30 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 576: The Keeper of Traken, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I can’t decide if the Doctor is trying to play along with the Master’s game in this story, or if he’s just being especially slow this week. There seems to be a point early on in the episode where the Doctor clearly knows that the Master is the one controlling the Melkur (though he doesn’t say as much), but then later on, when he’s trapped inside the thing, he seems somewhat surprised to find that it’s his old foe behind events here. I’d imagine that there’s a way of reading these events as the Fourth Doctor getting a bit slow - another sign of his approaching death - but that only seems to find its way into events because I know the magnitude of the next story, not because it’s been actively inserted to the story here.

But this is just a symptom of a wider issue at play here - it feels like all the build up has been for very little. In the special features for this story on the DVD, Christopher Bidmead makes mention of the Master being shoehorned into the script at the last minute, and I think I can see his point in this final episode. The fact that the Master is inside the Melkur is really irrelevant, and the story would work just as well if the creature was simply a being that had bided its time in the garden on Traken for years, waiting for the right time to seize control and make a move. In fact, there’s almost something quite clever in there, with the idea that all evil turns to stone in the goodness of Traken, but if the Melkur were a creature made of stone, then it could be immune... Then there’s the idea of people flocking to worship at the cult of the Melkur (something which is touched on and then seemingly forgotten in the story as-is), which could also provide an interesting story.

If anything, I’d dare to say that the story is almost weakened by the reveal that the Master has been pulling the strings all along, because it’s such a weak denouement here that I’m left completely underwhelmed by his return. I mused yesterday that the audience may not have really remembered or cared who this person was on the original transmission, but all the same, it feels like I should be punching the air with surprise at the return of the Doctor’s greatest foe. When the final scene comes along and Tremas is taken over by the Master, it’s all the more out-of-place - it feels tacked on (it is).

Still, for all my sourness at the way the Master has been used here, I have to admit that I’ve rather enjoyed The Keeper of Traken as a whole. The world really feels more rounded and complete than we’ve been seeing in the series for a while (though it’s becoming more common in Season Eighteen, with the likes of Full Circle and State of Decay featuring worlds just as whole as Traken), and I’ve liked spending the last few days here. Now, though, I’m heading in to Tom Baker’s final story as the Doctor... and that feels like a pretty special moment...

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