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29 July 2014

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

Day 575: The Keeper of Traken, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I’m so used to thinking of this story as the first part of a ‘Master trilogy’, that it’s easy to forget that he doesn’t actually show up until this point in the story! We’ve heard his voice right the way though, and there’s been hands flicking switches for a while, but it’s not until the end of this episode that he finally swings around to reveal himself to the audience (and I can’t help thinking that he has the look of an excited puppy in doing so!), and announce his true identity - even if the Doctor doesn’t know it yet.

My wonder is, though... did this have impact when it first went out? The Master here is only a slightly modified version of the one seen in The Deadly Assassin (am I right in thinking that one story goes that they found the cloak from that story in the skip just as they were preparing for this one, and salvaged it in time?), but that last appearance was ages ago. That story went out around October/November 1976, whereas The Keeper of Traken didn’t make it to screen until early 1981! You’re looking just over four years between appearances, and a lot has changed in the programme since then! Graham Williams has come and gone, as have Leela, Romana, and K9... did the audience at the time sit up in their chairs here thinking ‘bloody hell, it’s the Master!?!?’ or was it just an excited puppy in a tatty, skip-bound cloak?

Oh, I’m just nit-picking really, because it is a very good cliffhanger when you’re watching through in order like this. The mysterious bad guy who has been wreaking all this havoc on Traken and causing problems for the Doctor is none other than the Master! And he finally reveals himself to us just as Kassia takes the seat of the Keeper, and is instantly replaced with the Melkur sitting on the throne! It really is a very striking way to end the episode, and the fact that the Doctor has felt more hopeless in this story than many others makes it feel like the Master is a very real threat to him again.

I’m a little puzzled by exactly what this ‘Source’ is that he’s gained control of, mind. As far as I can tell (bear with me): it’s the power source for the Keeper. A kind of technology that needs to be guided by a living mind (the Keeper), and has the ability to keep everything in check throughout the Traken Union (is this a series of planets? That’s how I understand it, though it could simply be a number of countries on the one world of Traken). Being connected to the Source grants the Keeper an unusually long life, because... well... because it does. Hence, when a Keeper dies, they’re unable to hold back forces of chaos any longer, and thus storms begin to brew etc etc. In some ways, it’s the struggle between the Black and the White Guardian in miniature. If I’ve got that right, then it’s a great target for the Master, and fairly reminiscent of his plan in The Deadly Assassin, without all that boring Time Lord Stuff.

I think what’s throwing me is the mashing of a fairy tale world, all groves and stone corridors, with people dressed in crushed velvet, and the world of science fiction, with lots of machinery and intelligent creations like the Source itself. It’s throwing me even more that they can create technology as powerful as this seems to be, but not an adequate way of mankind the transition more stable between two Keepers. I know Nyssa goes on to have an ability with science once she’s a regular member of the TARDIS crew, and I’m wondering if it may feel less of a clash once she’s away from the trappings of her home world?

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