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The Keeper of Traken

Production Code: 5T

First Transmitted

1 - 31/01/1981 17:10

2 - 07/02/1981 17:10

3 - 14/02/1981 17:10

4 - 21/02/1981 17:10


The Doctor and Adric learn from the wizened Keeper of Traken that a great evil has come to his planet in the form of a Melkur - a calcified statue. The Keeper is nearing the end of his reign and seeks the Doctor's help in preventing the evil from taking control of the bioelectronic Source that is the keystone of the Traken Union's civilisation.

The Melkur, via various deceptions, becomes the next Keeper. It is then, however, revealed to be the Master's TARDIS. Its owner, still blackened and emaciated, hopes to use the Source's power to regenerate himself. The Doctor manages to expel him and install a new Keeper in his place, but in a last minute ploy the Master traps one of the Traken Consuls, Tremas, and merges with his body before fleeing the planet.

Episode Endings

Armed guards known as Fosters bring the Doctor and Adric as prisoners before the Keeper and his Consuls. The Doctor asks the Keeper to vouch for him. At that moment however, unseen by all but the Keeper, the Melkur appears in the doorway. The Keeper is affected by the Melkur's presence and is able to tell his Consuls only that they have been invaded by evil. He then vanishes and, as the Melkur moves out of sight, the Consuls and the Fosters close in on the Doctor and Adric.

The Doctor, Adric and Consul Tremas are taken prisoner by the Fosters. Consul Kassia, who has fallen under the Melkur's influence, tells it that her task is done. The Melkur replies that, on the contrary, it is only beginning.

The old Keeper dies and Kassia ascends to his chair to take his place. Consul Katura, despite attempts by the Doctor and Tremas to intervene, activates the controls that will give the new Keeper access to the Source. Suddenly Kassia cries out and her body contorts in pain before vanishing altogether - to be replaced by the Melkur.

The Master takes Tremas's body as his own and then departs in his TARDIS. Tremas's daughter Nyssa comes looking for her father, but in vain.


A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Julius Caesar ('Kassia is as good a name as Tremas').


Richard III.

Le Guinn's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

The Silmarilion (Melkur).


Space:1999 (The Metamorph).

Blake's 7 (Ultraworld).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "If I knew everything that was going to happen, where would the fun be?"

The Doctor : [Speaking of the Traken Union] "They say the atmosphere there was so full of goodness that evil just shrivelled up and died."

The Master : "A new body... at last!"

The Doctor : "This type's not really my forté."


N-space is much larger than E-space. Traken is in Mettula Orionsis, and its Union is the most harmonious the Universe has ever seen. Traken seems to attract evil, although such creatures are calcefied on contact with the planet, and pass harmlessly into the soil. Melkur means 'a fly caught by honey'.

The Keeper is the 'organising principle' of all the minds of the Traken Union, channelled through the bioelectronic Source. Keepers typically live for a thousand years or more before his or her Dissolution, and the period of transition between Keepers is usually difficult.

The Keeper of Traken is one of the few beings capable of penetrating and controlling the TARDIS (see Warriors' Gate). The Doctor consults two old hand-written time logs, presumably detailing some of his journeys, but says that he doesn't keep them any more. When Adric closes the TARDIS doors he says 'No one except the Doctor can get in. Or at least, that's the theory.' [A theory that has rarely worked in practice: see The Daleks.]

The Master's TARDIS is not an 'ordinary Type 40', the Master calling it his 'new ship'. It contains his old ship still disguised as a clock [is his new ship Goth's?]. The Master again mentions that he has passed through all twelve regenerations (see The Deadly Assassin).

Adric says that he is 'quite good with locks', although he doesn't understand keys!


Traken, presumably in 1981 (see Logopolis)



The Doctor isn't sure if he's been to Traken before.


The Master has two TARDISes - one disguised as the Melkur and the other, as in The Deadly Assassin, as a grandfather clock.


The invisible TARDIS (which has been displaced by a current time cone) might be discovered by a binary induction system. We also have a recursive integrator (cf Castrovalva) and gamma-mode encryption.


Look at the Doctor's nose when he's imprisoned in episode three: perhaps he didn't have a hanky.

Kassia's red eyes are clearly 'painted' on her eyelids (cf Planet of Evil).

