Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Armageddon Factor

Shapp and the Marshall.
‘The Armageddon Factor’, or ‘How not to resolve 25 episodes of build up’, is a pretty disappointing end to the Key to Time. I’m not sure where to start really. It’s just a very poor, slow story. It has some good ideas, written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, but the breadth of scale of the story – two planets at war with a third between them playing them off against each other – was too much for the production team to realise effectively.

Romana and the Doctor with the awful Merack.

Hence we get three planets which look a lot like each other, full of endless boring corridors underground. Worse than that, it’s all done as a sort of pantomime. So I put a lot of blame on the director, Michael Hayes, rather than the writers. With such a limited lot of sets allowed, it was hard for them to write a lot of action and remember that it was a six-parter, a lot of episodes to fill. It’s completely studio-bound, which suggests money-saving, and maybe it could have done with location shooting. It’s just rather dull and boring. The design does effectively convey a sense of claustrophobia, especially on Atrios, but by the time we hit Zeos and it’s just slightly differently coloured corridors, it’s getting very old.
The Doctor and the Zeon master-computer.
I like elements, of course. K-9 has a good gig in this one as he communicates with the Zeon master computer. There’s the character of Drax, a cockney-accented Time Lord who builds things. The Marshall (John Woodvine) is an interesting take on your megalomaniac, but after the first two or three episodes he’s stuck in a time loop. We are introduced to the wonderful Lalla Ward, playing the Princess Astra but soon to play Romana, and the besotted and annoying Merack (Ian Saynor) who quite frankly I couldn’t stand.
Then there’s Shapp – played by David Harries, the Marshall’s right hand man. He doesn’t appear to take it seriously and spends most of his time hamming it up.
Tom Baker and Mary Tamm eye of the completed Key to Time.
Valentine Dyall.
Normally it would anger me but to be honest the story is so dull I rather appreciated his attempts at levity. The only other character of note (yes, it’s not a lot for a six-part story) is ‘the Shadow’ (William Squire). Dear god. Talk about one-dimensional villains that look stupid and pretty much useless. One of the worst villains in Doctor Who. He is working for the Black Guardian, played by the supreme Valentine Dyall, an amazing voice actor who featured in the occasional episode of ‘The Goons’.
Lalla Ward as Astra.
On the positive side, the idea of Astra being the sixth segment is a good one, and the Key to Time serves a purpose (creating the time loop) in this story. Tom Baker is great at some points, but then in episode six he goes a bit off the boil pretending to be crazy. With less than ten minutes to go the Black Guardian turns up, the Doctor reveals him, and so destroys the tracer splitting the segments up again and returning Astra to Atrios. 26 episodes and he just says ‘you know what, don’t really want this thing’.

The lamest villain of them all - The Shadow.
And thus ends the Key to Time. Four excellent, top-notch stories, followed by a clunker and finally a rather dull and unsatisfying ending. Perhaps Anthony Read needed to work closer with Baker and Martin. Resolve the search for the sixth segment in four episodes, then a separate 2 to wrap the season up. ‘The Armageddon Factor’ would have been a far better story told in four parts, they could have still used the sets or shot outside for the conclusion. Seemed strange not to involve the White Guardian in the end too.
I felt a bit confused too, it was not always clear which planet the Doctor was on. It wasn’t clear what had happened on Zeos – was everyone there dead and only the computer was left to fight the war. Or was life on Zeos going on fine on the surface and they had little to no knowledge of the war?
It was an ending of sorts. Disappointing though, very disappointing.


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