28 – The Keeper of Traken

The Keeper of Traken is an example of the BBC taking a very good story, and making it even better by incorporating a new element. Unlike The Armageddon Factor, a weak story requiring the narrative of the Key to Time to rescue it, The Keeper of Traken would have worked as a perfectly good story even before series producer John Nathan Turner spotted the opportunity to use the position of the villain to serve a greater narrative need.

We join the story with Tom Baker’s time in the TARDIS drawing to a close. Romana and K9 had left in the previous story, Warriors’ Gate, and the Doctor and Adric had finally managed to escape from e-Space back into n-Space. The TARDIS is then drawn off course by a mysterious entity, an elderly man sat upon a throne, who reveals himself to be the titular Keeper of the Traken Union – a society (as the Doctor puts it) based upon ‘people being terribly nice to each other.’ The position of Keeper enables one individual to become an ordering principle, maintaining peace and order throughout the system, but when an incumbent Keeper dies the time of transition is always difficult. The present Keeper requests the help of the Doctor to meet an unknown evil, which he feels is centred around a calcified statue known as the Melkur.

The Doctor arrives on Traken to find distrust rife among the Five Consuls of Traken, the ruling council who serve the Keeper. Unbeknownst to the Council, one of their number, Kassia, has come under the influence of the Melkur, determined that her husband Tremas should not become the new Keeper. Melkur turns out to be no mere static statue, and has already murdered one man. The Doctor and Adric become the scapegoats for Melkur’s actions, as the Melkur uses Kassia to discredit Tremas and to become Keeper nominate herself. When the old Keeper dies, ‘Melkur’ uses his link with Kassia to become the Keeper himself.

So far, the story follows exactly the original intent of author Johnny Byrne. The story would have centred around Melkur as a malevolent being, and as planned he would have been defeated at the end of episode 4. John Nathan Turner however, spotted an excellent opportunity to use Byrne’s story to resurrect a very old foe indeed. Rather than make the Melkur the calcified body of an alien being, we discover at the end of episode 2 that there is another TARDIS on Traken, and by the end of episode 3 the audience realise, long before the Doctor does, that the Melkur statue is the TARDIS of his old enemy, the Master – superbly realised (in mannerisms, if sadly not in makeup!) by Geoffrey Beevers, who reprises the decayed Master portrayed by Peter Pratt in The Deadly Assassin. At the end of his regeneration cycle and facing impending death, the Master proposes to use the powers of the Keeper to steal the Doctor’s body and regenerate himself.

While the Master is thwarted, as Byrne always intended the villain to be, the story does not end on a happy note. The Doctor and Adric depart, leaving Tremas with his daughter Nyssa to clean up the damage caused to Traken. Nyssa’s character would prove so popular that Turner would bring her back in the following story, Logopolis, providing actress Sarah Sutton with an honour shared by Frazier Hines of staying as a companion for longer than the original story they were scheduled to appear in. For Tremas however … his own name was the most crucial change in the whole script, a fateful foretelling of his destiny. For the eagle-eyed of you will have spotted that ‘Tremas’ is of course an anagram of ‘Master’ … leading to one of the show’s most iconic moments, as the Master exults: “A new body! At last!” And takes over the body of Tremas. With more than a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado, the new Master sets off in pursuit of the Doctor …

The Keeper of Traken is a wonderful story. The sets and costumes are all beautiful, the story clever without being complex, and Beevers’ Master is deliciously malevolent. The characters are superbly realised, and particular credit is due to Anthony Ainley, who had the chance to demonstrate his capacity to play a very good man, before embracing with relish the evilness of the Master. Even Adric, who usually gets a bad press, demonstrates that alongside Nyssa he could have grown and developed in the role – the story being a firm confirmation (alongside Kinda) that the Season 19 TARDIS was very much overcrowded.

While the story very much leads into Logopolis, and is best enjoyed as the first in a trilogy, it is also a superb standalone adventure that manages to pay homage to the series’ history without alienating viewers who (like me!) had not grown up with Delgado’s Master. To me, that is one of the highest compliments you could pay any classic episode of Doctor Who!