The Master's teeth are painted onto his lips.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Adric - Matthew Waterhouse

Nyssa - Sarah Sutton

Fosters - Liam Prendergast

Fosters - Philip Bloomfield

Kassia - Sheila Ruskin

Katura - Margot van der Burgh

Luvic - Robin Soans

Melkur - Geoffrey Beevers Geoffrey Beevers played the Master but was credited as the Melkur to conceal this plot twist. The walking Melkur statue was played by Graham Cole (now better known for his starring role in the ITV police series The Bill)

Neman - Roland Oliver

Seron - John Woodnutt

The Keeper - Denis Carey

Tremas - Anthony Ainley


Director - John Black

Assistant Floor Manager - Lynn Richards

Costumes - Amy Roberts

Designer - Tony Burrough

Executive Producer - Barry Letts

Incidental Music - Roger Limb

Make-Up - Norma Hill

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Alan Wareing

Production Unit Manager - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Christopher H Bidmead

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Don Babbage

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Studio Sound - Alan Fogg

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - Peter Logan

Writer - Johnny Byrne

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'A whole empire held together... by people just being terribly nice to each other.' A beautiful tale, with good and evil taken straight from fairy tales and fables. The poetic dialogue, matched by the design, helps obscure the relative disappointment of the last couple of episodes. But its great revelations and awkward attitude to SF raise The Keeper of Traken above much that surrounds it.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

John Peel, writing in TARDIS Volume 6 Number 1, dated April 1981, considered The Keeper of Traken to be the season's most impressive story yet: '[This] was the best Tom Baker story for many a long year, and one of the most pleasing stories I have ever seen in the series. Everything gelled to make this one of those rare creatures - a virtually flawless show.' If this is overstating the case, it is only by a little. Writer Johnny Byrne's debut contribution to the series has a welcome quality of freshness and originality about it, presenting some unusual and slightly quirky concepts including the Traken Union and the evil Melkurs that are calcified by the planet's goodness as soon as they arrive there. Director John Black, another newcomer to the series, makes a fine job of translating script to screen, showing a deft touch with the drama and a great visual flair.

The only real failing in the story's on-screen presentation - and a minor one, at that - is that the grove in which the Melkur arrives never convinces the viewer as being in the open air; it always looks exactly like what it is, a studio set. Peter G Lovelady, writing in Oracle Volume 3 Number 10, dated August 1981, had some suitably positive comments to make about other aspects of the production: 'The lavish interior sets added to the atmosphere, and the rich, flowing costumes were a credit to Amy Roberts... My only grumble [concerned] the visual effects - the reversion of nature to "destructive chaos" was very [poorly realised].'

Robert Fairclough, writing in Web Planet Number 7 in 1981, was even more appreciative: 'Apart from one model shot of the TARDIS in [Part One], the production was flawless; the courts of Traken, the labyrinth beneath the grove, had a curious neo-classical quality, and Shakespearean undercurrents were also present in the vaguely Elizabethan costumes... The elements of tragedy-symbolism in the weeds and storm, undermining of the state and institution of a corrupt ruler... were also noticeably and effectively present, enhancing the fundamentally good SF yarn that The Keeper of Traken was.'

All Johnny Byrne's characters are well written and effectively brought to life by the guest cast. Soon-to-be companion Nyssa is given not an enormous amount to do in the story, but Sarah Sutton delivers a charming, nicely understated performance that shows considerable promise. Best of all, though, is Anthony Ainley's Tremas.

'Tremas was... solid flesh and blood,' agreed Peel, 'the kind of person that you could believe in. It's very hard to create such a real-seeming person in a story, but Johnny Byrne gave us a superb one here. Tremas was kind, intellectual, curious (a fatal flaw!), well-mannered and witty. His lines were sparkling, the delivery faultless. Anthony Ainley was an excellent choice for the role, and played [it] to perfection... The other characters had all been believable and good, but Tremas was special in a story that was filled with such magic for me...

'The final scene, with good triumphant, evil defeated and Tremas about to go home was beautiful. But that fatal curiosity for the clock...! I revelled in the sequence... The Master creeping out, and clutching at the still form of Tremas, the merging of the two people, and then the regeneration of the old body into a virtual Delgado look-alike (he even regenerated the clothes...), and "A new body... at last!". I loved it!'

The resurrection of the Master in a new physical form is undoubtedly The Keeper of Traken's most important and enduring contribution to the Doctor Who mythos. Lovelady felt that it was only moderately successful in this regard, but held out hope for the series' future: 'The build up to [the Master's] revelation was well handled, with nice little melodramatic bits... Alas, when the cowled figure finally turned round, I was disappointed. Although Norma Hill had done a creditable job with the make-up, Geoffrey Beevers actually looked less decayed than Peter Pratt [in The Deadly Assassin], and he was remarkably agile, considering he was near the end of this [thirteenth incarnation]... again!... Although Mr Beevers captured the Master's disregard for life, his reaction to the captured Doctor was... all wrong. Agreed, he would relish the moment, but he would not be drooling over the Doctor like a hungry bloodhound. He was also perhaps too volatile, especially when the Source was nearly destroyed. However, we now have Anthony Ainley, who, with more than a passing resemblance to Roger Delgado, looks very promising indeed.'

< Warriors' GateFourth DoctorLogopolis >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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