Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken (parts three and four)

Memory’s a tricky thing. Every once in a while, our son will just toss a random Doctor Who fact my way, suggesting that he thinks about some old episodes from time to time. But he doesn’t recall the Master’s last appearance, in “The Deadly Assassin”, at all. We only watched it in April. But it’s also true that he didn’t actually enjoy that story even a little bit.

So part three of “The Keeper of Traken” ends with the not-completely-surprising revelation that the Master is behind the plot, and that his TARDIS – he has two! – has been standing in place as the Melkur statue for something like a decade. Inside, he’s evidently been healing somewhat, because he doesn’t have the hideous skeleton eyes that Peter Pratt wore as the Master in “Assassin.” Geoffrey Beevers plays the Master this time out. Fanon suggests that Pratt and Beevers are each playing the thirteenth and final incarnation of the Master… which is where Anthony Ainley comes in.

Whatever you think of “Traken,” you can’t deny it has a very unique finale. The Doctor and Adric have saved the day, with the assistance of their friends Tremas, played by Ainley, and his daughter Nyssa, and make their customary hasty exit. But the story doesn’t end like we think it should. In a devilishly mean-spirited epilogue, we see that the Master had a second TARDIS parked inside the Melkur-TARDIS, and, using the power he’d somehow absorbed from the Traken Source, he takes over and steals Tremas’s body, clicks his heels and leaves to go cause some chaos dressed in black and with the customary Master mustache and beard. Nyssa’s left to wonder where her father went.

Ainley seems like he was an incredibly interesting fellow. By 1981, he was about ready to retire from acting and just play cricket at leisure, because he’d inherited what many people report was a very, very large amount of money. Who‘s producer, John Nathan-Turner, remembered Ainley from a BBC series he’d worked on in 1974 called The Pallisers and thought he’d be a perfect Master, and then, far too frequently, didn’t commission any decent scripts for him. Ainley had also co-starred in a downright odd ATV spy series called Spyder’s Web which I probably enjoy more than you do, although John at the Cult TV Blog has also celebrated its prickly strangeness, and he was in The Land That Time Forgot and The Blood on Satan’s Claw, a fine character actor finally landing a role everybody would remember.

I’m reasonably certain our son won’t forget Ainley’s version of the Master. Reasonably. We’ll see him again very, very soon. But I was really surprised by how thoroughly he had forgotten the Pratt incarnation. During the closing credits of part three, I asked him whether he was surprised to see the Master again. After all, he did just freeze, give a shocked face, and tumble to the floor when Beevers turns to the camera chuckling. But at the end of the story, he told us he really liked this one, but didn’t understand “just one thing… when that showed us that it was the Master, how’d you know it was the Master?”

And I guess he had a point. Even for viewers with longer memories, it had been four years since the Master’s previous appearance…

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken (parts three and four)

  1. Ryan Salmon

    I like Spyder’s Web, too! I think it’s really neat, like how “The Avengers” might have felt if they kept making the show after it was cancelled in America and they had to go back to videotape.

    • It’s a deeply weird show, isn’t it? It’s a great cast, but the imbalance of how humorous it really wants to be makes it a strange experience. I think they’d just about nailed it by the end of the run. I wish they had made a second series, since they’d about ironed out the kinks.

      • Ryan Salmon

        Do you think “The Avengers” could have continued as a videotape show? I sort of think that once you’ve established an expectation of that high-gloss, the viewers will keep expecting it.

      • That probably wouldn’t have happened. I can’t think of any shows that moved to film and went back to tape.

  2. “A new body at last!”

    Ooooh, I really enjoy this one. It made a lasting impression on me as a kid, because Geoffrey Beevers’ grotesquely evil portrayal of the Master was so striking. I was actually a bit disappointed that at the end of the story this Master fellow turned into a relatively normal looking person. It was at least another couple of years before I learned of Roger Delgado, and realized that Anthony Ainley was deliberately meant to evoke him.

    A bit of a funny story… One of the first Doctor Who novelizations I ever read was The Space War by Malcolm Hulke, which adapted his scripts for The Frontier in Space. About half way through the story the when Master pops up, revealed as the Big Bad, because I had not yet seen any of the Jon Pertwee stories in my head I visualized the Master as appearing exactly like he did in The Keeper of Traken.

    In any case, Beevers’ performance was mostly a vocal one, so I’m very happy that he later reprised the role of the Master in several of the Doctor Who audio stories produced by Big Finish.

    • That’s great! The nearest I can remember was that I read Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion and pictured the Autons as wearing their big carnival heads and yellow jackets. The actual version was a big surprise.

      (Another surprise from that experience: I first saw Spearhead with friends at a meeting of a local fan club called Terminus TARDIS and – following up the conversation above – the fact that it was all on film prompted one of them to say “Wow, it looks like an episode of Mission: Impossible!”)

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