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If you wanted to enjoy The Keeper of Traken for the first time, you can watch it for £6.99 on the BBC Store

Special Reviews: New Beginnings

We have reached a special section in my classic episode countdown, as over the next three weeks we will be reviewing three stories that I struggled to place in a clear order, mainly as I have come to regard them as one story in three parts. The three stories come at the end of Season 18, when Tom Baker’s time as the Doctor was coming to a close, and at the very beginning of Season 19 as Peter Davison took on the unenviable role of filling Baker’s shoes. Baker had played the Doctor for seven years, significantly longer than any of the previous actors to play the role (Hartnell and Troughton were in the role for three years; Pertwee for five) and the prospect of a new actor stepping into the role generated a large amount of uncertainty.

New producer John Nathan-Turner therefore decided to adopt a trick first used when Baker replaced Pertwee. In Season 12, the production team used the familiar faces of UNIT for Baker’s debut story, before bringing back the familiar foes of the Sontarans, the Daleks, and the Cybermen.  For the conclusion of Season 18 and the beginning of Season 19, JNT brought back the character of the Master, last seen as Delgado’s Master in Frontier in Space, and as a charred husk in The Deadly Assassin. With Roger Delgado sadly departed after his untimely death in 1973, the decision was taken to cast a Delgado lookalike, Anthony Ainley, and to show the regeneration of the decayed Master into a new, younger Master. A further idea to bring Elisabeth Sladen back to play Sarah Jane Smith for four episodes proved ultimately unsuccessful – Sladen quite sensibly realising she would have played a bit part at best.

Following on from the E-Space Trilogy, the series follows a loose trilogy beginning with The Keeper of Traken, in which the Master returns, followed by Baker’s swansong Logopolis, in which the Doctor falls to death attempting to foil the Master’s latest madcap plan for universal domination. While not initially intended that Ainley would return for Peter Davison’s debut story Castrovalva, it was eventually decided to have the debut of Season 19 follow directly from the conclusion of Season 18, meaning that one is able to watch from Keeper of Traken to Castrovalva as one continuous narrative, even though each story is independent and stands strong in their own right – perhaps reflecting why BBC initially released these stories in a single boxset entitled ‘New Beginnings.’

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I struggled to place these three stories in order. I love them all equally, have come to regard them as one story, and if I could award them joint 26th place, I would have done so. I have nevertheless chosen to bite the bullet and attempt to rank the stories – and over the next three weeks you will get to find out which of the three I have enjoyed the best.

38 – State of Decay

This was an adventure that really had to grow on me, but really has grown on me. Easily the best adventure of the E-Space trilogy in Tom Baker’s final season, it is also quite possibly the darkest and most sinister adventure to ever feature in the entire classic run. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed it better with age than as a young teenager – easily impressionable, there was something very unsettling about the Gothic horror of the villains of the story.

As readers of the Full Circle review will recall, the Doctor and Romana have managed to get trapped in an alternative universe, and are striving to work out how to return to N-Space. In this adventure they land on an earth like world, where the servile population live in a world were technology is forbidden, and three lords rule over them with an awe inspiring terror. The Doctor soon discovers that the planet is the resting place of the last great Vampire, a fearsome race that the Time Lords only just succeeded in defeating in a Great war. The three lords ruling over the planet, Zargo, Aukon and Camilla are in fact the original commanders of an earth colonist ship, sucked through a CVE like the TARDIS crew themselves, and transformed into vampires through the influence of the dormant Great Vampire. The population meanwhile are the descendants of the original colonists, shaped by generations of fear into cowed obedience.

That one paragraph gives you a pretty full flavour of how dark the story is. The incidental score and production decisions belie the shoestring budget the programme was on, and create a constantly unsettling feeling of tension and dread. In a demonstration of just how great his acting powers are, Tom Baker holds the audience enthralled as he searches the TARDIS databanks for records of the Great Vampire, and reads that any Time Lord finding the surviving vampire should do everything in their power to stop it, even forsaking their life. Shudder at your leisure …

State of Decay is a superb adventure in the best legacy of science fiction. Like all good Doctor Who it is well paced and engaging, even if some of the acting by the supporting cast occasionally veers towards Planet of the Spiders levels. Even the usually challenging Adric makes a worthwhile contribution to the story, albeit already beginning to display signs of the petulance that would make his character difficult to love. There is really only one qualification to this story, which is the dark and horrific themes throughout. Suitably prepared, you will definitely enjoy the story, but it’s not one for the kids (much like Image of the Fendahl) and perhaps best watched with the lights on …

