Sue: Six parts? Bloody hell. Oh well, it is the end of the Key to Time, I suppose, so it has to be epic.
Me: You’ll be pleased to know that The Armageddon Factor is our last six-part story.
Me: Yes, I swear on our cats’ lives, this is the last six-part Doctor Who story ever broadcast on television.
Sue: If you’re lying to me, Neil, I will kill you and feed you to our cats.
The Armageddon Factor begins with two characters spouting cheesy dialogue at each other in front of a badly chromakeyed backdrop.
Sue: The fringing on this CSO is even worse than usual.
The male character declares that men young men are dying for it and I try not to laugh.
Sue: Grow up, Neil. Hey, haven’t we seen these two before?
Me: No we haven’t.
Sue: Yes we have. Rewind it. Look, she’s wearing the same green PVC uniform we saw in that story where the giant prawn attacked that hospital. She’s playing a nurse, which means George Osborne over there must be a doctor.
Me: How is it you remember that, but you never remember anything important?
Sue realises she’s actually watching a cheap propaganda film.
Sue: It’s very postmodern. And they’ve played the “it’s supposed to bad on purpose” card again, I see.
An explosion hits an already ramshackle hospital ward, which causes some masonry to fall on a patient, although a doctor tells them they’ll be all right.
Sue: Yeah, it’s fine. A huge slab of concrete just severed your spine but don’t worry about it. It’s all right.
In a large control room, the Marshal is monitoring his war.
Sue: Oh, it’s him. Don’t ask me what’s he’s been in before, but he’s very good. Wait, wait! Don’t tell me… He plays a copper. A hard-nosed copper.
Me: It’s John Woodvine. You probably remember him from Edge of Darkness.
Sue: Yes, Edge of Darkness. That’s definitely it. Good. Yes, he’s very good.
We are also introduced to Princess Astra.
Sue: Oh, she’s familiar… She’s one of the Doctor’s companions, isn’t she? Does she come back later when he turns into Peter Davison? Or does she join him at the end of this story? Does the Doctor travel with two women? That won’t work, will it?
Me: Stop trying to guess the ending!
Princess Astra visits a hospital in order to illicitly confer with a young doctor named Merak. They are both pacifists and strongly opposed to the war raging around them.
Sue: Is she the Princess Diana figure in this story?
Me: Visiting the hospital, you mean?
Sue: No, she’s having an affair with a commoner.
The Marshal broadcasts a Churchillian speech to his people.
Sue: I like this. It’s very cynical. It’s nicely directed, too, with its swooping camera moves and big close-ups. Yeah, I like this a lot.
The TARDIS materialises in a parking orbit above Atrios. However, the planet – and its twin, Zeos – are nowhere to be seen.
Sue: Since when has the Doctor ever bothered to park above a planet first? He must be getting cautious in his old age.
The Marshal rubs his neck as he stares into a distorted mirror.
Sue: This is what happened to Londo in Babylon 5. Is there an invisible alien living behind his ear?
A guard is escorting Princess Astra to a children’s hospital when he receives orders to take her to K-Block instead.
Sue: The actor playing that guard is so bad, the director won’t give him a close-up during this conversation. Jesus, did they go to the BBC canteen and grab the first person they could find?
The Doctor finally locates Atrios. Romana suspects they may have stumbled into a nuclear war, and the Doctor chides his companion for her glass-half-empty attitude. “Where’s your optimism?” he asks.
Sue: Forget that, Doctor. Where’s her bra?
They use the tracer to locate the sixth segment’s coordinates.
Sue: How did the Doctor get his little stick out of the last segment? I remember worrying about that at the time.
The TARDIS materialises on Atrios and K9 goes for a walk.
Sue: I’m glad K9 is back in action. Dogs get depressed if you keep them locked up for long periods of time.
K9 discovers the body of Astra’s personal escort (who was shot dead by the Marshal earlier) lying in a nearby corridor.
Sue: K9 has the best peripheral vision in the whole series. And he’s only got one eye.
The Doctor and Romana are prosecuted as spies.
Sue: Everywhere they go, people want to execute them. That would get on your tits after a while. No wonder he invented the psychic paper, this would drive anybody up the wall.
The Doctor protests his innocence, but the Marshal isn’t listening.
Sue: Tom Baker is very good again this week. He must be trying to impress John Woodvine.
Meanwhile a mysterious figure in black abducts Princess Astra.
Sue: Is that the Black Guardian? Sorry, silly question. Who else could it be?
The episode concludes with the Doctor and Romana discovering the TARDIS has been buried under several tons of rubble.
Sue: I liked that. So far, so good.
Sue: Good game! Good game!
Me: I beg your pardon?
Sue: The Black Guardian looks like Bruce Forsyth. Look at the size of his chin!
