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Classic Who: The Keeper of Traken

Fourth Doctor: The Keeper of Traken

I worked out way back when I began this Who Odyssey that this was one of the very few Tom Baker episodes I actually remembered seeing on original broadcast. Having seen it, I'm still pretty sure that's true - but I really didn't recognise anything else about the episode other than the scene with the statue disappearing that I already knew about. That's what my early Who memories tend to be like, though - just individual isolated scenes, with no idea about their context. My memory of the cliff-hanger scene from Caves of Androzani is exactly the same. So even though I did see at least some of this story when it was first aired, this viewing experience was effectively ex novo for me.

And I basically liked it. There are no exterior scenes, which (as always when that's the case) creates a slightly claustrophobic feel to the story, but this is largely compensated for by the fact that the interior sets, and indeed costumes, are beautiful. It's a generally Renaissance aesthetic, but leaning towards the land of fairy princesses (think, perhaps, a period-appropriate setting of A Midsummer Night's Dream), and with a generous overlay of Art Nouveau, especially in the interior décor. The story is good value and the secondary characters well-delineated and (generally) well-acted. And the script manages to touch in a very fresh way on some elements which have gradually dropped out of the Fourth Doctor's characterisation, and which I've rather missed: particularly his wicked boyish charm and his tendency to get knocked unconscious at regular intervals (both of which I'll swoon and sigh over at greater length when I've finished watching all his stories and do an overview of the Baker era).

I'm still never going to cheer for Adric in the way I did for Sarah Jane and Romana - but as yet, he continues to remain perfectly palatable. In fact, it was rather sweet to see the Doctor taking a fatherly attitude towards him, teaching him about the stars, and N-Space and so on. We also finally start to see some pay-off in this episode regarding his badge for Mathematical Excellence, as he starts to emerge as a scientist, picking up very quickly on the Doctor's technobabble and then building the servo shut-off (or whatever it was called) with Nyssa. I suppose it makes sense that this should emerge now that K-9's gone, as the Doctor needs someone to Talk Science to.

Classics Watch noted a small degree of romanitas about the story. The power structure of the distant and semi-divine Keeper and his group of consuls evokes the emperor and the Roman consuls - although there are rather too many of them on Traken, even if you add together the ordinarii and the suffecti, who were not normally in power at the same time. Kassia's name also sounded orally like 'Cassia', recalling above all the via Cassia - which doesn't actually throw the slightest bit of light on her character in itself, but adds to the atmosphere. And finally, both the attentions paid to a statue that the Trakens believe to represent an evil spirit and the idea of placing the Doctor in the custody of Tremas while he is under suspicion of attacking the Keeper are very much in keeping with Roman practice. I don't expect that any of that 'means' anything terribly deep, other than that it's another influence used alongside the ones I've already listed in the context of sets and costumes to build a fantastical yet recognisable society. But it's nice to see anyway.

Finally, New Who Watch noted another way in which the Doctor keeps track of his own adventures, to place alongside the Continuity Chests in The Unicorn and The Wasp (and indeed the souvenirs which Romana unearths from the TARDIS hold at the beginning of The Creature from the Pit). This time, we have a pleasingly Victorian-looking and apparently multi-volume Time-log, full of idiosyncratic hand-written accounts of the Doctor's adventures - which causes much confusion to Adric. This is, of course, one plausible way in which the Doctor could keep track of his age in terms of his own personal time-line, although even Four comments that he is too busy to write in it now, so no wonder Ten has become so confused!

Logopolis I'm procrastinating on for the moment by watching a recently-purchased DVD of The Hand of Fear with lovely, lovely Tommentary instead. But there's no getting away from it now. And that's especially unfortunate at this particular juncture, since it looks like this weekend is going to have to see me mourning the end of not one but two eras in Who's history.1 Seriously traumatic...

Note: this is not a spoiler, because whatever else may happen in tomorrow's episode, it'll certainly be the last full-length series with RTD at the helm. Ergo, end of an era.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Ha, I watched The Hand of Fear commentary the other day myself. Tom Baker is such a shameless flirt! :P
Jul. 4th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I know - he's such a devil! Have you seen any of the Key to Time ones with Mary Tamm? He's exactly the same with her - but she knows exactly how to handle him. :-)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 4th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
Or maybe hoping it'll come true if he keeps saying it...
Jul. 5th, 2008 08:42 am (UTC)
I love the Keeper of Traken. Like the Robots of Death it's beautifully designed with a renaissance art nouveau aesthetic while it's fairy tale format works very well (monster petrified in Traken's aura of goodness, the monster of temptation in the garden of innocence).

- K
Jul. 5th, 2008 11:29 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's good stuff. There are some elements I miss from earlier seasons, but on the whole season 18 actually very good. Certainly, its weaker stories are stronger than some of the turkeys from the previous few seasons (e.g. The Invisible Enemy, The Power of Kroll, Underworld).
Jul. 5th, 2008 10:39 am (UTC)
I love the idea of a 'Tommentary'!
Jul. 5th, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
Re: Neologism
Ah, I must confess there that I did not invent the term - I think I originally saw it on doctorwho somewhere. It's great, though, 'cos the ones with him in really are in a league of their own.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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