The Keeper of Traken
Big Finish Productions

Written by Lance Parkin Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2001
Continuity Between Time Flight
and Arc of Infinity

Starring Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Also featuring Stephen Grief, Susan Penhaligon, Ian Hallard, Billy Miller, Romy Tennant, Marc Woolgar, Rita Davies.

Synopsis: Nyssa will die at dawn, and the Doctor doesn't even know why. To save her life, he must make a desperate journey to the only place in the universe where a cure might exist. When even that fails, the Doctor has a choice ? let Nyssa die, or make a deal with the devil. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Er...that was....nice? by Joe Ford 5/12/01

I'll have it known that I'm not too fond of the 5th Doctor audios even though the wonderful Phantasmagoria launched me head first into this range. I'm not sure if it's Davison himself, a little too subdued for my tastes or if it's the writing (Winter for the Adept, Loups Garoux) or if they just aren't putting the same effort into his adventures. So I put this one on with mixed feelings and after one listen I've decided that it's....nice. Not a masterpiece, but quite pleasant and certainly not a chore to get through.

Nyssa has always been an underatted companion in my eyes and this chance to flesh out her character is very welcome. Her softer scenes in the Traken pool are lovely and quite romantic balanced by the more serious condition she is facing.

Davison too gets a chance to shine in his tense scenes Kwundaar (the chilling voice of Stephen Grief makes an excellent villan!) and his lighter moments with Shayla.

The music is pretty good too, dramatic when it needs to be and harmonious for the relaxing scenes on Traken. I'm not sure I welcome too much treading water with the shows past but here it felt like a welcome continuation from The Keeper of Traken than an intrusive one.

So put your feet up for a few hours, sit back and relax to one of Doctor Who's more tranquil stories. Trust me, you could do a lot worse!

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 8/12/01

Primeval sees the Big Finish Doctor Who audios continue their upward trend, with a particularly strong offering from Lance Parkin, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. Primeval dismisses with the scene setting and thrusts you into the story; Nyssa is ill and The Doctor, unable to cure her, takes hers to the only place that could be of help. By setting Primeval on Traken, before it was destroyed gives a chance to explore the many aspects that The Keeper Of Traken didn`t; notably The Source and The Union of Traken. Of the cast Susan Penhaligon and particularly Stephen Grief shine, although it is sometimes difficult to understand his dialogue. The regulars turn in great performances once more, so plaudits to Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Primeval is that it is still very much traditional Doctor Who; a tale about someone who is power-hungry. This is high quality Doctor Who.

Love the Nostalgia..... by Mekel Rogers 16/1/02

Primeval has a very nice sense of nostalgia to it. The story captures the feel of seasons 18 and 19 so very well. Once again Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are excellent in their characters, but are aided this time by having a good script to work with. I've always been intrigued by the Traken society and had hoped to somehow revisit that culture. Primeval goes one step further in having the Doctor and Nyssa visit at a time before the era of the Keepers. The idea works well and does not seem contrived at all.

Kwundaar is an excellent villain for the story (he is actually an advanced superbeing, NOT the devil in the Biblical sense as all the Big Finish teasers imply). Narthex and Anona are interesting characters as well who have essentially rationalized their ruthless actions as moral behavior. In fact, very few characters in Primeval seem weak or underdeveloped save Consul Hyrca who is so squeamish it's irritating (but maybe that was the idea).

At the risk of sounding totally sexist, I wish Primeval had been a television story. Apart from the beautiful Traken sets which would have been lovely to see again, Nyssa spends the majority of episode two swimming in a spa, and pretty much all of episodes three and four wearing a bikini. Further, one of Nyssa's best scenes ever occurs in episode four during her showdown with Anona at the spa. Sarah Sutton delivers a great line: "It's not as if I can conceal a weapon in this.......I'm barely concealing myself." I won't give the rest away but Lance Parkin gives Nyssa a wonderful opportunity to display humor, intelligence, guile, and compassion all in one scene. Great Stuff. The cliffhanger to episode three is also quite good and would have been grand to see on television.

This is a BIG can of worms I'm getting ready to open, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'm very uncomfortable with one of Nyssa's lines from part one as she describes Traken's history: "People in the past were more superstitious, there was religion, so Traken wasn't a true paradise." First, this line seems very out of character for Nyssa and the Traken society who (as Nyssa stated in Land of the Dead) successfully blended the scientific and the spiritual. Second, the statement implies that a true paradise can only exist when religion has been eliminated. As someone who believes in the importance of religion in society, I was not offended by the line, but I really wish the line had been written differently to say that "superstition" or even "religious fanaticism" is bad rather than religion in general.

