‘THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR’
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The Shadow and the Black Guardian
‘The Armageddon Factor’ by Bob Baker and Dave Martin is the sixth and final story of ‘The Key to Time’ series. It is a six-part adventure on a 2-disc set. This is the epic finale to ‘The Key to Time’ season and it gets more dangerous for the Doctor, Romana and K-9.
The quest is nearly over as the TARDIS takes the Doctor, Romana and K-9 in the middle of a terrible war between the twin planets Atrios and Zeos. They hope to find the sixth segment of the Key to Time. Instead they come up against the evil and calcified Shadow who is also after the Key to Time.
The war setting of this story adds to the dramatic climax of this season. Bob Baker and Dave Martin boldly depict the horrors of war and what’s at that stake with the Key to Time. Where one side hopes to win against the other; there’s a powerful computer about to self-destruct to end the war.
It’s interesting how this story develops, as the Shadow is manipulating events in the war by having his world blocking in-between Atrios and Zeos. Also with Mentalis, the Zeon computer is the only entity on Zeos compared to Atrios that is populated by humans, which is interesting and disturbing.
Director Michael Hayes does a grand job directing this final story of the season on such a low budget. The story has a pretty ‘Star Wars’-feel to it and despite the lack of money to create convincing sets, the story manages to hold up together especially with the tension and dark scenes.
Tom Baker delivers a superb performance as the Doctor. I like how the Doctor’s curious about what’s going on regarding the war between Atrios and Zeos, including the Marshal’s odd behaviour. I liked some of the Doctor’s one-liners and he suspects that Princess Astra is connected to the Key to Time.
Mary Tamm is lovely as Romana in this adventure. Romana clearly has got on well with the Doctor by this point. There’s less friction between them and Romana truly cares for the Doctor when he’s in trouble. I liked it when Romana and the Doctor manage to stop the universe with the Key to Time.
K-9 (voiced by John Leeson) gets a good outing in this adventure. I like it when K-9 has some funny moments including when he finds his conversations with Mentalis stimulating. Also when K-9 is on his side and he demands to be put upright by Drax. Poor K-9 when he was on his way to the furnace.
The story’s guest cast includes John Woodvine (who I’ve seen in a BBC production of ‘Persuasion’) as the Marshal on Atrios. The Marshal is obsessed with war and he’s determined to wipe out the Zeons. But there’s something odd about him since he talks to a mirror and he is in contact with the Shadow.
There’s Lalla Ward who makes her first appearance in ‘Doctor Who’ as Princess Astra. Lalla would go on to play the second Romana after Mary Tamm. Here she plays the Princess of Atrios, who gets kidnapped by the Shadow and his minions and she’s closely connected somehow to the Key to Time.
There’s Davyd Harries as Shapp, the Marshall’s second-in-command on Atrios. I found Shapp really funny in ‘Parts Three and Four’. He has a funny twitch in his eye and makes funny moves with his gun. I can’t help laugh out loud when he does that unconvincing fall and screams after he gets shot.
There’s also Ian Saynor as Merak, the medical physician on Atrios. Merak is in love with Princess Astra and both try to end the war between Atrios and Zeos. Merak joins the Doctor and Romana when they try to find Astra on Zeos. Merak tries to be heroic when saving Astra from the bad guys.
There’s William Squire who delivers a chilling performance as the mysterious, evil Shadow. It’s not clear who the Shadow really is, as to whether he’s a man or an alien being. But he turns out to be an agent of the Black Guardian who’s on the same quest as the Doctor and Romana for the Key to Time.
In this story, we meet a new Time Lord – Barry Jackson as Drax. Drax is an old Academy friend of the Doctor’s. Drax calls him Theta Sigma, interestingly. Drax is a dodgy dealer in maintenance and repair work when the Doctor meets him. He was employed by the Shadow but helps the Doctor instead.
It turns out that the sixth segment of the Key to Time happens to be Princess Astra herself. This came as a shock and a surprise and it upsets the Doctor and Romana when they’re being used by the Guardian to commit a murder, as Astra is destroyed and becomes a component instead of a person.
The humour in this story doesn’t overplay to a large degree. There is an atmosphere of darkness especially within the Shadow’s domain. There are traces of humour within the story which I enjoyed and could feel the taste of, especially since Douglas Adams was coming in as the new script editor.
This story also has elements of the Trojan War in it. There’s a moment when the Doctor and Drax shrink themselves to a small size. They get inside K-9 to get into the Shadow’s lair to save Romana.
Thankfully the Key to Time is completed and all the six segments are put together to form this beautiful crystal cube. To see that cube in its completion is simply amazing and makes you want to do absolutely anything with it. But absolute power corrupts absolutely as the Doctor demonstrates.
By the end of the story, the Doctor and Romana come face to face with Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian. The Black Guardian tries to pass himself off as the White Guardian in order to fool the Doctor. But the Doctor sees through the disguise and he refuses to give the Key to Time over to him.
This angers the Black Guardian who vows to hunt the Doctor and destroy him. But the Doctor breaks up the tracer and the Key to Time is scattered again across time and space. The Doctor also adds a new device to the TARDIS called the randomiser. He and Romana hope to avoid the Black Guardian.
This story features Mary Tamm’s final appearance as Romana in the TV series. This is a shame as I’ve enjoyed Mary Tamm’s Romana and I wish there were more adventures with her in the TV series. Thankfully Mary has done some Big Finish audios with Tom Baker before she passed away in 2012.
The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there are two audio commentaries. The first commentary is with Mary Tamm; John Woodvine and director Michael Hayes. The second commentary is with Tom Baker, Mary Tamm and John Leeson, which I enjoyed listening to so much. There is also an info-text commentary option to enjoy. There are also two PDF documents including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story and the ‘Doctor Who Annual 1979’. These PDFs can be accessed on a PC.
On Disc 2, there is a making-of documentary called ‘Defining Shadows’ with cast and crew interviews. There is an alternative/deleted scene from the story; a ‘Directing Who’ interview with Michael Hayes; a ‘Rogue Time Lords’ featurette and a ‘Pebble Mill at One’ interview with Tom Baker. There is a ‘Radiophonic Feature’ and ‘The New Sound of Music’ featurette. There’s also a funny ‘Merry Christmas, Doctor Who’ sketch with the Doctor; Romana and K-9. There are ‘continuities’ and a photo gallery of the story. There are also five ‘Late Night Story’ features with Tom Baker to enjoy. There’s a coming soon trailer for ‘Planet of Evil’ with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
‘The Armageddon Factor’ is a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion to ‘The Key to Time’ season. I enjoyed watching the Doctor; Romana and K-9 facing the forces of evil and completing their quest in the end. The story has a surprising twist at the end, which is something one shouldn’t expect to see.
‘The Key to Time’ is my favourite season from the Tom Baker era of ‘Doctor Who’. I loved watching this season in its lavish DVD box set for the first time. I loved the stories between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Mary Tamm’s Romana. I cherish this season every time I watch with those two together.
‘The Armageddon Factor’ rating – 7/10
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