The Doctor is cut off from his TARDIS.
Sue: He really needs to invent a remote control. And psychic paper. He basically needs to sit down and make a list of the things he needs to speed up his adventures. Especially when he’s on a mission like this.
The Doctor suspects the Marshal was responsible for the death of Astra’s escort, thanks to an unlikely list of coincidences.
Sue: What coincidences? What is he talking about?
At this point, the Marshal is acting even stranger than the writers.
Sue: He loves that distorted mirror, doesn’t he? He should go to a funfair; he’d be a pig in shit.
K9 is taken away to be recycled.
Sue: And on tonight’s conveyor belt we have some Christmas tinsel and a robot dog. Seriously, though, why doesn’t K9 put himself in reverse?
The Doctor and the Marshal discuss strategies for winning the war against Zeos.
Sue: John Woodvine is trying really hard not to laugh here. Oops! He almost went there. Tom Baker is a bad bugger.
The Doctor and the Marshal watch as a battle unfolds on a large computer screen.
Sue: Why didn’t they use different coloured dots for the enemy ships? No wonder the Marshal can’t follow what’s going on.
The Doctor asks the Marshal to locate Princess Astra for him.
Sue: **** Princess Astra, rescue K9!
The Doctor rushes to the conveyor belt that leads to the furnace and saves K9 from being turned into slag and clinker.
Sue: (As Bruce) Didn’t he do well?
Suddenly, Princess Astra appears on television, where she begs the people of Atrios to surrender to Zeos.
Sue: Does this episode end with the bad guys cutting her head off with a rusty penknife?
No, the episode concludes with the Doctor falling into a very obvious trap.
Sue: This is rattling along quite nicely. I’ve seen a lot worse.
Romana and Merak join forces.
Sue: Romana should definitely have her own show. She doesn’t actually need the Doctor. And I wouldn’t have him as a companion, either; she could do a lot better than him.
The Shadow’s minions place the Doctor in a special booth.
Sue: (Singing) Mr and Mrs! Be nice to each other…
The Shadow wants to know where the Doctor has hidden the first five segments, but the Doctor won’t play ball. So they torture him with bolts of electricity which flow through the cubicle’s architecture.
Sue: Why doesn’t he a) stop touching the bars and b) step through one of those large gaping holes?
The Shadow knows all about the Doctor and his jackdaw meanderings.
Sue: It’s not, is it?
Sue: Just checking. I didn’t think it was. Please don’t put that on the blog, Neil; it makes me look stupid.
The Shadow lets the Doctor go.
Sue: He’s the first villain who can’t be arsed to follow through on any of his threats. And he’s got a wonky nose.
The Marshal’s right-hand man, Shapp, finds a secret transmat chamber and accidentally transports himself to Zeos.
Sue: He reminds me of the bloke from Terry and June.
Sue: Yes, Terry. I wouldn’t trust him to put up a sun lounger, let alone win a nuclear war. Even his gun looks like a joke. He’s basically waving a cafétière around in the air.
The Doctor and Shapp traipse through the corridors of Zeos (thankfully, the walls are a different shade of brown to those seen on Atrios).
Sue: This place could do with a good hoover. What’s with all the sawdust? Are they expecting horses?
Everybody is awfully eager to catch up with Princess Astra.
Sue: I think Princess Astra could be the sixth segment. Am I right?
Me: Stop trying to guess the ending!
Meanwhile, K9 has been talking to his “own kind”.
Sue: So K9’s met another robot dog? Has he been sniffing its circuits?
The Marshal records another emergency broadcast, only this time he substitutes defiance for megalomaniacal arrogance.
Sue: From Churchill to Hitler in two episodes. That’s impressive.
The Marshal prepares his ship for one final assault.
Sue: This reminds me of Star Wars. All that’s missing here is a Wookie.
K9 seeks permission for the Doctor to meet with Zeon’s commandant, and while they wait, Merak lets it slip he doesn’t know what a bee is.
Sue: Why did the Doctor jump down his throat like that? He hasn’t done that in ages. I know this Merak character is wet and irritating, but even so.
K9 introduces the Doctor to Mentalis, the automated computer that has been conducting the war against Atrios, even though there are no Zeons left on the planet to win it.
Sue: Is the computer the sixth segment? It’s got a big crystal on top of it, so that would make sense. Although, having said that, that crystal is too big to fit with the other pieces, so maybe not.
Shapps tries to shoot Mentalis and fails miserably.
Sue: (As Shapp) JUNE!
So the Doctor questions the machine instead.
Sue: I hope they don’t ask that computer another question, I think I’m losing the will to live. This story isn’t in any hurry, is it?
The camera sweeps into the cockpit of the Marshal’s ship.