72 – Warriors’ Gate

Ten minutes to explain Warriors’ Gate? That might prove tricky …

This four-part adventure is the last of the E-Space trilogy that began with Full Circle. The Doctor and Romana are still trapped in e-Space together with e-Space native/TARDIS stowaway Adric. Arriving at ‘zero-point’ (perfectly zero co-ordinates) they discover a slave ship filled with a Time Sensitive race, the Tharils. Their human captors plan to sell them at huge profit, but owing to the material used to trap the enslaved Tharils (Dwarf-star alloy, which would make a return in Nu Who adventure Day of the Moon) they are enable to escape – in actual fact the gateway to other universes is collapsing. By the story’s end, Romana remains with K9 to help free the Tharils, and the Doctor escapes with Adric back into N-Space.

Alas, if only the story were so simple! I first watched this adventure aged 13, looking forward to it having seen the Gundan Robots mentioned in Tom Baker’s preview to Shada. And I could not follow it at all. It would be around 15 years later when I bought the E-Space trilogy boxset that the story finally made some sense – but even then I suspect that was largely due to having watched the story before and having a rough idea of the plot direction. As it is – the Doctor jumps around the timeline of the Tharils with very poor narrative explanation as to what is going on – it isn’t hard to get lost.

With grown up eyes however, it is a very clever story with three different narratives beautifully interwoven. We see the Doctor follow the path of the Tharils to discover how they were once masters who enslaved other peoples; Romana become trapped by the slavers and strive to break free; and Adric teaming up with K9 to rescue Romana and reunite the TARDIS team. The suspense builds up magnificently to the destruction of the slavers’ ship and the escape of the Tharils and the TARDIS crew.

All in all, Warriors Gate is a very satisfactory end to the E-Space trilogy, and a more than pleasing story in its own right. I can only really mark it down on two points. The first, as I mention, is that the plot is so convoluted it takes a PhD in Ingenuity to follow it. The second is that it brought an end to Romana and K9 travelling in the TARDIS. While I fully understand the production reasons for doing so (K9 being a menace to operate and a get-out-of-jail free card for any scenario; Romana not being able to talk at the viewers level or get herself into trouble) I very much enjoyed the combination of the Fourth Doctor, Romana (both of them!) and K9 – so much so that when as I teenager I wrote a new series of adventures to feature the Eighth Doctor, they featured the return of Romana and K9. But then we can’t blame the producers for looking forward, not back!

84 – The Leisure Hive

We kick off 2015 with another Tom Baker adventure … well, there are rather a lot of them! The Leisure Hive has the distinct advantage that I hated my first viewing on VHS and therefore (in the recurring theme I am sure you are spotting) I could only enjoy it better than I expected when I bought the DVD. As with other DVDs that fall into this category, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the story held up when I had the chance to watch it again – I imagine in part because by this stage I had watched the entirety of the preceding Season 17 and had a better appreciation of how the show had got to this point – I think when I first viewed this story, I was judging it through the prism of classics such as Pyramids of Mars and had predictably unrealistic expectations!

The Leisure Hive is a relatively straightforward and familiar tale, insomuch as the Doctor and his companions (in this case the lovely Romana and the irrepressible k9) end up on an alien planet to discover skullduggery at work. In this case, they arrive at the titular Leisure Hive run by the Agrolin – a species devastated by a short but lethal war with the Formasi. With the planet no longer turning a profit, there is an offer to buy the planet – but it is from the hated Formasi! The Doctor and Romana arrive looking for a holiday (rule 1 – the Doctor never gets a holiday) unaware that there are two diffferent games on the go – the youngest Agrolin, who is determined to overcome the impotency affecting his race by duplicating himself to create a new warrior race – and a faction of Formasi disguised as humans aiming to sabotage the sale and cause a war – nice and simple eh?

It is therefore a serial that benefits from the slightly more relaxed attitude Baker shows to playing the Doctor in Season 18 – when the character ages considerably at the end of episode 2 it very much plays into the lack of interest Baker was showing by this stage – but the story is so busy, and Lalla Ward so excellent as Romana, that a more diminished role for the Doctor doesn’t impact the story as much as one would expect. There is also plenty of misdirection and uncertainty, without the plot being too complicated – which makes for an enjoyable if unspectacular episode. I did not think 12 months ago that I would ever say this, but The Leisure Hive is a worthy first story for Tom Baker’s final season, setting the scene for the melancholy build to the E-Space Trilogy, and the ‘Return of the Master’ trilogy.

