THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Key to Time
The Ribos Operation
BBC
The Armageddon Factor
The Key to Time Part Six

Episodes 6 The Shadow knows.
Story No# 103
Production Code 5F
Season 16
Dates Jan. 20, 1979 -
Feb. 24, 1979

With Tom Baker, Mary Tamm,
John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.
Script-edited by Robert Holmes. Directed by Michael Hayes.
Produced by Graham Williams.

Synopsis: In the sixth and final part in the Key to Time series, the Doctor and Romana land amidst a nuclear war between the planets Atrios and Zeos, where dark forces are lurking in the shadows...


Reviews

The Cheese Factor by Phil Arnold 1/2/98

The Armaggeddon Factor was the first colour episode of Doctor Who I ever saw (not including Enemy Within) back in November of 1997. I, at the time, had been only seeing good old William Hartnell on T.V. every day for a couple of months, and as good as he is, a change is good! I was not dissapointed by this episode, in fact I was quite pleased. Tom Baker was absolutley fabulous, he expressed a lot of charm and wit and instantly became my favorite doctor!

Anyways, Romana was great, she gave a good preformance probably because it was her last preformance before her regeneration. And then there's K9: At first he seemed rather ridiculus, but you can't resist a cute robotic dog for long. As for the supporting cast, the Marshall is wonderful as a maniacal nut-case as well as his right-hand-man, Schapp. Princess Astra (later Romana II) was, unfortunatley, rather boring, as well as her secret lover who is forgetable (I can't remember his name).

But what about the main villain (The Shadow)? Well, basically, The Shadow was the low-point of The Armageddon Factor. He was poorly acted and had the same manerisms as a Saturday morning cartoon villain (i.e. evil laughter throught episodes four through six). The Shadow's cosume was a piece of styrofoam glued on part of his face with pantyhose covering the rest and topped off with a nice black bed-sheet.

Story-wise, I thought The Armageddon Factor was great, It has a certain atmosphere that I find quite appealing. It reminds me of George Orwell's classic book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The similarities include: T.V. monitors everywhere, superpowers at war, and propaganda.

Now we come to "The Cheese Factor". This episode has an abundance of cheezy special effects, costumes, acting and sounds. But this is common for Doctor Who, and in my opinion, actually adds to the story. But how can these "cheese factors" add to the story you say? Well, the very first scene of The Armageddon Factor says it all when we see an extremely awful soap-opera-like propaganda program where two lovers part as the dashing young man goes off to war. Poorly done, yet brilliant!


And now, the conclusion.... by Michael Hickerson 27/7/98

With a twenty episode build-up to The Armageddon Factor, it's easy to have your expectations raised. After all, the Doctor and Romana are racing against time to assemble the Key to Time because the delicate universal balance between good and evil. So, it's easy to go into the final story of season sixteen, expecting an all out adventure, a battle between good and evil. In short, everything that makes Doctor Who so much fun to watch.

Which is why The Armageddon Factor comes across as such a major disappointment.

I will concede that it does a better job of keeping the focus of the storyline finding the sixth segment of the Key to Time. However, as with a majority of the other stories in season sixteen, it tends to wander off on tangents at every opportunity. The problem is that with a running time of six episodes instead of the usual four, these wanderings take away from the real reason we're watching the story--to find the sixth segment.

Now, there are some good twists and turns along the way. Personally, I've got admire the forces of evil a bit for letting the Doctor and Romana do all the work, all the while sitting back and waiting for them to come to them. That's a pretty nice touch. And the fact that the war between Atrios and Zeos is being played out there for their amusement is a nice touch.

It's just too bad that the story loses focus. Characters crop up and disappear, seemingly forgotten by the writers. And there must have been a clause in the guy who played the Shadows contract that he gets to laugh maniacally every five minutes whether the script calls for it or not.

Finally, the biggest disappointment is that fact that after spending twenty-six episodes finding the Key to Time, the final moments are lackluster. The Doctor's confrontation with the Black Guardian lacks the necessary tension and his glib explanation of "Well, I'm sure the White Guardian took care of things" when he sends the segments back into time and space is a let down. After building up to this moment for so long, it lacks the dramatic power and spice that is needed and also trivilizes not only the quest for the Key but all of season sixteen as well.

So, if you've survived the first five stories of the Key to Time and are something of a completist, I recommend The Armageddon Factor. If you're looking for an example of fine Doctor Who storytelling and a great payoff to a season long story arc, watch Logopolis.


Cop-Out by Tom May 24/1/99

Drax: "Blimey, it's a dog! Who's a little tin dog, then?"
K9: "Your silliness is noted."

If only the whole of The Armageddon Factor could've lived up to the rather wonderful K9 riposte above. As it is, what we basically have is a convoluted story that has no effective structure or discipline of the part of the writers.

Bob Baker, Dave Martin and script editor(s) Anthony Read and/or Douglas Adams, clearly cannot agree on what tone the story should take, as there's a disembowelled seriousness and humour, both of which are unconnected to each other in any feasible way. The story really does lack drama and atmosphere, and, also effective use of humour, and basically, as a consequence is difficult to get to grips with. Having berated the story thus far, I can however, find areas of enjoyment within the story.

Tom Baker is on good form throughout, and while not as witty as in many other Williams era tales, gives a nicely balanced performance, particularly when acting in tandem with the excellent John Woodvine, the most successful guest star on show, giving a determined, shrewd rendition of his part. Companions Romana and K9 fair quite well here, K9 getting a larger than average role in proceedings, and Mary Tamm giving the first Romana her usual sophistication and slight charm. Tamm is quite good here, and rather out-acts successor Lalla Ward as the terribly whimpering, bland Astra (although the writers can take some of the blame), and it's startling how bad Astra is in comparison to Ward's subsequent portrayal of Romana.

Ian Saynor shows virtually no acting talent whatsoever in his dull, beleagured role as Merak, Astra's boyfriend. The amount of times he half-heartedly shouts "Astra!" is ridiculous. Similarly, William Squire as The Shadow, while doing a better job than Saynor, bursts out in very contrived, cliched fits of laughter every five minutes, although Squire can be just about forgiven, as the part was clearly written as a stereotypical pantomine villain.

Another character half-hearted vying for the limelight is Drax, a very unbelievable (but when has Doctor Who been known for it's believability), cliched cockney-wideboy type character, who is, rather unnecessarily a Time Lord. While mildly diverting, Drax has no substance and really isn't very funny at all (It is evident, that the character is meant to be a buffoon, yet still it's poorly handled).

As the script is clearly an effort of many people and countless rewrites, many aspects of the plot singularly fail to gell. The Marshall and The Shadow never really interact, and you get the feeling the story is basically two three-parters with two separate villains. Other reviewers of the story have commented that the early part of the story is akin to George Orwell's superb 1984. This could only be true if there was a multi-layered incisive plot, and a grim, confrontational atmosphere. In comparison to 1984, the story is abysmal, but perhaps you couldn't expect any more from a show with Doctor Who's format.

As the conclusion to 26 weeks of The Key To Time, it is especially poor, and the conclusion really does fail to do the season justice. Indeed, the threat is too easily overcome, and the Doctor's solution to the problem presented by The key is very mundane, and the viewer is left thinking "what was all the fuss about?".

