Sue: Six parts? Bloody hell. Oh well, it is the last part of the Key to Time, so it has to be epic.
Me: You’ll be pleased to hear 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 broadcast on television.
Sue: If you are lying to me, I will kill you, and then I will feed you to our cats.
The story begins with two characters spouting cheesy dialogue at each other in front of a badly chromakeyed backdrop.
Sue: Are we watching Doctor Who? The fringing on this CSO is even worse than usual.
The Hero: Men out there, young men, are dying for it!
I suppress a giggle.
Sue: Grow up, Neil. Hey, haven’t we seen these characters before?
Me: No we haven’t.
Sue: Yes we have. Rewind it. Look, she’s wearing the same green PVC uniform we saw in the story where a giant prawn attacked that hospital. She is playing a nurse and George Osborne over there must be a doctor.
Me: How is it you remember that but you can never remember anything important?
When she realises that it’s a cheap propaganda film, Sue cuts it some slack.
Sue: It’s very postmodern. And they played the “it’s bad on purpose” card again, I see.
An explosion hits an already ramshackle hospital ward and some masonry falls on top of a patient. A young doctor rushes over to help.
Merak: It’s all right, it’s 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 monitors 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 and you probably remember him from Edge of Darkness, among other things.
Sue: Yes, Edge of Darkness. That’s definitely it. Good, he’s good.
We are also introduced to Lalla Ward’s Princess Astra.
Sue: Oh, she’s familiar. (pause) She’s one of the Doctor’s companions, isn’t she? (pause) Does she come back later to play a companion 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.
Me: Stop trying to guess the end.
Princess Astra visits a hospital, where she illicitly confers with a young doctor named Merak. They are both pacifists and strongly opposed to the war that is 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 huge close-ups. Yeah, I like this a lot.
The TARDIS materialises in a parking orbit above Atrios. But 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’s getting cautious in his old age.
Neil: Romana looks amazing in that dress.
Yeah, sorry, that was me.
The Marshal rubs his neck as he stares into a distorted mirror.
Sue: This is what happened to Londo in Babylon 5. Has he got an invisible alien living behind his ear?
A guard is escorting Princess Astra to a children’s hospital when he receives orders to escort her to K-Block instead.
Sue: The actor playing this 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 found?
The Doctor finally locates Atrios. Romana suspects that they may have stumbled into the middle of a nuclear war, and the Doctor chides his companion for her glass-half-empty attitude.
The Doctor: Where’s your joy in life? Where’s your optimism?
Sue: Forget that, where’s your 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 was worried about that at the time.
The TARDIS materialises on Atrios and even K9 gets to go for a walk.
Sue: I’m glad to see K9 back in action. Dogs get depressed if you keep them locked up for long periods of time.
K9 notices the body of Astra’s personal escort, 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 arrested by the Marshal and 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 adducts Princess Astra.
Sue: Is that the Black Guardian? Silly question, I suppose. Who else would it be?
The episode concludes with the Doctor and Romana discovering that 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 contemplates his rubble covered TARDIS.
Sue: He really needs to invent a remote control. And psychic paper. He basically needs to sit down and work out a list of things that will speed up his adventures. Especially when he’s on a mission like this.
The Doctor and Romana run into Merak and the Doctor immediately suspects that the Marshal was responsible for the death of Astra’s escort, thanks to a long list of coincidences.
Sue: What coincidences? What is he talking about?
The Marshal is acting even more strange than the writers.
Sue: He bloody loves that distorted mirror, doesn’t he? He should go to a fun fair, he’d be like 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 just 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. Oops, he almost went there. Tom can be a bad bugger.
The Doctor and the Marshal watch the latest battle unfold 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: **** Astra, rescue K9!
The Doctor rushes onto the conveyor belt that leads to the furnace.
Sue: Just switch the conveyor belt off, you idiots!
The Doctor saves K9 from being turned into slag and clinker in the nick of time.
Sue: Didn’t he do well?
Suddenly, Princess Astra appears on television, where she begs the people of Atrios to surrender to the might of Zeos.
Sue: Does this episode end with the bad guys cutting her off head with a rusty penknife?
The episode concludes with the Doctor falling into a very obvious trap.
Sue: This is rattling along quite nicely. I’ve seen worse.
Romana and Merak decide to join forces.
Sue: Romana could definitely have her own show. She doesn’t really need the Doctor. I wouldn’t have him as a companion, though. She could do a lot better than him.
The Shadow’s minions place the Doctor into a special booth.
Sue: (Singing) Mr & Mrs! Be nice to each other.
Me: That reminds me: it’s our 13th wedding anniversary today. I just thought I should throw that out there, in the middle of The Armageddon Factor.
The only reason I remembered in the first place is because my best man sent me a text wishing me a happy anniversary. The smug git.
Thankfully, Sue had forgotten the date as well.
Sue: What are we like?
Me: The most unromantic couple in Britain?
Sue: Or maybe even the world.
Me: I’ll make it up to you. I’ll take you to Paris next week.
Sue: Yeah, right.
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 that flow through the cubicle’s architecture.
