The Keeper of Traken

1-story disc
Region 1

for North America
3-story box set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 115, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Johnny Byrne
  • directed by John Black
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Roger Limb
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The ailing ruler of the Traken Union, known as the Keeper, asks the Doctor and Adric to help make the transition of power to a new Keeper as smooth as possible. Even after enlisting the aid of a conscientious councillor and his daughter Nyssa, the event is anything but, as an all-too-familiar evil has begun to corrupt the high council to make a grab for the secret technological powers behind the throne.
New Beginnings
3 DVD boxed set NTSC Region 1

for North America

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by writer Johnny Byrne, actors Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Anthony Ainley (Tremas), and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa).
  • "Being Nice to Each Other" making-of featurette (30 min.) with Byrne, Sutton, Sheila Ruskin (Kassia), Geoffrey Beevers (Melkur),
    director John Black, and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead.
  • Featurette on the return of the Doctor's arch-enemy with Geoffrey Beevers, Chris Bidmead and John Black (9 min.)
  • Noel Edmunds interviews Sarah Sutton on Swap Shop (11 min.)
  • Isolated Music Score by Roger Limb (original mono)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music montage (8 min.)
  • DVD ROM .pdf files: 1982 Dr. Who Annual, Radio Times, & BBC Enterprises literature

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

The excellence of season eighteen reaches its zenith with this story, showcasing the best of what the John Nathan-Turner era could do. Writer Johnny Byrne delivers what is quite possibly his strongest script ever, which goes on to inspire grand work from all the other participants in the production.

Traken is the type of world we should see more of in Doctor Who. Its richly tasteful sets and costumes speak of a grand civilized culture which is a delight to explore. Its people are ceremonial yet also technologically advanced. They are philosophically and politically interesting. And they are alien enough to surprise us with a few twists. The TARDIS earns its marks for showing us more of the universe in this tale.

All characters are introduced exceptionally well, beginning with the Doctor and Adric, and continuing with the Keeper and all of the important guest characters. A proper opening materialization for the TARDIS would have been additionally satisfying, but the basic ideas of the craft are presented exceptionally well thanks to the use of the scanner screen during the opening shots, the model shot later on, and the general clarity in the well-laid out opening sequence.

Curiously, where Adric nearly took over the opening episode of his first story, new crewmember Nyssa only appears in two scenes of her first episode, containing a total of only one significant close-up and only one line. Thankfully she more than makes up for this in later episodes, giving us an easily-watchable well-rounded character with many strengths. Top marks are due to the entire cast.

Adric is also at his season 18 best in this story, now out from under Romana and K9's shadow. In fact, he often stays better focused on their mission than the Doctor, and is given almost as much to do in solving the challenges of this adventure. Good writing and directing bring out one of Matthew Waterhouse's best performances.

The Doctor and Adric take a bit too long to get to the scene of the action in the first episode for my tastes, after which the remainder of the episode is a bit too formulaic. Tom Baker plays on that fact, keeping it entertaining. Notice here though, that the people of Traken are refreshingly open to the truth about the Doctor and his TARDIS, which plays in his favour, while deception remains the method for the villains. Quite the opposite of many dreary openings approved of and written by David Whitaker during the earliest years of the show.

There is a healthy dose of action in the piece, and the Doctor puts in a good showing in the adventure, but I feel the script still needed to give him more to do in investigating and tackling local problems. Mind you, that isn't too noticeable a deficiency, given all of the wonderful character scenes and developments that the guest artists are able to indulge in. Additionally, you know the Doctor wants to cobble together some solution to the Trakens' problems once he gets to where he is going. Plus the action is generally an improvement on much of what the show had been producing previously. Dave Chapman does outstanding work in creating visual beams for various weapons and gadgets, while Dick Mills provides energetic sound effects.

The development of the adversarial force in this tale can easily be an unusual set of surprises, even if you think you already know its identity. Its slow reveal contains many of the great escalating moments in Doctor Who or any other sci-fi show, no matter how you take the rest of the story. It's not done as often as you might think, and even then, this is one of the best examples ever, worthy of goosebumps even on repeat viewing.

Everything leads up wonderfully to the Doctor's confrontation with the adversary, and the final unveiling of secrets, mysteries, and back-stories. You would hardly know that the true villain was a late addition to the story. His motivations, discussed at length in the In-Depth Analysis version of this review where I can give away as many SPOILERS as I want, are a perfect fit here.

Musically, Roger Limb delivers one of his best scores here in his Doctor Who debut. It is ultimately memorable due to the introduction of Nyssa's theme, arranged here at its best - fresh, light, and bubbly. There's also a nice menacing instrument sound for Melkur, many interesting pieces for Kassia's encounters with the creature, and several very respectable cues for the story's major turning points. Limb's waves and washes of synthetic sounds are tasteful, and his Achilles' heel - the overused semitone drop - is difficult to find. Very good job; I like this score a lot. Though I will probably still rank the rest of the season's music ahead of this score, the season's music sets a good standard, where even last place shines bright.
Music by Roger Limb and Special Sound by Dick Mills
"Nyssa's Theme" (stereo version, 0:43),
"Kassia's Wedding Music" (0:49), and
"The Threat of Melkur" (0:55) are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who - Earthshock
Silva Screen FilmCD 709

More info & buying options

The Keeper of Traken is full of excellent elements and heavy with series mythology. It also gels very well as a compelling story in its own right, neatly catapulting one on towards the season finale. An easy choice for the season's best story.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.:
See boxed set below.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

3-story boxed sets:
(Story Nos. 115-117: The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis & Castrovalva.)
New Beginnings
3 DVD boxed set
NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada
New Beginnings
3 DVD boxed set
PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Logopolis"

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