Doctor Who #507: The Armageddon Factor Part 6

"Any second now, beautiful mushrooms will blossom and burst."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.24 1979.

IN THIS ONE... Astra is the last segment. The Key is assembled. The Black Guardian tries to get it, but the Doctor denies him.

REVIEW: The high concept ideas are really flying fast in Part 6. The Doctor and Drax, shrunken to the size of mice, use K9 as a Trojan horse. Astra is revealed to be the Sixth Princess of the Sixth Dynasty of the Sixth House of Atrios, and of course, the Sixth Segment of the Key to Time, eager to fulfill her destiny. Our heroes defeat the Shadow, divert the Marshal's missiles to the third "planet" (still not a planet), and destroy the Key to Time when it becomes clear the White Guardian is really the Black Guardian. It's a huge episode that has way too much to do, and the speed at which it must thus run is part of the problem. The resolutions are so quick as to be messy, with the Doctor doing things in between scenes when there really wasn't any time to do them. When did he make a deflecting field to divert the missiles, for example? What is that bright light in the TARDIS when the Shadow tries to get inside? Drax's clever deal with the Marshal, to occur in 10 minutes' time, would have seemed reasonable if it'd already happened, at that pace.

That IS a lot of villains to take care of. While the Marshal rates very little screentime, the Shadow gets too much. I find his Greek tragedy acting abominable no matter how many tiny Trojans come out of K9. A character that claims to be eternal like this could have made a comeback, but please, never again. (I happen to know the Black Guardian is holding auditions for a new agent anyway.) And speaking OF the Black Guardian, while Valentine Dyall makes a great villain, it's sort of a giveaway that he doesn't take the form he did at the start of the season, isn't it? The actual clue is a good one only if it had been made clear that the segments are to return to their place in space-time after the universe has been stabilized. Then again, maybe it would have been intolerable if a person had been permanently turned into a "component", as Romana calls it (but see Theories). The Black Guardian is quick to show his true color after the Doctor toys with him with insufferable delays. It's a good scene, if not exactly equal to such an entity's presumed omniscience. However, it does imply that the whole season has been a fool's errand. I LIKE the twist, but in that context, it could devalue each of the six stories. It's a good thing the Doctor solved other problems while he was at it (eliminated the Graff, the Pirate Planet, Cessair of Diplos, etc.).

And there are some very good moments with the regulars, like the Doctor play-acting at megalomania, completely absurd and yet not as over-the-top as the Shadow's performance. He admits to feeling a twinge when in control of the Key, which makes his joke evoke both distress and relief. For those in the know, having one Romana (Lalla Ward) talking to another Romana (Mary Tamm) about "metamorphosis" is spectacularly meta-textual. That ending doesn't give Mary Tamm any kind of send-off (Graham Williams hoped to keep her on, but then didn't invite her back for the regeneration scene she claims she would gladly have shot), but it's a fitting end to the season that the Doctor places a randomizer on the TARDIS, getting the program back to its roots when he had no control over his destination. There's no way the Black Guardian can catch him now... unless he tunes in on Saturday nights at tea time, that is.

THEORIES: So it appears the segments were all returned to their places (and forms) in space and time. Or at least, Astra is, but there's no reason to think it's any different for the other pieces. Does that then mean the Black Guardian could now know where and what each segment is and collect them for himself? Even without Big Finish attempting a second Key to Time arc (called Key2Time), I would still have come to the following conclusion - while what the segments were are returned to their rightful places, the segments themselves (or the properties that are the essence of those segments) are hidden in something else entirely. So you can go back and pick up that piece of jethrik, but it's no longer the Key. The audio series makes this plain by giving the segments new identities.

I'm unaware of any major differences between the Target novelization and the televised broadcast, though it must necessarily leaner and less cheap-looking.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - For every big idea or stand-out scene, there's also a messy piece of action, badly explained turn of events or some speech by that blowhard, the Shadow.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I'd probably rank it lower, but who's going to invest in the Key to Time season and not see how it ends? There's a collection of good ideas here, but the execution is messy and the acting all over the place.


snell said...

Maybe it's just me, but I was never convinced that it was the Black Guardian playing the White Guardian at the beginning of the season. And BG's taking a different form is a bit of a giveaway.

Perhaps just assembling the key was enough, so he didn't need to show up. And perhaps the WG intended the quest to be (partially) a feint to draw out the BG.

As to re-tracking the pieces down, presumably they're somehow shielded from Guardian senses, or else WG or BG would have just gathered them themselves. Or perhaps some cosmic law prohibits them from doing so...the Key has to be collected and freely offered by others in order for them to take it...

Siskoid said...

The Black Guardian could still use agents, like the Shadow, he just didn't have the central piece (the tracker) to begin with. No explanation is particularly airtight.

I think you're right that it's probably the White Guardian at the start. The Doctor tells the BG that surely he can balance the universe without holding the Key.


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