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The Armageddon Factor

Production Code: 5F

First Transmitted

1 - 20/01/1979 18:25

2 - 27/01/1979 18:25

3 - 03/02/1979 18:25

4 - 10/02/1979 18:25

5 - 17/02/1979 18:20

6 - 24/02/1979 18:25


The final segment of the Key is traced to the planet Atrios, engaged in a long war with the neighbouring Zeos. The Marshal of Atrios intends a final strike to destroy the Zeons, but the Doctor and Romana discover that Zeos is deserted and the war is being co-ordinated by a computer called Mentalis, built by one of the Doctor's old Time Lord Academy friends, Drax.

The computer is under the control of the Shadow, an agent of the Black Guardian. He and his servants, the Mutes, are inhabiting an unseen third planet positioned between Atrios and Zeos.

The Doctor creates a temporary substitute for the final segment from a substance called chronodyne and uses the Key to place a time loop around the ship from which the Marshal is about to launch his strike against Zeos. It transpires that Atrios's Princess Astra is the real sixth segment. The Shadow converts her into the segment, but the Doctor snatches it and escapes to the TARDIS, where he finally completes the Key.

The White Guardian appears on the scanner screen and congratulates the Doctor. He asks that the Key be given over to him, but the Doctor decides that it is too powerful for any one being to control and orders it to re-disperse.

Enraged, the Guardian reverts to his true colour - Black - and vows that the Doctor shall die for his defiance. In order to shake him off, the Doctor fits a randomiser to the TARDIS's controls. There is now no telling where or when his travels will take him.

Episode Endings

The Doctor and Romana escape from the Marshal by tricking his deputy, Major Shapp, into summoning K9, who blasts out the lights. Princess Astra has meanwhile been taken by a black-clad humanoid into a concealed booth from which they both vanish. The Doctor, Romana and K9 hurry back to where the TARDIS was left, only to find that it is no longer there.

The Marshal agrees that the Doctor can go to Zeos and directs him to a transmat point. The Doctor steps in to find himself flanked by two Mutes. Romana arrives, warning of a trap, but the door closes and the Doctor is transported away. Romana calls for him in vain outside the door.

Using K9 as an interpreter, the Doctor learns from Mentalis that the computer intends to destroy everything. In his ship heading towards Zeos, the Marshal prepares to attack the planet.

The Doctor, Romana and Astra arrive in the TARDIS on the Shadow's planet. The Shadow, sitting with K9, who calls him 'master', prepares to meet them, laughing that the Key to Time is his.

The Doctor is being escorted by a Mute to the TARDIS to fetch the first five segments of the Key to Time for the Shadow. Drax steps out and fires a special gun that he has constructed, hitting the Doctor and causing him to shrink.

The Black Guardian tries to trick the Doctor into handing over the Key to Time, but the Doctor orders it to disperse and breaks the tracer. Princess Astra appears back on Atrios with her lover, Merak. The Doctor tells Romana about the randomiser that he has fitted to the TARDIS, which means that in future neither the Black Guardian nor they themselves will know where or when they are going to land.


The siege of Troy via Star Trek's A Taste of Armageddon (also Patterns of Force) the 'false war' of 1984.

The Omen (6,6,6).

Churchill's war time speeches and the recycling of metal.

There is an allusion to Richard II ('This blessed plot').

Romana misquotes Lord Acton ('All power corrupts').

The Doctor is in the 'valley of the Shadow' (Psalm 23).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "There'll be a rather large bang, big enough to blow up Zeos, take Atrios with it, and make certain the whole thing ends in a sort of draw. That's the way these military minds work."

Marshal : "How can we have peace until we have the ultimate deterrent that will ensure a lasting peace?"

The Doctor : "Tell me Marshal, if you had this ultimate deterrent, what would you do?"

Marshal : "Use it of course, make sure it works."

The Doctor : "Yes... You have a true military mind, Marshal."

Marshal : "Thank you."

