1. The Keeper of Traken
The Return of the Master Trilogy
A Story Arc
|Dates||Jan. 31, 1981 -
Jan. 12, 1982
With Tom Baker, Peter Davison,
Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding,
and Geoffrey Beavers & Anthony Ainley as "The Master".
Produced by John-Nathan Turner.
It's Good to be Back by Daniel Coggins 22/3/98
A general overview of The Return of the Master would really give it no justice. Each of the three stories highlights a different part of the Master's personality -- the mysterious evil, the deadly threat, and the controlling force.
The Keeper of Traken works well and shows what could have been achieved had Adric travelled with the fourth Doctor for a bit until Nyssa had came in, then Adric could have left once Tegan joined the TARDIS crew. All of the characters (and Adric in particular) were not well served by the three companions idea. It is an enjoyable story, especially memorable for being Tom Baker's penultimate. Despite this, it does seem a bit like Nyssa and Adric run around a lot, being repeatedly 'not there in time'. I still don't understand why the Master didn't A) stay the same or B) regenerate fully from The Deadly Assassin. Perhaps there was a story in-between (a Missing Adventure?) that explains this. The make-up of the Master isn't remotely impressive.
Logopolis starts promisingly -- but why oh why did the Master kill the policeman? And why not get rid of the body, and that of Tegan's Auntie Vanessa, by putting them out of the way (and not in a car)? It's an extremely scary moment when the Doctor turns around, looks at the camera and says the classic "He did escape from Traken" bit. Why wasn't it longer? They compress so many things into such a short space of time. Had it been longer we could have had more of Nyssa's justified emotion, not just the cool acceptance of the facts. After all, not only has the being that caused chaos in her young life possessed her father's body, but he's destroyed her home planet as well. However, it's clear why he blows up Traken. On to Castrovalva.
It's not explained what happens to the false Adric. Does he dissolve, disappear or just wander the TARDIS forever? Oh well. The idea that someone could create an entire civilisation, just as a trap, is good. But why on Gallifrey did he leave a whacking great clue like that in the library ancient volumes?
Anyway, the general impression of the Trilogy is that it has the same problems as the Third Doctor Master series -- it's too obvious that he's behind it by story number two. The acting is classy with Anthony Ainley brilliant as Tremas and slightly-faulted gold as the Master. (Note the slightly-faulted: the late, great Roger Delgado was pure gold.)
A Time to Change by Andrew Feryok 4/2/05
"It's the end. But the moment has been prepared for..."Wow! This has to be one of the most pivotal and important trilogies in the entire history of Doctor Who! There is so much change going on in just these three stories: the final eradication of Tom Baker as the Doctor and the last vestiges of Seventies Doctor Who, and the introduction of the elements that would define the coming Eighties era and John Nathan Turner's reign as producer. We get see both the Doctor and the Master regenerate (although the Master actually steals a body rather than regenerate), and there is the introduction of two new companions.
- The Fourth Doctor, Logopolis Part 4
One of the most striking elements about this trilogy, and something which I think another reviewer has already pointed out before me, is that this trilogy loving complements the previous trilogy by following up on its ideas. It is in Logopolis that we learn the true nature of the CVEs that took the Doctor and Romana on their trip through E-Space, and it even takes time to mourn the recent loss of Romana.
Another thing which I like about this trilogy is the atmosphere. All throughout the season, there was a growing somberness to the proceedings. The Doctor was both looking and acting older and, towards the end, was even beginning to slip a few times. In the E-Space Trilogy, we began to see cracks in the normally omnipotent Fourth Doctor as he began to express genuine fear as to the proceedings. It was Romana and K-9 who were keeping him on track and in a happy mood, but now that they've left him, all he has is young Adric: a stowaway who he never really wanted and whom it is greatly apparent is not an adequate replacement for the years of companionship he had with Romana. Actually, if you think about it, it's been a long time since the Doctor has traveled with a non-Time Lord companion and in some ways he's gotten out of practice.
