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The Armageddon Factor

Reviewed by Kingi Milward

Every season has its good stories and its bad ones. Bob Baker & Dave Martin have also had their share of good stories (The Three Doctors, The Claws of Axos, The Mutants, Nightmare of Eden), and bad ones (Underworld, The Hand of Fear). The Armageddon Factor sticks in my mind as being the most dreadful story since The Invasion of Time. Right from its tacky acting to its low production quality. The other Key to Time stories were great: for once the Doctor had a sense of purpose rather than aimless wanderings. So having reached the final destination of their cosmic quest, the Doctor and Romana arrive in search of the sixth segment. What should have been an exciting and danger-fraught adventure turned out to be nothing more than an interplanetary romp between Atrios, Zeos and the Planet of Evil via transmat.

So having waited twelve weeks to see the Doctor complete his vital task, I was disappointed with the overall look of the story as well as the incredibly week, unmotivated plot. Episode one was the only exception with its glossy sets and the costumes were well made. However, from Astra to the very un-militaristic Shapp, the acting was poor and tacky throughout. Mary Tamm's Romana started out great in The Ribos Operation, but her talent gradually fizzled out until she was reduced to the Doctor's ventriloquist dummy, with the most contrived, predictable and hackneyed dialogue I've ever heard. Good riddance to her. I'll be looking forward to Lalla Ward replacing Mary Tamm, even though she played Princess Astra (rather badly) as the weak-willed toffee-nosed variety. She was completely unintelligent - she couldn't tell the difference between a ward full of wounded children and a pitch-dark radioactive room the size of a broom cupboard in K-block. Merak was no more than an extremely irritating individual with about as much believable character as a moth-eaten dish cloth. The sadistic Marshall came across as a series of recorded messages wearing a uniform, although perhaps this was due to the Shadow's influence.

As was typical of this season, Tom Baker was his usual witty self, laughing in the face of death. Drax was a total embarrassment, due entirely to his incredibly un-Gallifreyan accent. If we had wanted to hear such an accent, we'd have tuned into EastEnders. K9 surpassed my expectations yet again, being even more unbelievably pathetic than usual. (What sort of computer talks to itself in a deserted corridor and in a multi-pitched ridiculous singsong voice says, "This is not Zeos, neither is it Atrios" to no one in particular! The late Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian was the only person besides Tom Baker whom I could truly define as an actor. He looked and sounded superbly evil, especially with those negative blue eyes and face.

One strange point of the story was the so-called planet of evil. As seen from outer space, it was a metal structure, but inside was a catacomb of black rock (yet another case of unfathomable corniness). After reading this, some people might get the impression that I don't like Doctor Who; not so, but when the Doctor is reduced to running around orange cardboard sets (Zeos), I can't help criticising a story of such unusually poor standards. The Doctor's final encounter with the Black Guardian was about the only good part. But as for the great Key to Time, the peak of Guardian technology, the one device which when assembled can halt the flow of time, and all it turned out to be was a perspex cube with a whopping great orange rod sticking out the middle.

Finally, I don't know why such a fuss was made about supposedly having killed Astra, as to my knowledge, she as well as the other five segments, were never living creatures or actual sentient beings, just lumps of perspex containing sophisticated chameleon circuits. (The Doctor didn't exactly mourn the loss of the people of Calufrax or Kroll both living parties*).

Overall it was a disappointing end to an otherwise well-written and well-produced season.

* Editor's Note: According to the Doctor, Calufrax was a cold, wet unpopulated lump of rock of a planet, and Kroll wasn't intrinsically a Key segment in the same way as Astra. The squid swallowed the segment at a Swampie ceremony in its 'perspex' form, causing the powers of the segment to grow Kroll to gigantic proportions. So when the Doctor removed the segment, Kroll's mass of genetic material was transmuted into thousands of tiny squids, which the Doctor examines at the end of the story. Also, the sixth segment was a molecular anomaly buried in the genetic structure of the Royal House of Atrios, transmitted from one generation to the next, finally manifesting itself in Astra, the sixth Princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth Royal House of Atrios. The Doctor was right in making the point that Astra was a living person in her own right.

This item appeared in TSV 6 (April 1988).

Index nodes: The Armageddon Factor
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition