by Mark Greig
The Keeper, an all-powerful and benevolent deity with a big white beard, summons the Doctor and Adric to Traken, a garden paradise that he looks over after an evil force finds its way in and corrupts the naive Kassia. Not making much effort to hide the Biblical influence, are they?
That description actually sounds interesting, a lot more interesting than this story actually is. 'The Keeper of Traken' is a plodding studio bound tale that suffers from bad sets, over the top acting and a weak script. It also bears a striking similarity to 'Meglos' in that the Doctor even gets framed by the villain, who is in disguise so that they can get hold of a source of ultimate power and take over the universe! There are also way too many boring scenes of council types sitting around arguing about whether or not they should do this or that.
The serpent of this Eden is the Melkur, which we find out in the very last episode is really the Master, who is still on the hunt for a new body. The reveal that it was the Doctor's arch-nemesis all along is surprisingly lowkey. When the Doctor finally comes face to rotting face with him in episode 4, Tom Baker almost looks like he's going to nod off. If the Master's involvement in this story feels like a last minute addition that's because it was. In Johnny Byrne's original script the villain was called Mogen, the last survivor of his race who impersonates a demon so that he can take control of the Source. When producer John Nathan-Turner decided to bring back the Master, Byrne's script was re-written and Mogen became the Master.
With Romana now gone, this is the first story of the season with Adric in the main companion role. Besides being very annoying, Adric is too passive a character to be paired with Tom Baker's Doctor. Half the time he just stands there silently while the Doctor has the entire conversation without him.
As well as introducing a new Master, this story is also notable for introducing Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, who goes on to become one of the Doctor's new companions in the following story. Nyssa has never been one of my favourite companions. Sutton is a perfectly capable actress, but Nyssa is such a non-entity that Sutton often slides into the background even when she’s the centre of attention.
The acting from the guest cast is all over the place. Geoffrey Beevers replaced Peter Pratt as the necro-Master. I know Beevers' take on the role has its fans, but I'm not one of them. He's okay when he is simply voicing the Melkur, but once his true identity is revealed he goes way over the top. Speaking of overacting, Sheila Ruskin goes full Joan Collins as Kassia. Surprisingly, Anthony Ainley puts in a decent performance as Tremas, one that is a world away from his ham and cheese Master.
Notes and Quotes
--Tremas is of course an anagram of Master.
--Since Romana would be leaving the show partway through this season, John Nathan Turner thought about bringing back a former companion for a handful of adventures. He approached both Elisabeth Sladen and Louise Jameson but both turned him down.
--In Episode 2 the Master calls the Doctor "Time Lord" in a way that seems to indicate that he isn't one himself. Probably a leftover line for the original script.
--For a world supposedly held together “by people just being terribly nice to each other”, Traken is surprisingly corrupt even before the Melkur's influence take hold.
The Doctor: "Adric, if I knew everything that was going to happen, where would the fun be?"
The Doctor: "They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shriveled up and died. Maybe that's why I never went there."
The Doctor: "Oh don't listen to me. I never do."
The Doctor: "I used to know an ancient remedy for mad dogs. I must look it up sometime. Good library here, have you?"
One and a half out of four Joan Collins.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.