The trilogy opens with The Keeper of Traken, which carries on almost exactly where Warriors' Gate left off. The opening TARDIS scene feels very awkward as the Doctor doesn't seem to know how to react to Adric all by himself. Although it is pretty amusing to see the Doctor's surprised look when Adric is able to figure out how to operate some of the TARDIS controls. We then get into the story proper as the Keeper arrives and tells the story of Kassia and the Melkur. Although Traken is clearly a fantasy-style world in which evil is attracted to it and calcified into Melkur statues, this is a fascinating idea and makes Traken stand out from some of the more ordinary, futuristic planets the Doctor has visited before. Indeed, Traken is a very interesting place, with politics, culture, and artistic style all to its own. It is a world with technology far beyond that of Earth, but they instead prefer a simpler look to their world.
The Keeper of Traken is actually a complicated and interesting story for Doctor Who and an excellent way to start the trilogy, although the Doctor has very little to do throughout most of the story. It is Tremas, wonderfully performed by Anthony Ainley, and Kassia, played amusingly over the top by Sheila Ruskin, that carry the story. Indeed, Kassia is a fascinating character. She in essence represents the whole of Traken, trusting in the power of the Melkur, only to become infected and inevitably destroyed by the evil of the Master, like a serpent in Eden. There are many layers to Kassia. On the surface, she a Lady Macbeth style villain, prodding people behind the scenes to do evil things and then eventually becoming the tool of evil itself. However, underneath this is the good Kassia who only wants to keep her new husband from becoming the new Keeper so that she can have a happy family life with him and Nyssa. As she becomes more and more entangled in the Master's plot, she begins to realize that the Melkur is not the good and trusting being she thought she had won over, but an evil which is threatening to consume her world. She tries several times to resist its power, but it is too late and she ultimately suffers for her naivety. Tremas, on the other hand, represents the good still left in Traken. He takes the Doctor under his wing, even though the rest of the council believes the Doctor to be the source of evil. He sees through the superstition and helps the Doctor to defeat the real evil that threatens his world. It is a sad irony, therefore, when the Master takes his body at the end. Tremas is the most pure and good of all the Trakens we have met, and yet he is the one who is finally consumed utterly by evil.
Speaking of the Doctor, for once, Tom Baker's Doctor doesn't dominate the proceedings. Indeed, it's hard to believe that this was the same person from the wild Williams era, or even the earlier part of this season. He seems to be mellowing in his old age, and if you think about it, he very nearly loses the battle with the Master in this story! If it hadn't been for Adric, the Doctor would have become the Master's new body, not Tremas. Indeed, the Master was just positioning himself to take the Doctor's body when Adric's sabotage took effect. The Doctor truly underestimates the Master in this story and throughout the arc itself, and he fails to stop him doing all sorts of things. He fails to stop him getting the keepership, he fails to stop him killing Kassia, or Seron, and in the next story, he even fails to save Traken from being totally destroyed. This may be Tom Baker's penultimate story, but this is the first time since (from what I can tell) The Pyramids of Mars when the Fourth Doctor was so utterly helpless before an all powerful evil. But at least in Pyramids of Mars, it was the Doctor's craftiness that got him out of it, not some chance saving by his companions. In some ways, this sets the Doctor up for his imminent death in the next story...
Logopolis! This is one of my very favorite Doctor Who stories! Unlike The Keeper of Traken, which I did not see until I bought it on VHS a few years back, I can remember vividly seeing this adventure on PBS as a young child. What a story! There is so much going on and half of it doesn't make any sense, but its terribly good fun nevertheless! The use of the Watcher as a constant reminder of the Doctor's impending death is one of the best uses of foreshadowing the show has ever done (indeed, it is the only use of foreshadowing that I can remember them using). The opening episode is great with gravity bubbles, Tegan wandering scared around the TARDIS, Tegan and Auntie Vanessa comically trying to change a tire, the Master creeping around in the background laughing manically, and the Doctor musing about entropy and death.
