedding (the scene when people are leaving) is one of my favourite pieces from the programme. Kassia's theme - which later becomes Nyssa's - is quiet and gentle as it is haunting, with an underlying tinge of sadness that is appropriate given the story's tragic legacy upon the two women. The rest, although very much a product of the "synthesisers are us" BBC Radiophonic Workshop, is nicely atmospheric. Dudley Simpson isn't missed... yet.

Johnny Byrne delivers a delightful script. The ideas of the Keeper, the source, the universal harmony and the like are all very interesting. It's not really science fiction but more a fantasy, with many Jacobean and Shakespearean influences in the dialogue (as well as the costumes and design). It's a fascinating tale of a serpent in paradise; a seemingly utopian haven stripped away layer by layer to reveal the evil at the core. Not just the external influence of Melkur but the corruption inherent in its own people. The story's not perfect; the resolution is very rushed and relies on a simple act of sabotage, but overall it's wistful, lyrical and full of nice ideas. It's slowly paced, but the direction and characterisations make this tolerable. Only an impatient action buff would have cause to complain.

John Nathan-Turner's mission to rein in Tom Baker's performance from the exuberances of recent years was also successful, from the very start of season 18. Here Baker continues in this vein, with a very subdued, restrained penultimate appearance. He's quite a grumpy old man, especially in his early scenes with Adric. Elsewhere he's a calm and almost laidback figure. There's a hint of melancholy, as if the actor realises this is the beginning of the end of his long run as the Doctor. There are some fine performances to match him: Roland Oliver (Neman), Margot Van der Burgh (Katura), John Woodnutt (Seron), Anthony Ainley (Tremas) and Geoffrey Beevers (Melkur) are all excellent.

On the not so good side is Sarah Sutton, whose debut as Nyssa doesn't set the world on fire. The character and performance aren't enough to warrant her to return as a companion, but Nathan-Turner thought otherwise - and, to Sutton's credit, she improved considerably. Matthew Waterhouse has always copped a lot from fans, and I'm going to have to concur. He's not atrocious, but he's quite dull. To be fair, he has some moments, mainly with the Doctor in the TARDIS, but for the most part he puts in a fairly insipid performance. The scenes with him and Nyssa are quite boring, as you'd expect. Sheila Ruskin as Kassia is - and I'm using the most diplomatic word I can think of - varied. She's very good as the young girl tending to Melkur, and she's marvellous at the wedding. But more often than not she overacts - or simply acts badly - or both (her "Before your eyes!" moment is dreadful). For such a key character, Ruskin's uneven performance is a disappointment.

This story marks the return of the Master, not seen since 1976 - he's still the hate-filled, decaying cadaver we saw in The Deadly Assassin. There are plenty of hints thrown in for the astute, but his turn to camera just before the end of part three is startling and dramatic, even if you're clued up to his identity. Even though the Master became more pantomime afterwards, here he's handled quite well, coming across as a foe to be reckoned with. What's more a surprise, of course, is his takeover of Tremas at the end. The anagrammed name is the original - and best and most justifiable - of the Master clues that prevailed in this era. Tremas's murder is one of the most unexpected and dramatic twists we've seen in Doctor Who - it's a jolt for the viewer who was expecting another happy closure. It's the most downbeat ending since Doctor Who and the Silurians - although the grandfather clock being set at four minutes to midnight is a macabrely stylish touch.

This is evidence of another aspect of the master plan: the dramatic. At times depressing, at times shocking and chilling, but always effective. It's a welcome change from flippancy and hijinks (not bad things in themselves, but tiresome when a show overloads on them). It's part of the new direction that John Nathan-Turner deserves praise for. Of course, not everything he touched turned to gold and later things were often for the worse, but at this juncture the changes instigated in season 18 are the boost Doctor Who needed. The Keeper of Traken is a wonderful representation of this. It also happens to be a wonderful story. 8.5/10


"A new body at last" by Jonathan Middleton 4/6/06

The Keeper of Traken is arguably one of the best stories of Tom Baker's era. It is a superbly written, well acted, well directed and well designed and is one of the primary reasons why season 18 is one of the best in the programme's history.

The regulars for the most part handle themselves well in this story. Baker who, by the end of the season, had improved from those diabolical performances from most of the stories form the Williams era, here with some discipline put on him he puts in an excellent performance showing that whilst he didn't (probably) like those measures, he does realise that they're for the good of him and allows him to harken back to the performances of his first 3 years. Matthew Waterhouse puts in arguably his best performance in the whole of his tenure. He clearly likes working alongside Baker (not that he didn't like working with Davison) and unlike some of the later stories isn't characterised as an annoying brat, more of an artful-dodger character who should have been written a bit like Vila of Blake's 7 as a bit of comic relief. Then he would have been a good companion but it's a good performance.

