Doctor Who #505: The Armageddon Factor Part 4

"It's quite a feeling, isn't it. Gods for an hour or two."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.10 1979.

IN THIS ONE...
To prevent mutual destruction, the Doctor fakes the sixth segment to create a time loop.

REVIEW: I feel like maybe I'M stuck in a time loop. They keep saying Mentalis the Zeon computer will blow the solar system up, over and over, and then take their time opening its innards... it's all very tedious. And when the Doctor makes one last attempt and its lasers destroy the computer, the action is muddled and confusing. What looks like a victory is actually Mentalis making sure the Doctor can't stop the countdown. But he can delay it. The leap in logic he makes are Baker & Martin stock and trade. Making a fake piece of the Key to somehow trigger its powers seems beyond what the character should be able to do. Isn't Guardian science well above the Time Lords'? It's like everything they try just happens to work. It doesn't feel earned the way it's presented. Might at least have patched it into the TARDIS or something. But I don't begrudge the writers their big idea, and trappings aside, localized time loops that delay the apocalypse are a clever solution, and as they degrade, provide a very effective variation on the ticking clock tension builder.

Shapp is still irritatingly playing it for laughs, slapstick tumbles and all. I'm sort of glad the stiff bit in the elevator wasn't his death scene, because that would have been the silliest since The Romans, and this time, in a grim script that doesn't allow for a comedy death. It's still an eye-rolling moment. There's something off about almost every character that way. Astra is so obviously under mind control, the Doctor should never have let her inside the TARDIS. Merak circles down a CSO drain and becomes an extra burden on the action, and his two-dimensional earnestness a burden on the drama. The Shadow bores me with his cliché maniacal laugh, and the only thing that works to his advantage is the cognitive dissonance of seeing K9 now as HIS pet dog. Perhaps the Marshal gets the best deal, time looped into saying "FIRE!" over and over again, interrupted in time.

If you've been reading since The Invisible Enemy, you'll have noticed I've been hard on K9, but I have to admit that through the Key to Time season, he's become a more and more indispensable part of the show. Not as a convenient Swiss Army Knife - though he's been that too - but as a part of the texture of the Doctor's world. By The Armageddon Factor (and not just because his creators are writing him again), the production has found K9's sweet spot. He can now act as an independent character, with his own sense of curiosity and amusingly smug airs of superiority, without the Doctor's constant direction or shushing. Maybe John Leeson has taken him over - from the hilarious Blue Peter K9 spot, we know he can ad lib in character with the best of them - or perhaps others have stopped bucking against the little scene stealer. That said, this episode doesn't use him very well except in that WTF cliffhanger. He has a fight with the Shadow's men that is so limp they might as well be turning flashlights on and off at each other, and he's drawn into the T Mat by yet another session of beeping (my cat is hating this serial for it).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Could easily have been merged with Part 3 to create a single Medium episode, but alas, the action is slow, the science is barmy and the guest acting is subpar (though I'm not sure Mary Tamm cares anymore either).

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