Sue: Why doesn’t he a) stop touching the bars and b) just step out through one of the large gaping holes?
The Shadow says he knows all about the Doctor and his jackdaw meanderings.
Sue: It’s not, is it?
Sue: Just checking. I didn’t really think so. Don’t put that on the counter, it makes me look stupid.
As if I would (of course I did).
The Doctor is released from the cubicle and the Shadow lets him go.
Sue: He’s the first villain who can’t be arsed to follow through on any of his threats. Plus, he’s got a wonky nose.
The Marshal’s right-hand man, Shapp, finds the secret transmat chamber and he 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 it’s a joke. He is basically waving a cafetière 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 bloody good hoover. What’s with all the sawdust? Are they expecting horses?
Everyone 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 end!
K9 reappears and he says he has talked to his “own kind”.
Sue: Another robot dog? Has he been sniffing its circuits?
The Marshal records another emergency broadcast, only this time he replaces 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 that he doesn’t know what a bee is. The Doctor tears Merak a new one.
Sue: Why did the Doctor jump down his throat like that? He hasn’t done that for ages. I know this Merak character is wet and irritating, but even so.
K9 introduces the Doctor to Mentalis, an automated computer that has been conducting a war against Atrios, even though there are no Zeons left on the planet to win it.
Sue: Okay, so maybe the computer is the sixth segment? It’s got a big crystal sitting on top of it, so that would make sense. Having said that, that crystal is too big to fit with all the other pieces, so maybe not.
Shapps tries to shoot Mentalis and fails miserably.
Sue: (As Shapp) JUNE!
The Doctor questions the machine via K9. It is a very protracted process.
Sue: I hope they don’t ask the computer another question, I think I’m losing the will to live. This story isn’t in a hurry, is it?
The camera sweeps into the cockpit of the Marshal’s ship.
Sue: The story is very 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 a dull cliffhanger wraps up a rather dull episode. Classic Part Three, really.
Sue: It’s a bit like The War Games (sic), this. Not the Doctor Who one, the one where Matthew Broderick plays noughts and crosses against a mad computer.
The Shadow uses his deep voice to hypnotise Princess Astra.
The Shadow: Astra, you are to meet your lover. Smile.
Sue: He sounds like Barry White after a night on the cigars.
Sue is beginning to lose patience with Merak.
Sue: He’s such a wet blanket. We’ve seen loads of people like him in Doctor Who: bland, hangers-on who you forget twenty minutes after the episode has finished. Actually, this one is so forgettable, I keep forgetting who he is in the middle of an episode.
Shapp heads back to the transmat chamber but he gets into a fight with one of the Shadow’s minions. He ends up falling flat on his back with his feet sticking up in the air.
Sue: Someone took his sun lounger away at the last moment.
The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open up Mentalis and its screws are sent flying through the air.
Sue: Watch out! You could have Romana’s eye out with that.
Meanwhile, the Marshal’s ship continues to close in on Zeos.
The Marshal: Go in closer. As close as you dare.
Sue: It’s a planet. How close do you need to be? How can you miss a ****ing planet?
The Doctor is desperate to save Zeos.
Sue: But there’s no one there. It’s empty. It’s just one shitty room with a broken computer. Just leave!
Shapp tries to recall the Marshal but he has decided to do a Dr. Strangelove instead.
Sue: Even Peter Sellars couldn’t save this.
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, everyone would be doing it.
The Doctor uses the Key to Time to set up a time loop.
Sue: (Singing) Let’s do the Time Warp again!
Me: Time Loop. Loop. And even if it was a time warp, please, just… don’t.
The Doctor has put the entire universe in a three-second loop.
Sue: Why doesn’t it affect the Doctor and Romana?
Romana asks the very same question and the Doctor bites her head off.
Sue: Okay, steady on, I was only asking.
The Doctor tells the Key to place 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 this is going on, Princess Astra finds Merak lying at the bottom of a very deep hole.
Sue: This is getting a bit weird now. Has he shrunk? She looks massive.
Me: Don’t be silly. The plot to this story is weird enough without people shrinking in it.
K9 picks up a distress call.
K9: Please identify source of distress.
Sue: My ****ing ears are the source of the distress! Turn that bloody alarm off!
K9 investigates the source of the signal and 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.
But it’s anything but nice and the episode ends with K9 under the thrall of a new master.
Sue: Bad boy.
Early in the episode, the Doctor passes himself in a corridor.
Sue: Is he part of the time loop, now?
Sue: This is ****ing confusing.
The Doctor communicates with the Shadow and he tells him that he knew he was controlling Princess Astra from the very beginning.
Sue: And did it ever cross your mind to tell Romana this? You know, just before you let her wander off with her?
The Shadow tells the Doctor that he works for the Black Guardian.
Sue: So this bloke isn’t the Black Guardian? This is very confusing.
The Doctor suddenly bumps into a figure from his past.
Sue: Who the hell is that?
He’s Drax, and he greets the Doctor like he was 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 is Gallifree as well. Bloody hell.
He says he was good at all the practical stuff, but he wasn’t so hot on the theory.
