Doctor Who #502: The Armageddon Factor Part 1

"Look. Radiation levels you wouldn't believe. "Good heavens. You could fry eggs in the street."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD and in a Special Edition boxed set. First aired Jan.20 1979.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands in the middle of a nuclear war with an absent planet. Lalla Ward first appears, but as Princess Astra.

REVIEW: The opening scene, with its bad acting and bad CSO, quickly revealed to be a propaganda soap on Atrios television, would be funnier if we hadn't just come from a story with over the top acting. Ok, not as over the top as As Atrios Turns, but not as much contrast as the production might have liked. And there's similar melodrama to come as well, judging by the Princess' not-so-secret lover working at Atrios General Hospital. So we're bunkered down on Atrios while nuclear war is waged above and in the skies of the opposing planet, Zeos. It's Genesis of the Daleks without any of that serial's qualities. Or maybe a Star Trek episode, like A Taste of Armageddon. Point is, the situation isn't particularly original, even if you take into account the fact that Zeos seems to be missing entirely, or that the Marshal - wow, John Woodvine, that's a BIG actor - may or may not the Black Guardian's puppet. That, at least, is well rendered. Woodvine is a bit unhinged, and I like how there's really nothing the jaded Shapp can do about it even if he seems quite aware that his superior talks to himself in a dark mirror.

A bit gray and dreary, the production nevertheless spends a good deal of time establishing the world. The propaganda, the military dictatorship lording over the nobility, the bombardment shockingly bringing the roof down on the hospital (and later, blocking in the TARDIS as if in tribute to the Hartnell era), the radioactive zones... And it's mostly done without the benefit of the Doctor and Romana who really take their time landing this time, checking coordinates and worrying about whether or not the Black Guardian will try to screw with them now that they're on the last segment. As compensation for the slow build-up, Romana is wearing her sexiest outfit yet, a breezy variation on her original white dress. (Sorry, sorry, slight hormonal rise there.)

The complication is that the segment is behind a door to a radioactive zone - they do a good job of making the audience believe it's Astra's crown - and our heroes are quickly captured by the man who put the Princess and all her gear in there. The Marshal is convincingly Machiavellian, but his men are another matter. When the Doctor has K9 put out the lights, there's simply no reaction from them and he escapes too easily. It's one thing for the Doctor to be clever - his dematerialization of the TARDIS just as an incoming missile explodes, for example, a trick New Whovians will recognize from The Parting of the Ways - and another for him to be cleverer than very foolish enemies. Like Romana, my optimism about the Key to Time arc has opted out. Unlike her, I'm still sticking with the program.

- If The Power of Kroll was rather ordinary, The Armageddon Factor seems intent on pursuing that same aesthetic.



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