Reviewed By: JMChurch25
Review Date: 5/16/19 3:29 pm
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The penultimate story of Season 18 sees the Doctor and Adric land in a community famously held together by universal harmony and protection from evil. But a nasty malevolence is making an impact with a personal goal that will affect the planet and its people moving forward. But most of all, it sets the Fourth Doctor on a path to his death with an old enemy finding a new lease on life and waiting in the shadows to strike.
This story marks the true beginning of the Fourth Doctor's regeneration into the Fifth, being the first of a trilogy of stories that end with the Fifth Doctor's "Castrovalva". While it's not a great group of stories in their own right, each one has their own things to admire and 'Keeper of Traken' is no different. In fact, despite "Castrovalva" being my favorite of the trio, I would argue that 'Traken' is perhaps the best in terms of overall quality. It's a very stylized and interesting adventure with a very theatrical script and dialogue. In a strange way, it feels almost Shakespearean in places especially in the way this civilization interacts with and is eventually tainted by evil. It also looks really good with each of the set designs feeling real and vibrant especially when focused on the creepy statue in the gardens. It has a very quiet and subtle atmosphere helped along by a decent score and some really pretty colors that make this one somewhat relaxing even as the tension builds in a very slow burn.
The cast is all fine here though you can tell Tom Baker is struggling more and more to stay vibrant and make his Doctor work. More than ever, he looks tired and exhausted like his Doctor is becoming more weary day by day. It fits the theme of the story and the entire season as a whole to a degree but it does mean his acting isn't as fun or as interesting as usual. Waterhouse as Adric is decent especially when Nyssa enters the picture finally giving someone his own age to work of off a bit more. Since this story comes before his major power trip with the Fifth Doctor, he and Nyssa are great together especially with Sarah Sutton being as good as she is right off the bat. It does seem strange looking at it now that she would become a major companion given how she's characterized here but she's fine and I'm glad she's here as she rapidly becomes a favorite companion of mine in future stories.
However, the member who truly deserves the most credit is Geoffrey Beevers as the Master returning after a significant amount of time away from the show. This is his only on-screen appearance in the role which is frankly shameful because he is astonishingly good here. His motivations are more related to his emaciated condition rather than being evil just for the sake of it and it's surprising how nasty and hypnotic this version can be when pushed especially when his goals are realized in the final moments of the adventure. This story deserves more recognition for this performance alone and I'm glad that he gets more attention in the Big Finish audios.
The pacing takes a while to get moving and it's not an amazing story but there are some fantastic moments, tense cliffhangers, and nice touches that work more than they have any right to. In watching it again, I honestly found 'Keeper of Traken' to be much better than I personally remember it. It certainly has its problems and it isn't going to win any awards or anything like that. But for all it does right and giving us a rare onscreen Master, it's one that I look rather fondly on as a Whovian.