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“Keeper of Traken” OR “Stranger in Paradise”

September 18, 2015


For two years between 1981 and 1983, I didn’t really watch Doctor Who.  I mean, I stared at the television while the show was on, but I wasn’t actually watching the programme.  I was just staring at Nyssa.  Now that the decades have realigned my hormonal balance somewhat, I find that I can judge these adventures in something like a fair and balanced fashion.  Something like.

Keeper of Traken may just have the slowest “reveal” (and I can remember when “reveal” wasn’t even a noun – I mean – it’s not as if there ever a book of the Bible called “The Book of Reveal” or a Doctor Who adventure called “Reveal of the Daleks”) in the franchise is history.

The Master returns, though (despite lots and lots of hints) it’s not until the last nine minutes of the final episode that we get official confirmation of this fact.  Despite the fact that he must have been through a lot since Deadly Assassin (1976), he’s actually slightly less gruesome once we see what he looks like in what’s left of the flesh.

Traken is a very beautiful place.  The costumes and sets remind me of BBC Shakespeare adaptations from around the same period.  One senses that Benedict and Beatrice might resume their amorous quarrel from around any given hedge at any given moment.

The wizened old Keeper drops in on the Doctor (and to a lesser extent) Adric, to suggest that the general capacity of the planey Traken just to wither up evil on sight and turn every potential threat into a decorative garden feature – may be on the wane.  And it turns out that Nyssa’s new stepmother Kassia has indeed succumbed to the strange influence of the statue Melkur,  Nyssa’s father is Tremas – everyone’s favourite consul Tremas (Tremas? – sometimes The Master doesn’t even have to go looking for anagrams, sometime’s they’re just lying there waiting for him to pick up).  Anthony Ainley does a fine job with Tremas, a character who is as generous and wise as anyone in the empire.

There are a number of things worth noting in this adventure.  Tremas’s wife Kassia is betrayed by love, succumbing to Melkur because she cannot bear the eternal separation that Tremas’ elevation to the keepership would involve.  They also do that thing where scary eyes are painted on eyelids – which is always satisfyingly freaky and was previously used well in Image of the Fendahl.

Despite the tendency of Christopher Bidmead to strip scripts down to the bare bones, there’s an intriguing literary reference preserved.  When mulling over plans with Tremas and taking and inventory of resources, The Doctor quotes the line “which in our case we have not got” – which is the refrain of a World War Two poem by Henry Reed called “Naming of Parts”.

At the conclusion of Keeper of Traken, The Master has absorbed Tremas – got himself a spanking new body that doesn’t have bits falling off it all the time, and Nyssa is left looking for her lost father.  In Logopolis, we learn that Traken itself is destroyed by the entropy field. Game set and match to The Master it seems.

Poor Nyssa.  Let’s all stare at her.  Sympathetically.


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