THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "WARRIORS'
GATE" AND "LOGOPOLIS."
'NEW BEGINNINGS' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD1331)
RELEASED IN JANUARY
TRAKEN - A PLANET
RULED BY THE ALL-
POWERFUL KEEPER, WHO
RULES FOR A THOUSAND
YEARS AND ENSURES
THAT HIS SUBJECTS LIVE
A LIFE OF TRANQUILITY
AND HARMONY, FREE
FROM THE FORCES OF
EVIL AND CORRUPTION.
BUT THE KEEPER IS
DYING... SUMMONED BY
THE AILING KEEPER, THE
DOCTOR AND ADRIC
DISCOVER THAT ALL IS
NOT WELL ON TRAKEN.
AN EVIL PRESENCE
THAT KNOWS ALL ABOUT
The Keeper of Traken
31ST JANUARY 1981 - 21ST FEBRUARY 1981
Without exaggeration, I can honestly say that “Logopolis” is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, and furthermore that I rate “The Keeper of Traken” as being one of Tom Baker’s
very best. “Castrovalva”, conversely, may not be a world-beater, but nevertheless it is still an interesting and thought-provoking regeneration story. And so as you would have thought, I was absolutely delighted when I heard that “The Return of the Master” DVD box set had
been tentatively pencilled in for a January 2007 release.
Since it was originally announced, the box set has undergone its own regeneration of sorts. Re-christened “New Beginnings”, the onus has been shifted away from the Master and placed more on the show’s change of direction as a whole – and quite right too. The return
of the Master, two new companions, and a brand new Doctor for the first time in seven years. These three monumental stories unquestionably mark an important cornerstone in Doctor Who history. And it gives me great satisfaction to say that the Restoration Team have more than done justice to this incredible trilogy.
“A whole empire held together by people just being terribly nice to each other…”
And of the three serials released as part of the “New Beginnings” DVD box set, “The
Keeper of Traken” may not be the most epic but it is certainly the most stylish. Johnny Byrne’s world of universal peace and harmony carries with it a sense of theatrical splendour that one seldom comes across in Doctor Who. Whilst in itself this would be enough to mark the story out as something a bit special, with the return of the Master thrown into the mix “The Keeper of Traken” cannot be regarded as anything other than one of the very best of the fourth Doctor’s reign. Byrne’s story may well have been effective with another alien menace in the Master’s place, but having the Master’s incomparably all-pervading evil threaten the tranquillity of the Traken Union really transforms this good story into a superb one.
ADRIC I read about something that has just happened…
The next page says it didn’t happen at all…
Over the page says it did happen, but ‘many years ago’!
THE DOCTOR Ah yeah… Well, I suppose it is a bit above your head.
Mind you, they did say I had a very sophisticated prose style.
Both Baker and young Matthew Waterhouse are superb here, no small feat considering the strong performances from the rest of the cast. Adric, for once, is handled exceedingly well - Byrne’s script gives him much to do without pushing the whole annoying boy-genius angle too far, whilst Baker really begins to take on the astonishingly effective funereal dourness that dominates his final handful of performances. However, unlike in “Logopolis” here he is still clearly recognisable as the wacky, madcap fourth Doctor.
Other standout performers are Doctor Who veteran John Woodnutt as the austere but honourable Seron; Sarah Sutton as a very, very young-looking Nyssa; and of course, Sheila Ruskin and Anthony Ainley as the tragic couple, Cassia and Tremas. Their tragedy is the heart of the story - Cassia does not want to lose Tremas to the Keepership. If he were to become Keeper, he would have to become one with the bio-electronic source that regulates the whole Union, for all intents and purposes ending his mortal life. In desperation, Cassia turns to the evil Melkur for help.
Although it does not become clear until the final episode, this ‘Melkur’ is in fact the Master’s TARDIS – well, one of them at least. The Master uses an electronic necklace to control Cassia, using her to manipulate events so that he can become Keeper, ultimately leading to both her death and Tremas’ fate worse than death…
Above: Geoffrey Beevers is the Master in "The Return of the Master" featurette
As for the Master himself, Geoffrey Beevers is utterly chilling in the role. He is a very different sort of Master though. Whilst I loved Roger Delgado’s suave, charismatic Master; one could almost forgive him for his multitude of sins because he was so damned cool – almost likeable at times, even. On the other hand, the Peter Pratt / Geoffrey Beevers Master is virtually a walking corpse – a calcified, decaying shell that houses pure malevolence. No charm whatsoever; just evil - exactly what was required to serve as a total contrast to the paradise of Traken. If I did have to criticise the Beevers’ portrayal, it would only be in that I do not think that physically he looks as frightening as Pratt did in “The Deadly Assassin”. I can understand Beevers wanting his eyes to be seen by the audience, but there was something really, really disturbing about those lifeless ‘ping pong ball’ eyes that Pratt wore. I think the production team may have agreed with me when they were editing “Logopolis”, as it is the Pratt Master that we see in the series of flashbacks right at the death.
My only other quibble with the serial would be that it feels a little too claustrophobic. Despite some phenomenal interior design, like many others the serial does suffer from being entirely studio bound. The scenes set outside in the gardens really should have been shot outside. Obviously on the budget this was an impossibility, but I really do think that if we could have seen some of the lush greenery and beauty of Traken it would have set the scene far better and, more importantly, made Traken’s ultimate doom all the more moving.
On the DVD presentation I can certainly have no complaints. The commentary is quite out of the ordinary, but very entertaining nonetheless. It is eerie enough listening to the recently departed Ainley comment on the show, but hearing Waterhouse take it upon himself to act as a moderator is even weirder! Johnny Byrne is very interesting indeed, though I have to admit that before I listened to this commentary I had never noticed the story’s blatant links to millennialism - it just goes to show that one can always pick up something new from these things.
Like with most of the classic series DVDs, the disc is chock-a-block with lots of other fiddly-little extras for the completists. Noel Edmonds makes yet another appearance on a Doctor Who DVD (I wonder if he gets royalties?) in a clip with Sarah Sutton from a 1981 edition of Swap Swap; there is an annual; a photo gallery; an isolated score; a plethora of DVD-ROM features; as well as the usual, though unusually comprehensive, selection of trailers and continuity announcements.
Above: "Being Nice To Each Other" - The Making of "The Keeper of Traken"
The main documentaries (in this case the 30-minute “Being Nice To Each Other” and the much shorter “Return of the Master”) tend to re-tread much of the ground covered in the commentary and on the production subtitles, though in a much more structured and palatable manner. I need not continue to laud the high standard of these documentaries; suffice it to say that if you own many classic series DVDs, you will know exactly what to expect...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
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