All in all, Big Finish does a wonderful job bringing Doctor Who to fans in a high quality fashion, and everyone who worked on Primeval rose to the occasion.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 2/4/02

When the first episode of this audio drama started I stopped it after 15 seconds. Had I got out the second CD by mistake? I looked in the box and there the 2nd CD sat, this was the 1st CD and this was Episode 1. This is one of those stories that goes straight into the action. No messing about in the TARDIS here, Nyssa is ill and off to Traken we go. Not just any era of Traken though, this is the one about 3000 years before its demise in Logopolis - they are off to see the best Doctor (the medical kind, not the Time Lord kind) in Trakenite History.

What follows is a very densely written piece set around Traken, in its Primeval state - but this is definitely the Traken from the TV story - a sedate, ornamental garden obsessed culture. Everyone has their tasks, everyone fulfils them efficiently. The lives of the Trakenites are mapped out, or so it seems.

Lance Parkin's name on the cover of this Audio Drama is reason enough to purchase. He is one of the very best writers that has emerged in the last 10 years - this is his first Audio. The irony was then that Primeval got a little lost in the schedule. All we knew about it was that we find out more about Nyssas' latent telepathy than ever before. Well, we do get to find out more about that for sure, but there is so much more - so much to enjoy in this magnificent audio drama.

The leads are exceptional. Peter Davison as the 5th Doctor has been heroic before, it is a characteristic that epitomizes the incarnation. He does EVERYTHING to save others. At the shows conclusion he also becomes DOMINANT, something not usually attributed to this Doctor, but Davison and Parkin create an exceptional Doctor. Nyssa, from spending the first 2 episodes near to death, emerges from her chrysalis like a butterfly. She is the perfect foil for the 5th Doctor (something Peter Davison has been telling us for years), and it's now official.

What distinguishes Primeval also is the supporting players. Stephen Greif provides the voice for Kwundaar, and Big Finish have yet again created a villain to rival any in the shows long History. Greifs' modulated tones are used to full effect, bringing a supremely powerful adversary to life. Shayla, the Doctor who treats Nyssa, is just as effective - but at the opposite end of the spectrum. She joins the Doctor in seeking the antidote to Nyssas' affliction. Sabian is Shayla's apprentice, this is a quiet role perfectly suited to the Trakenite atmosphere, and admirably played by Ian Hallard. Billy Miller as Narthex is excellent too - a family man in an extraordinary role. All the players in the drama have their roles, all are excellent in their own ways.

It is to Lance Parkin that the most plaudits must go though. He has devised an intriguing insight into the early days of Traken. Again Big Finish surpass the depiction of a TV environment. They have built upon the Traken that we knew, and magnified all its positive and negative points. They do this in subtle sound effects and a pleasant, tranquil soundtrack that complements the story. But it is the words, the script of the drama that lingers in the imagination. Primeval tells a fascinating tale. It has a wonderfully powerful ending that makes your eyes light up and makes you say "That's how it all connects up then, that's clever". Parkin knows how to construct a story, giving the listener a chance to catch his breath after some startling insight. These pauses actually move the story along. They give every character a personality that help build the story up to its powerful conclusion.

Scenes that particularly linger in the memory are these:-Narthex's conversation with his daughter, Nyssa and Sabians' friendship, the Doctor and Nyssa's comments on each other's swimming attire, Kwundaars' patient wait over the years. They enhance the greater whole so much, whilst being wonderful little scenes in their own right - exceptional writing.

Primeval is right up there with the very best of the audios. The wonderful thing is that there have been so many brilliant audios released by Big Finish. It joins a list of about 15, which are really excellent stories. A remarkable success rate in a range that is not yet passed Number 30. Excellent drama. 9/10

A Review by Brian May 31/8/14

Primeval is a solidly written, tightly plotted and enjoyable story. It commences without preamble, the scenes progress at a brisk pace and writer Lance Parkin makes sure that any loose ends and perceived plotholes are explained by the end. As a combined prequel and sequel to The Keeper of Traken, there was the risk of producing something overindulgent, continuity-heavy and fan-obsessive; something you'd expect from Gary Russell. Indeed, it's no surprise the idea was put forward by him, but thankfully Russell sticks to being a good director, allowing Parkin to take a different approach.

For the planet's history, he's given us a broad canvas with a few essential details, enough to pique the interest without getting bogged down. There's some snappy dialogue, my favourite piece being Narthex's expression of hesitation before leaping off the cliff, while Peter Davison must really have been relishing his return to playing the Doctor here, being given witty lines he hardly ever received during his televised tenure, such as his observations about religion, politics and dancing, for example. (Oh, and I smirked at the sly Star Wars-related line in part two. I'm sure Big Finish's lawyers were called in to assess the risk and avoid receiving a call from Lucas Films.)

