The Armageddon Factor

Special Edition!
1-story volume
Region 1

for North America

6-story set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 103,
6th and final adventure
in season 16's Key To Time quest)
  • written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • directed by Michael Hayes
  • produced by Graham Williams
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor, Romana, and K9 get caught in the nuclear crossfire between the warring planets Atrios and Zeos, cautiously adding their influence to the stifled voices of peace on Atrios. But who is really pulling the strings of the Atrian Marshall leader? And why have no Zeons been seen since the start of the war? The Doctor knows he will have to face and outwit the dark forces that also seek the Key to Time, and learn the secrets of the Key itself before the final segment is revealed....
The Key to Time
Special Edition!
6-story set
(7 discs)
NTSC Region 1

Special Edition and Region 2 DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actors Tom Baker (The Doctor), Mary Tamm (Romana), and John Leeson (Voice of K9).
  • Audio commentary by Mary Tamm (Romana), John Woodvine (The Marshall), and director Michael Hayes.
  • "Defining Shadows" making-of featurette (15 min.) with director Michael Hayes, writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin,
    designer Richard McManan-Smith, actors Barry Jackson (Drax), Lalla Ward (Princess Astra), and Davyd Harries (Major Shapp).
  • "Rogue Time Lords" featurette (13 min.), with Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), script editor Terrance Dicks, and writers Pip and Jane Baker.
  • Interview of Michael Hayes on directing Doctor Who (8 min.)
  • 1978 interview with Tom Baker (8 min.)
  • 2 clips going behind the scenes for sound effects (5 min.) with sound designers Dick Mills and Brian Hodgson.
  • BBC Christmas Tape extract (1 min.)
  • Extended scene (3 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles by Richard Molesworth
  • Photo Gallery (5 min.)
  • Late Night Story: Tom Baker reads 5 stories (70 min.)
  • Dr. Who 1979 Annual .pdf
For more details, visit the Key to Time DVD Comparison Chart.

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Where many other stories this season had the Key to Time arc tacked on as an after-thought or distraction, "The Armageddon Factor" really is the story that deals with the Key thoroughly and properly, and thus makes good use of the two extra episodes allotted to it.

Lift Off

Writers Baker & Martin aim slightly towards dialogue gags in their early exposition, but in a more tasteful and restrained way than usual. And because this is used to enhance the thematic strand of the story, it actually works quite well.

Princess Astra gets nearly all of her best "normal" scenes early in the first episode. Her first position in her introductory shot is sadly ridiculous, standing idly at the back of the room on top of the technicians' consoles and under the Atrios logo, with nothing to do, nor any royal throne or half-decent chair to sit on while she passes the time and idly listens to the war. Doesn't seem like any way to treat royalty to me. Once allowed to move and act, Lalla Ward shines in the role and makes Astra the most interesting thing on the planet prior to the Doctor's explorations.

Episode one also focuses on action, with the Doctor and the Marshal squaring off first in space and then in the Atrian underground corridors. This becomes an exciting way to continue to introduce viewers to Atrios, its situation, and some of the astronomical mysteries surrounding it and its twin Zeos. The space sequence in particular is great for introducing the TARDIS to anyone who may not be familiar with it, and the first episode comes complete with two perfect and satisfying materializations for the police box.

"The Armageddon Factor" is also blessed with some of the best dialogue ever to come from a Bob Baker & Dave Martin script. Gone are the awkward muddling lines from characters who can't hope to grasp the new scientific concepts of the story. From ever-ingenious Gallifreyan companion Romana to the entire speaking guest population, everyone is technologically and socially adept enough to understanding everything, given enough clarification. Thankfully, the writers have also abandoned the catch-phrase craze of their last three scripts.

A New Stratosphere of Strengths

Episode two works in a similar fashion to all of the simple base-defense stories that graced seasons four and five. The camera stays in the Atrian war room for the most part, as the large cast inside it all work together to counter the attacks and threats from the planet Zeos. This story improves on that old formula though, by keeping dozens of intriguing questions alive between and surrounding the characters, and by making the exchanges between the Doctor and the Marshal some of the most believably humorous and entertaining that the series has seen in some time.

Notice also that, unlike Troughton's Doctor who often advocated fighting the evil enemy in similar situations, Tom Baker's Doctor here is focused on temporary defensive forcefields and, in a more permanent way, peace. Baker and Martin continue to display their knack for scripting the Doctor's character at his very best and most admirable.

The Shadow is soon revealed to the audience in a superbly memorable sequence, making the most out of the physical and psychological darkness that he shrouds himself in despite the difficulties of realising this in the television studio. William Squire delivers a delicious performance as the Shadow, and in addition to the marvellous processing of his voice, makes this one of the best villains appearing on the show during this time. Many unique touches are added by the script through his expository dialogue - he revels in destruction instead of power. He makes us continue to anticipate the revelation of the Black Guardian whom he serves. But best of all, he displays a cunning patience, freeing the Doctor and sharing with everyone the anticipation that the Doctor will make a catastrophic mistake which the Shadow can capitalize on. Hats off, this is SOOO much more interesting than prolonged capture, torture, and escape routines. A free and busy Doctor, with a dark threat over his head - excellent!

The thematic heart of "The Armageddon Factor" becomes more memorable, creepy, symbolic, and worthy of sci-fi exploration when played out in front of the unusual technological phenomena that the writers come up with, which is realized on screen with the help of some most excellent atmospheric background sound effects. It is also a wonderful change to see K9 take such an important explorative role in this adventure, as he is sadly more often used to support & trail behind either the Doctor or some other character in most other scripts.

