DVD Extras include:
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, as well as supportive of later developments in the story, 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. Sadly the Keeper's communication skills have become pathetic enough to arbitrarily concoct a cliffhanger.
Mind you, it's not too noticeable, 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 in the TARDIS, not run away from them altogether, so it's nowhere near as awful as "Marco Polo". 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 Melkur and the ion bonder, while Dick Mills provides energetic sound effects.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS:I had the strange fortune to see all of season 19 before season 18 came to me in re-runs, so Anthony Ainley was already firmly established in my mind as the Master - the only Master for that matter. And thanks to vague references from season 19, I'd been expecting him to be the adversary for some of season 18's adventures - in fact I suspected that he'd appeared once or twice in all previous seasons.
Thus Tremas appeared to be merely another of the Master's disguises. Ainley's delivery of "Obviously some... force" to Seron in episode one gave him away instantly - he was clearly scheming in his trademark secretive ways once more. He must also be controlling Melkur somehow, getting it to make the TARDIS disappear just as he sends the Fosters to look for it in the grove. It seemed a bit odd though, that Anthony Ainley's name appeared ungarbled in the closing credits. Surely that would give away the Master's presence to the audience a little too easily, wouldn't it?
And so I kept expecting the Doctor to discover the Master's dual role, which seemed to be taking forever. Tremas became more and more helpful and genuinely friendly, and I was more and more at a loss to figure out what his real scheme was.
Episode Three's reveal was a true shock and puzzler. After all the previous action and mayhem, the inner Melkur shows his face to the audience. I couldn't tell who or what he was supposed to be. But there was no mistaking the sound effect in the following shot, and I got goosebumps upon hearing the Master's TARDIS dematerialize. It still didn't all make sense. Anthony Ainley's character was the Master, wasn't he?
Only during episode four, where Ainley's character sets his teeth into opposing the Master's TARDIS and whatever was inside it did I accept him as merely being Nyssa's father, and a character in his own right. And of course, everything leads up wonderfully to the Doctor's confrontation with the Master. It's always a good idea to let the Doctor discover or reach a new room in the final episode, even better if it's the innermost sanctum of the villain's lair. Unfortunately the Doctor doesn't get to do anything critical there beyond character exploration and distraction; the critical actions all take place outside.
Motivating the MasterAt this point, it is worth repeating something I noted back in the very first Master story "Terror of the Autons" (story no. 55):
The Master is a difficult character to motivate properly, as his TARDIS provides him with all he needs for his material survival and gives him the freedom of all time and space. That freedom in fact keeps him separate from any society he might wish to dominate. What really is his life-style of choice? Ruler of the universe surrounded by minions in a command structure, or self-centered loner wandering the galaxy by TARDIS? Well, lots of people don't really have the issues in their lives all neatly sorted out, and villains should be no exception, particular those who miss their objectives as often as the Master does with the Doctor on his tail. Still, in order for the Master character to work well in a script, he either needs a particularly grand ambition to deviously work towards, or he needs to be in some form of trouble causing him to work to regain what he originally had. Ideally, both ideas should be in play. Revenge is yet a third possible motivational factor, but I find it to be the weakest in terms of creating quality entertainment, and insufficient to sustain a complex character like the Master over the long-term, and "Doctor Who" is definitely a long-term sci-fi adventure series.With this in mind, it is worth noting that Tom Baker's era boasts three of the very best Master stories, even if two of them don't really feature the Master in his trademark form. "The Keeper of Traken" has the Master trying to regain his mobility and a new body, while also working on the grand ambition of attaining the power of the Keepership. Additionally, "along the way, many old scores will be settled". So we have a little revenge on the side, which appropriately stays on the side. You would hardly know that the Master was a late addition to the story. His motivations are a perfect fit here.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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