In which the Doctor has returned to N-Space - with Adric in the TARDIS but no Romana. He is concerned how he will explain her absence back on Gallifrey. Something diverts the ship off course - towards the Traken Union planetary system in Metulla Orionsis. The person responsible is the Keeper of Traken, who materialises in the control room. He appears as a wizened old man seated on an ornate throne. After overseeing the Union for a thousand years, he is nearing death, and is concerned that the time of his dissolution will be a troubled one. There is always upheaval at the transition between Keepers, but on this occasion he fears some malign influence threatens. Keepers become linked to a powerful bio-electric energy field known as the Source. They control it and use it to maintain stability, order and peace - even ensuring a temperate weather system. Any evil-doers who land on Traken are immediately caught in a paralysing field and calcify - crumbling to dust over time. Such beings are known as Melkur. One of these has outlasted many that have come before. It is tended by one of the five Consuls who manage day to day affairs in the Union - Kassia. She has just married a fellow Consul named Tremas, who brings to the union his daughter, Nyssa. Tremas is the Keeper-elect. Nyssa is to take over the tending of the Melkur - and this upsets Kassia, who has formed a strange bond with it. Also, she is unhappy that she will lose her new husband so quickly - when he becomes the next Keeper. (Keepers do not dwell amongst the people. They merge with the Source and appear only on official and ceremonial occasions).
The Keeper asks the Doctor to come to Traken and help smooth the transition period. The TARDIS materialises in the grove where the Melkur stands. It is the night of the wedding feast, and the Keeper appears to give the happy couple his blessing. The Melkur comes to life and kills one of the Fosters - men who tend the grove and serve the Consuls. The Doctor and Adric are accused of the crime. The Keeper is summoned to reappear and to confirm the Doctor's story of why they have come here. The Keeper catches a glimpse of the Melkur and has a seizure before he can say anything.
Tremas is a scientist, and he has detected strange energy signals in the area where the Foster was killed. He informs his colleague Seron but keeps it from his wife and the other two Consuls - Luvic and Katura. Recognising that the Doctor is a fellow scientist, he decides to invoke consular privilege and accept responsibility for the Doctor's conduct - to the displeasure of Kassia. As the Doctor and Tremas investigate, Kassia falls deeper under the influence of the Melkur, which now starts speaking to her. It promises to help her - including preventing Tremas from becoming the next Keeper. She is given a collar which enables it to maintain its control over her. The Melkur then causes the TARDIS to vanish. Kassia becomes more openly hostile towards the Doctor - accusing him of conspiring against the Union and of corrupting her gullible husband. She and the Melkur engineer Seron's death. The Doctor discovers that the TARDIS is still in the grove, but it has been displaced in time. Adric identifies the energy readings of whatever is responsible as being similar to a TARDIS... The Doctor, Tremas and Adric are all captured by Proctor Neman, head of the Fosters. They escape with the help of Nyssa just as the old Keeper dies. It is Kassia who takes his place - at the instigation of the Melkur. Within moments of taking over, however, she is consumed by the Source - and the Melkur appears in her place.
The Doctor and Tremas must find a way of destroying the Melkur before it can fully merge with the Source. One idea is to sabotage the Source itself. Adric and Nyssa begin work on a means to achieve this. The Doctor and Tremas have another idea - to override the Keeper using the consular rings. Each Consul has a crystal ring which, combined with a key-code sequence, can override the Keeper as a fail-safe mechanism. They partially succeed but the Melkur appears and causes the Doctor to vanish from the council chamber. He finds himself inside a familiar black-walled control room - that of the Master's TARDIS. The Melkur statue is his disguised ship. His body is still emaciated and he is dying, and hopes to utilise the Source to stave off death. He plans on stealing the Doctor's body to use as his own. Adric and Nyssa sabotage the Source which wreaks havoc in the Master's TARDIS, allowing the Doctor to escape. He manages to complete the key-code sequence and the Melkur is destroyed. With Tremas absent, Lumic must jump into the throne chamber to become the new Keeper.
After the Doctor and Adric have departed, Tremas decides to investigate a grandfather clock which he hasn't noticed before. He is gripped by a paralysing force. The Master had a second TARDIS. He emerges and bonds with Tremas - thus gaining a new body... at last...
This four part story was written by Johnny Byrne, and was broadcast between 31st January and 21st February, 1981.
It is significant for bringing back the Master - and "regenerating" him - and for the first appearance of Sarah Sutton as Nyssa. For the viewers, she has merely been a guest character in this story, and does not leave with the Doctor and Adric at the conclusion - and this has lead to some debate amongst fans as to when exactly she becomes a "Companion".
Producer John Nathan-Turner had been concerned more about introducing his new Doctor than about writing out the old one. Tom Baker had been in the role for a record seven years and to the world and his wife he was the Doctor. Something was needed to help with the transition and to ease the viewers into embracing the new Doctor. With Lalla Ward's departure, there was room for a new female companion aboard the TARDIS - or, rather, an old one. JNT approached both Elisabeth Sladen and Louise Jameson to reprise their roles, as Sarah and Leela respectively, but both declined. (Sladen had earlier also been asked back for the Key to Time season by Graham Williams). Sladen would get another offer shortly which she would accept, whilst Jameson has since said that turning down a return might have been a mistake.
JNT also had ideas about a new companion from Australia - primarily to boost ratings there. More of that to come...