Having said that, a little intensity is generated by Valentine Dyall (more effective than in the Davison era, and better costumed) as "The Black Guardian," and Tom Baker is brilliant in the defining scene where the Doctor appears to have lost his mind.

So, The Armageddon Factor, as a whole, is very difficult to rate, and while very disappointing and awkwardly put together, it is, generally, entertaining viewing. 6/10


We watched all those stories for this? by Mike Morris 9/6/99

I was still in nappies when Season Sixteen aired. I'm glad. I'm glad that I didn't sit down to watch The Armageddon Factor, expecting a magnificent finale to a memorable season that would pit the Doctor in enthralling combat with the most evil and powerful creature in the universe. I'm glad I didn't watch episode four of The Power of Kroll and think to myself, "Next week is the big one. A six-parter, too. It's going to be great."

Good job. The good thing about being a child of the video age is that I already knew that The Armageddon Factor wasn't up to much by the time I watched it, so I didn't have to live through that disappointment. Thankyou, The Discontinuity Guide.

It's rubbish. And that's all there is to it.

I could elaborate, I suppose. It's cheap, overlong, dreary, silly, boasts some ludicrous dialogue, hammy performances, unengaging characters, and a main villain who wears a daft stocking mask and laughs at everything he says, even though it's neither menacing nor funny. This is a Who story which made me realise that yes, the series is silly rubbish that deserved to get cancelled. (thankfully The Caves of Androzani was on UK Gold the following day, or my life would have been very different).

To be fair, the plot is nicely thought out, and Michael Hayes' direction is very good - the first episode cliffhanger, with a close up of the Doctor's face through the smoky air, is a lovely shot - and there are some good ideas going on here. Mentalis is a great notion, and the point where K9 reveals that the next stage "is obliteration... for everything" is a good set-piece, but by then I'd long since lost interest. There are some truly wince-inducing moments, such as Princess Astra's "my people... my people" speech, and the whole thing's at least two episodes too long. And bloody hell am I sick of timeloops.

An atrocious guest cast doesn't help matters, but the two regulars are pretty awful too. Mary Tamm looks bored out of her mind, as though she can't wait to leave the series at this stage, and although Tom Baker is as watchable as ever he hams up some moments shamefully; most notably that eyelash-fluttering, look-at-me-I'm-such-a-nutter-I-am scene in the TARDIS. And if I ever meet Davyd Harries or whoever it is that plays Merak I'll smash their faces in. Even John Woodvine's crap.

There's big ideas going on, and to try such a grim scenario amid the lightness of the Williams era deserves some applause. But someone should have reminded Williams that this is the season finale, dammit, and it's supposed to be a memorable spectacular. Instead we got this. I only paid six quid for the video, and I still felt cheated. The Black Guardian's less than convincing 'disguise' as The White Guardian, i.e. changing his black robes for white ones, shows a lack of effort that speaks volumes.

Don't bother. Feed the ducks or write a Missing Adventure instead. Unless you're suffering from insomnia, this has nothing going for it at all.


As underated as it gets by Mike Jenkins 22/1/02

By now I've probably got a reputation that I'm always sticking out for the little guy. Bob Baker and Dave Martin were the best writers on the programme (that's right) second only to the beloved Terrance Dicks and Douglas Adams. Claws of Axos was a classic, The Mutants is probably the only story more underated then this one, The Three Doctors was a classic let down by crappy direction. The Sontaran Experiment, another forgotten classic. They took a bit of a hiatus because the idoitic fans slammed them so much. The Hand of Fear was truly wonderful and the only truly good performance by Liz Sladen in Baker's reign. The Invisible Enemy, once again forgotten (are we seeing a pattern here folks?), Underworld, forgotten. Nightmare of Eden could've been a cock up but Doug was there to break Bob's fall. It's no wonder they stopped doing work for the show when everyone was ripping apart their classics.

I think the idea of war being for a greater purpose is an intruguing idea. The Shadow is both comical and horrific and all the better for it. Shapp and the Marshal are wonderful but the true highlight is Drax and the fantasically wonderful plot of deception, mayhem and intrigue. Hallmarks of all Bob, Dave scripts. Astra and Merek let the side down somewhat with some weak acting, but good characterisation covers it up well. It's something of a mystery as to why Lalla Ward plays Romana so much better than princess Astra. The Mutes are perhaps the most underated part of all. I don't know what's more facsinating. The idea of Mentalis, the time loop, or the plot on the whole itself. This story is one which completely justifies it's six episode length and the propaganda ideas give this story somewhat of an X-files in space quality about it. Yet another classic from the Williams era.


Mute Points by Andrew Wixon 19/3/02

Why did Doctor Who lose the ability to do a decent six-episode story somewhere in mid-1977? Consider: the form was the mainstay of the Pertwee and Troughton eras, and produced as many great stories as it did clunkers. The three Hinchcliffe six-parters are all towering classics, definite contenders for any top ten list. And then... what happened?

Not that Armageddon Factor is an especially bad story. But it just seems to have been written as it went along, with no real plot or character progression to speak of. You could argue that there's sort of a gimmick in that episodes one and two are set almost wholly on Atrios, episodes three and four move to Zeos, and the concluding duo introduce the Shadow's realm - but this isn't really very much to feel pleased about. To begin with the story looks like it's going to be a black, Dr Strangelove-style farce about the lunacy of nuclear conflict and war in general. But this would require nerve, focus and subtlety, none of which the story possesses.

So we're left with a corridor-jogger of epic proportions, contrived plot-devices (literally!), lots of big hamming from Tom Baker, and terrible performances from nearly all the guest cast - I'd argue that Barry Jackson and Valentine Dyall should be exempt from this, but Davyd Harries should be expelled from Equity, if only for his horrific pratfall when he gets shot.

Not that there aren't seeds of a good story here. The idea of the Shadow as the Black Guardian's agent is interesting, but the character has no - ahem - light and shade and just comes across as a generic villain. Baker and Martin write extremely well for K9, as you'd expect. And - well, I've always liked Drax as a character, and the idea of a cockney Time Lord adds a welcome inventive, quirky, absurd touch to an otherwise shallow story.

And the idea of the all-powerful Key being hidden in the form of a living being - a young, innocent woman no less - well, that's the kind of idea other writers might look jealously upon, isn't it? Not that they'd ever admit it, of course...


A Review by Terrence Keenan 6/9/02

It was not the big Kaboom! final that fandom wanted. The villain was an atypical raving loon with a black nylon on his head and the Black Guardian was cornier than the jokes on Hee Haw....

But, is it really that bad? Well, it depends on your feelings about the Graham Williams era, the "Tom Baker Show" and the much maligned Bristol Boys, Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Me? I liked it. I do admit that part of it is my "Big Tommy B can do no wrong" bias. Mostly, its that I can appreciate big ass ideas even when they fall on their face. And the big ideas come fast and furious -- time loops, Mentalis, who the sixth segment really is, the hidden third planet -- with some sticking to the wall, and other sliding down.

Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are both excellent in this. Tom and Mary ride the humor/drama line perfectly and give it their all. It's the other members of the cast that are iffy. It's hard to reconcile the mousy, whiny Lalla Ward in Armageddon to the supercallifragilistic Romana she played in the next season and a half. John Woodvine rides the line between panto loon and creepy loon all over the place. Barry Jacksonıs cockney Time Lord Drax is good fun, but thankfully is only in a couple episodes, not long enough to annoy. William Squire, however, deserves a Doc Martin up the ass for his portrayal of the Shadow. The rest just annoy, or are too boring to even register.

