The Armageddon Factor: Doctor Who: Season 16
The Armageddon Factor SYNOPSIS:
The final segment of the Key to Time takes the Doctor and Romana to Atrios a planet in the midst of a nuclear war with their neighbouring planet Zeos. The Marshal of Atrios is to launch a counterstrike on Zeos, but the Doctor finds Zeos is deserted except for the computer Mentalis, which is controlling the war.
He discovers the true opponent is a third planet ruled by the Shadow, an agent of the Black Guardian, who has Princess Astra of Atrios captive. The Doctor disables Mentalis with the assistance of Romana and K-9 and creates a substitute sixth segment that gives the Key enough power to create a time loop to trap the Marshal's strike ship and Mentalis' control room that is counting down to self-destruction.
In the Shadows lair, the Doctor meets Drax an old Time Lord Academy mate, who has been employed by the Shadow but agrees to help the Doctor. With K-9 and Astra now under his control, the Shadow wants the Key for himself and forces the Doctor to retrieve it for him by torturing Romana.
The Shadow has the Key and Princess Astra is revealed to be the final segment. However Drax misinterprets the Doctor's rescue plan and shirnks the Doctor and himself with his modified dimensional stabilizer. Romana is still captive and the time loop is stretching, coming closer to Armageddon for the entire planetary system unless they manage to get back the key to time.
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The Armageddon Factor SERIAL DETAILS:
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The Armageddon Factor CAST & CREW
Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor)
John Leeson (K-9 Mk. II)
Mary Tamm (Romana I)
Lalla Ward — Princess Astra
John Woodvine — The Marshal
Davyd Harries — Shapp
Ian Saynor — Merak
Ian Liston — Hero
Susan Skipper — Heroine
William Squire — The Shadow
Barry Jackson — Drax
Valentine Dyall — The Guardian
John Cannon, Harry Fielder — Guards
Iain Armstrong — Technician
Production Staff for Serial 5F:
Writers - Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director - Michael Hayes
Script editor - Anthony Read & Douglas Adams (uncredited)
Producer - Graham Williams & David Maloney (uncredited)
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The Armageddon Factor REVIEWS
The Armageddon Factor rounds it off...Yep it's the end of yet another season and the production team is again out of money but THAT'S not going to stop them!! Bet the effects boys & costume / set design were looking at the Baker & Martin script and weeping, we've got to fit in 3 planets, countless different scenarios with time loops, people shrinking, weird space / time traps, teleportation and several different computers.
The Key to Time could've gone out with a bang rather than a muffled thump but lack of money and too much ambition in the story really stretched The Armageddon Factor but it's still entertaining and it's the final regular six parter, a six parter that for once is divided into three slices, two episodes on Atrios, two on Zeos and two on the shadow planet.
First we have the Atrios segments. Ok no money, so we have some long corridors and a bunker room where the maniacal Marshall of Atrios sits directing his fleet into battle, staring at his own reflection and being as sinister as you can be in a very bright and gay red alfoil costume with shiny gold highlights. What makes it more funny is that he plays it deadly seriously although as a complete contrast his number two plays his second in command part like there's an open mike on stand up night. Plus we get the endearing Princess Astra played by future Romana Lalla Ward. So after complete tedium on Atrios for 2 parts where it's only the banter between the Doctor & Romana & the Marshall providing any relief (imagine if we actually got to see the space battle scenes or the surface of Atrios getting bombarded but again no $ left) we get to...
...Zeos and two episodes where one of the weakest ever teleportation effects is used nearly every two minutes on cue to transport characters there. And we get corridors very similar in colour and shape to Atrios bugger me if it ain't the same ones plus a Zeon computer room set with ante chamber. Here we meet the bad guy behind the war - The Shadow. He wears black robes, a skull mask complete with stockings over his head and talks with an evil voice but....somehow he doesn't seem threatening, maybe it's because Tom treats him like such a lightweight and all he does is give orders to his Mutes in footy boots, he's not a 'hands on' villain. But we have heaps of plot developments the Doctor & Romana improvising a time loop using the Key to time to stop the Marshall's attack and triggering the doomsday device that will destroy everything and that wet pants boyfriend of Astra's wandering around whining like a 4 year old. Then we all go for one last trip to...
