Written by Johnny Byrne and Sydney Newman
Directed by John Black
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, the Doctor is portrayed by Tom Baker. He is traveling with
Adric (portrayed by Matthew Waterhouse), is a wunderkind of sorts from an area of the universe known as E-Space.
The two are quite surprised when they end up on the planet Traken. This is a planet that is supposedly a peaceful, harmonious place. The Doctor doesn’t recall setting the TARDIS controls for the planet, but they end up there anyway. He is greeted by the Keeper, an aging trustee of the planet who fears his death will signal the end of Traken as they know it.
The Keeper relates the recent history of the planet, involving beings known as the Melkur who are filled with evil but turn to stone when they arrived on Traken. They still need tending as the Trakens exhibit compassion for these beings. There was a marriage of Tremus, the successor of the Keeper and Caszia, one of the caretakers of the Melkur, which seemed to change things. Tremus’ daughter, Nyssa (portrayed by Sarah Sutton) was designated to care for the Melkur in her new stepmother’s place.
The Doctor and Adric arrive on Traken to a most unwelcome greeting. The fact that the TARDIS has disappeared from the grove it landed in makes their story of being summoned by the Keeper suspect to the citizens of Traken. The Keeper is summoned to identify them, but before he can, he spots a Melkur and begins crying out about evil in their midst. The citizens of Traken mistakenly believe he is indicating the Doctor and Adric.
However, the audience knows that the Melkur are quite alive, and are a great threat to the peaceful and compassionate citizens of Traken.
There was a lot that was good about The Keeper of Traken. Although Tom Baker is showing the effects of years of portraying the Doctor, the less bombastic nature he has in this story arc serves the script well. It’s fueled more by dialogue than action or rubber-suited aliens and the more subdued nature also fits in well with the citizens of Traken. The story does mark that bit of shift in the direction of future story arcs where we would see fewer and fewer “aliens of the week” and a repeated appearance over years by someone who would become known as the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, the Master (portrayed here by Anthony Ainley). The Master was seen several times before, but not with the repetitive nature he’d be seen in the future where it seemed that the Master was behind every situation the Doctor found himself up against.
There are the usual issues here where the sets and monsters show the effects of the limited budget. It was something that endeared the series to fans through the years, but some took much more of a leap of faith to believe. This was one that came pretty close to pushing the limits of belief as the sets of the planet Traken are more reminiscent of the sets of planets on Star Trek in the 1960s.
The supporting cast is decent. Matthew Waterhouse is decent opposite Tom Baker and watching this leads me to believe he suffered in future story arc from too many companions in the TARDIS. Sarah Sutton was hired on for one story arc and so impressed the crew that she was brought back into the crowded TARDIS. Here, though, she’s pretty good in her role.
The DVD release is good. Although it’s only from 1981, the restoration is good and the episode has a good look to it. The DVD is loaded with extras, including the usual excellent commentary. In this case, it’s made all the more special by the fact that Anthony Ainsley died soon after recording the commentary for this story arc.
While The Keeper of Traken suffers from a few issues, overall it’s a good story arc that brings the Master back into the picture and sets the stage for many of the future story arcs once Peter Davison takes over the role. It was good to see Adric as a companion without there being too many other distractions, and Sarah Sutton gets to impress as well. It’s definitely worth checking out for series fans, although I would show someone unfamiliar with the earlier incarnations of the Doctor different stories with either Leela or Sarah Jane as the Doctor’s companion before I’d venture there.
• Commentary with Matthew Waterhouse, writer Johnny Byrne, Anthony Ainley, Sarah Sutton
• Isolated music track
• Sarah Sutton on Swap Shop
• The Return of the Master
• Being Nice to Each Other
• Trails and Continuities