The Armageddon Factor is worthy of its six episodes, for the most part, if only to cram in some good ideas and smart twists. The revelation that Zeos is run by a computer is brilliant, as is K9's conversation with it. I still get goose bumps when it's revealed that Astra is the sixth segment of the Key to Time. And despite the fact he's horrendous, the idea of having the Black Guardian's champion wait for the Doctor to arrive with the other segments is a smart move.

And then there's the end scene in the TARDIS. It's great! From Tom's fun OTT loony rant and speed rap to Romana about the Key, to his confrontation with the Black Guardian, it's Tom being Tom and it's another example of why he's my all time favorite.

In the end, I call The Armageddon Factor a noble failure. The acting and some atrocious dialogue drag it down, but some good ideas and another great performance by the regulars make it worth investing time in.


The final phase by Tim Roll-Pickering 17/10/02

The final story of the Key to Time season sees the Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive in the middle of an interplanetary war with a difference. Unlike earlier stories set on several planets, such as The Space Pirates or Frontier in Space, there is little sense of a great epic and instead this is a story that focuses very much on the individuals, offering several tough decisions for the Doctor throughout the story.

The early parts start out on Atrios as the Doctor and Romana seek to bring a degree of sanity whilst the dictatorial Marshal seeks to completely destroy Zeos, despite the strong desire to see the war brought to a peaceful conclusion held by many including Princess Astra. With the themes of perpetual warfare and its human cost in the background, this part of the tale is little more than a prelude to subsequent events. The middle parts see the Doctor, Romana and K9 reach Zeos to discover the truth behind the long invisible enemy, but it is not until the last parts of the story that the action becomes intense as events head toward their conclusion on the Shadow's planet. After several earlier stories in which the search for the Key to Time has often been little more than a motivation for the Doctor, Romana and K9 to go to and remain in a particular location it makes sense to have a story in which the Key plays a more direct role in the plot, especially given that the last segment turns out to be Princess Astra herself. The conflict between the Doctor and the Shadow is strong and generates real tension throughout these episodes, though less effective is the introduction of Drax who is almost redundant to the plot. Finally the story, the season and the quest all climax in the Doctor's encounter with the Guardian, though no real attempt is made to hide the fact that the Black Guardian is disguised as his White counterpart and Valentine Dyall's distinctive voice does not help the disguise either. This climax is best saved for a review of the Key to Time season as a whole though.

For their final collaboration for Doctor Who, Bob Baker & Dave Martin produce one of their strongest scripts, full of strong charecterisation. Every character is well defined, even those such as Drax who could have been cut from the plot. Combined with a strong set of performances the characters really stand out. The most obvious performance comes from Lalla Ward as Princess Astra and it is easy to see why she was offered a regular role. Of the other cast members John Woodvine gives a tough performance as the Marshal, whilst Ian Saynor brings to Merak a sense of tragedy as he seeks to comprehend much of what is going on around him and the fate of his beloved. But it is William Squire who delivers the most intense performance, making the Shadow very convincing when it would be tempting to send up such a part. The Shadow is written as an agent of the Black Guardian who has been waiting for an eternity for the Doctor and the Key and Squire's performance makes this very believable which is essential for such a role.

There's one major plothole in the story and that is the fact that Astra is deduced to be the sixth segment as she is the sixth Princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth house of Atrios. Although both the Doctor and the Shadow talk of her as the final segment, one wonders what would have happened if this had been an earlier stage in the Doctor's journey, though there our several theories as to why this is. (See my season review.)

Although the budget may no longer stretch as far as it did in some earlier seasons, the design work for this story remains confident and the Shadow's planet is especially well realised. Even the CSO used in the scenes where the Doctor and Drax have been shrunk doesn't let the side down. Combined with some good direction from Michael Hayes and a highly dramatic incidental score from Dudley Simpson and you have one of the strongest stories of the entire season and a worthy climax to it. 8/10


A Review of the DVD by Andrew McCaffrey 23/1/03

It's somewhat fitting that The Armageddon Factor features a time loop in the later episodes, as viewing this serial gave me a similar feeling of being trapped in an impenetrable sequence of technobabble. Watching the same footage over and over. Seeing the same plot twists mentioned time and time again. Observing identical corridor scenes with no ending in sight. My hand kept reaching for the big red button, but like the Marshall's pilot (hey, it's Pat Gorman, kids!) my fingers kept being smacked back before they could end it all. As the end to the Key of Time season, this story comes as a huge disappointment.

Tom Baker tries to save a lot of scenes with his own brand of bizarre humor. He only partially succeeds, and this just leaves the parts of the story that he isn't in with a huge Tom Baker shaped hole. Despite the threat of universal armageddon that the story presents us with, I simply couldn't feel bothered by anything that was going on. The plot concerning two major power blocs locked in a constant state of warfare is an idea that would barely cover three episodes, yet here it's stretched out to double that number. And while padding Doctor Who serials could sometimes result in sparkling dialog, engaging subplots and memorable extra characters, all that's added on here are excess corridor scenes, repeated time loop footage and cliched villains.

One of the biggest flaws of this story is the real lack of urgency. Despite the huge stakes that the script offers, despite the endless series of countdowns, and despite the momentum of an entire season leading up to this, the story just seems to be hanging around with no serious weight to it. This is driven home by the inclusion of the Drax character, who enters the picture in episode five. In any other serial he would have been an amusing foil to Tom Baker's Doctor, but he's a bizarre addition here. He's the comic relief, but the story simply isn't as serious and grim as it thinks it is and therefore he's counterbalancing something that doesn't exist. It's a bizarre and haphazard inclusion. A pity, because there are loads of other Doctor Who stories that would have greatly benefited from a goofy character like Drax.

The serial really suffers from the annual "Oh my God, the season's over and we've no money!" syndrome. Their solution to the lack of a set budget apparently includes stripping down an old mainframe and gluing the circuit boards to the wall. Ho, ho, ho, futuristic. Yeah.

The DVD commentary doesn't really tell us anything that we didn't know already, save the fact that the cast and crew evidently found the story to be as boring as the audience did. It's a pity that they don't have much to say, and by the time the final closing credits roll, the three commentators seem utterly burnt out. Clever anecdotes dotted the first five of the Key To Time discs, but on this one the best story is about a silly typo on one of the script pages - a story that gets repeated far past the point of tolerance.

All in all, The Armageddon Factor is a let down after the five serials leading up to it. The production money ran out, the script ideas ran out, and what should have been a massive spectacular ends up looking like an unexciting mess.


"Cor Blimey! Up the apples and Pears!" etc by David Barnes 13/9/03

I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear: I'm not going to mention the ending. Much.

I don't think The Armaggedon Factor could ever have succeeded as a story. Coming at the end of a story arc didn't help its chances, but there's too many things within the story working against some rather good ideas. And there is indeed some good stuff in this story: it's just disguised by some terribly, terribly bad stuff.

Episode 1 goes along not really doing anything wrong, but not doing anything right either. We get introduced to some of the principal characters and see some of the overall set-up. One thing that the story has going for it is that things are only revealed a bit at a time. We can't guess what's going to happen just by watching episode 1. Every episode introduces some new elements to the story, so as we watch we can fit together more pieces to an, admittedly bland, puzzle.