...The Third planet. Again the senses are belted by the over used teleport effect as the Doctor, Romana and Merrit (?) and Shapp the comedian track the Shadow to his lair and do final battle with the help of possibly the best edition to The Armageddon Factor - Drax. We get to meet another Time Lord and one who's actually a contemporary of the Doctor's from his university days. The banter between these two is very refreshing and lifts the whole thing a bit. Plus the Shadow's lair shows where the rest of the money went...but that's not saying much. the Doctor even wanders around for a bit using a tomato sauce bottle as an alarm detector. Thus the heroes shrink down to do battle with the Shadow and to stop him from using the Key to Time when it's in his hands.
Then we get the low beat finale'. The Doctor & Romana flee with the assembled Key both appalled the final segment was disguised as an actual person and deal with the demonic Black Guardian and his tricks, played with flare by Valentine Dyall, from the safety of the Tardis. I've got no real problem with that but it seems a lot of other people wanted a HUGE showdown. It's farewell to Mary Tamm and it's sad because her Romana reverted back to the haughty, but smart and sassy companion from earlier in the series and it would've ended the Armageddon Factor on a high if they had shown Romana getting nearly killed and regenerating at the end (Mary had already given her notice while they were filming so they could've set up a proper departure scene) Hmmm tough one this but will give The Armageddon Factor a 7/10 for the ambitious writing, sad about the realisation.
And yet I think The Armageddon Factor succeeds because of all this.
I know it sounds sad, but I actually have the Armageddon Factor on VHS and I've probably seen it a few more times than one would probably warrant. But the thing is, it is at least TRYING to make the best of the "fuck all money in the kitty" scenario. After all, the Armageddon Factor is set in an underground nuclear bunker so you gotta expect that its supposed to be dark and gloomy and chock full of corridors. Likewise Zeos which is also underground and since we don't have the budget for unlimited extras, let alone three, we find out that Zeos is all but deserted being run by a single computer in a bare room (hey; virtually no set requirements!) As for the Shadow's lair, well its SUPPOSED to be dark and gloomy too cos they don't like the light so there you go.
Plotwise, you get an idea from the Tardis scenes that something BIG is happening by way of the Dr and Romana talking about the nuclear war happening down on Zeos and Atrios so the Tardis and co are going straight into danger. Sure, there is a lot of tooing and froing and teleporting but at least SOMETHING is happening as opposed to NOTHING like Underworld, Sensorites or Timelash. Sadly, the whole Key to Time explanation is very rushed in so much that its almost tacked on to the end of the final episode. I feel that something that has been the main plot and driving force on an entire season needs more script and screen time than five minutes on the scanner screen with the Black Guardian. Maybe they could have divided the Armageddon Factor up better with 2 episodes on Atrios, 1 on Zeos, 1 on the Shadow Lair and 2 that dealt with the Key to Time?
Characters run the gauntlet here. Tom is as good as ever - although he does fly off his hinges at the end of the Armageddon Factor when he gets his mitts on the cube. Romana is just as good as ever but she never really developed as a character did she? It would have been better if SHE was the sixth segment and the Doctor had to bump HER off to obtain it. The Marshall seems to be channelling Eric Heyes while he's standing there yapping to himself in the mirror. Both Astrid and Merrak are wetter than a prozzie's fanny while Shap and Drax back it up with some nice comedy relief.
As I said, with the Armageddon Factor I like the faults of it cos it keeps me entertained. Though points off for the whole Key to Time explanation at the end - too rushed.
I guess cos the Armageddon Factor is the end of an arc, you need to review it in two ways - the story itself and the payoff of the arc.
The story itself is OK. You get the feeling The Armageddon Factor could have been something great, and at times it borders on something great, but it never quite gets there for some reason. Maybe it's because of the ordinary production (final episode budget problems again), or maybe cos it tries to be an epic with only 6 characters (maybe 7)... but it's not that... it's just that there seem to be a lot of moments that have you thinking "ooh, this is going to be good... oh, is that all..."
