Doctor Who – The Keeper of Traken

Doctor Who Story 114 – The Keeper of Traken

Written By

Johnny Byrne

What’s It About

The Doctor and Adric are enlisted by the Keeper of Traken to investigate a great evil that he suspects has invaded his otherwise peaceful planet.

A whole empire being held together by people being terribly nice to each other
the Melkur
Source: The TARDIS Data Core.

Christopher H. Bidmead, who has been the script editor for this final season of Tom Baker as the Doctor, is generally considered to be the script editor who took a more “hard science” approach to Doctor Who. And yes, under Bidmead we had stories with tachyons, evolution, and reality-altering mathematics called block transfer computation (in the upcoming “Logopolis”). How “hard science” these concepts based on their use in Doctor Who is up for debate, but what I find most interesting is that Bidmead seems to be, at heart, a mythic storyteller. It seems, based on “The Keeper of Traken” and the following “Logopolis,” that for Bidmead, science is the starting point for magic. And so, we have a mythologizing of science, which I find fascinating. Since this is the entry on “The Keeper of Traken,” I’ll limit my discussion of the mythologizing to the episode in question, but I’m sure it will come up again in the entry for “Logopolis.”

“Keeper” is, at its core, is the story of the Fall. It is a theodicy, which basically means it is an explanation for the origin of evil, but in the case of “Keeper” it is on a local scale. The Traken Empire is held together, as the Doctor says, “by people being terribly nice to each other.” But their peace and stability hinges on two other factors: the Keeper and the Source. The Source is a device of some sort which holds evil at bay. When an evil entity enters its field, the evil entity becomes stone until it perishes. This plays on a theological idea that evil cannot survive in the presence of pure good, typically represented by God or the divine (which can, according to some religious beliefs, be called the Source). The Keeper is the Trakenite (mortal) who interfaces with the Source and uses it to mediate the peace of Traken. The Keeper, then, is a high priest, an intermediary between the Trakenites and the Source. A ruling council exists for the daily operations of the empire, the mundane or profane tasks, but the Keeper is consulted for advice, unusual dilemmas, or rituals (such as the marriage of Tremas and Kassia). This is the theological info-dump that we are given in the first episode of “Keeper.” The story that follows, then, is a play on the Fall of Man, the introduction of evil.

The Melkur (who is really the Master in a disguised TARDIS) plays the role of the serpent. The Melkur is one of the evil entities who arrived in the Traken capitol’s grove (a garden). The Melkur is unusual because it does not die quickly, thus allowing Kassia to be exposed to its influence over years. She becomes the unwitting Eve in this story, driven by forces she does not understand to an end she cannot comprehend. The Master uses her to replace the Keeper then, as she dies, he takes her place as Keeper. The evil, in the end, destroyed her. In the end, the Doctor eliminates the Master’s hold over Traken, but the Master is able to escape by superimposing his essence onto Tremas, Kassia’s husband (the symbolic Adam).

“The Keeper of Traken” is mythology through and through. And it is fitting, being the first part of a trilogy that sees the changing of the Doctor, that it starts with an origin story of sorts. It is the origin of evil, an evil which will follow the Doctor and seeks to destroy him. While “Keeper” is the only story in the “Master Trilogy” to not be written by Bidmead, it sets up the mythic feel that runs through this trilogy, and it is, I think, a fine way to incorporate mythology into Doctor Who. And really, when you are about to change the longest-running actor to portray the Doctor, it doesn’t hurt to play up the mythic feel. An entire season has been leading to this and so far, it is paying off in spades.

My Rating

5/5

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2 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Keeper of Traken

  1. Great post! In my own write-up about the serial last year, I observed that the Master “really is the metaphorical serpent in paradise, gradually luring Kassia from the path of righteousness, until she finds she is in way over her head, at which point the Master reveals his true, malevolent side.” You did an excellent job at elaborating on the Biblical undertones of the story. While Kassia quite clearly plays a role much like Eve, I had not before considered that Tremus might be an Adam-like figure. Indeed, as you say, he too experiences a terrible fall, although it is through no fault of his own, as unlike his wife he resisted the Melkur’s overtures. Nevertheless, Kassia’s actions indirectly led to Tremas’ destruction. If she had not provided the Master with the opportunity to seize control of the Source, he would not have subsequently been able to steal Tremas’ body.

    It is definitely worth observing that on one of the documentaries included on the “Terror of the Autons” DVD, Christopher H. Bidmead referred to the Master as “the Devil incarnate.” That seems so especially appropriate in regards to “The Keeper of Traken.” I’ve always been mesmerized by Geoffrey Beevers’ sinister yet seductively charismatic performance. And that chilling ending to episode four has to rank as one of the all time great Doctor Who finales. “A new body at last!”

    1. Thanks! I’ll have to watch that documentary on “Terror of the Autons.” It further reinforces the imagery in this story. Beevers did such a great job with this role, finding a performance somewhere between the Delgado and Pratt version of the character. I love what he has done in Big Finish, where the diabolical side has been emphasized more than the gentlemanly rival side from Delgado.

      “The Keeper of Traken” is just a great story where everything works, but I think it sometimes gets overshadowed because of the reintroduction of the Master.

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