Day 256 — September 13th 2021
The Armageddon Factor Parts Five and Six
The Armageddon Factor — Part Five
I honestly don’t know what to make of Drax. Before I went into this story I thought of him as one of the elements which was going to make this story a bit rubbish — a comedy Time Lord character popping up to make jokes about Doctor Who’s time at the Academy. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of discussing our hero’s school years, so this is almost tailor-made to annoy me.
And it is just as rubbish as I was expecting it to be. All that talk about Doctor Who managing to go off and get his doctorate, mentions of lessons and tests, and of course there’s the slightly awkward bit that his name — or nickname, take your pick — is ‘Theta Sigma’, which is more than a bit underwhelming.
But Barry Jackson is so much fun in the part, and I can’t help enjoying his time on screen with Tom Baker. There’s something instantly likeable about him, and the idea of his having picked up the Cockney mannerisms during a spell in prison on Earth is great fun. I reckon if you could lose all the rubbish about Gallifrey then he’d be a very welcome addition to the story.
I’ve very little else to add for this one. It’s developing fine, though the story is still stretching a little too thin for me. I’m going to go with another 5/10 and move on to…
The Armageddon Factor — Part Six
The big problem with a season-spanning arc like the Key to Time is that it’s very difficult to bring it to a satisfactory close. That’s especially true when the arc involves the most powerful object in all creation, which has the ability to reset the entire universe to factory settings. Almost any way you try to wrap events up is going to feel like a let down, and that’s definitely the case here.
Doctor Who and Romana manage to get hold of the final segment of the Key by the skin of their teeth, and then… well, it’s like the White Guardian threatened in the opening episode of The Ribos Operation: ‘nothing’. They chat to the Black Guardian on the TARDIS scanner for a minute and then Doctor Who orders the Key to disperse itself back across time and space. The end. It’s all a bit anti-climactic, especially when this story has gone to great lengths to make the Key feel important again.
As much as I might complain, I don’t know what I’d suggest as an alternative to this ending, though. If the White Guardian were to turn up and reset the universe, would that make it feel more like something happened, or would it still feel like a let down? At the very least I think he needed to show up here in some form (As it was Cyril Luckman wasn’t available to reprise the role). He started this chain of events, the least he could do is finish them. I wonder if we need some kind of ‘reward’ for Doctor Who? I’m thinking of the ending to The Three Doctors where he’s finally freed from his exile on Earth. Something like that might help this feel more as though the quest has all been leading up to something.
It also hasn’t helped that this final episode of the story has felt incredibly… simple. I mentioned earlier that our heroes had only obtained the final segment at the last moment and when the situation looked incredibly bleak. The Shadow had managed to get hold of all six segments and had basically won. He controlled the Key to Time and was, therefore, invincible. But then Doctor Who distracts him for a second, grabs the Key and runs away. And that’s it. There’s no battle, no sense of real threat or danger. It’s that simple. It’s incredibly difficult to feel any kind of tension when there isn’t any. Even when Doctor Who’s nabbed the object there’s no attempt to retrieve it — the Shadow just stomps his feet and shouts ‘nooooooo’ in a pantomime style. It feels like they’ve suddenly realised there’s only a few minutes left in the season and they need to swiftly wrap things up.
Part of the problem there might be that this one just doesn’t know when to stop throwing in ideas. The cliffhanger to the last episode reveals that Drax has built a shrinking ray and here he’s shrunk himself and Doctor Who to just a couple of inches tall. They use this as a way to sneak into the Shadow’s lair where… they immediately return themselves to full size. The shrink ray isn’t mentioned again, and they don’t think to use it on the Shadow or any of his guards.
My big issue with the idea is that it comes from nowhere and I’m not entirely sure what the point of it was. They didn’t need to shrink themselves to get into the lair, and indeed Doctor Who’s already been there once or twice earlier in the story, so he knows the way. I think I could get on board if the shrink ray had been part of the plot from the beginning — a weapon used in the war, for example — but inventing it just for the purpose of a couple of minutes in the sixth episode? Nah, not interested.
I’ll say that the effect of the shrinking looks pretty good, and they do a decent job of making the characters feel small even when they’re still acting on the full-sized sets. It’s a combination of directing and set design which chimes brilliantly. Sadly I’m not as keen on the direction elsewhere. We seem to have lost all the careful attention to detail again and gone back to something a bit flat. It doesn’t help to make the episode any more interesting, and when you sit through thirty seconds or so of watching a countdown loop itself you do start to wonder if there might be some better way of spending your time.
I’m going with a 3/10 for this final episode, and I’m genuinely quite sad about that. I went into The Armageddon Factor expecting it to be rubbish (I told a friend last week that it was likely to score below a 5/10 on average) but the first few episodes were a very pleasant surprise. In the end it’s not managed to keep the quality up over a full run of six episodes, and I’m not sorry to see the back of this format from now on…