In one of the better stories of the late 1970s, the Doctor, Romana and K-9 stumble into the middle of a fierce interplanetary nuclear war. The Atrios war effort is faltering, its population demoralized, because unknown to them, the Zeon war machine lives up to its name in the most literal way. Zeos is controlled by a computer, and there are no Zeons, just remote controlled attack ships. Somewhere in the darkness between the two planets lurks a third party, pulling the strings of both sides in the war. The hand of the Black Guardian becomes visible in moving the pieces in this game, and the Doctor is horrified to discover that he will have to take a life to complete the Key to Time.
written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin
directed by Michael Hayes
music by Dudley Simpson
Guest Cast: Lalla Ward (Princess Astra), John Woodvine (Marshal), William Squire (The Shadow), Ian Saynor (Merak), Davyd Harries (Shapp), Valentine Dyall (Black Guardian), Barry Jackson (Drax), Ian Liston (Hero), Susan Skipper (Heroine), John Cannon, Harry Fielder (Guards), Iain Armstrong (Technician), Pat Gorman (Pilot), Stephen Calcutt (Super Mute)
Broadcast from January 20 through February 24, 1979
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: For most of this six-parter, the usual slightly tongue-in-cheek humor typical of the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era is subdued in favor of dark atmosphere and real drama. Even K-9, usually the Doctor’s trap door to avoid any plot complications, isn’t invulnerable to the danger, and in some cases, K-9’s fate is truly in question and cause for concern (as opposed to the usual treatment of him as an invulnerable machine). The opening scene, which pulls out from a close-up on an eye-rollingly soapy war propaganda film, revealing it to be playing on a screen in a crumbling medical ward, is a brilliant set-up for the entire show. Even the potentially silly character of Drax in part five has an edge of his own, with the possibility that he may be under the control of the Shadow, though the silliness factor intrudes on The Armageddon Factor when Drax breaks out his dimensional stabilizer gun for a round of “Honey, I Shrunk The Time Lords!” Other than that brief comical interlude, however, The Armageddon Factor is easily the highlight of the Key to Time cycle.
Look closely at the Marshal’s ship when he takes off from Atrios. The “cockpit” at the nose of the ship was originally part of the System ships that recaptured the Liberator in the second season premiere of Blake’s 7, which also aired in January, 1979.