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11 April 2016 @ 09:43 pm
The Randomiser: The Armageddon Factor  
The Armageddon Factor is the final story in the Key to Time sequence. While it isn't derided to the extent that the previous season finale The Invasion of Time has been, possibly because it is clearly better than the story that preceded it. It think it would be fair to say it is not much loved and, like The Invasion of Time, it almost certainly suffers from being stretched to run over six episodes and thus losing any real momentum in the middle.

The first episode is actually pretty good in its evocation of a war-torn society which has reached the end of its resources. While watching, it occurred to me that 1970s Who was far more concerned with nuclear war and its aftermath than the new series, though when I sat down and thought about it only this, and Genesis of the Daleks seem to me to be strongly using this setting. But I think it clearly informs the thinking in The Hand of Fear, which we also watched comparatively recently as part of the randomiser. Sadly after the first episode the story loses interest in the planet Atrios and its plight, opting instead for a lot of running around on Zeos (where the population have apparently evacuated themselves, at least from the command areas) and the mysterious shadow planet in between the two.

This is Lalla Ward's first appearance on Doctor Who, as Princess Astra upon whom Romana later models herself. This is one of her stronger performances on the show where she quite often appears stilted and artificial. Admittedly her character spends a lot of time being mind controlled so her range isn't being particularly pushed. John Woodvine, as the marshal, is doing that British thesp thing of playing his character completely straight and ignoring the general madness of the plot he finds himself in. Davyd Harries, playing his aide Shapp, however clearly decides about halfway through that his only option is to go for the laughs which at least had the virtue of amusing tame layman.

Barry Jackson as Drax is pretty good and it is odd that we never see the character again. As Tame Layman remarked there is a lot the show could have done with an artful dodger type Time Lord character who is basically on the side of good but prone to misadventure, mistakes and generally ending up on the wrong side of the law. I suspect we never really see him again because, aside from the Meddling Monk back in the 1960s, Doctor Who had been pushing a very different character archetype for the Time Lords, to the extent that Drax feels like a jarring anomaly. However, Drax is entirely the type to have randomly survived the Time War so, who knows, maybe he will surface again.

I recall thinking the ending - in which the Doctor assembles the Key to Time, chats to the Black Guardian (who is pretending to be the White Guardian) for a bit and then reveals he's not been fooled - was quite clever when I first saw it back in 1979. Now it looks a bit like the writers didn't quite know what they wanted the final resolution of the Key to Time to be. "That was a bit of an anti-climax" Tame Layman remarks as the Doctor announces that the Key has been assembled long enough to do its job and promptly disassembles and disperses it again. Part of the problem is, I suspect, that the longueurs of six episodes have made the whole story feel less like an epic climax and more like business as usual (back in 1979, I think I missed episodes 2-5 which will have helped the pacing no end!).

Like many 6 part Doctor Who stories of the 1970s, The Armageddon Factor's major problem is that it is at least two parts too long and it doesn't really know what to do with the extra time. Even though the action is spread across three planets, they all look pretty much the same, in fact they all consist entirely of subterranean corridors. It has some nice comedic touches, but seems to be striving overall for a serious and slightly epic tone which it can't really sustain. As with (almost) any Tom Baker story, there is a lot of Doctor Who that is a lot worse out there, but at its best the show could be a lot better than this.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/189576.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 11th, 2016 10:33 pm (UTC)
I actually rather like The Armageddon Factor, but I'm too tired and pressed for time to mount a defence of it, so I'll just link to my former self's defence.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 12th, 2016 05:46 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of what you praise in the story is really lost once the action moves away from Atrios, neither Zeos, nor the Shadow Planet has the same depth as Atrios has so most of the commentary upon war is taken up by the Atrios segments. Also, as I say, this isn't bad Doctor Who, just not as good as a lot of the Baker era.
liadtbunny: DW Romana Iliadtbunny on April 12th, 2016 02:58 pm (UTC)
I'm on my way to the special features of 'The Armageddon Factor' nearly finished 'Androids of Tara' which has the dullest info text. I'm guessing it all went well:)

I found the samey set design problematic too - where am I?

I think it would have been better with 4 eps. If they brought Drax back he'd be all bitter and twisted so perhaps not!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 12th, 2016 05:49 pm (UTC)
If they brought Drax back he'd be all bitter and twisted so perhaps not!

*sigh* you are probably correct, but I'd love to see the Doctor being all outraged about a Time Lord being irresponsible...
liadtbunny: DW Romana Iliadtbunny on April 13th, 2016 01:54 pm (UTC)
Nobody gets away with out a tragic backstory these days. It proves that the writer is good;p