The Keeper of Traken

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114[a]The Keeper of Traken
Doctor Who serial
Keeper of Traken.jpg
The Doctor examines the Melkur.
Directed by John Black
Written by Johnny Byrne
Script editor Christopher H. Bidmead
Produced by John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) Barry Letts
Incidental music composer Roger Limb
Production code 5T
Series Season 18
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 31 January – 21 February 1981
← Preceded by Followed by →
Warriors' Gate Logopolis
List of Doctor Who serials

The Keeper of Traken is the sixth serial of the 18th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 31 January to 21 February 1981. The story introduces Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, who returns as a companion-to-be in the following serial Logopolis, and is also Anthony Ainley's first appearance in Doctor Who; Ainley, who plays Tremas for the majority of this serial, continued to appear as the Master until the series' hiatus in 1989.


In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Adric arrive back in N-Space in an area known as the Traken Union, an empire of peace and harmony. They are surprised to find a holographic image of the elderly Keeper of Traken appear in the TARDIS, calling on the Doctor's help. The Keeper explains that his title is about to pass on soon to Consul Tremas, giving him access to the powerful Source that is the centre of Traken's technological advancement, but senses evil within him, his wife Kassia, and their daughter Nyssa. The Keeper suspects a connection to Melkur, an evil creature that arrived years ago on Traken but became calcified in a grove in the capital. Melkur has since become something of a holy symbol, and Kassia has been tasked with talking to it and keeping it clean; that task is soon to be passed on to Nyssa.

Melkur, as shown at the Doctor Who Experience.

When the Doctor and Adric land at Traken's capital and visit the Keeper, their presence appears to cause the Keeper to warn the assembled group of a great evil, and though Tremas vouches for them, others, including the Fosters, guardians of the spiritual welfare of the capital, remain cautious about their presence. Soon, bodies in the grove are found, the Doctor and Adric determining they have been killed by some type of plasma weapon. Adric works with Nyssa to identify the energy signature of the plasma as being from a TARDIS, while the Doctor assists Tremas in defusing the conflict over their presence. Unbeknownst to either group, Kassia secretly visits Melkur, who gives her a collar to wear, providing the creature with mind-control over her while promising to keep her husband safe. Kassia is able to convince the Fosters to arrest Tremas, the Doctor, Adric and Nyssa, and uses the situation to convince the other Consul to install her as the next Keeper. When the Keeper dies, Kassia takes the throne, but as the pivotal moment of the ceremony is completed, she disappears, leaving the statue of Melkur in her place, now connected to the Source.

Having escaped their confinement, the Doctor and his allies seek to cause a servo-shutdown of the Source to destabilise it and disconnect Melkur from using it. As Adric and Nyssa prepare to activate it, the Doctor is drawn into the statue of Melkur, finding it to be a TARDIS. Inside, he meets his old enemy, a horribly disfigured Master. The Master reveals he is on his last regeneration, and seeks to use the Source to give him a new set of regenerations, and then attempts to subdue the Doctor. However, at the same time, Adric and Nyssa initiate the servo-shutdown, disconnecting the Source from the Master and causing his TARDIS to malfunction. The Doctor escapes the Master's TARDIS, and when Melkur disappears, another Consul, Luvic, takes the throne to restabilise the Source before it completely dies.

After assuring all is well, the Doctor and Adric depart in his TARDIS. Later, Tremas discovers an alien longcase clock, and is transfixed to it when the Master emerges from it and merges his body with Tremas'. The newly reformed Master laughs as he re-enters the clock—his TARDIS—and dematerialises, leaving Nyssa wondering where her father has gone off to.


The Keeper of Traken re-introduces the Master, who was last seen in The Deadly Assassin (1976), and introduces Anthony Ainley as Tremas, whose body subsequently becomes the host for the new Master. Ainley reprised the role of the Master in almost every season through the end of the original series, as well in the special episode The Five Doctors. Nyssa makes her first appearance in this story, although she was not at the time intended to be a companion and therefore does not join the Doctor until the following story Logopolis. In the spin-off book Asylum, by Peter Darvill-Evans, the Fourth Doctor meets an older Nyssa, from sometime after she left the TARDIS crew, before their meeting here.

This story begins a loose arc of three serials featuring the Master. The trilogy continues in Logopolis (1981) and concludes in Castrovalva (1982). The story also continues the season-long theme of entropy; the Doctor refers to the Second law of thermodynamics, of particular relevance to the earlier "E-Space trilogy", and which will be of far greater significance in the subsequent story, Logopolis.

At the end of the story, the Master possesses Tremas — whose name, incidentally to the plot, is an anagram of "Master".[b] In the Big Finish audio story Dust Breeding, the body the Master steals is lost, reverting him back to his zombie-like state. Once again, he is played by Geoffrey Beevers. He again returns to the role in Master and further audio adventures. The planet Traken features in the Big Finish Productions audio play Primeval, which reveals how the Source was created and the origins of the position of the Keeper, The sequel to this story The Guardians of Prophecy was made by Big Finish Productions as part of its "Lost Stories" range from a story by Johnny Byrne and adapted by Jonathan Morris.[1]


This story came about when the script editor suggested to Johnny Byrne that he use the subjects of millennialism and the effects of a long-serving head of state dying. The producer wanted to include a character that would give a sense of familiarity when Tom Baker, who had been the Doctor for several years, left and the new lead actor took over. To this end the Master replaced the villain in Byrne's draft.[2]

The Melkur statue's design was based on a 1913 statue by Umberto Boccioni.[3]

Episode Title Run time Original air date UK viewers
(millions) [4]
1 "Part One" 24:05 31 January 1981 (1981-01-31) 7.6
2 "Part Two" 24:50 7 February 1981 (1981-02-07) 6.1
3 "Part Three" 23:49 14 February 1981 (1981-02-14) 5.2
4 "Part Four" 25:11 21 February 1981 (1981-02-21) 6.1

The story was repeated on BBC1 across four consecutive evenings from Monday to Thursday, 10–13 August 1981, achieving viewing figures of 5.2, 4.4, 5.2 and 5.0 million viewers respectively.[5]

Cast notes[edit]

Geoffrey Beevers is credited as the Melkur to conceal the plot twist of the Master's return. The Melkur statue was played by Graham Cole. Denis Carey, who plays the Keeper, also played Professor Chronotis in the uncompleted Fourth Doctor serial Shada, and the Old Man in the Sixth Doctor story Timelash. Margot Van der Burgh had previously appeared as Cameca in the First Doctor serial The Aztecs. John Woodnutt also appeared in Spearhead from Space, Frontier in Space and as Commander Broton in Terror of the Zygons. Robin Soans subsequently appeared in the Twelfth Doctor episode "Face the Raven".

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken
Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Andrew Skilleter
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
20 May 1982
ISBN 0-426-20148-5

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in May 1982.

Home media[edit]

The Keeper of Traken was released on VHS in September 1993. In January 2007, it was released on DVD alongside Logopolis and Castrovalva, as part of the "New Beginnings" box set.



  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this as story number 115. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ The Master has adopted numerous pseudonyms over the course of the series, usually plays on the word "Master". Examples include "Colonel Masters", The Rev. Mr. Magister," and "Professor Thascalos".


  1. ^ "3.04. The Guardians of Prophecy - Doctor Who - The Lost Stories - Big Finish". 
  2. ^ A Brief History of Time Travel[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Campbell, M. (2007). Doctor Who: The Episode Guide. Pocket Essentials. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-904048-74-9. 
  4. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  5. ^

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]