"Your Silliness is Noted"

At around the point when hand-to-hand shootouts begin to become more frequent, the production must take a few criticisms. While Dave Chapman gives good visual beam weapons to K9 and Mentalis, he reverts to silly round blobs for the handheld guns of the Atrians and their opponents, which I find disappointing as usual, along with the wobbly sound effect which seems too playful and jokey. More effort might have been put there, instead of trying to superimpose anything on top of people during the transmat process. A simple dissolve, with a crescendo of studio lighting on the raw footage, is all you really need.

Davyd Harries has a wonderfully comic manner, which he holds in check just enough to play Shapp sympathetically and believably for the most part, with some entertaining humorous moments sprinkled throughout. However, he goes over the top during a shootout, and once more the action in a Michael Hayes film becomes hard to take seriously. Might this footage work better with a new beam effect for Harries to play off of? Incoming script editor Douglas Adams has cited how frustrating he found it when the entire production seemed to want to work extra laughs out of the script in moments when taking the drama seriously was paramount.

Perhaps the music also plays too often along the humorous veins instead of darkening and deepening the drama of the action as much as it should. This particular Dudley Simpson score seems to excel best on Princess Astra's themes, varying from light & fanciful to despondent, and even managing a sour parody of the self-important brass Atrian anthem shifted onto Astra's usual instrumentation when she becomes critical of the Marshal's machinations. Music dubbed over the Shadow's actions in episode six is also of note.

The Battle for Concluding Quality

The plot, however, holds episode four together, as both situational and thematic exposition come to a close, threats mount, and actions lead to more and more escalations until the Key to Time itself is roped into the ever-complicating ball of yarn as well. The stakes have never been raised to such a grand level in Doctor Who so well, as far as I'm concerned. Having used the previous five stories to set this up has also added to its weight. The liberal use of the TARDIS interior in later episodes is also an enjoyable touch, as are the TARDIS's short hops between planets.

The pace begins to noticeably drop at one point later in the story; indeed it is chiefly the introduction of Drax and the exploration of his character that save episode five. Barry Jackson gives an unforgettably entertaining performance, and manages to bring something extra to the drama of the story as well.

Episode Six picks up speed considerably, as it recaps all of the plot elements still in play and proceeds to resolve all the mysteries and conflicts of the story and the season arc.

A lot of build-up is put into one unbelievably, painstakingly deliberate sequence near the end, and some easy points for pace and extended action are lost. I'll save the discussion of the exact details of these and other spoilers for the In-depth Analysis version of this review. But once past this sequence, resolutions for a wide variety of philosophical arguments and plot action come thick and fast, keeping the Doctor busy and heroic. Finally and most enjoyable of all is the appearance of Valentine Dyall as the Black Guardian, his confrontation with Tom Baker's Doctor being hinted at and anticipated throughout the season. His introductory shot is a wonderful layering of concluding story and effects that few other Doctor Who tales have done so well.

As excellent as "The Armageddon Factor" is, it deserved to be better. The black-clad mutes never gain the threatening presence (and decent lasers) that villainous "monster" forces on Doctor Who should attain, and many action sequences are not played as seriously as they need to be. Also, the lack of any location work in such a large-scale six-part story is another factor allowing other stories of the season to pull ahead of it in the rankings. I'm only going to give "The Armageddon Factor" third place in my season sixteen favourites, behind "The Pirate Planet" (story no. 99) and "The Stones of Blood" (story no. 100). But, in a completely different contest, I think it's one of the best six-part stories Tom Baker ever got, second only to "Genesis of the Daleks" (story no. 78). Yes, I like this one better than "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (story no. 91), "The Seeds of Doom" (story no. 85), "The Invasion of Time" (story no. 97), and "Shada" (story no. 109). The content of "The Armageddon Factor" is what I most want to see in a Doctor Who story.

Season Sixteen Rankings:

Best Story:

  1. The Pirate Planet
  2. The Stones of Blood
  3. The Armageddon Factor
  4. The Ribos Operation
  5. The Power of Kroll
  6. The Androids of Tara

Best Writer:

  1. Douglas Adams
  2. Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  3. Robert Holmes
  4. David Fisher

Best Director:

  1. Darrol Blake
  2. Pennant Roberts
  3. Michael Hayes
  4. George Spenton-Foster
  5. Norman Stewart

Best Music (during a Dudley Simpson monopoly):

  1. The Stones of Blood
  2. The Ribos Operation
  3. The Armageddon Factor
  4. The Pirate Planet
  5. The Androids of Tara
  6. The Power of Kroll

Best Electronic Effects:

  • A.J. Mitchell (The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara)
  • Dave Chapman (The Ribos Operation, The Armageddon Factor, The Pirate Planet)
  • Dave Jervis (The Power of Kroll)

  • Improvements needed most on:
    • The Pirate Planet
    • The Armageddon Factor

This story is the 6th and final adventure in season 16's Key To Time quest. It has become available on DVD and VHS video.

Single Story versions:
DVD NTSC Region 1
2009 Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.:
See boxed set below.
VHS Video
NTSC A in the U.S.
NTSC B in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.
DVD NTSC Region 1
2002 release with limited extras
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

6-story full season boxed sets:
The Key to Time
2009 Special Edition
7 disc boxed set
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
The Key to Time
7 disc boxed set
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K., limited edition
for the U.K., 2009 re-issue
The Key to Time 6 DVD boxed set
2002 release with limited extras
NTSC Region 1
in the U.S.
in Canada

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Destiny of the Daleks"

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