Sarah Sutton again puts in a good performance as Nyssa. Nyssa is a companion I quite like who was a bit boring and Sutton did have this annoying habit of delivering certain lines woodenly and could have done with bit more development in some quarters. She's good here and maybe it would have been better if she'd gone off with the Doctor in this one instead of being shoehorned into Logopolis. The late Anthony Ainley, who I think was grossly underrated as the Master, puts in a superb performance as Tremas, making him a truly likeable character and a good friend and a pseudo-companion making what happens to him at then end truly shocking. Geoffrey Beevers, whose silky voice as Melkur makes him a superb villain, is someone who is utterly ruthless and sadistic as Melkur. His manipulation of Kassia is pure sadism and they are also well-played scenes, largely down to Beevers as the Master. He is quite good and benefiting some good make-up but there are times when he goes into ham-mode as the Master which end up undermining the character.

Shelia Ruskin's performance is another matter, although there are some scenes where she does and can act, like the bit where she breaks down in part 3. Half the time you've got her acting like a grade A nutcase and going into full-on ham-mode, such as the "before your eyes" bit in part 2. The thing is, Kassia's representing what the story's all about; that is, a good person motivated to do bad things not out of greed, vanity, hate or selfishness, but love; that, despite the fairytale setting, attempts to put shades of grey on Kassia's actions... but because of Ruskin's performance the story fails in that aspect. Not that I'm saying it's overrated mind you. Denis Carey put in a dignified performance as the Keeper and manages to seem wizened and old and also a guy nearing the end of his prime. Interestingly parallels can be drawn with the keeper and Tom Baker both nearing the end of their prime: they're old and are respected by the people.

The recently deceased John Woodnutt puts in his usual performance helping make Seron a dignified character that clearly is a wise and respected consul. Margot Van Der Burgh also helps make Katura a dignified character but the role is little more than a supporting role. Robin Soans puts in a competent performance as Luvic, but like Katura is little more than a supporting role. Roland Oliver puts in a good performance as Neman, making him the sort of person who will gladly side with anyone, providing there's money involved. There's a brilliant scene in part 4 where Neman enters the sanctum and Melkur makes him give the gun to Tremas and is shot; the look on Oliver's face is a superb expression, making him realise just what he's gotten himself into.

John Black's direction is very theatrical. He clearly focuses on the actors so therefore there's less to be discussed here but mention must go to Melkur coming down to Traken, the pullback shot from the wedding, the cliff-hanger to part 2, the revelation of the Master, the cliff-hanger to part 3 and the end where Tremas is possessed by the Master.

Tony Burroughs's set design is superb. Many of the sets are well lit and deigned. Whilst the story is studio bound, particularly mention must go to the grove, the sanctum, the service vaults and the Melkur; whilst probably not designed by him, it's a superb design benefiting form a weird head design although it isn't too good when it moves around. The reason why the sets are so good is a lot of detail clearly went into them: they look like they're made out of stone not wood and don't wobble at all and look good.

Roger Limb's musical score is also very good, making good use of Traken to compose a gentle oriental score. Whilst all the scenes with Melkur are scored in such a way that they make him sound evil and menacing, the only duff bit is the music to part one where it comes as across as really loud. Whilst not bad, its loudness speaks for itself.

Amy Roberts' costumes aren't very good; the Fosters' grey uniforms are weak and the coats unnecessary. The baggy sleeves are also unnecessary although a clear distinction is given between age groups such as in part 1 where Kassia is wearing a similar dress to Nyssa. <

One of the criticisms about this is some of the plot holes such as: How come the Fosters are armed in the very next scene after the matter is being discussed? In fact when the motion is put forward it's daylight but in the next scene it's night. If Traken is a paradise why then is the death penalty in force for almost every crime? Well I don't know really maybe because the production team wanted to add more drama to the scenes. Why is Neman in power when he's corrupt and money hungry? The point of Neman is demonstrated that even in an idyllic society there's corruption. In fact you could take Traken as an allegory for the U.S.A., which on the surface pretends to be a paradise but is sadly corrupt. The death penalty's in force and it isn't very nice in places. If Kassia's trying to save Tremas then why does she insist he be executed? Well, through that bracelet Melkur is controlling Kassia so he's trying to force the blame on Tremas. Why does Kassia continue to insist Melkur is evil? Well, I believe that in part one a scene was cut where Melkur says the Keeper is summoning strangers and she wants her to blame them. That's why Kassia says that bit about failing Melkur and the strangers still live. If the Master has been waiting all this time then isn't the Doctor's arrival a bit coincidental? The Keeper summoned the Doctor; the Master took advantage of the situation.