Sue: The story is slow, but at least the direction is interesting. That tracking shot was great.
The episode concludes with the Marshal preparing to attack Zeos.
Sue: And another dull cliffhanger wraps up another dull episode. Classic Part Three, really.
Sue: It’s a bit like the War Games. Not the Doctor Who one, the one where Matthew Broderick plays noughts and crosses against a mad computer.
The Shadow hypnotises Princess Astra.
Sue: He sounds like Barry White after a night on the cigars.
And then Sue loses her patience with Merak.
Sue: He’s a wet blanket. We’ve seen loads of people like him in Doctor Who: bland hangers-on who you forget 20 minutes after the episode has finished. Actually, this one is so forgettable, I keep forgetting who he is in the middle of the episode.
Shapp heads back to the transmat chamber, but he gets into a fight with one of the Shadow’s minions on the way and he ends flat on his back with his feet sticking up in the air.
Sue: Someone took his sun lounger away at the last moment.
Meanwhile, the Marshal’s ship continues to close in on Zeos.
Sue: It’s a planet. How close do you need to be? How can you miss a ****ing planet?
The Doctor desperately wants to save Zeos.
Sue: There’s nobody there, pet! It’s empty! It’s just one shitty room with a broken computer. Leave it!
The Doctor cobbles together a replacement for the missing sixth segment.
Sue: You can’t fake the Key to Time! If it was that easy, everybody would be doing it.
The Doctor uses the Key to set up a time loop.
Sue: (Singing) Let’s do the Time Warp again!
Me: Time Loop, Sue. Loop. And even if it was a time warp, please, just… don’t.
The Doctor places the universe in a three-second loop.
Sue: Why doesn’t this affect the Doctor and Romana?
When Romana asks the same question, the Doctor almost bites her head off.
Sue: Okay, steady on, I was only asking.
The Doctor places the Marshal’s ship in a localised time loop.
Sue: So the Key to Time is basically a ****ing genie? How many wishes do you get?
While all this is going on, Princess Astra finds Merak lying at the bottom of a very deep hole.
Sue: This is a bit weird. Has he been shrunk? She looks massive.
Me: Don’t be silly. The plot is weird enough as it is without people shrinking!
K9 tries to identify the source of a distress call.
Sue: My ****ing ears are the source of the distress! Turn that bloody alarm off!
As K9 investigates the cause of the signal, he is transported to the Shadow’s lair on the third planet (keep up at the back).
Sue: Ooh, K9 is getting his own little adventure. That’s nice.
Unfortunately, it’s anything but nice, and the episode concludes with K9 under the thrall of a new master.
Sue: Bad boy!
The Doctor passes himself in a corridor.
Sue: Is he part of the time loop, now?
Sue: Well, this is ****ing confusing, then.
The Doctor tells the Shadow he knew he was controlling Princess Astra from the very beginning.
Sue: And didn’t it cross your mind to tell Romana this? You know, before you let her wander off with her?
The Shadow tells the Doctor he works for the Black Guardian.
Sue: So this bloke isn’t the Black Guardian, then? This is very confusing…
The Doctor bumps into a figure from his past.
Sue: Who the hell is that?
He’s Drax, and he greets the Doctor like an old friend.
Sue: Eh? Have I missed something? Or have I forgotten something? Or am I just thick?
Drax says he studied with the Doctor at the academy on Gallifrey.
Sue: He calls it ‘Gallifree’ as well. Bloody hell!
Drax says he was good at the practical stuff, but he wasn’t too hot on the theory.
Sue: I’ve taught hundreds of students like Drax.
Drax addresses the Doctor as Theta Sigma.
Sue: What? So is that his name? That’s his real name? Oh. That’s disappointing.
Me: It’s a nickname. Probably. I don’t ****ing know.
Drax says he picked up his ridiculous cockney accent when he was stranded in Brixton for a while.
Sue: So what was he doing when all those alien invasions were taking place? Why didn’t he ask UNIT for a job?
And then Drax suggests the Doctor’s moniker is purely academic.
Sue: Is there a Time Lord who calls himself the Bachelor? That could work…
Drax removes the Shadow’s control device from K9’s collar.
Sue: Why does the bad guy stick that thing on people’s necks where you can see it? Why doesn’t he stick it where the sun don’t shine? No one would find it there.
The Shadow revels in a good old, “HA! HA! HA!” at everybody’s expense.
Sue: It’s a bit panto, this.
Me: Oh no it isn’t.
The episode concludes with Drax pointing a rifle shaped device at the Doctor. He pulls the trigger and the Doctor begins to shrink.
Sue: So is Drax the bad guy, or is he just an idiot?
As the credits roll, Sue shrugs her shoulders. She’s got nothing left to say.
