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18x6. The Keeper of Traken

Writer: Johnny Byrne
Director: John Black
Script Editor: Christopher H. Bidmead
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Adric are summoned to Traken, a world known for presiding over a remarkably peaceful political union, by its Keeper, an individual who communes with the biolectronic "Source" and who seeks the Doctor's help against an impending threat. Soon, the Doctor is drawn into a conflict over the choice of the Keeper's successor and the manipulations of the "Melkur," a creature that has been present on Traken for many years but is actually the Master's TARDIS. Although the Doctor prevents the Master from taking control of the Source, he later takes over the body of Tremas, a Traken consul who had sided with the Doctor in the conflicts over the choice of a new Keeper.

Review: My reaction to "The Keeper of Traken" may admittedly have more to do with personal taste than anything else. To be sure, there are a few interesting ideas here, such as the concept of an unusually peaceful society where evil is literally frozen in place (as happens to Melkur), and Tremas makes for a convincingly intelligent ally to the Doctor when they are both falsely suspected of conspiracy. But stylistically, we have another alien society with robe-wearing aristocrats and characters who generally behave as if they're in some sort of theater production set in the late Renaissance. The aesthetics on display here have never been all that appealing to me in the first place - whether as part of a "straight" period piece or in a modified science fiction context - and it certainly feels like Doctor Who has gone to this well often enough by now. The plot device of having the Doctor falsely accused of a crime and facing execution is hardly a new one either, and it's never quite clear whether this is meant to undermine the notion of Traken as a peaceful society or if it's just a misplaced bit of Doctor Who formula.

The script does a reasonable job of structuring the plot around the Master's return. Rather than presenting his recovery from his weakened state in "The Deadly Assassin" as a fait accompli, the conflicts on Traken are set in motion by his scheme to gain control of the Source and use it to rejuvenate himself. There is one real head-scratcher of a moment when "Melkur," having already revealed that he and the Doctor have met before, disappears to the unmistakable sound of a TARDIS dematerializing, and yet the Doctor still doesn't seem to figure out Melkur's true identity. Otherwise, the plot-and-counterplot between the Doctor and the Master are believable enough to make the story work on the "what's going to happen next?" level, and Adric and Nyssa are effectively portrayed as intelligent and resourceful but still somewhat wet behind the ears.

This certainly isn't a clunker, and it's competent enough in its mechanics. But I guess the style and the more formulaic aspects felt too stale for me to rate it as much more than an average Who serial.

Rating: **1/2 out of four

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