The Keeper of Traken

Written by:
Johnny Bryne
Directed by: John Black
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1981
Video Availability: Try

Thank the Lord for The Keeper of Traken. After being forced to say all the season 18 stories are good (because they are), I now come across a story that is not only a festering pile of horse dung but is also a fan favourite. Bonus!

Tom seems remarkably upbeat in this one considering Lalla's left. His excuse that "anyone can talk sense" is wonderful and a final defining quote from the most enduring Doctor. "We could panic, of course, but where would that get us?" "If I knew everything that was going to happen then where would the fun be?" There's some great lines in this one, so it's a shame the episode has to crumble fairly early with some of the most crushing exposition ever witnessed in the series. A planet where evil cannot exist is for two-year-olds, while the Keeper takes over the scanner to deliver a 5 minute sermon on Traken's history. If only all characters in Who did this. "Where did Fenric come from?" "Well, allow me to present a flashback…"

Pretty soon we're straight into Traken society, where we're treated to some horrendously stodgy dialogue that enthusiastic fans would call "Shakespearean". I could be wrong, but I suspect fans who say such a thing have never read Shakespeare in their entire lives, just as people who say Alien was based on The Ark in Space were never understudies to Ridley Scott. Antony Ainley is famously decent in his role as Tremas before he went on to (at the insistence of JN-T, if his DWB interview is to be believed) ham it up like a mad 'un as the Master. Everything is all about context, I guess. The fan boys went crazy over the story as it reintroduced the Master. (As a precursor to later seasons, particularly stories by Johnny Byrne, there is no explanation of who or what the Master is to non-fans). Yet looking back, you could say that this story set about undermining the credibility of the entire series. The Ainley Master cut a swath of panto throughout the show, corroding any sense of dignity the programme ever had. Yet despite realising this really is a big pile of guff, it is watchable, so...
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More useless banality, as the most enthusiastic amateur dramatics group ever assembled deliver more dialogue that the Bard may have coughed up if he was sick, drunk, and had been hit over the head about fifty times.

Nyssa as a companion always irritates me. One reason is that she looks very much like my oldest sister, so the primary function of a female companion (to titillate the audience) is redundant. The second is that she makes Matthew Waterhouse look like Olivier. So wooden she could double as the set, she still isn't the worst actress in this one. Take pity on the actress who plays Kassia, though - she had to endure seventeen hours of laser surgery to make her eyes red, you know...
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A typical episode three runaround, though at least the corridors are better designed than usual. (A nod to The Daleks here).

The Doctor being given a glorified gun ("Ion Bonder") is alarmingly contrived and lazy writing, though I did have a puerile snigger at Tremas's revelation that "they've taken my ring!" Is it just me or does Tom have a knowing gleam in his eye when he says the word "Master" (as in Masterplan) three times in front of Tremas?

It's all pretty awful stuff, a po-faced, merry-go-round with delusions of importance. Yet it's always watchable, and at this stage I haven't actually got bored once.
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Does anyone know if Adric was using his real hair at this point? He certainly looks like he's ditched the wig here, though bitchier readers may also feel he'd ditched the Biactol, too.

This is more largely pointless flannel, though apparently the Melkur's laser beams cost the BBC 6.8 million in CGI effects. Melkur telling the Doctor that he wants it "on your knees" brought another Carry On smirk to my face, though maybe I was just getting bored. Sarah Sutton really is a terrible, terrible actress, you know...

One thing that did bug me about The Fourth Doctor Handbook is their complaint that it's not made clear how the Master took over Tremas's body. Come on, he says earlier with the Source he can do anything - what do you want, it putting on a plate with egg and chips? Incidentally, if ever you have to ask yourself which is the better emaciated Master, Pratt or Beevers (perhaps humorously, both have surnames that are... oh, never mind...) then you must know nothing about acting. Beevers is a total panto dame. Interestingly, JN-T has gone for the continuity by reintroducing him, though has changed the eyes. So it's a genius move to show the Pratt version, complete with fake eyes, four episodes later in Logopolis.

Two other points of note: The clock on the Master's Tardis being four minutes to midnight (geddit?) is cooler than the coolest thing you can think of... and am I the only one who used to turn up the "explosion" sound effect at the end of the theme tune just to annoy the neighbours? Hey, I was young...
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With rare exceptions, this was the end of fully credible Who. Davison did wonders, particularly in his first season, but was regularly served up with dross. With this ushering in the reign of Ainley's hammery and Sutton's plank-o-rama, two miscast regulars and the burgeoning end of Tom's era show the foundations of the series cracking under the strain. The actual story is quite basic, though still mediocre. However, a generation of fan viewers have caused it to be hugely overrated.
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