The theme of entropy complements this story extremely well. Since this is Tom Baker's final story, it seems appropriate to have his Doctor musing about life, death, and decay. It's actually a shame as the Doctor seems to be really enjoying himself in this story. For the first time since before he discovered he had to take Romana back to Gallifrey, the Doctor actually looks like he's having fun, probably because he's looking forward to some new travels with Adric and new horizons ahead. He exemplifies this new attitude when he ejects Romana's room and the memory of her from the TARDIS. Seemingly agonizing over it, he then magically turns happy as if some great weight is finally off his shoulders. But sadly, it was not meant to be, as shortly after his ludicrous attempt to "flush out" the Master by flooding the TARDIS, he finally meets the Watcher and learns of his fate. For the remainder of the story, the Doctor remains very pale and grave. He knows what he has to do. He doesn't want to do it. He doesn't want to face the fate that awaits him, but like the Third Doctor before the Great Spider, he pushes onward nevertheless, realizing it is his duty to do so as the universe will fall apart if he doesn't.
Logopolis, like Traken, is another fascinating new planet. One thing you have to give JNT credit for, he was good at realizing some pretty unique worlds in the history of the series, and Logopolis is one of them. A world which holds the fabric of the universe together through the mutterings of mathematical computations. Just the sort of place for the Doctor to visit and one of the reasons why we love traveling with him week after week!
Anthony Ainley's first turn at the Master is not that bad in this story. Although his demonic laughter is obviously fake, he has just exudes an evil presence wherever he goes. Just by looking at him and listening to him for a few seconds, you could seriously believe that he would be the type of person stupid enough to screw up the entire universe out his own delusions of grandeur and greed for power. Indeed, it's a wonderful moment when the Master attempts to prove that he can turn Logopolis on and off at will, only to discover that he can't! The horror on his face is priceless! He is truly frightened and cannot believe that he could be the one responsible. Oh no. It must be the Doctor! His plans are perfect. They can't go this horribly wrong.
The final episode of Logopolis is one long thrill ride as the Doctor makes an alliance with the Master (which falls apart almost as soon as it begins), the universe begins falling apart, and they must quickly go to Earth to the Pharos Project to somehow create a new CVE with the Logopolitans' program that will stop the entropy. There is a sense of hurry, as if something big is coming (and it is) and it is a race against time to stop the entropy before it happens. And then the Master plays his hidden card... he's duped the Doctor all along and now holds the CVE hostage unless the universe bows down before him. This scene is priceless! The Doctor has look of unbelieving horror on his face, gasping "You're utterly mad" while the Master is slipping into delusional madness exclaiming "It's mine! The CVE, it's all mine!"
And then it's a mad dash to the regeneration. Although the solution to the story's problem (removing a cable which supposedly is holding the universe together!?) is ludicrous, but it doesn't really matter anymore. All that matters is that the Doctor somehow trades his own life for the safety of the universe. It was the only way it could be saved and he knew it. It is the one last final act of bravery which the Fourth Doctor could give and it was this sense of selfless bravery that made us adore him. And then he falls. The use of clips of all the Doctor's enemies and friends as he fades into death is very well done and with a reign as long as Tom's, it's well deserving. It is at that moment that you finally realize just how much this Doctor has done and how long he was been with us. And it is with great sadness that we must now let him go, as we must do with all of the Doctor's incarnations at some point. We must make way for the new...
Castrovalva! In some ways, if you watch this right after The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis (which you can now do on VHS), Castrovalva just doesn't live up to those previous stories. Don't get me wrong though. Castrovalva continues to maintain the creativity and imagination that made the previous stories so strong, but there seems to be something missing in this story and I can't quite figure it out. Perhaps it's because, like the new Doctor, the story is rather erratic. The Master's plans suddenly go from devious and cunning to ludicrous and impossible.
Episode 1 starts well, picking up where the last story left off by dealing with the Master, and the Doctor's new vulnerability. It's rather appropriate that we get to see Davison symbolically unraveling Tom's scarf and tearing apart his old outfit as a means of navigating his way through the corridors. And his scene where he picks out his cricketer's outfit is quite nice too. However, his impersonations of the other Doctors are rather silly and over-the-top, although a nice attempt by Peter Davison!
Many people have pointed out that the Master seems to have an unending supply of elaborate schemes to trap the Doctor in this story, and this is certainly true. I think this is why I have a problem with the story. The Master is not only over the top in this story, but it seems that he truly did go mad at the end of Logopolis. I loved someone's description of Ainley's master as a "comic book villain" as it seems to sum this incarnation up the best. Through seemingly magical means, the Master is able to kidnap Adric, send clones of him throughout the TARDIS to carry out a variety of sabotages, trap the TARDIS in the big bang, and then create the entire world of Castrovalva to trap the Doctor. All within maybe a few hours! Especially embarrassing is the end where he has a hard time opening a box and then recoils (silent movie style) in horror as the Doctor makes his appearance and then destroys his web.
