THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORY "THE POWER
OF KROLL" AND THE BIG
BOB BAKER &
'THE KEY TO TIME' DVD
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
THE KEY TO TIME IS
WITH ONLY ONE PIECE
STILL TO FIND, THE
DOCTOR, ROMANA AND
K-9 ARRIVE ON ATRIOS,
A PLANET IN THE MIDDLE
OF A TERRIBLE WAR
WITH ITS TWIN WORLD
ZEOS. TO RESTORE THE
BALANCE OF THE
UNIVERSE FOR THE
WHITE GUARDIAN THE
DOCTOR MUST FIND THE
SIXTH SEGMENT BEFORE
THE PLANETS DESTROY
EACH OTHER - BUT ZEOS
IS DESERTED, SO WHO IS
BEHIND THE WAR?
The Armageddon Factor
20th january 1978 - 24th february 1979
The mammoth task of writing the six-episode tale that would bring the search for the Key to Time to an end fell to those dependable old Bristol Boys, Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Based on a storyline submitted just before Christmas 1977 quite succinctly entitled “Armageddon”, Baker and Martin’s story told of a nuclear war between the neighbouring planets of Atrios and Zeos. The editing of their scripts was overseen by incoming script editor Douglas Adams who, despite the serial’s prevailing funerary feel, managed to inject “The Armageddon Factor” will some much needed wit and charm. And despite the annual industrial dispute, production of the season finale was completed on schedule and Part One – billed as Doctor Who’s five-hundredth episode – was broadcast on 20th January 1978 to over seven and a half million viewers.
THE DOCTOR Tell me Martial, if you had this ultimate deterrent,
what would you do with it?
THE MARSHAL Use it, of course!
Much darker in tone than the season’s first five serials, “The Armageddon Factor” finally introduces us to the sinister agents of the Black Guardian. The Shadow (William Squire) is as murky and as dastardly as they come, but I found the old “whimpering wraith” just a little
bit too cliché for my tastes. Now the Marshal, on the other hand, is a truly captivating character. John Woodvine does an absolutely splendid job of bringing to life this tormented and delectably sinister individual; the Marshal is clearly a man who enjoys war, but there is far more to him than his unadorned desire for victory or even his fundamental bloodlust. He
is being controlled by something on the other side of his mirror. Something on the side of his neck… But what is so really great about the character is that we do not know where the Marshal ends and the Black Guardian’s influence begins. Who is it making the decision to hit back against Zeos? Who is it that makes that key decision to launch the missiles? It is really gripping stuff.
“The Armageddon Factor” is not without its humour, though. The Gallifreyan wide-boy Drax (“Thete! It is Thete innit! Theta Sigma! How’s it going my old china?”) stands out as a particular source of hilarity, though I would not blame some people for being critical of his introducing the Doctor’s ‘Theta Sigma’ nickname. Fifteen years of mystery and intrigue… Doctor Who…? and then Baker and Martin capriciously decide to call the Doctor ‘Thete’. Not good.
THE DOCTOR Why do you always assume the worst?
ROMANA Because it usually happens.
THE DOCTOR Empirical poppycock… Listen Romana; whenever you go into a new
situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly
what the situation is all about. Then believe the worst.
ROMANA Ah, but what happens if it turns out not to be the worst after all?
THE DOCTOR Don’t be ridiculous, it always is, isn’t it K-9?
There is also one utterly delightful scene about half way through the first episode that always sticks in my mind (excerpt above) which just reeks of Adams’ idiosyncratic brand of humour. It really is such a shame that this faultless balance between comedy and drama could not have been maintained throughout the next season.
Furthermore, for a wholly studio bound story, “The Armageddon Factor” is unquestionably striking visually. Atrios is every bit as dark and as grim as befits a world ravaged by nuclear war, and Zeos is, in many respects, its exact opposite – all shiny and white… and
completely devoid of human life. The DVD’s showpiece documentary, “Defining Shadows”, focuses very heavily on this design aspect, perhaps to the detriment of the other aspects of production.
Whilst I am on the subject, I have to say that “The Armageddon Factor” really does let the side down in terms of bonus material. “Defining Shadows” is barely fifteen minutes long,
and features neither Tom Baker nor Mary Tamm. The rest of the second disc is filled with lots of insubstantial special features, of which the relevance of many is questionable. For example, the Michael Hayes “Directing Who” featurette is quite interesting in its own right, but it focuses far more on “City of Death” than it does either of Hayes’ two Key to Time stories. Worse still, there is a potted history of “Rogue Time Lords” which has obviously been included as “The Armageddon Factor” is packed to bursting with rogue Time Lords...
Above: Co-writer Bob Baker in the "Defining Shadows" featurette
The only positive comment I could really have about the two DVDs’ bonus material is that the second disc is blessed with a ‘Play All’ feature, which does soften the blow of lots of flimsy little extras quite considerably, but even so, for a two-disc release I was bitterly dissatisfied with the content.
Turning back to the serial itself, “The Armageddon Factor” is famous for marking Lalla Ward’s first appearance in Doctor Who. She stars in this story as Princess Astra - the final, living component of the Key to Time. The way Tamm tells it in the commentary, it was Tamm who suggested to producer Graham Williams that Ward – or to give her her full title, the Honourable Sarah Ward (she is Lord Bangor’s daughter, apparently) – be offered the part
of the second Romana. The rest, as they say, is history.
“It would be a terrible tragedy for the universe if it suddenly turned out that I was colour blind.”
The final half of Part Six, written independently of the main plot by Adams and Williams, sees the Doctor and Romana complete the key and prepare to hand it over to the White Guardian. Fortunately though, Astra being a part of the key seems to be weighing on the Doctor’s mind, and for the first time all season he begins to doubt whether he is actually doing the right thing in assembling the key and so he scatters the key across all time and space again rather than let it fall into the wrong hands. The way this closing scene is written, the implication is that the Guardian who sent the Doctor off on this quest back in “The Ribos Operation” was not the White Guardian at all. Later stories would off course dispel this theory, but if you think about it, it could still have been the Black Guardian disguised as the White who instructed the Doctor to search for and assemble the key. Why else, when the Doctor scatters the key across all of time and space again, does the universe not fall pray to eternal chaos? I wonder…
Either way, the final moments of “The Armageddon Factor” bring the Key to Time season to a tense and satisfying close. The only thing missing when all was said and done was a Romana regeneration. Cue “Destiny of the Daleks”…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.