Sue: I have met hundreds of students just like Drax.
Drax addresses the Doctor by the name Theta Sigma.
Sue: What? Is that his name? That’s his real name? (pause) 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 kicking off? Why didn’t he ask UNIT for a job?
Drax suggests that the Doctor’s moniker is purely academic.
Sue: Is there a Time Lord who calls himself the Bachelor? That could work.
The Doctor tackles a possessed K9 and Drax removes the Shadow’s control device from his collar.
Sue: Why does the bad guy stick that thing on people’s necks where everyone 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 else’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 after all, or is his just an idiot?
As the credits roll, Sue shrugs her shoulders. She has nothing left to say.
Me: I know quite a few people who hate that episode. Some of them think it’s the most boring episode of Doctor Who ever to be produced.
Sue: Then they are quite mad. That episode was just as bad as the other four. No better but certainly no worse. It’s just slow and cheap. I like some the ideas but they are dragging it out. I’m bored now.
Me: Are you still excited to see how it ends?
Sue: A little. Not as much as I was when we 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 are a very good Time Lord”. Something like that would be nice.
Drax turns the gun on himself and he ends up a few inches tall, along with the Doctor.
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, we’ve already done that.
Sue: I can’t help it. Look at him. Separated at birth.
Speaking of weird births, Princess Astra drops the bombshell that she is the sixth princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth Royal House of Atrios.
Sue: I knew she was the sixth segment. It’s so obvious. Her bracelet would have been an anticlimax, and what was left? I feel sorry for her. She really drew a shit card when she was born.
The Doctor and Drax discuss the best way to tackle the Shadow.
The Doctor: Small is lovely.
Drax: Big is better, though, innit?
Sue: I’m saying nothing.
The Shadow tries to access the Doctor’s TARDIS but he is stopped in his tracks by a blinding light.
Sue: Okay, so what’s causing that? Is that the Key doing that, or is it the TARDIS? Hasn’t the bad guy got any sunglasses that he can put over his wonky mask?
Merak risks life and limb by infiltrating the Shadow’s ranks.
Sue: He really loves Astra, and she is going to turn into a perspex puzzle piece. It’s tragic, really.
K9 transports Drax and the Doctor into the Shadow’s throne room.
Sue: It that K9’s theme tune? It’s very jaunty.
Astra accepts her destiny with open arms.
Sue: She can’t wait to be turned into a lump of plastic. That’s 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 as the Shadow looks like he will break the time loop, dooming Atrios and Zeos to obliteration, Drax turns the Doctor back to his normal size.
Sue: Why didn’t you shrink the bad guy first? You idiot!
The Doctor grabs the Key to Time and he runs back to the TARDIS with Romana.
Sue: They are leaving without K9!
The Doctor returns to Zeos where, with some help from Drax, he defuses Mentalis.
Sue: We had exactly the same scene last week. That’s sloppy script editing.
The time loop is removed and the Marshal joins reality again. He launches his missiles and –
Sue: He missed! He actually missed a whole planet. That has to be the worst miss in the history of Doctor Who, and that’s really saying something.
The missiles destroy the Shadow’s planet of evil, but the Black Guardian isn’t all that bothered, really.
Sue: So that’s the Black Guardian. I bet he has a negative personality. Because they are –
Me: Yes, I get it.
Drax leaves the Doctor and Romana to it.
Drax: Remember me to Gallifree!
Sue: You were a terrible actor. Goodbye!
The Doctor and Romana have the Key to Time in their possession. The Doctor shows us what might happen if he ever turned into a raging psychopath.
Sue: Mental. There’s no other word for it.
The White/Black Guardian appears on the TARDIS scanner to claim the Key.
Sue: We already know that he isn’t the White Guardian, and it’s pretty clear that the Doctor doesn’t believe that he’s the White Guardian either, so where is the tension supposed to come from in this scene?
The Doctor defies the Guardian and he scatters the Key’s segments through time and space again.
Sue: That’s it?
Me: That’s it.
Sue: Give me strength.
The good news is Princess Astra gets to live.
Sue: That’s nice. She definitely comes back in the series later. I’m sure of it.
Me: Did you like her?
Sue: She’s a bit posh. Pretty, though.
The Doctor fixes a randomiser to his TARDIS to stop the Black Guardian from following him.
Sue: So he’s put his TARDIS on shuffle?
Me: Something like that.
Sue: And he’s basically broken it again in the process. Brilliant.
As the credits roll, I ask Sue to sum up.
Sue: It was a massive anticlimax. I knew it would be. I don’t even know what happened at the end. Where was the White Guardian when all that was going on? I bet an eight year old would be disappointed by that. What did you think of it when you first saw it?
Me: I don’t remember.
Sue: Exactly. I rest my case.
Sue: I really like story arcs but 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. The director did his best but the acting was all over the place. The end of the Key to Time needed to be epic and meaningful. They had months to get it right but it still felt rushed.
Me: You could interpret the ending so that the White Guardian fixes the universe while the Doctor is chatting with the Black Guardian.
Sue: Yeah, but would an eight year get that when they first 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.