Rewatching episode 2, I was struck by the amount of sophisticated humour. I think that, had the story been chopped down to about 4 episodes, this could have made a rather interesting political satire, with some people fighting an enemy they can't see with a tremendous battlefleet of 6 ships. Just watch the "battle scene", with the Doctor, Marshal and Shapp watching events relayed on a monitor. It's brilliant! "A hit! Sir, it's a hit!" "And another!" "One of ours sir." The Marshall may be a bit of a one note character, but he's marvellously acted. Shapp is great in these early episodes, coming across as a sort of cross between Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard from "Yes, Minister". Lots of eyeball rolling and gentle persuading. It's a shame that the action had to move to Zeos really, as episode 2, even with some truly awful and dreary sets, is great.

However, we have to unfortunately advance the plot, and then the story falls apart. We've seen some rather poor acting, with Lalla Ward and Ian Saynor (Merak) being a bit wet and wooden. Wet and wooden... rotten, then. Anyway, once we reach the Zeos segment of the story, everyone stops caring. And by the time we get to part 4, almost all the good elements have been chucked out the window. The Marshal, played with real conviction by John Woodvine, is shunted off in a small plastic spaceship, relegated to saying "Fire!" for an infinity, to be replaced with William Squire as The Shadow. The Shadow. Oh, please. Damn it, I'd have preferred the Hooded Claw from "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop" than what we get in this story. The Shadow is just dire. All he does is laugh. He hypnotises K9 and laughs. He chucks the Doctor down a pit and laughs. He walks through a door and laughs. He strides down corridors and laughs. All the time using the same laugh. What I'd give to see a villain who giggled. But we get "MWA-HAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAA-HAAAAA!" bellowed at us every 5 minutes.

There's lots of dodgy bits besides the Shadow too. For instance, what exactly happens to Merak when he meets the phantom Astra? He seems to flail lifelessly for a while before getting sucked into a globe. Same happens to the Doctor in part 5, though at least Tom Baker had the grace to look as if he actually cared. Astra appears again to talk to Merak later, and, despite a huge gash in his head, Merak can calmly have a natter without wincing with pain once. He doesn't seem to be suspicious of Astra either, even though it was an image of her that led him into the disco trap. Also, after having been flawless in the first 3 episodes, Shapp, obviously too good for the story, gets as much a noble elbow-shove from the story as the Marshal did. Gone not with a bang, but with a "MERAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!" and a comedy prat fall.

I suppose at this point I should mention the regulars. All three have to struggle. Tom Baker does well most of the time, but seems to have decided the whole thing (quite rightly) is pretty silly and has decided to play it with comedy cylinders full on. However, the script calls upon him to convey dramatic tension at certain times which he almost completely fails at, notably when he finds out the Shadow is working for the Black Guardian. He does well in regards to the consequences of what will happen regards Mentalis, the time loop, and the Key to Time, but doesn't do well in instances of immediate danger. It's also quite funny to see him declaring that "Romana can look after herself!", shortly before Romana walks into a very obvious trap. Ah yes, Mary Tamm. Similarly, good at the comic stuff, awful with the dramatic stuff. She plays it with a self aware attitude, so when she is called upon to shout the obligatory mind-blowing cliffhanger phrases ("The TARDIS - it's gone!" "Doctor! Doctor!") she's dreadful. And K9, though given much to do, is annoying. For some reason, the writers have decided that he should be a robot with "cute" human vocal aspects. Thus K9's voice is at turns sarcastic, weary and knowingly smug. And don't get me started on his play acting to the Shadow in episode 6, complete with coughs and theatrical whispering.

There's also some dreadful meshing of the script with the production regarding the Shadow's realm. It's blatantly a spacestation of sorts, yet everyone (including the Doctor) refers to it as a planet. It would have made far more sense if it had have been a planet, as then the plotline about "something being in the way of Zeos" would have made sense. Plus, for whom are the caverns and unearthly howls benefiting? And how could you possibly have real rocks and caves inside a spacestation? The answer is, you couldn't, but you could inside a planet. It's obvious the visual effects department didn't read much of the script. And what the heck are the Mutes all about? Where do they come from? Why does the Shadow need them? Why do they breathe heavily (meaning they're not quite muted). Why do they wear rather trendy lace-up shoes? Why do we see a bloody close-up of one of the said shoes?

I also have issue with Astra being the 6th segment. I didn't buy the stuff about the DNA being passed down through every member of the family (or something like that). It just doesn't make sense. Wouldn't that also have meant that every member of her family would have had Key to time aspects about them? Also, the other segments were things that you could imagine the White Guardian concievably disguising them as (some rocks and stones, basically). But, say someone had gone back in time and killled off one of Astra's ancestors. Wouldn't that mean that Astra wouldn't have come about, hence there being no sixth segment? Plus, the "revelation" is sign-posted so often (mainly though some tragically poor "hynotised" acting from Lalla Ward) that we never get suprised that she's the segment. I'd have been far more suprised if the Shadow had turned round and said that Shapp was the 6th segment. At least that would have been interesting.

The way the story was heading looked like it would crash and burn. However, one man saves it and wrestles the controls away from crashing into a mountain - Drax, a sort of Del-Boy in time and space ("Doctor, you dozy little dip-stick! What a 42 carrot plonker you really are!") His scenes are a delight, and Barry Jackson turns in far and away the best performance. I loved every line of his, though my favourite was the "The Marshal? He's on our side?" "No." "Oh. Good." exchange at the beginning of episode 6. I thought he was great and moves this story up a few notches. Robert Holmes would have been proud.

The ending, complete with copious "STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP HIIIIIIIIM!"'s from the Shadow, is a bit weak, though we get some more Drax "Hang on, I've got a diagram somewhere..." action, so all is well. It's a shame that we don't see more of what happens after everything - what becomes of the Marshal? Is he deposed for continuing a war that blasted most of his people to kingdom-come, or was he regarded as a hero? And what happens to poor old Shapp?

The Black Guardian stuff, whilst ludicrously overplayed, is OK, and I thought the ultimate resolution (the dispersion of the segments) was alright too. There couldn't have been a different ending really, as having the Doctor simply hand over the key to the White Guardian would have been dull, and to have had the Black Guardian have the key would have lead to another pointless story arc.

Overall, The Armaggedon Factor is a pretty poor story, that is livened up by some nice humour in episode 2 and the inclusion of one of the all-time great comedy characters in Who, Drax. Strewth! 5/10


I was wrong... by Joe Ford 17/9/03

Ahem, right you better enjoy this because I don't say it very often, I, Joe Ford was wrong when I pronounced that The Armageddon Factor deserved a place on the worst ten stories list (see my own for some serious Who-bitchin'!). You see I have only ever watched this story twice and both times I was unfairly comparing it to much of the rest of season sixteen (which you have to admit is a bit of a beaut!). I never, ever looked at the story as an individual tale in it's own right, only a disappointing conclusion to the Key to Time saga and for that reason I maligned it without reason. There are some serious problems with this story, I would never deny that but as six episodes of entertaining television it fulfils its function quite admirably.