The Master was to be brought back and to be recast so that he could become a recurring villain once more. Geoffrey Beevers, husband to ex-assistant Liz Shaw actress Caroline John, was cast as the cowled, decrepit version of the character mainly because of his voice (we only get to see him in the last episode, and his silky, sibilant tones are vital for the earlier episodes as he manipulates Kassia). Beevers had appeared very briefly as a UNIT soldier in Ambassadors of Death.
Anthony Ainley, who JNT had worked with on the classic costume drama The Pallisers, was cast as Tremas and, as the anagrammatic name implies, ultimately the new form for the Master.
Byrne did not have the Master in his original storyline. It featured a divided society similar to what we saw back in Meglos with the Tigellans.
Keeper of Traken has now come to be looked upon as the first part of a Regeneration / New Beginnings trilogy, with Logopolis and Castrovalva. Whilst the first two stories were designed to fit together, the latter story hadn't actually been written at the time the others were produced.
Of the rest of the cast, two of the Consuls had appeared in the programme before. Katura was Margot van der Burgh - the Doctor's fiancée Cameca in The Aztecs. Seron was John Woodnutt, who was making his fourth appearance (after playing Hibbert in Spearhead From Space, the Draconian Emperor in Frontier In Space, and Broton / Forgill in Terror of the Zygons). The Keeper was Denis Carey, whose wonderful performance as Prof. Chronotis had gone unseen thanks to the cancellation of Shada. The three other principal cast members were Sheila Ruskin as Kassia, Robin Soans as Lumic, and Roland Oliver as Neman.
Special mention must be made of the design for this studio-based story. The costumes must have been unbearable for the cast under the studio lights, being so densely layered. They have a vaguely Elizabethan feel to them. The asymmetrical Melkur statue looks great. The sets have a beautiful Art Nouveau look. Some people have criticised the grove sequences as looking too unrealistic, but they actually fit with this world where an omnipotent and omniscient Keeper regulates even the seasons.
Episode endings are:
- About to speak in defence of the Doctor and Adric, the Keeper sees the Melkur lurking in the background and falls back into his chair, crying out about "evil" as he fades away. The Trakenites assume this refers to the Doctor and his companion...
- The Doctor, Adric and Tremas are captured in the grove. Whilst Kassia thinks their work is done, the Melkur assures her that it is only just beginning...
- Kassia has ascended to the Keepership. Moments later, she writhes in agony and vanishes - to be replaced by the Melkur...
- Just read the last paragraph of the synopsis above and look at the pictures...
Overall, an enjoyable enough story. It starts off a bit low key but there are little clues as to where it is heading - the Melkur knowing who the Doctor is, hearing just the voice of the Melkur then seeing just the hand of the occupant, and Adric recognising the wave-form behind the TARDIS' disappearance. Nice that they didn't simply introduce the new Master fully formed, but linked it back to how we had last seen him - albeit another actor with less gruesome (and not as effective) make-up. Seeing it on first broadcast, and not reading fanzines at the time, I certainly didn't spot the Tremas anagram, so the ending was a total surprise to me.
Things you might like to know:
- Inside the Melkur costume was Graham Cole, who would soon become a series regular on long-running UK police show The Bill. He had also been inside one of the Marshmen costumes in Full Circle. He would reprise the role when the Melkur returns - as a mental image - in Time-Flight.
- Sarah Sutton's dad (Sid) was already associated with the programme - having been the person who designed the title sequence seen since The Leisure Hive.
- To keep up the surprise, Geoffrey Beevers was credited as 'Melkur' only throughout - even for the fourth episode when his true identity is revealed (as that would have been printed in advance in the Radio Times).
- Not learning their lesson from Image of the Fendahl, Kassia's weird red glowing eyes are just painted on Sheila Ruskin's eye-lids.
- Hands up anyone who has managed not to be distracted by the cobweb that clings to Tom Baker's nose in the prison cell sequence? ... Liar!
- The Master is still in his final incarnation. He doesn't regenerate in this - just stealing a body as he will do again come the 1996 Movie. The fact that he is not as skeletal as when we saw him last (The Deadly Assassin) might be down to him having absorbed at least some of the energies of the Eye of Harmony before he fell down that crevasse. (He did look a bit less peaky when his TARDIS dematerialised at the end of that earlier story).
- The Master has two TARDISes. One wonders where he got the spare from?
- And just how long has the Master been on Traken? It is suggested that this Melkur has been there for a very long time - not decaying as quickly as others have done. It is certainly a matter of years. Has the Master simply sat twiddling his decaying thumbs? I assume he had to wait for the old Keeper to die before he could hatch his plan. Was he genuinely trapped here (that his TARDIS had been truly Melkured), and so built the other TARDIS to escape? Or did he already have it, and nipped off on other adventures then popped back every so often to see if the old Keeper was anywhere near snuffing it?
- And why is he so unfazed when a battered blue police call box materialises right in front of him? I didn't hear him go "Oh, B*****s!!!" or anything. He actually sounds like he expected it. Did he nudge Kassia towards suggesting that the Keeper ought to call in the Doctor?
- And how exactly would you get in and out of a Melkur-shaped TARDIS? (And don't say with another TARDIS...).
- Finally, a word about Adric - and indeed Matthew Waterhouse. He is very good in this - especially the stuff in the TARDIS at the beginning. (He's great in the first episode of Logopolis as well). Just shows how good he could have been if not drowned out by whining air-stewardesses and dreadful character development.