But despite this, the story does have a lot of things to merit it as a memorable story. I really liked Tegan's attempts to figure out how to fly the TARDIS and then proudly telling everyone about it. It's especially nice at the end, when they return to the grove and the Doctor gapes in horror at his crashed TARDIS. "Who did this landing!" he demands. Tegan pipes up with a proud grin on her face "I did!" I think if they had left it at that, it would have been a beautiful comic moment, but then they went and spoilt it by throwing out this comment that it was actually the Master who piloted it and the look on Tegan's disappointed face is heart wrenching. And what about the Doctor's comment that there are no flight instructions. What about that manual Romana was reading in The Pirate Planet?
Even more of interest is Castrovalva itself which really fascinates me. For the third time in a row, the writer, and production team have created an interesting world to explore. Castrovalva is a simple and civilized world which only occasionally participates in the ritual hunt and only then as a means of connecting with their ancestors. The massive revelation that Castrovalva is folding in on itself is definitely one of the classic moments of Doctor Who and one of the best of the Davison years. What a great cliffhanger as they try to leave Castrovalva in every direction, only to end up back in the square. I particularly love the moment when the Doctor asks the crowd in the square which way is out, and they all enthusiastically point in wildly different directions! Another well done scene, concerning this same concept, is when the Doctor tries to demonstrate to Mergrave the concept of what is going on by having him draw a map of Castrovalva and then mark where his pharmacy is located. Mergrave, in a matter of fact manner, begins marking its location all over the map, only to stop in horror as he realizes that although you can reach his shop through many different routes, it is impossible for it to be in multiple locations around the city.
Last but not least, the end of Part 4 in which they are trying to escape Castrovalva is well done as well. Although the special effects have dated considerably, they are without a doubt some of the most surreal effects the show has ever done, with the exception of those in Warriors' Gate. I also like when the Master physically tries to stop the Doctor and friends escaping through the gateway of the city, only to be dragged back by the people of the city. It's like some grotesque scene from Frankenstein, seeing the mad scientist dragged back and destroyed by his own creations. Quite horrific!
And there you have it. The Return of the Master Trilogy. Although Castrovalva faltered a little bit, particularly with the Master himself towards the end, by in large this was a classic trilogy and well worth watching. It is historically significant to the series for several reasons, but there is more to it than that. The quality of all three stories is very high and there is so much imagination and creativity flying around in the stories that you can't not like these three stories. I admit that much of the "science" doesn't make sense, but then again, I've always considered Doctor Who a weird amalgamation of science fiction, fantasy and horror. And what fun! In the end, that is all that matters. It's definitely an entertaining trilogy and well worth checking out. And if you have already, check it out again! These stories definitely stand up to repeat viewings and feel fresh and enjoyable each time. But in the words of LeVar Burton "Don't take my word for it..."
PS: I never really noticed that scene with Nyssa before in Logopolis in which her world is blotted out by the entropy. I had always glanced over it before and then, while reading about it in some recent reviews, I heard many people refer to it as a missed opportunity at characterization for Nyssa. I must agree. Sarah Sutton underplays the scene very well and you can see Nyssa near to tears, but holding it in as she wants to appear strong before Adric. The Master has done many evils throughout this trilogy, but it is Nyssa who suffers the most at his hands. It would have been nice if they had done something with this during thier next encounter with the Master. But from what I hear about Time-Flight (which I actually haven't seen yet), it sounds like they don't bother to follow up on it, despite the fact that given the recent trauma of Adric's death, it could have really brought a lot of these past experiences to the surface.
"Albatross around the neck" by Thomas Cookson 30/3/16
I've never felt quite satisfied with any of my final judgements on Season 18 or its cornerstone story, Logopolis. So I'm trying again here.
My last overview on Bidmead, in hindsight I feel was more me unduly praising Bidmead for not being Eric Saward than anything else. Season 18 is the JNT season that comes closest to working and promises a lot, but I'm less and less able to avoid its amount of dull filler (The Leisure Hive, The Keeper of Traken), its moments of jarring and indigestible pretension (Warriors' Gate), and finally Logopolis' traffic pile-up of misjudgements that set in stone nearly every albatross around the show's neck from hereon.