The two biggest strengths of the story are immediately apparent, the chemistry between Tom Baker and Mary Tamm and the Shadow. The Doctor and Romana have had a seriously up and down year, Ribos they were at each other's throat, Pirate Planet they were still antagonistic but co-operated to bring down a masterful scheme, Stones of Blood they were squabbling again, Androids things settled down a bit, what with the two of them split up for most of the story allowing us to see their individual strengths and Kroll painted them rather too black and white (he was the hero, she was the screaming victim) to seem in character. Fortunately for Tamm their chemistry come this story is quite unique, they have a highly amusing way of bouncing dialogue between them (part six in TARDIS when the Doctor has his grandiose speech about the Key is an excellent example) and appear to have a good respect and humour towards each other. It actually makes me quite sad that this is her last story because another season of this would be most welcome. Romana has indeed developed into quite a formidable character and worthy of further exploration (alas books such as The Shadow of Weng-Chiang and Heart of TARDIS do NOTHING for her reputation and seem to only remember her more arrogant characteristics leading to some misjudged opinions of her character (by me especially)).

The Shadow is another Doctor Who baddie with a really cool voice. I think if you can get the mask and voice right, the script is only a back up (Timelash anyone?) and here all three work in tandem to create probably the creepiest bad guy all year (although Kroll was pretty freaky too!). It is nice to have a villain in this era who isn't camped up and daft (although Vivien Fey, the Pirate Captain and Grendel are exquisite!), final proof that Williams hadn't completely abandoned Doctor Who's hide-behind-the-sofa roots. His introduction with that malevolent voice echoing through the glistening skull is marvellously eerie and the sudden shift to his lair is a good change of location and opens out a claustrophobic story impressively. I love all the mind games he plays with the Doctor in episode five, a number of good visual effects create a giddying sense of unreality, they look dated now of course but the effect is still enjoyable.

The first two episodes are pretty good at setting up the story but are a little too economical for my tastes. There are clearly only a few sets at this point and running back and forth between them gets tiresome after a while. John Woodvine makes a good impression as the Marshal, he's quite scary too in places especially when he glares at the black wall and talks to "himself". The political situation is drawn quite vividly without getting to heavy and with Tom and Tamm around to spice things up it looks like this might be the best climax to a Williams season.

Unfortunately it doesn't take you long to realise that the direction is pretty leaden and that is being a mite generous. What happened? Mike Hayes did a superb job with Tara and City of Death but he just seems bored here. This is a six parter, it needs a lot of boost to keep interest high and he just doesn't provide the goods. Tedious scenes of K.9. trundling along the sets are the worst offenders, his chats with Mentalis just seem to go on forever. Concentrating on the metal mutt to this extent is a mistake, K.9. is a good comic foil but when you try and make him into a dramatic character (his betrayal of the Doctor) it just gets embarrassingly bad. Hayes doesn't give the action scenes much lift either, the deadlock between the Marshal and Mentalis should have been gripping but instead it's merely interesting, the gradually depleting time loop should be tense and exciting but somehow that fails to generate much excitement either. These developments in the story are all very welcome and you can see how a producer like John Nathan Turner (perhaps with Graeme Harper directing) could make it a blockbusting thriller but wedged at the end of this expensive season it looks tired and underfunded. A shame.

But I won't be too harsh because soon as things look a bit dull Drax turns up. I can't say I ever fancied Del Boy Trotter as a companion for the Doctor but this is about as close as that comes. Shockingly, it works. His presence may be mystifying (why is he here, he fulfils no real function in the story except to pad it out further by shrinking the Doctor) but his chemistry with the Doctor is ace. His Brixton cockney slang is hilarious in places and he certainly provides a bit of light in an otherwise quite drab tale. Okay so when he appears the show has jettisoned its frights in favour of laughs but then laughs is what Williams does so well.

The conclusion to the story is my biggest gripe. Hmm, well the White Guardian has a completely different voice so it is a tiny bit obvious as to who he really is leaving the "Oh no will the Doctor give the Key to the Black Guardian" scene a bit redundant. But I love the idea of the Randomiser, returning the show to its roots of mystery not knowing where the hell they are going to turn up next! Let's say I'm on the fence as to whether this ending is adequate but it certainly could have been done better, it seems a case of they've spent the entire season getting the segments only to split them all up again! Hmm a bit pointless really.

However I will change my judgement of this story as whole though, it's not perfect but its a damn sight better than I ever gave it credit for in the past. The episodes are witty and watchable and even have some good scares. The script might be stretched but it's full of clever ideas and provides a fitting, if not ideal end to this wonderful season.


A Review by Keith Bennett 12/11/03

Years and years ago, I remember being disappointed when this story came to its conclusion. Twenty-six episodes of searching for the Key To Time, they finally get it all together, and then the Doctor sends it out all over the place again a few minutes later??

However, as time (ha ha) went on, I started to wake up to the fact that the key only needed to be all fixed up for a short while, so the White Guardian could correct all the troubles in this troubled universe. Wasn't I a dummy?

But now, years later, with my latest viewing of the story, and reading other opinions on it, it seems my initial disapointment was justified after all. It was a bit of an anti-climax, wasn't it? I agree with some people who have suggested that it would have been better if the individual plot of this story was tied up by episode four, with the last two parts being used to show some kind of White verses Black battle.

As for the story itself, I do think it's entertaining. John Woodvine is good as the Marshall (and doesn't he have a great voice?), but I seem to be the only one who thinks Shapp was also a delight! He kind of reminds me of Bernard Cribbins, which might not be a good thing to some people, but I found the character very likeable and entertaining.

However, I agree Merak was awful. Doctor Who seems to have a penchant for truly drippy male leads (Planet Of The Daleks' Latep and Curse Of Peladon's King come to mind), while I think a problem with Princess Astra's character was that it never seemed settled. She went from being haughty, to being wimpy, to being taken over, and then to being... well... turned into a lump of metal.

I DO like the Shadow, however; I don't even find his evil laughter that hard to take. I think he looks good, and his voice is outstanding.

And Drax? I think he was a character in the wrong story, and also, maybe with the wrong Doctor. Tom Baker's Doctor just did not seem comfortable with him. Off the top of my head, I think maybe putting Drax with Colin Baker would have worked better.

The Armageddon Factor is disappointing in a number of ways, sure. But it does have entertainment value as well. It depends what one is searching for, I suppose.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/1/04

As the closing story of The Key To Time season, The Armageddon Factor is standard fare. What it should have been was truly great, but it falls short in this area. For starters we have two worlds at war basically combined of two rooms, and the Atrian military consisting of two people (The Marshall and Major Shapp.) Add to this unconvincing characters, step forward Lalla Ward as Princess Astra (ok she's playing in effect a segment of the key, but doesn`t have to take the role to such great lengths!) and Drax, who is simply annoying.

The villains do come off slightly better, the Shadow is portrayed well by William Squire (complete with an effective mask) and Valentine Dyall makes an impression as The Black Guardian. There is some nice interaction between the regulars, the idea of an evil K-9 has a certain appeal; it's just a shame Mary Tamm didn`t have more to do than just stand around in her final outing.

As for the story's conclusion (and indeed the season's) nothing is really resolved, we don`t know if the White Guardian restores order to the universe and rescattering the segments seems to defeat the object of collecting them in the first place. In short, The Armageddon Factor entertains, nothing more.