Me: I know a few people who hate that episode. Some of them think it’s the most boring episode of Doctor Who ever produced.
Sue: Then they’re mad. That episode was just as bad as the other four. No better, but certainly no worse. It’s slow and cheap. I like some of the ideas, but they’re dragging it out now. I’m bored.
Me: Are you still excited to see how it ends?
Sue: A little. Not as much as I was when we first started this, but I’m still curious.
Me: How would you like it to end?
Sue: I want the Man from Delmonte to pat the Doctor on the head and say, “Well done, Doctor. You’re a very good Time Lord”. Something like that would be nice.
Drax turns the gun on himself and the Doctor and they both end up a few inches tall.
Sue: What? Why did he do that? Who thought that would be a good idea? The idiot!
Back on Atrios, Shapp tries to work out what Astra’s connection to the sixth segment might be.
Me: Yes, you’ve already done that, Sue.
Sue: I can’t help it. Look at him! They must have been separated at birth.
Princess Astra is the sixth princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth Royal House of Atrios.
Sue: I knew she was the sixth segment. It was so obvious. Her bracelet would have been an anticlimax, so what was left? I feel sorry for her. She really drew a shit hand when she was born.
The Shadow tries to access the Doctor’s TARDIS, but he’s stopped in his tracks by a blinding light.
Sue: Okay, so what’s causing that, then? Is that the Key to Time doing that, or is it the TARDIS? Hasn’t the bad guy got some sunglasses he can place over his wonky mask?
Merak risks life and limb to infiltrate the Shadow’s ranks.
Sue: He really loves Astra, and now she’s going to turn into a Perspex puzzle piece. It’s tragic, really.
K9 transports Drax and the Doctor to the Shadow’s throne room.
Sue: Is that K9’s theme tune? It’s very jaunty.
Astra accepts her destiny with open arms.
Sue: So she can’t wait to be turned into a lump of plastic? That’s a bit weird.
Princess Astra is transformed into the sixth segment and the Shadow is triumphant.
Sue: Oh dear, he’s showing us his sex face.
Just when it looks as if the Shadow will break the time loop, dooming Atrios and Zeos to Armageddon, Drax returns the Doctor to his normal size.
Sue: Why didn’t you shrink the bad guy first, you idiot!
The Doctor grabs the Key to Time and sprints back to the TARDIS with Romana.
Sue: They’re leaving without K9!
The Doctor returns to Zeos where, with some help from Drax, he defuses Mentalis.
Sue: We saw this scene last week. That’s sloppy script editing, that is.
The time loop is removed and the Marshal is reacquainted with reality again. So he launches his missiles and…
Sue: He’s missed! He actually missed a whole planet! That has to be the worst miss in the entire history of Doctor Who. And that’s saying something.
The missiles destroy the Shadow’s planet of evil, but the Black Guardian isn’t that bothered, really.
Sue: I bet the Black Guardian has a negative personality. Because…
Me: Yes, I get it, Sue.
Not only does the Doctor possess the Key to Time, he shows us what would happen if he turned out to be a raging psychopath.
Sue: Mental. There’s no other word for it.
A Guardian appears on the TARDIS scanner to claim the Key for himself.
Sue: We already know that he isn’t the White Guardian, and it’s pretty clear that the Doctor doesn’t believe he’s the White Guardian either, so where’s the tension in this scene?
The Doctor scatters the Key’s segments through time and space.
Sue: That’s it?
Me: That’s it.
Sue: Give me strength.
At least Princess Astra gets to live.
Sue: That’s nice. She definitely comes back later. I’m sure of it.
Me: Did you like her?
Sue: She’s a bit posh. Pretty, though.
The Doctor attaches a randomiser to his TARDIS to stop the Black Guardian from following them.
Sue: So he’s putting his TARDIS on shuffle?
Me: Something like that.
Sue: And he’s broken it again in the process. Brilliant.
Sue: That was a massive anticlimax. I knew it would be. I don’t even know what happened at the end. I mean, where was the White Guardian while all that was going on? I bet an eight-year-old would have been disappointed by that. What did you think of it when you saw it?
Me: I don’t remember.
Sue: Exactly. I rest my case.
Sue: That was a complete waste of time. And six parts, too. On the plus side, K9 had a big part, and some of the ideas were interesting, I suppose. The director did his best, but the acting was all over the place. The conclusion to the Key to Time story should have been epic and meaningful. They had months to get that right, but it still felt rushed.
Me: You could argue that the White Guardian fixed the universe while the Doctor was chatting with the Black Guardian.
Sue: Yeah, but would an eight-year-old get that when they saw it? I doubt it.
Me: Douglas Adams wrote the last five minutes.
Sue: So what? They were the worst five minutes. It’s nothing to be proud of, Neil.