As a series, Doctor Who often works best when it is trying to be more than just science-fiction. The historical stories of the first four years of the show were largely successful yet had only the bare minimum of sci-fi elements; seasons seven and thirteen contained many stories that relied upon horror, and were two of the best years ever produced. The Keeper of Traken is just such a story where the science-fiction is superbly combined with fairytale elements for Tom Baker’s penultimate story.
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The Doctor and Adric have been summoned to the planet Traken by the Keeper, who controls the power of the planet. It is a world that is so good that evil “shrivels up and dies”. But something has infected the Traken Union, and armed with the Keeper’s warning, it is up to the Doctor to find the source of this infection.
The most stunning aspect of this story is the way that the world of Traken has been created so effectively. The Traken court has an almost medieval style, with the trappings of science-fiction in their advanced technology. The production team has clearly put a lot of effort into developing the culture of this world: The sets and costumes give the impression of an ancient civilisation, as they seem very much influenced by Tudor England, even the dialogue had a quality to it that added to this impression.
Within this world are a cast of characters that are both well developed and well acted. Each of the five Consuls of Traken has a personality and a purpose; Of these, Tremas is the one who is concentrated on most. A character who is a father, a husband, a scientist, and a Consul; he is one of the most rounded and complicated guest characters that I have seen in Doctor Who, and Antony Ainley’s performance manages to convey the nobility, wit and intelligence of the character.
They effects are typical of the series (i.e. bad), but given the quality of the story, it hardly matters. There is just one thing I found annoying: Kassia’s strange eyes are painted on her eyelids and it’s blatantly obvious and quite hard to ignore – Were contact lenses available in the early eighties? Even if the effect had been absent, it would have been less detrimental.
The story has a good pace that is set by the events that transpire, as things keep getting worse for the Doctor. The world is in practical harmony when he arrives, and as the story unfolds one Consul is killed, another betrays the Union and as the Keeper dies Traken reverts to a ‘natural chaos’. Of course, eventually the Doctor solves the problem presented, but not until after a shock revelation about the true nature of the Melkur statue, hinted at early in the story, and giving the second half a boost after it is revealed. And to really give an excellent ending to the story, after the Doctor leaves, we are left to watch Tremas and his daughter for a few minutes as another tragedy befalls the Union, that will have severe consequences for The Doctor in the following story, Logopolis.
The Keeper of Traken is a story that has charm, betrayal, heroics, with a classic battle of good versus evil and leaves things looking good for the future.