'Armageddon too much flak!' by Rob Matthews 30/3/04

I know a lot of people think of this serial as a severely disappointing conclusion to a 'mythic quest' season of Doctor Who, but to tell the truth I've never cared that much about the hurried cop-out with the Key to Time in the last few minutes of episode 6. Probably that's because I've always seen the 'mythic quest' setup of season 16 as severely disappointing in itself; lame, cliched sub-Tolkienesque nonsense that can't be treated perfunctorily enough for me. The White Guardian and the Black Guardian? Oh, grow up. And IMO fortunately, most of the stories this season did treat the whole quest setup with near-indifference (see The Ribos Operation and The Androids of Tara, for example).

The Armageddon Factor is by any objective standard a pretty shoddy serial, I couldn't really say anything to the contrary and keep a straight face. But it's not a serial I can bring myself to dislike, let alone despise; I just think it has too much going for it. It has a good script, albeit one that all too often turns flaccid on the screen thanks to actors who aren't really giving it their all; it has Romana really coming into her own as a developing 'female Doctor'; it has John Leeson's single most fantastic vocal performance as K9; it introduces a cockney Time Lord; it has one of the most  individual openings of any Doctor Who story (a clip from a propagandist Atrios soap opera!), and it has some of the most wonderful isolated moments that the show has ever given us. Sometimes I wonder why I don't like it more! ... But then of course Merak or the Shadow turn up and you suddenly realise you're watching the very epitome of cheesy seventies sci-fi, the sort of thing people these days love to sneer at for its lack of sophistication before turning back to their copies of Heat magazine and comparing the size of their own arses to some moron off Big Brother.

I said I like season 16's general laxity towards the Key to Time quest. That's true most of the way through the season because I don't really want so hackneyed a MacGuffin intruding on the individual stories and spoiling them. However I think in a way, it's that very inability to really adhere to the notion of the Key quest as a big 'event' which causes the nominal 'arc' denoument to fail. There's been no build-up of momentum in getting there, instead we've been goofing off with Amelia Rumford and Count Grendel. So when The Armageddon Factor arives it's like having to suddenly sit a test for which we haven't revised, and the end result is the same; we end up sitting there slightly baffled for two hours. Except taking a test generally isn't this fun, which kind of cankers my analogy.

The script itself is taking its function as Big Climax quite seriously. It develops the idea of the Doctor's role as a kind of 'chosen one' to a celestial entity by introducing an opposite number, a Black Guardian's anti-Doctor in the form of the Shadow, and it creates a 'grand-scale manipulation' scenario in which a whole planet is forced into a long-term war with an enemy world which then turns out to be... completely unoccupied! The Shadow is an utterly mysterious figure whose origins we never learn, and we're told he's been - gasp! - 'watching' the Doctor for ages now, waiting for his eventual arrival on Atrios and attempts to capture the Sixth segment of the Key. As was the case during season 15, I think Graham Williams was trying too hard to compete with Star Wars, but done right, this could surely have been seriously impressive stuff.

And the odd thing, for a story so oft considered a complete failure, is how much it actually does do right. The establishing shot of the hospital interior on Atrios, ironically counterpointed with the brightly optimistic world of the Atrion(?) soap opera, establishes a grim, lights-out-to-conserve-energy wartime atmosphere, a tone which doesn't really falter throughout six episodes despite the frequent chuckles as the story continues. Certain pieces of the direction are rather stately. The Marshall is a militaristic nutter with sackloads of humorless gravitas despite his rather too spangly disco insignia. The 'You have a true military mind' scene is superb. The revelation of Mentalis, the computer controlling the Zeon 'war effort'  is well directed, acted and indeed designed; Mentalis a blank, functional and completely unmalovelent abstraction you can barely equate with the mass slaughter of a planetary population, and Tom Baker reacts to its revelation with a pluperfect Doctorness (see his spot-on delivery of 'That's the trouble with machines'). The later revelation of Astra as the Sixth Segment finally twists a real and engaging moral dilemma out of the lifeless Key saga. Romana is as brave and noble as the Romanas come - 'I'm not afraid to die... it doesn't matter what happens to me, Doctor' There is, honest guv, a lot at the core of the story that's really good. Drax's odd hand gestures notwithstanding.

But the serial keeps sagging and developing little pustules. Bad performances and script glitches, big ideas not given their due, and a totally confusing ending; true I don't particularly mind that it's throwaway, but the lack of clarity is more difficult to take - was the Doctor inadvertently working for the Black Guardian all along, or does the deception only begin when old BG takes the form of Valentine Dyall? A good example of the little pockets of malaise that permeate the story like trapped wind comes in the scene in episode 1 where Princess Leia - ahem! - Astra converses with a guard...

Incidentally, given that this is the soon-to-be Romana II we're watching here, Lalla Ward gives a remarkably bland performance; okay she eventualy turns out to be a transmogrified lump of minerals - does she really have to suggest this by acting like one?!. But she's passable. The guard, however, gives such an inept and almost hostile reading of his lines ('I trained at RADA for that bollocks!' he probably whined to a thesp pal over several pints in a Soho pub that night) that the director simply doesn't bother to cut to him during their conversation. Phillip Hinchcliffe likes to point on DVD commentaries out that it's really the small production details, things you don't immediately notice, that make all the difference. That is illustrated here, but sadly in reverse. Except of course we're of a TV-hip generation that does tend to notice these things more readily.

The Shadow's the other major failing of course, seeming more suited to being a thorn in the side of Penelope Pitstop than everyone's favourite Time Lord. Nothing undermines the eeriness of a powerful agent for evil more than demented cackling - if Sutekh had been given to giggling no-one would think he was scary at all; Ian McDiarmid subtly refined the cold creepiness of his Sith character in the Star Wars prequels by  barely cracking a smile, let alone a prolonged hateful cackle. The Shadow however, with his 'Nyuh-huh-huh-huuuh!'s... well, he sucks, which given his importance in the script is a major setback for the story.

Dodgy performances spread everywhere - Drax is uneven, Valentine Dyall seems slightly puzzled, and I honestly can't decide whether Shapp is brilliant or terrible! And even the regulars aren't immune; I think I once referred to this as Mary Tamm's best performed story as Romana. Through episodes 1 to 3 on my most recent viewing I was wondering exactly how I'd developed this impression, since as Mike Morris points out she does indeed look pretty bored.

Then I discovered she's significantly better in the TARDIS console room scenes, which as luck would have it come mostly towards the end of the story, giving the impression of a gradual warming-up of her performance (though who knows in what sequence the scenes were actually recorded). Her concern for Luke Skyw... for Merak and Astra is wonderful ('We're murderers'), especially as I couldn't give a flying toss about them myself, and I'm not even an aloof Time Lady. Her suspicion of the 'White Guardian' is great, acted for the most part without accompanying lines. Her bravery I've already mentioned, but it's great.

(and I've got to stress to Joey Ford as a sidebar that even though I do adore Mary Tamm's Romana here, and the Mary Tamm Romana in Heart of TARDIS, I don't for a moment consider them the same character!)

In terms of its delightfully unforced character development, it's all good stuff. If there were a Romana-peformance canon, I'd shove the latter episodes of Armageddon along with The Ribos Operation in there with City of Death, Horns of Nimon and Warriors' Gate as an example of why Tamm's Romana is the equal of Lalla Ward's generally more popular incarnation. In fact what's bizarre when watching this in retrospect, seeing the two Romana actresses on screen together, is how disappointingly rubbish Lalla Ward seems next to Tamm. It's like putting a wilting lily next to an exquisite rose. Not in a sexist sense, I hasten to add, but lovely Lalla's screen presence has yet to blossom...