So then, despite some flaws, this is a very good story. I'll give it an 8/10 then. It could have been better in places.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/3/11

The Keeper of Traken should be rubbish, shouldn't it? It's from the writer who gave us Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep, one of which is generally reviled as an atrocity against television and the other of which is Warriors of the Deep. Nonertheless Keeper of Traken seems reasonably popular, so the obvious question would seem to be to ask what Johnny Byrne did right this time. Is it just down to the script editor being Christopher Bidmead instead of Eric Saward?

The answer is simple. He made a pig's ear of this one too. Johnny Byrne's three scripts for Doctor Who are all useless, with Warriors of the Deep ironically being the best of them. The difference in terms of the broadcast episodes is that his two Davison stories were production failures, while Traken is a beautifully realised world based on pre-Raphaelite paintings in which everyone wears velvet fairy dresses and all the fanboys in the audience don't need to get embarrassed. We're so bloody shallow.

Seriously, though, just look at this thing. Underneath the utopian hippy sales pitch, what we've got is basically another Troughton-era runaround that's full of officious idiots. The authorities still want to kill the Doctor right through into episode four, although admittedly by that point it's been taken out of their hands. The TARDIS having vanished is seen as proof that the Doctor's lying, but no one notices its return. Would you want to be governed by these people? The Consuls are a bunch of clucking old hens, their security chief is openly bribable and no one has even a scrap of respect for the intelligence of the general population. The Consuls hide crucial information even from each other on the grounds of superstition and irrationality. Is this a democracy? I think not. "That is not lawful." "My father and the other Consuls decide what is lawful..." Johnny Byrne claims to have originally written this for a medieval monastic setting and it shows. It's like the Robert Holmes vision of Gallifrey, but without the self-awareness that the people in charge of utopia are a bit rubbish. These are people who want to kill the Doctor on the assumption that he's the Keeper's "infinite evil", never noticing that he's unaffected by Traken's calcifying anti-evil field.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Adric are hardly used any better, spending almost the whole story getting captured and escaping. Tom spends a full episode doing nothing but shooting people and bashing heads together. His big confrontation with Geoffrey Beevers should have been iconic, but yet again he doesn't do anything and instead simply runs away when given his cue by something technobabbly. Mind you, even the Master's motivation isn't entirely clear. Does he want the Doctor dead or doesn't he? You can tell it was a rush job cut-and-pasting him into the script on JNT's request, as for instance when he'll sometimes be calling the Doctor "Time Lord", but at other times just using his name.

The truth is that Johnny Byrne isn't interested in good guys. His Doctor Who stories are populated by: (a) villains, (b) cardboard cutouts and (c) pre-existing characters who'd been defined long before Byrne came along. His goodies will be dull, but his villains are surprisingly rich. Kassia, Omega and the Silurians all have powerful motivations for their actions and are arguably more sympathetic than the heroes. You'll also have stooges, security chiefs and so on. As for the plotting, there you'll have four empty episodes of placeholder runarounds, but capped with a cool ending. Johnny Byrne's stories all have a brutal twist in the tail. Davison guns down Davison, the humans and reptiles pointlessly die and here on Traken you've got the fate of Tremas. This is perhaps the least memorable of the three since it's so tacked on and arbitrary, but it's also one of Doctor Who's most evil endings of all time. "Father, where are you?" Bloody hell. Brrrr.

This story bored me. Seriously, the biggest difference between this and Byrne's other stories is the set design, although it's worth acknowledging that the acting is less horrible here too. In fairness, it's possible to argue that the imperfections in Traken society are deliberate from the writers and the reason why the Master could take over. Bidmead and Byrne loved these kinds of subtleties. They're both into these themes and Bidmead's stories in particular kept returning to the motif of a society with a secret. It adds another layer to the iconography of the story, which is what makes the story special. (However, if Bidmead was deliberately trying to make a point about useless and indecisive leaders, he'd already done so better and more entertainingly in Full Circle.) It's also true that you can see the joins in at least two places where this story was visibly being wrenched in a new direction by Bidmead or JNT, while Byrne wasn't happy about at least some of the changes (e.g. changing the setting from the medieval monks).

What I object to about the Consuls' stupidity isn't thematic so much as nuts-and-bolts plotting. It's dull to pack your story with suspicious authority figures who keep trying to have the Doctor executed instead of going after the real danger. I'll accept any defence of the story's themes, but don't try to tell me that the plotting isn't shoddy. You could cut-and-paste this story into Season Five without blinking, or indeed map its cast on to any other Johnny Byrne story.

