The Armageddon Factor
|“||Your silliness is noted.||”|
|The Armageddon Factor|
|Air date||20 January - 24 February 1979|
|Written by||Bob Baker & Dave Martin|
|Directed by||Michael Hayes|
|The Power of Kroll||Destiny of the Daleks|
The Armageddon Factor is the first ever season-arc-finale on Doctor Who, tying up The Key to Time-Wasting in a typical Moffat resolution, spending more time on cool scenes and funny in-jokes and complicated timey-wimey than on making sense, and then throwing in all the big revelations in a rush at the end in hopes you won't realize that they don't so much answer all your questions as make you feel stupid for expecting an answer. Then again, Moffat was only 17 or 18 at the time, and wasn't even the writer, so you have to give him a little slack.
It's also the first story to feature Sexy Romana, except she's not Romana yet, she's Princess Leia, because Unsexy Romana is still busy being Romana. Also, K9 and Doctor Scarf are here, and so is Drax.
No. There is no plot here. I mean, there is a Star Trek-y bit about two neighboring planets having a war for no good reason and so on, but none of the funny stuff, or the unintentionally funny stuff, or the final resolution to the serial, has anything to do with the plot, so let's just look at the unrelated stuff that happens.
Princess Astra is a qt3.14. She's also supposedly in charge of one of the warring planets, but her army won't let her know what's going on, and when she starts to find out, her Marshal kidnaps her.
Turns out that because she's the 6th Princess of the 6th Dynasty of the 6th House, she's Satan, and that's why it's called The Armageddon Factor. Oh, wait, not, it means she's a segment of the Key to Time, which means the title doesn't make any more sense than any other Moffat title. It also means the Doctor and Romana basically have to kill her at the end. But the Doctor recreates her at the end, and then Romana turns into her next episode, so it's all good.
K9 gets hypnotized. It's mildly entertaining.
Later, he does things like fake coughs and theatrical whispers to the Doctor like the writers forgot he was a robot dog, and it's horribly annoying.
The other planet is run by a guy who's not actually The Master, despite hypnotizing people and having overcomplicated plans, but a supercomputer. The Doctor accidentally Kirks him into blowing himself up while trying to do something different. That's the entire plot of episodes 3 and 4.
Del Boy shows up, and it turns out he's actually a Time Lord who knows the Doctor, because... I think I already did "lots of planets have a Brixton" somewhere else on the wiki, so let's just say that this is proof that Doctor Who and Eastenders take place in the same universe.
Anyway, he's also got a thingy that shrinks people like the Master's Tissue Compression Eliminator, except that since he's not evil it's a good thing instead of an evil thing. In fact, it allows him and the Doctor to get real, real small like a Steve Martin routine that you don't even recognize because you're too young but trust me it was funny in the late 70s. (Or, if you don't trust me, trust Peter Capaldi; it's on his list of top 10 albums.)
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Who cares, Evil McSpookyname is more evil than any of them anyway. And he doesn't just mwahaha after each time he does something evil, he does it as he walks through an empty corridor. All that might be OK if he camped up the dialog with the Doctor, but he seems to think that he's playing a scary villain, not a camp one, despite all the mwahahas.
Anyway, he parked his spaceship (which everyone calls a planet except him, even the Doctor--even the set designers were apparently convinced it was a planet) between the two planets and started their war so that when the Doctor showed up with the first five segments of the Key he'd get killed in the war, so Shadow could just swoop in and pick up his five segments plus the sixth. This may be the dumbest plan any Doctor Who villain has ever had, because it turns out that Shadow didn't actually know how to get the sixth segment. It's only because his plan failed miserably, so the Doctor survived and Romana found Astra, that he had any chance of succeeding. Bravo, Shadow.
The Black Guardian
The Shadow is one of Blackie's minions. Also, Drax was hired by Blackie. In fact, most of the evil stuff going on is part of his plan. Even all the parts that conflict with each other.
Even with only five parts, together with a fake sixth part made of Play-Doh, the Key is pretty powerful. So the Doctor does that and uses it to create an artificial time loop, which doesn't really solve anything but it's kind of cool anyway, until you realize it was just an excuse to pad the story out by repeating some scenes.
Also, if you take the first five parts of this story and replace the sixth part with a lump of Play-Doh, you get stuck in a time loop and have to watch the whole thing all over again.
After the Doctor defeats or redeems all the bad guys, Astra kills herself so she can get plugged into a bunch of other bits of space plastic. Then Blackie dresses up in whiteface and says, "Hey, Doc, I'm your old pal the White Guardian, so gimme the key." He does this in Valentine Dyall's distinctive voice, but for some reason the Doctor is fooled anyway. Unfortunately for Blackie, he doesn't bother to fake any feels about Astra sacrificing herself to become a key--the Doctor really didn't either, but I guess he expects more out of Whitey.
So, the Doctor breaks the key back into six pieces and scatters them across the universe, ensuring that Big Finish will be able to do as many Key to Time sequels as they want.
This means Astra gets to be Astra again, and she seems to relish the prospect of having Merak plugged into her a little more than she did having all those jagged plastic bits plugged into her, but it's kind of hard to tell because her acting is basically the same as when she was hypnotized.
It also means Blackie, the most powerful evil force in the universe, is now going to hunt the Doctor and Romana down to the ends of the universe and destroy them. The Doctor solves this by putting a randomizer on the TARDIS so nobody can track him. Of course this means he can no longer control where they're going, but when could he ever do that? He never even got Barbara and Ian home, much less any of his later companions. Fortunately, Blackie apparently has a short memory, because when he takes the randomizer off, nothing happens. Eventually, Blackie sics Turlough on him, but that's a long time later, and not exactly a Putin-level assassination attempt.
The attempt at a dark and serious story underneath all the fun completely fails, despite a good start and a whole lot of clever ideas. And resolving a meaningless technobabble problem with a meaningless technobabble solution--Doctor Who doesn't do that, but this story does it over and over.
The comic relief bits are actually fun, but even if you go into this expecting camp melodrama with bits of Adamsy jokes scattered around, you're still going to be disappointed by the padding (seriously, how many minutes of K9 rolling down a corridor alone did they think we needed?) and the not-good-enough-for-panto acting by really anyone except Drax, who is exactly good enough for panto.
And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. Even Lalla Ward is so bad here that it's hard to understand why they hired her to play the companion next season, unless Tom pointed at her and said "Have that one cleaned up and brought to my trailer".