The season's best story and the only one I consider genuinely indispensable is State of Decay. Beyond that, I'm now of the mind that Season 18 had everything going for it but it made too many bad calls in the end. Paradoxically, Richard Marson's JNT biography suggests that the former was down to JNT (he championed State of Decay far more than Bidmead), and the latter was down to Bidmead.
The Keeper of Traken is the tipping point. I think Bidmead's script alterations were becoming drier and dustier as he went along, so the early part of the season felt terribly sloppy and neglected, and the latter half felt completely chipped away. The Keeper of Traken, after an impressive sterling opening episode, becomes a tedious, overly talky wait for the Master to reveal himself.
Frankly, I still think the Master should've stayed vanished after The Deadly Assassin. Reading Marson's book, I suspect JNT knew the show was more tolerated than loved by those upstairs at the BBC, was no longer considered current and he felt it needed the addition of something ongoing that would compel viewers anew. Certainly, of all the show's featured foes, the Master as a single arch actor, requiring no make-up prosthetics, seemed the most inexpensive renewable option, and one that the fans probably most wanted back. The Master was, however, the best thing about The Keeper of Traken, and it made sense to reuse the story's best assets like Anthony Ainley and Sarah Sutton. Beyond which, it's the Season 18 story I find hardest to motivate myself to sit through, even over The Leisure Hive.
Then there's Logopolis.
Philip Sandifer declared Logopolis a masterpiece that he wouldn't change if he could (and in that it's one of the last stories of its kind). Sandifer claimed that Logopolis was very much the inerasable story. The story that can't be changed or ignored and always must be. The transcendent event story. TV history.
For me, the chief reason why is the whole story takes place in real time. The narrative is unlike any other that can be predicted or boiled down to formula, making it a very different kind of storytelling experience. Also the script's verisimilitude with gritty, dry, time-consuming procedure and discipline all has the effect of making this story feel more sincere and taking place in a more real environment than any story since Season 7.
The idea that the universe has been kept alive past the point of heat death by Logopolitan science is one the show never hinted at before, yet somehow Logopolis makes it feel like it had always been the case throughout the show's history. And in that it's almost the perfect story idea on which to end the series. In that the story feels like a true keeper. A story that couldn't exist under any other show, much like City of Death, Genesis of the Daleks and An Unearthly Child.
It's an incredibly ambitious, impressive story. Like Warriors' Gate and Enlightenment, I sense Bidmead was really glad of how the makers had visually translated his vision. Yet I'm cautious of its awe-inspiring effect. It's like Charlton Heston in the opening of Planet of the Apes narrating how the vastness of space can crush a man's ego. It's a powerful feeling, not unlike that which good art can conjure deeply in people.
I still feel rather rude for disappreciating Logopolis and declaring it better had it not happened and had the show taken a different turn or outright ended beforehand. But there are things about Logopolis that firmly make me feel it was a major wrong turn for the show and that it has all the hallmarks of an avoidable mistake.
Tat Wood rather smeared it with the dirty words 'high concept' and seemed to feel that was the obsessive mindset of JNT's producership and that this was to the show's detriment amidst notorious failed examples of 'high concept' storytelling like Time-Flight and Terminus. Stuart Hardy has expressed similar frustrations with Moffat's era, arguing that the show's audience always responded to the show's simplicity and plots that were easily surmised in a minimum of words and were standalone and graspable. That anything more than a handful will just exhaust your audience's patience.
Partly why Logopolis feels so unusual is that it's a very raw form piece of writing, which gets back to that aspect that makes it feel partly like the story was a mistake. The fact it was a rush written replacement for Project Zeta Sigma. Significantly, it was only partway through Season 18 that they knew they'd need a departure story for Tom, and I think this provoked many panicked decisions that were ultimately bad calls, which landed us with so many companions at once and the decision to dig up the Master and make him a regular fixture.