The casting of Stephen Greif is perfect. The actor has one of those great voices, not as smoothly evil as Geoffrey Beevers or Gabriel Woolf, but still quietly menacing. It ensures Kwundaar is every bit the malevolent being he should be, the audio distortion enhancing the effect even further. Susan Penhaligon's sole appearance in televised Doctor Who was a small one, as the handmaiden to Ingrid Pitt's Atlantean Queen in The Time Monster, but despite the limited screen time she was very good. In fact, hers was one of the best performances in the whole story. Here she gets a more fulfilling role as substitute companion; the downside is that, in part four, as Nyssa is restored to both full health and full companion status, Penhaligon is relegated to the sidelines. This is not to criticise Sarah Sutton of course, who has improved in leaps and bounds over the past two years, giving a very confident turn as Nyssa. The remaining guest performances are good, although some of the characterisations suffer, especially the three Consuls, who are just there to deliberate and obstruct. Hyrca in particular is nothing more than a caricature; he's a bureaucrat, a coward and a collaborator, sometimes all at once.

The climax is very satisfying though, especially given the awkwardness of having a chief antagonist not only described as a "living god" but also validated as one. The Doctor is allowed to defeat him in a way that's neither cheat nor contrivance. Parkin pulls off something tricky with considerable skill; a reflection of Primeval's overall strength and quality. 8.5/10

Source of Raw Goodness by Jacob Licklider 12/8/18

The Hartnell Historical is a name given to stories involving a historic setting with no science fiction elements other than the TARDIS and companions. Examples of this include The Aztecs, The Romans and the missing epic Marco Polo. Primeval is unique in that it takes the formula for a Hartnell Historical and sets it on another planet. The planet is Nyssa's home of Traken, last seen destroyed in The Keeper of Traken, and the time period is the primeval times before there was a Keeper and the Source. The story tells of how the first Keeper became the first Keeper after an invasion of Traken from their god, Kwundaar, but it isn't just the Doctor and Nyssa arriving on the planet. No, the Doctor arrives on Traken because Nyssa collapsing and having headaches through Four to Doomsday and Kinda is actually a result of exposure to evil, as Traken is a pure world and the Doctor takes her back so she can be cured. Over the course of this story, the Doctor ends up working for Kwundaar so he can try and save Nyssa's life in a race against the clock all while trying to defeat Kwundaar.

Peter Davison as the Doctor steals the show, as he should, with a performance of the worried man trying to save his friend. His judgment becomes clouded, as he knows he could lose Nyssa if he goes to Traken, as they are a very religious people in their early days. Kwundaar plays the literal devil here, as the Doctor may be giving up everything to save his friend. It's subtly hinted at that he doesn't want to lose Nyssa because it's so close to the death of Adric and Tegan suddenly leaving. The thought of another loss is enough to break him finally, much like the First Doctor near the end of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve. Kwundaar being the devil is perfect, with the portrayal by Stephen Greif. Greif has one of those deep voices not much different from the voice of Gabriel Woolf, which is perfect on audio. It's deep enough to send chills down your spine as he speaks every line with a very clear diction that could have gone badly towards the wooden end of the acting spectrum.

The characters in Kwundaar's army and on Traken are complements of each other as they serve the purpose to ask the question of what is good and what is evil? Yes, the answer is that the people on Traken are the overall good ones and those in the army are the overall evil ones, but both sides aren't completely pure in their distinction. The Trakenites are ready to throw the Doctor and Nyssa off the planet because they are aliens and could corrupt them, even if it kills Nyssa. They also have the death penalty, so they are killing people, which, under what seems to be Parkin's morality, and very similar to my own, is wrong. The army, on the other hand, of course think they're doing the right thing when they aren't, yet some of them are sympathetic. Many of them come from lower-income families whom they need to support, and they find the Trakenites to be the selfish ones for not helping them out when they are in a time of need.

While most of the characters are very complex and fleshed out, as they are both in a group, Nyssa is the weakest in terms of characterization. She is pushed out of the story for a lot of the runtime, as she has to be, but when she actually gets to be put into the plot, she doesn't do much. It doesn't help that Sarah Sutton seems very disinterested in the material presented in front of her, which is a problem, as she has to be the focus of the story.

To summarize, Primeval is a really enjoyable story with some great ideas and characters that tries to craft a story with Nyssa at the center being the first of its kind, but it falls very flat especially compared to some of the other Nyssa stories. 83/100