But as I say, and as with everything in this story, there's a drawback; Tamm does look bored early on.

Though even this is very nearly counteracted by the fact she also looks fucking fabulous :-)

Tom's Doctor is having his customary irreverent fun, brilliant as ever at winding up authority figures just by being relaxed and frivolous, though it's more clear here than probably anywhere else that the performer has no real idea what the character is up to. Nevertheless, when he chances upon a serious moment he seizes it and gives it the gravity it deserves. Look at when he confronts the Shadow; after pissing around for about ten minutes the man with the tights on his face says 'You are not dealing with a fool Doctor', and the Doctor immediately bats back with a grave 'Oh yes I am'. Similiarly, when he confronts the Shadow again over the surveillance link, reminding him that he's not dealing with simpletons from Atrios anymore. Some fans dislike Tom's latter-era silliness as compared with his characterisation in the Hinchcliffe years, but I enjoy it because I know he can always yank back that sense of being a passionate moral crusader. And sometimes it's all the more powerful for being sudden and unexpected.

The star of The Armageddon Factor, though, is clearly John Leeson. Just a few examples -

One, the scene where he turns up on the 'Shadow station' (?!) via transmat and sniffs 'This is not Atrios. Neither is this Zeos. (pause). What is this place?'. He delivers the lines with so much character, so disgruntled and uppity... it's not even a funny line or anything, not a joke, but I'm always tickled and I always laugh.

Two, the Mentalis scene;
K9: The War is over. All that remains now is obliteration.
Doctor: Obliteration? Of whom?
(perfectly judged pause)
K9: Everything.

Three, the scene where he's wrenched back from the Shadow's psychic control and has to go pretend to the Shadow that he's killed the Doctor and Drax. 'Everything depends on your acting ability' the Doctor has told K9 in an earlier scene, and when the Shadow asks him what's happened to the Doctor and Drax, and K9 clears his throat before hammily delivering the line... it's as sublime a moment as anything in Doctor Who, so ridiculous and so unique to the show.

And ultimately there's enough of those sublime moments, the kind you can only really get in Doctor Who, to keep you watching this and enjoying it. It's emphatically not a case of 'so bad it's good', more a matter of accepting that it's pants, dismissing it... and then realising on a later viewing that there's actually much to enjoy, with the pressure off and everything.

So yes, it's a heap of horse crap, but one liberally studded with gorgeous jewels. Hold your nose and enjoy the sparkle.


A Review by Brian May 28/9/04

Certain Doctor Who tales carry the burden of great expectations. The debut of a new Doctor, for example, or a much-publicised return of an old monster. Or The Armageddon Factor, the climax of the season spanning hunt for the Key to Time. It must do several things: first, satisfactorily wrap up the story arc. It must also incorporate the Black Guardian into the proceedings. So far he has been mentioned only in passing: by the White Guardian in the first story, The Ribos Operation, and by the Doctor in The Stones of Blood. Both were suitably dramatic and foreboding, so the committed viewer is surely expecting him to turn up at some point, and the final story is the most logical. Finally, it must do what's expected of any Who adventure: tell an entertaining story.

The Armageddon Factor's success is variable. True, the basic plot is rather good, but the on-screen execution is wanting in more than one area. First of all, it's cheap looking. Very. From dull, grey costumes, to unconvincing spaceships and endless walls and corridors, to the unseen space battle in part two, conveyed by a babble of unenthused voices (off-camera events are usually pulled off rather well in Doctor Who). The money has all been spent on the previous five outings, and it shows. Granted, Doctor Who has always been a low budget show, but the other Key to Time stories all had their impressive moments, whether costumes, location filming or the like. This just looks so tacky. My first viewing was with the innocent wonderment of a seven year old, who couldn't tell. For the next eight years it was readings and re-readings of the Target book, in which the whole thing felt high budget! Then came a second viewing on television and a great sense of disappointment.

There's also some dreadful acting aplenty. From the guest cast, there are only two that make any impression. There's Valentine Dyall as the long awaited Black Guardian at the end, and John Woodvine as the Marshal. Woodvine plays the obsessed, jingoistic and unstable military leader wonderfully, even spouting silly, macho rubbish like "Victory or death!" and "I shall crush it [Zeos] like a rotten egg!" with credibility. However, the rest of the guest cast are totally unmemorable. There's the wet fish love interest Merak; goofy, buffoonish Shapp, whose slapstick fall in part four is embarrassing. The Shadow is a comic book character, displaying the appropriate overacting, while Drax is irritating and grating. Lalla Ward fans will want to crucify me for this, but she's awful as Princess Astra. Boring, lifeless and flat. However, before you start nailing me up, remember that I too am an avid admirer of Lalla - she's wonderful and dreamily delightful as the second Romana - but not here, I'm afraid. Her best days are ahead of her.

Tom Baker and Mary Tamm are, as usual, on top form (I sound like a broken record, I know!) K9 has some interesting moments and is put to good use. He gets some great lines (Doctor: "I think one of us is being extremely stupid" K9: [wryly] "Affirmative!") and "Your silliness is noted" to Drax. John Leeson's voice is much clearer and louder than before, which works well, although there's a naff moment or two, like K9 clearing his throat before making his rehearsed announcement to the Shadow in part six. His communication with Mentalis is excellent; it's good to see the purely mechanical side of K9 brought to the fore, and his "Silence, please!" rebuttal to the gathered humanoids, including the Doctor, is fun to watch.

The Armageddon Factor is quite well written. Bob Baker and Dave Martin are known for okay stories, rather than great ones. This is perhaps their most complex and involved effort - the concept of two planets at war as a trial for the Black Guardian's plan to set the two halves of the cosmos at war, is an intriguing one, so too is all the involvement of Mentalis and the Armageddon sequence. But it's a plot that at times unfolds at a leisurely pace. It's too patchy. At six episodes it's not overlong (well, maybe just a bit!), but it stops and starts, speeding up and slowing down inconsistently. It's set in three locations over two episodes each - Atrios, Zeos and the Shadow's space station (why does Romana call it the "planet of evil"? I see no jungles or black pools, and it's not actually a planet...) The first two episodes on Atrios are very slow, with only a few interesting moments (the Marshal communicating with the wax skull, the abduction of Astra).

Surprisingly enough (for your average six-parter), the middle sections on Zeos are the most involving. There's the Doctor's interrogation by the Shadow; the latter is actually quite interesting in his first scene - it's later that the comic book baddie takes over. The entire sequence with Mentalis, the impending attack by the Marshal and the Doctor initiating the time loop with the incomplete Key - this is terrific stuff! There's suspense and excitement all round, with some great touches, such as the continual stretching of the time loop and the countdown in the computer room, which carries some tension through the rest of the adventure. Mentalis is a fascinating concept, it's well designed, and its self-destruction is excellent. In a season of unremarkable cliffhangers, episode three's should be dreadful - a slow closing in on the Marshal's face as he approaches Zeos - but the tension prevalent, plus the steely determination on Woodvine's face actually makes it the best of the five.

