Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken

Part One

“It surely does not become of us to mock the Melkur!”

So, Johnny Byrne, another new writer. It’s extraordinary how few of the old hands have been penning the scripts this series. The effect is that things seem very fresh but also a little disorienting. And perhaps also more of an obvious influence from the script editor than usual. But anyway, The Keeper of Traken

For the first time the Doctor and Adric are alone in the TARDIS and, surprisingly, it works very well indeed. With just Adric the Doctor is suddenly full-on sombre; we’ve seen elements of this tendency more and more over the season but without the influence of Romana and K9 it’s much more to the forefront. The relationship between the Doctor and Adric is also very much a father / son one, which makes the Doctor seem older and fits with the changes in his character. Adric is very accepting of the doctor as a father figure and, surprisingly, the two actors work very well together. Tom is excellent, of course, in portraying this most interesting piece of character development. But I must give credit to Matthew Waterhouse too. Anyway, The Keeper of Traken… 

We have an empire held together just by “people being terribly nice to each other”, something which isn’t developed any further than that. We also have the concept of good and evil apparently being things which objectively exist rather than being subjective judgements, to the extent that “evil beings are drawn to Traken where they calcify into “Melkurs”. All of which is, frankly, simplistic drivel which has no place in either the scientific world view or the general tone of Doctor Who. I don’t have any problem with Doctor Who being considered a children’s programme (it is), but the simplistic concepts behind this scripts come across as intended not just for a children’s programme but a rather patronising conception of one. All this talk of Traken’s “goodness” and its effect on “evil” Melkurs makes me feel as if I’m being talked down to. And good children’s television never makes me feel that way, even at 32.

The dialogue comes across as the worst kind of cod-Shakespeare, too. And our introduction to the characters via flashback as the Keeper introduces them is awkward and stagey, too, the characters’ dialogue being too obviously intended as exposition.

Still, nice line from the Doctor as the end as he and Adric, rather drearily, are about to be accused of some crime: “I wonder what we’ve done this time?”

Part Two

“Obey without question!”

Pretty much a second episode of drivel, really, and at the halfway point the story is on course for a 1/5. Still, Anthony Ainley is good as Tremas, it’s good to see Margot Van der Burgh (it’s been a long time!) and John Woodnutt again, albeit both wasted, and Kassia’s eyes when hypnotised evoke pleasant memories of Image of the Fendahl. I wonder who this baddie could be, hypnotising Kassia like that?

I must admit it all looks good, too, as has everything this season.

Part Three

“What can’t be cured must be endured.”

Fortunately from this point things begin to pick up, as the focus shifts from the awful concepts of the story, the dull guest characters and the dullness of the Doctor and Adric being suspected of nefariousness and locked in a cell. I like the way everyone has to bribe Proctor Neman to get him to do anything (at least there’s one snake in this paradise, then!). 

Nyssa is the other guest character of interest here, likeable, knows a lot of science-y things, brave and determined, but even she is far from a well-rounded character, as those traits pretty much describe her whole personality.

The focus on the action is bringing some entertainment into the story, though, and the cliffhanger’s great.

Part Four

“So, a new body. At last!”

One slight problem here- the two remaining consuls seem to accept the Melkur as the new Keeper, but surely by definition they’d see him as evil? Just because the pace is picking up doesn’t mean things have started making sense!

Interesting to see a mention of the second law of thermodynamics, and our good friend entropy. It’s almost as though something were being foreshadowed. Bizarre how this story manages to develop the overarching themes of the season with a genuine brilliance which is entirely lacking in the ideas behind the story itself.
I was much amused by the Doctor’s banging of heads with Neman and his two mates- shades of The Highlanders there. And also by our first sight of Nyssa building some kind of device in the TARDIS- quite possibly not the last time we’ll see something like this! But Nyssa, along with Adric, pretty much gets to save the day. How puzzling that she doesn’t join the TARDIS crew at the end…

Geoffrey Beevers is magnificent as the Master, with almost the perfect voice for villainy, surpassing Peter Pratt and probably second only to Gabriel Woolf. Shame about his make-up though, so much less graphic than in The Deadly Assassin! It’s great to see the Master again, although this story doesn’t really give us a great confrontation scene between him and the Doctor- something to be rectified shortly, no doubt. The Doctor’s also strangely slow to realise who he is.

The Master’s still after a new body, though, and just when the story seems to be over he goes and gets himself one. Poor Tremas…

Well, after the poorest start in some considerable time this manages to climb its way up to a 2/5 by competent action plotting, some development of the overarching season theme and some competent stuff with the Master. The whole concept of Traken is still rotten, though.

I’ll try and do Logopolis tomorrow. And judging by my notes it’ll probably break my record for word count for a four parter by a long way!

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