Factor in that this was Bidmead's first full Doctor Who script when previously he'd been content to only edit and prepare the work of others, and a lot seems to ride on an untested writer within a short deadline. I neglected to cover this in my last piece on Bidmead but I think what bothers fans about Bidmead is that he's so ruthless a script editor and seems to think nothing of riding roughshod over his writers' work. Notoriously so regarding State of Decay.
But I think Logopolis goes beyond that, and actively overwrites years' worth of the show's past stories. It's the story in which Traken's probably one of hundreds of worlds in all the galaxies that the Fourth Doctor has previously saved only to have his efforts proved for nothing here as they were only going to end up being destroyed like this. Far from a fitting tribute to the Fourth Doctor's long era, it retroactively makes it seem that Tom Baker's Doctor might as well not have bothered stopping Morbius from rising again to devastate the galaxy or stopped the spread of the Nimon or Vampire menace.
What makes this frustratingly worse is the Doctor is largely responsible for leading the Master to Logopolis and even seems to do so knowingly, so it's having the Doctor instrumentally doing more harm than good in a way that exceeds the entirety of his past world-saving efforts a hundred times over.
It might not have been so bad if it weren't the Master who's used here, which was a JNT decision that turned this story into a shopping list. But this makes it monumentally worse because this is a villain the Doctor's consistently failed to defeat or outright destroy, when he should've managed it by now. Worse, the Doctor in The Time Monster was responsible for releasing the Master from Kronos' eternal imprisonment, which is here ridden roughshod over. The Doctor, in releasing the Master, is proven responsible now for the mass genocide of all these worlds.
Tat Wood argued that Doctor Who was based on a belief that evil could be fought without evil becoming part of its effect, but this story actively makes the Doctor's mercy and impotence part of evil's effect.
It would at least have been a poetic justice if, after the Master was impaled by rubble, the Doctor left him to die with his victims. By now, after all the Master's done, the idea the Doctor would be willing to save him, far from making the Doctor seem a more merciful noble figure, makes him seem like he isn't a real person and doesn't have a real emotional bone in his body that's capable of feeling anger or outrage at this horrific event or desire to see any justice done. Thus it renders the Doctor soulless.
There was a large amount of collateral caused by the Master in The Deadly Assassin in his pursuit of vengeance against the Doctor, and the ending promised the Master wasn't done yet and there'd be another reckoning. The problem is, we need to believe the Doctor as much as the Master is going to be prepared for that next deadly encounter.
But in Logopolis the Doctor's actions just seem aimless and self-defeating, and the Master succeeds so well in his wave of death and destruction it becomes grossly impossible to care about the Doctor's fate at all anymore when so much else has been lost and the Master's been allowed to get away with so much by our hero. What made the Doctor someone to root for and champion just vanishes completely here.
I don't think Bidmead is so stupid. Perhaps he wanted to take his time to make Logopolis a slow-burner of careful world-building but the tyranny of the four-parter forced him to rush the ending and go mad with the collateral to push forward the tension. The way the Master, having 'killed' the Doctor, then decides to abandon unfinished his grand universal blackmail plan and leave, reeks of rushed scripting to runtime.
Perhaps the problem stems from one particular special effect that shows the galaxies disintegrating and the spreading bald patch upon the universe, even whilst Logopolis itself remains mostly intact. I'm not sure this was in Bidmead's script. Perhaps he only intended the entropy to claim Logopolis and Traken, to have emotional impact on Nyssa and to convey that Earth could be next. Perhaps whoever designed that visual effect misread and misrepresented that part of the script. Take that single effect out, and most issues I have with Logopolis and subsequent Master stories would've immediately disappeared along with it.
Philip Sandifer suggested that this arc overall saved the show from being prematurely ended after Tom Baker left. I'd say it did no such thing. Sandifer's argument was that Season 18, in taking the focus away from the Doctor meant the show was no longer 'the Tom Baker show' and thus the watching audience were more likely to see the show as one that extended beyond Tom Baker and were better prepared for accepting a future version of the show that ran without him.
The mighty flaw in this argument is that there barely was a watching audience, given Season 18's terrible ratings. The majority of viewers skipped from Season 17 to 19 and weren't influenced either way by JNT's method of transition from Tom to Peter here.
Ultimately I don't buy that anything after City of Death was essential to the show because nothing after was as fondly remembered by the public.