85 – Full Circle

Before story-arcs became the norm when Doctor Who returned in 2005, they were something of a rarity in the classic series. One such example was the so-called ‘E-Space’ trilogy of Season 18 – where the Doctor and Romana find themselves sucked out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into Exo-Space (E-Space) – a smaller pocket universe. Full Circle is the first in the loose trilogy, explaining how the TARDIS crew pass through a gateway to E-Space while meaning to get to Gallifrey.

All three stories are very good, and deal with very serious themes – though Full Circle probably involves the greatest amount of mental gymnastics to untangle. Arriving on the planet Alzarius the Doctor spends most of the first episode trying to fathom why the instruments tell them that they are Gallifrey but they are quite clearly not actually on Gallifrey! Then it takes some considerable time to figure out who the bad guys of the piece are meant to be – the dwellers in a spacecraft pledged to return to Terradon; the marshmen; or the army of spiders. Instead it unfolds that there is no enemy – that in fact all three species are one and the same, but the spiders mutated into marshmen, and the marshmen into the colonists. The current dwellers in the spacecraf are not the original crew, who were killed when they first arrived on Alzarius.

Ignoring the dubious science, it makes for a very engaging story – the colonists are unable to return to Terradon because they never left in the first place and feel unable to leave their true home; the marshmen are unable to progress because of the ongoing presence of the colonists, and likewise the spiders. For the Doctor to save the day, he simply has to persuade the colonists to leave in their spaceship and trust that they can make a better life elsewhere. Meanwhile he and Romana leave, hoping to somehow escape E-Space, but not knowing for sure if they can, and blissfully unaware that they have a stowaway on board the TARDIS …

Which leads neatly to Adric and the gang of outlaw ne’erdowells he aspires to join. Intended to join the TARDIS crew as a sort of ‘Artful Dodger’ figure he suffers from a similar issue to companions such as Zoe and Liz – being too clever for his own good – but without the likeability and charm that endears fans to the former. He sadly gets off on entirely the wrong footing in this story, coming across as petulant and sulky – if we judged him instead on The Keeper of Traken and Earthshock he’d get a much better press. But given his start in Full Circle he was probably doomed from the start.

It has to be said that the E-Space trilogy is an excellent mini-story arc, and Full Circle is a very worthy first entrant to that trilogy. Rather surprisingly, every story in this arc stands well on their own feet – you will want to watch the Trilogy in one go, but you could very easily watch each in isolation and enjoy them – just perhaps not as much!

94 – Meglos

In time, it would be nice to think that Meglos will be released in a special boxset featuring The Enemy of the World and The Massacre as well. The connection is of course obvious – every story features the actor playing the Doctor playing the role of the lead villain as well! Until we discover whether the omnirumour is true however, instead we get to enjoy the new lease of life that Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker got to enjoy in their outings when playing villains.

Now I must be frank – Meglos is nowhere near as good as The Enemy of the World – but it is still an enjoyable adventure, and one that I really looked forward to getting hold of on DVD. Let us skate past the awkward fact that the villain, the eponymous Meglos himself, is basically a cactus, and instead enjoy the fact that this cactus takes on the form of Baker’s Doctor. Disguise donned, he steals a valuable relic from a society that has the predictable division of scientists and priests, and then plans to use it for the equally predictable aim of galactic domination.

What really makes the piece is some wonderful acting by Tom Baker as Meglos (less so as the Doctor – as with Jon Pertwee in his last season, you can really tell by this point that he’s lost interest), and especially by Lalla Ward as Romana – she is thoroughly charming as she misleads and confuses a gang of mercenaries. Less wonderful is the reappearance of Jacqueline Hill, famous for playing Barbara, in the role of the High Priestess. She undoubtedly hams it up in the role, but it does not take many cries of “Thanks be to Ti!” before you’re rolling your eyes in exasperation.

Meglos is certainly not iconic viewing by any means, but I found myself appreciating the story in between my amusement at Romana’s escapades and embarrassment at the overdone religious zealotry. There are traces of the Douglas Adams wit in the dialogue, and while Tom Baker’s awkward trip doesn’t get better with many viewings, the scene of he and Romana caught in a time loop in the TARDIS is genuinely excellent and intriguing. So long as you don’t set the bar too high, this is not a story that will disappoint you … which in the pantheons of ‘damining with faint praise’, I have to grant you, is up there!