The final section on the Shadow's "planet" is, like the Atrios bit, quite dull. I understand the need for the inclusion of Drax, as the person who built Mentalis, but why did he have to be such an idiotic joke of a character. Perhaps he's an attempt to lighten things up? If so, he's an unsuccessful one. The shrinking of the two Time Lords seems to be mere padding, but at least it allows for another dramatic development, that of the TARDIS door being left open, while the concept of Astra herself being the final segment is quite effective. Plenty of hints have been thrown in the viewer's direction from the part one, but the final revelation is still quite dramatic. But these graces fall between more undramatic, boring sequences - walking through corridors, capture and escape.

However, the appearance of the Black Guardian and the ensuing confrontation makes for a spectacular climax, especially as the viewer knows he's disguised as his white counterpart while the Doctor (apparently) doesn't. This is terrific Who, and the resolution is satisfying - although not immediately. The Doctor re-scattering the Key feels, initially at least, like a letdown. However, if it had simply been returned to the White Guardian, everything's hunky-dory and all would be right with the universe. The decision was also determined by the fact that Astra is a piece, and to keep her imprisoned forever would be immoral. The Doctor - being the Doctor - could not have done anything else (the manipulative, puppeteer seventh Doctor might have, but thankfully this is well before his time). Just a thought - as Astra was restored to her normal self, did the same happen to the other segments? It's not a mind bogglingly important matter, but still something to think about.

As a story, The Armageddon Factor is a reasonable wrap-up of the season-long quest. The sense of climax and showdown is successfully built up. However, it's done on the cheap, and based on its production values, it's less than impressive, given the rest of season 16. The uneven pace of the story also adds to the story's detriment. It's not the wonderful season finale it should have been. With proper budget allocation, half decent acting and a bit of script tightening, it would have been spectacular. Nevertheless, what we have is still fairly enjoyable. 6.5/10


A Review by Finn Clark 7/1/07

I quite like The Armageddon Factor. It's a bit thin but at least the people involved know their arse from their elbow, which is more than I can say of The Pirate Planet, The Androids of Tara and The Power of Kroll. The writing, the directing and the acting may not be top-drawer but neither are they plumbing the depths of which the Graham Williams era is fully capable.

The writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, were old hands by this point. Admittedly their only other six-parter was, whoops, The Mutants, but I genuinely like their scripts for this story. The only problem is that they're a bit simple. I'm sure I remember a quote from Terrance "quick, go slower!" Dicks in which he said that in his time Bob Baker and Dave Martin's scripts were always overstuffed with ideas and he kept having to simplify them, which suggests to me that the Pertwee era was the worst thing that could have happened to that pair. The Armageddon Factor needed more complexity, specifically with its cast. The Marshal and Shapp are great, but Merak and Astra are a waste of space. Drax doesn't show up until part five, although he gives the story a shot in the arm when he does. And that's it! Well, there's the Shadow. Hmmmm. Unfortunately this story is driven by its ideas, not its characters. Shapp and Merak were just hangers-on even before the Atrios-Zeos war was revealed to be a sideshow. It's all rather dry, an exercise in BBC corridors and technobabble.

I still like it, though. The war stuff is nice... not very intricate, but full of irony and black wit. It's paced almost like a Hartnell story, with that era's level of reliance on the regulars. K9 in particular gets a huge role, unsurprisingly in a story written by his creators, and John Leeson is more than equal to the task. This might be the tin dog's best ever outing. He got oddly sidelined even in the likes of K9 and Company and School Reunion, but here he gets to betray the Doctor, chat up Mentalis and deliver snippy one-liners about illogical and unpredictable organic life-forms. He's a character, not just a plot device on rollers. He's deliciously self-important and uppity. He's the 4th Doctor's Zoe.

Lalla Ward is abominable, but at least you can have fun pretending you're watching The Two Romanas during her TARDIS scenes. In fairness though, her part isn't exactly sparkling. Poor Merak has an even worse problem, being so useless that you could almost mistake him for a rebel. I don't actually mind Ian Saynor's performance, since he's playing a cardboard character who's supposedly in love with a complete plank. It's hard to find much to say about him, but I almost thought he had something of a Luke Skywalker thing going on.

I really like the Marshal and Shapp, though. John Woodvine was interesting casting, since he doesn't strike me as a natural villain. He probably deserved a more nuanced role, but even so he was my chief reason for watching the earlier episodes. He underacts and keeps it real, even with that ranting speech in part three that's theoretically as shouty as anything from the Pirate Captain. I loved it. Wonderful. Meanwhile Davyd Harries as Shapp starts quietly but lets the part grow into something rather impressive. He's a bit too broad when getting shot in episode four, but before then he'd given us some nicely underplayed comic acting. He's watchable with some good facial expressions, like Bernard from Yes Minister.

Effective underplaying in the Graham Williams era! Who'd have thunk it? I also like Drax and don't even mind the Shadow. Obviously he's a one-dimensional loony who laughs too much, but that's what's in the script. You can hardly accuse William Squire of not doing what he's told. However if you've seen the Davison's Black Guardian trilogy, you could almost view the Shadow as pitiful. He's been waiting for millennia, growing sicker and more empty with every passing year. He's the Whoniverse's Gollum. There's nothing left of who he used to be, but once upon a time, he was presumably just another Turlough.

Season Sixteen and JNT's Black Guardian trilogy improve each other, incidentally. If you're going to end a six-month story arc with the universe's most powerful evil entity swearing vengeance on the Doctor, then at some point he should return! Moreover the Shadow gives weight to Turlough's deal with the Black Guardian. Call me crazy, but I actually found the Shadow kinda sinister when we're not actually looking at him but just exploring the scale of his plans to trap the Doctor.

Even the visuals are better than I'd been led to believe. Curiously, Atrios reminded me of Vengeance on Varos. They're both unpleasant SF dystopias with a leather jackboot aesthetic and a daily struggle just to survive. They have similar uniforms, a similar logo and similar TV propoganda broadcasts from Our Glorious Leader (John Woodvine underplaying much like Martin Jarvis would in an equivalent role). The Atrios hospital set is nice, as is the model shot when they launch a missile at the TARDIS. Personally, I don't have a problem with this story's production values. The problem is that the script just doesn't give the designers anything to play with. It's all tunnels and corridors.

Oh, and I like the Randomiser. It's the kind of "back to basics" idea that could have been great if they'd actually followed through with it instead of just treating it as an inconvenience and eventually smashing it at the start of Season Eighteen.

The Armageddon Factor isn't actually bad. In terms of avoiding badness, it's streets ahead of many other stories. Unfortunately you couldn't really call it good either. I liked the beginning, with the SF puzzle of Atrios and Zeos, and I liked everything from when Drax turned up. Part five's cliffhanger in particular is great. The story's only problem is that it's drab. It doesn't sparkle. It's short of characters and it ends up sidelining those it does have, although in fairness that's because the whole war was just the Shadow's trap for the Doctor. They're irrelevant. Nevertheless, imagine how much better this story would have been with a few more guest stars... one last Zeon, perhaps, overlooked and pissed off, or some long-forgotten survivor from the Shadow's past. The Armageddon Factor is an epic, perhaps one of Doctor Who's biggest. In its willingness to think big it's up there with Robert Holmes's revelations in Trial of a Time Lord or Ben Aaronovitch blowing up Skaro. Unfortunately Doctor Who isn't particularly good at epics. The ideas need a human face and this story doesn't have enough of those.