(a) Leader, theoretically powerful but in practice useless = Keeper, President Borusa, Commander Vorshak

(b) Security chief and nothing but an annoyance = Neman, Commander Maxil, Preston

(c) Token good guy who helps the Doctor and displays no personality traits = Tremas, Damon, Bulic

(d) Pertwee-era baddie coming back to life after millennia = the Master, Omega, the Silurians and Sea Devils

(e) Traitor secretly working for the enemy = Kassia, Hedin, Nilson & Solow

(f) Other people on the council who serve no purpose in the story except to talk about what everyone should do next, instead of actually doing something = where do I begin?

Okay, that's the case for the prosecution. Now for the defence.

First, second and third, the design. It looks amazing. Look at that corridor in episode three, for instance. How many corridors in Doctor Who have felt this real? You've got all these wonderful influences, as if they'd gone back to the late 19th century and found Tony Burroughs among all the Art Noveau and pre-Raphaelites. The Melkur's based on a 1913 statue by Umberto Boccioni. The costumes are beautiful, the music is perfect and it really feels as if you've been transported to a fairy-tale realm.

Then you've got the ideas. This story may be shoddily constructed, but it's also playing with some of Doctor Who's most iconic concepts. There's never been another realm like Traken, simple and purely good. There's something mythic in particular about the way in which evil is being regarded as a natural force like gravity or radiation. It's fairy tale logic, on a par with Red Riding Hood and the wolf, but it makes intuitive sense and gives the story an otherworldly aura that's unique. It's basically the devil tempting Eve in the garden... and what makes it so horrible is that it's Kassia's love and compassion that doomed her. If the people of Traken hadn't been so kind-hearted even towards those who would destroy them, then the Melkur would have been turned into gravel and half the universe might not have been destroyed in Logopolis.

Apparently Johnny Byrne wrote this story to explore eschatology. This was millennial fever, twenty years early. The world itself goes into trauma as the Keeper dies, which on screen is mostly realised as nasty weather but is the kind of thing that could also include things like crop failures, earthquakes and statues coming to life. To all intents and purposes, it's the death of God. This is a heady cocktail of concepts more usually associated with myth and religion, so it's no surprise that it'll have a fierce grab on our imaginations. Together with the other two stories in this regeneration trilogy, it's easy to imagine Keeper of Traken being cited as someone's idea of ultimate Doctor Who, which is no small achievement.

Structurally, it's still poor, though. Tremas is disappointingly bland, giving Anthony Ainley little to work with beyond his being a husband and father. He follows the Doctor around and says lots of technobabble. That's it, really, although I liked the scene where he has to choose to break his vow concerning the blueprints of the Source. Even Tremas and Kassia's impending marriage was added in by Bidmead, by the way. Originally they were just the leaders of their respective political factions. I do like Ainley, but he's crying out for better material. I suppose it's a shock for a Doctor Who fan to see him underacting, though.

Of the other actors, Sheila Ruskin is uneven but sometimes good as Kassia. I'd have loved to see them bring in a truly great actress to tear our hearts out, but Ruskin's not bad. I also thought she looked a bit like Jamie Lee Curtis. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Beevers can be a bit obvious in his choices, but I liked him in episode four. "Yes, death. I had not forgotten." Tom Baker seems to be feeling sidelined, which is understandable, but what's most interesting is his relationship with Adric. The 4th Doctor is again being a mentor and educator, but completely unlike how he was with Leela. "Put your hands up. Like this." Matthew Waterhouse is clearly hero-worshipping Tom and loves it when he's dominant. Ahem. The lad's not actually doing much wrong, although on the other hand you couldn't possibly call him good and there's a unique kind of horror in seeing him playing opposite Sarah Sutton.

Oh yes, Nyssa. She's... um, she has an ion bonder. Sutton's less incompetent than Waterhouse, but somehow her lack of screen presence makes him look like Sir Laurence Olivier.

In fairness, the story is at its most evocative when it's important, i.e. at the start and the end. There's something spooky about the Melkur just standing there at the beginning, while the scene of Tremas shooting Neman in part four is downright chilling. This is also one of those 1980s Master stories where he's still iconic and menacing, instead of just being silly. However, even though it's the middle episodes that are most obviously treading water, the story never really recovers enough to climb above its own technobabble. Look at that finale. The big climax involves typing 337 into a keyboard.

Despite all that, though, the story somehow feels poetic and fantastical. It lives in the memory. On one level it's rubbish, but on another I still love it anyway. "If you weren't so evil, you could move around."