The split between three planets (and a TARDIS) theme seems to work fine. Straight away, Atrios looks like a hub of activity, complete with its own soap opera that gets interrupted for war updates (I wonder if Varos was populated by Atronians?). Part 1 sets it all up really well - the double crossing mirror talking Marshall (is this the third time that Baker and Martin have used a character called Marshall... and they obviously have a thing for round helmets... ooo err!!), the locking up of the Princess, the kidnapping, the TARDISnapping... quite a bit happens here... but then by the end of part 2 and they're all in Zeos, you're thinking "thank god they left there"!
Likewise, Zeos starts off promising too... especially with the line "It looks dusty... maybe the Zeons don't use it much"! But then, I don't know, K9 talking to a computer in beeping noises was just boring... when you've got 6 parts to get through, you can't have 5 minutes of beeping! The computer idea was pretty good though - easy and clever way of saving money on hiring cast!
The Shadow Planet (or the "Evil Planet") is probably the best of the three... and that's probably a result of the build up of all the main players. I like Lalla's Astra - especially when under the control of The Shadow. And the Shadow himself is a pretty good evil guy - pretty stereotyped, yes, but he does it well for a bloke with half a mask from a showbag and a stocking over his head. Actually, one of the most effective scenes here is when K9 calls the Shadow "Master" - love him or hate him, K9 is very loyal, so when he calls someone else Master, it really builds his new Master's character. A lot of the scenes on the Planet with the strange mysterious multiple shots are done really well - another thing that adds to the Shadow.
I'm not so sure about Drax though... I'm pretty sure he's only there for his ability to debiggen and rebiggen (I think that's what Professor Fink called it!). It doesn't really make sense for the Shadow to have gone all the way to Brixton to get him, and then he just stays there and makes tunnels (in what is a spaceship!) for years... when he's got all this technology? He built a super computer didn't he? Anyway, that's over analysing... the whole shrinking and rebigening works well (surprisingly)... and while the final scenes where the Doctor pinches the crystal, are a bit stilted, they still work pretty well.
Plot wise, yeah, the Armageddon Factor all holds together for the 6 parts. My only qualm would be the Shadow's logic that Astra (or whatever it is to do with Astra) is the last segment. How did he know it was the last segment? The segments were dispersed randomly weren't they? And if so, then how does he (and the Black Guardian) know that this would be the Doctor's last stop... which is why he's been camping there and running a war for so long?
OK, to the key... the payoff here isn't that bad. It's certainly much better than the Bad Wolf payoff. Midway through we do learn what the full power of the key can do... basically, it's a writer's wet dream cos it can do anything! Can't get out of a hole, well command the key to time to get you out! And it does a good job with setting the time loop too... although the first thing it does gets them into a hole... if everything's in a time loop (except the key controllers), how do we keep the story going... cos if we stop the loop, everything gets blown up in 10 seconds! It's OK, cos the key can limit the loop just to those two spots... that works... the key is awesome (in fact I think the Black Guardian calls it "totally awesome"... is he a ninja turtle?). As for the Black Guardian, it is a bit disappointing that we only get that little bit tacked onto the end... it still works OK, but maybe they could have made more of that and less of the K9 talking to a computer bit.
Performances are all pretty good here... I particularly like John Woodvine as the The Marshal... if he'd have been the bad guy in Kroll, that may have worked!
All up, The Armageddon Factor was a pretty satisfying finish to a season that I didn't think I was going to enjoy as much watching it again.
And one more thing to note - the guy who played the Pilot made his last appearance in Who... I wonder if there's been an actor who's played more bit parts than him?
Pat Gorman Story Character / Function The Invasion Cyberman The War Games Military Policeman Doctor Who and the Silurians Silurian Doctor Who and the Silurians Silurian Scientist Inferno Primord Terror of the Autons Auton Leader Colony in Space Primitive & Voice Colony in Space Long Colony in Space Colonist The Sea Devils Sea Devil Invasion of the Dinosaurs UNIT Corporal Planet of the Spiders Soldier Genesis of the Daleks Thal Soldier The Masque of Mandragora Soldier The Invisible Enemy A Medic The Armageddon Factor Pilot