The Armageddon Factor

Before I started watching this serial, I made the following note:

Expecting a similar structure to last season’s finale – four eps dealing with a regular story, then a big twist into a two part extra mini-story, presumably to do with the Key and The Guardians.

And for the first few episodes that seemed to be exactly what I was getting. It’s interesting to note that this is the last ever six-parter (although it wasn’t planned to be, but we’ll get on to that in around twenty days). They were the norm at times during the first three Doctors’ eras, but since they’ve been reduced to one a season, you’ve been able to tell that they’re not sure how best to tell a story at that pace. Not that the results haven’t sometimes been brilliant (obviously), but I’m not going to mourn their passing.

The initial storyline to this serial was a good one, providing as it did the brilliantly hammy Marshall, and the first appearance of Lalla Ward, who shone through despite the inherent weirdness of having what I saw as two Romanas on screen at the same time. It also gave us a genuinely emotional sequence where K-9 is on his way to a furnace, and it all turns into that scene in Toy Story 3. The way he pitifully calls for his master as he faces death. Oh man.

But then the format was broken, because they seemingly ran out of plot after three episodes, leaving Part 4 as one of the mostly blatantly padded-out-by-running-round-in-circles filler eps of all time. A shame, because they could have afforded to get on to all the stuff with The Shadow a lot sooner. He was a brilliant creepy villain, who seemed just as imposing and powerful as an agent of the feted Black Guardian should be. I was also a fan of Drax. I like the idea of The Doctor having an old schoolmate who’s a bit dodgy – the type of bloke who makes you despair every time they post on Facebook, but who you can’t bring yourself to unfriend.

The “two part extra mini-story” also gave K-9 another chance to shine – he’s such a loveable character that his odd behavior under external control was really disconcerting, and subtly done through minor variations to his normal voice and speech patterns. I’m worried that the character will suffer during John Leeson’s upcoming gap year, as his portryal is truly excellent.

Not sure what to make of the knowledge that this is Mary Tamm’s last episode. She’s been very good, and I always enjoy it when the companion is on a similar standing to The Doctor in terms of intelligence and capability. But Lalla Ward is clearly great also, so I’m sure the character is in good hands, and I’m looking forward to seeing if and how the dynamic is tailored.

The final episode was very tense, with all the various elements reaching their crescendo, along with the new dimension of making The Doctor and Drax tiny, and a great moral dilemma surrounding the identity of the sixth segment. But hold on. The Black Guardian turns up disguised as the White Guardian. Does this mean that it was the disguised Black Guardian who set this whole thing up in the first place, meaning that this whole season was one wild goose chase? Or: if the genuine White Guardian set the quest, then the Doctor dispersed the assembled Key before handing it over for the necessary universal re-balancing to take place, thus rendering this whole season pointless.

Either way, it’s not terribly satisfying. They slightly fumbled the ending to this season-long story arc, which is a shame – it was consistently good throughout and it felt like it was really building up to something, and a truly great ending would have tipped the balance. As it stands, The Key To Time fails to quite reach its potential to be really special, but remains a bold and worthwhile experiment.

RATING: 8

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8

  • Seasons/Series watched: 16 of 35
  • Stories watched: 103 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 505 of 826

Very much looking forward to seeing where The Randomiser takes us, under the guidance as script editor of one of the greatest writers of all time…

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