Classic Doctor Who: The Keeper of Traken, Logopolis & Castrovalva

Traken

The Keeper of Traken (1981 – Fourth Doctor with Adric)

The Doctor receives a message from an elderly figure called the Keeper, who controls the system of Traken, which is held together by perfect harmony – it is so pure, in fact, that anything evil which enters it turns into a calcified statue, known as a Melkur. However, the Keeper is concerned that an evil force has actually succeeded in invading Traken; sure enough, when the Doctor and Adric arrive on the scene, they find that with the death of the Keeper approaching, some worrying events are taking place, apparently linked to the most recent Melkur.

The best thing about this story is the use of Kassia, one of the consuls of Traken, and just how she is manipulated by the Melkur. For all the trouble and strife they cause, her motives are both complex and extremely sad: she doesn’t want her husband Tremas to become the new Keeper, because then he would have to leave her forever. Unfortunately, Kassia’s arc gets an unsatisfactory conclusion as she is killed off at the end of the third episode, with no chance to redeem or even explain herself. Tremas, meanwhile, seems relatively unaffected by his beloved wife’s betrayal and death.

The story has other good elements. You can certainly buy Traken as a society powered by harmony – when the citizens are just talking to each other normally at the beginning, there’s a cheerful lilt to their voices – that gradually breaks down as the villain does his work. The Doctor gets to show off his manipulative side, particularly when persuading Tremas to put aside his honour and save his home. And this was the first time I’d seen Adric, who I’ve heard is one of the less popular companions; however, he was pleasant and helpful enough in this story. Unfortunately, the overall adventure is a bit lukewarm and not especially exciting, so it’s an average adventure overall. Rating: 3.5/5.

Logopolis

Logopolis (1981 – Fourth Doctor with Adric)

The Fourth Doctor’s final adventure begins with him deciding to fix the broken chameleon circuit on his TARDIS, for which he requires assistance from the mathematical geniuses of Logopolis. Visiting Earth to get precise measurements of a police box in preparation, he inadvertently picks up a stowaway in the form of air stewardess Tegan Jovanka. And as the Doctor continues on, more people start appearing: Nyssa from Traken, the Master in his latest body, and a mysterious white Watcher. Eventually, a journey to simply repair the TARDIS turns into a rush to save the entire universe.

Logopolis is one of those Doctor Who stories which has some elements that work really well and others that rather let it down. The Doctor is rather unpleasant a lot of the time in this story, possibly due to an awareness that his end is approaching. The whole story gets off to a very slow start, with not much really happening in the first two episodes. Logopolis itself, while having some inventive elements like its human computers, is still quite a bland setting. And much of the dialogue consists of incomprehensible jargon.

So what about the things that do work? Well, there’s the Watcher, for one thing, even though just how he works as a representation of the Doctor is a bit tricky to get your head round: his design and behaviour are unsettling enough on their own, but other things are used to make it even more effective. Until the very end, he’s always filmed at a distance, so you never get a close look at whatever face he has; also, while a couple of characters do talk to him, he’s never actually heard speaking. There’s also Anthony Ainley in his first full appearance as the Master, exuding real menace and clearly revelling in his evil. The latter stages of the story have Adric and Nyssa together on their own for a few scenes, and they have very good chemistry. Tegan is rather mouthy, but her reactions to everything around her are quite natural, and I liked how she uses plane-related analogies to what she experiences.

When the story properly gets going, there’s a definite sense of impending doom, and the climax leading up to the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration has all the appropriate tension and drama. The Fourth Doctor certainly gets a good sendoff in the final minutes, but a lot of what leads up to that is sadly lacklustre. Rating: 3/5.

Castrovalva

Castrovalva (1982 – Fifth Doctor with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan)

Freshly regenerated following the events of Logopolis, the Doctor is confused and disorientated. As he tries to recover, his current companions – Adric, Nyssa and Tegan – are left trying to handle the TARDIS with minimal help. They are eventually pointed in the direction of Castrovalva, a highly peaceful spot that seems a perfect place for the Doctor to recuperate. But then Adric disappears, and it becomes clear that the Master is still around, with typically nefarious plans in mind.

In his first full episode, Peter Davison does a good job showing off to the audience of the time just what they were in for, with the long age of Tom Baker finally at an end. His post-regeneration weakness and confusion makes the Doctor seem uncharacteristically vulnerable; and once he settles down, he combines a relatively youthful lightness and casualness with the inherent wisdom and experience of the character. (At 29 years old when he was cast, Davison was the youngest actor to play the Doctor until Matt Smith came along.) I particularly liked the scene where he comes across his new costume – presumably the TARDIS provided it for him – and realises his apparent new-found affinity for cricket. Meanwhile, among the companions, it’s Nyssa and Tegan who spend a lot of time alone together in this one, and again, they have great chemistry: they have quite different personalities that play off each other very well, but still a genuine friendship. In the second episode, they spend a lot of time carrying around a cabinet containing the Doctor, which the actresses make very funny to watch.

Castrovalva itself is set up very well. First there are the details and multiple layers of the residents’ unique culture, down to the bizarre costumes that they go hunting in, and the fact that they see hunting as more of a leisure activity than a necessity. Eventually, however, oddities start piling up, and the story continues to be clever as it works around them: for example, the locals notice that various structures repeat themselves inexplicably throughout Castrovalva, but don’t actually perceive anything wrong with this until it’s pointed out to them. Finally, it all culminates in an excellent twist.

Definitely one of the most enjoyable episodes of Classic Who I’ve watched so far – I even liked the background music in this one. Rating: 4/5.

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About velociraptor256

Hi, my name's Richard. I created this blog to talk about my interests - and I have quite a few of those. I love zoology in general, herpetology in particular (especially snakes!), writing (have won National Novel Writing Month nine times so far), reading, astronomy, palaeontology, and travel. Thank you for coming to my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you here!
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