The Shadow : "I have waited so long, even another thousand years would be nothing for me. But you. I have watched you and your jackdaw meanderings. I know you, and I know there is a want of patience in your nature."

The Doctor : "That's right. Fools rush in..."

The Shadow : "Exactly. Leave him. He will make his own mistake. Then, Doctor, I shall be waiting."

Drax : "Blimey, it's a dog! Who's a little tin dog, then?"

K9 : "Your silliness is noted."

The Doctor : "We have the power to do anything we like. Absolute power over every particle in the universe. Everything that has ever existed and ever will exist. As from this moment - are you listening to me Romana?"

Romana : "Yes of course I'm listening..."

The Doctor : "Because if you're not listening, I can make you listen. Because I can do anything. As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time."

Romana : "Doctor, are you all right?"

The Doctor : "Well of course I'm all right... but supposing I wasn't all right?"

Dialogue Disasters

The Doctor : "Then he puts the heavy word on: "Do it or die""

Double Entendre

Voice over : "Men out there - young men - are dying for it."

The Doctor : "Care for a blow?"


Drax hails from the Academy class of '92, and studied with the Doctor (who he calls Theta Sigma or Thete). For Drax this occurred about 450 years ago. He failed (whereas the Doctor gained a doctorate: cf The Ark in Space, The Hand of Fear, The Ribos Operation), and went into repair and maintenance, although presumably he passed at some later point as it is clearly indicated that he is a Time Lord, complete with (broken) TARDIS. (There's a problem with its hyperbolics.) The Doctor describes the TARDIS as being 'covered with automatic defence mechanisms'.

The coordinates for Zeos are 008 01 0040. Atrios and Zeos have been waging nuclear war on each other, despite the fact that for the last five years Zeos has been uninhabited and that its warfare has been prosecuted by Mentalis, a computerised commandant built by Drax at the behest of the Shadow.

The Zeons were human, but were possibly wiped out by the Atrions' attacks. Nothing is revealed about the Shadow and his Mute helpers, beyond the fact that they are serving the Black Guardian and that the Shadow has been waiting 'since eternity began'.

Mention is made of the (Inter-)Galactic Computer Distress Call. The Doctor makes a false sixth segment from chronodyne, and, after scattering the Key to Time, fits a randomiser to the TARDIS guidance systems to avoid the wrath of the Black Guardian [or perhaps he's running from both Guardians?].


The Doctor's Doctorate

The Location of Gallifrey



The warring planets of Atrios and Zeos on the edge of the helical galaxy and the domain of the Shadow halfway between the two. These planets are a 'long way from Gallifrey'.



The Doctor, rescuing K9 from the furnaces, says that he picked up the trick from fire walkers in Bali.


Lalla Ward plays Princess Astra. Ward was subsequently cast as the second incarnation of Romana as she had made a favourable impression on the production team.

Former Doctor Who director David Maloney deputised for producer Graham Williams during early preparations for this story as Williams was absent due to illness.


The time rotor is noisier than usual in the early scenes.

K9 drives over the end of the Doctor's scarf in episode two, which probably explains why in the next episode the Doctor pats K9's head so hard that he knocks one of its 'ears' out of position.

Also in episode two, after the TARDIS has left, it can be seen behind Romana just after K9 begins blasting a door.

In episode three Shapp's gun falls apart when it hits the floor.

In episode four, when K9 exits the transmat, he's got the new left panel he gains in episode five

In episode six Astra regains the circlet Merak had used to distract the Mute.

Romana forgets that she's already been told (in The Stones of Blood) that it wasn't the President who sent her on the mission.

The Doctor says he's never seen K9 spin around before, so he's forgotten about The Pirate Planet.

The Mutes seem to wear sensible Clarks-type lace up shoes, and in episode six one kicks up a piece of studio carpet.

Astra says that she is the sixth princess of the sixth dynasty of the sixth royal house of Atrios: it should be sixth house of the sixth dynasty.

In episode four Merak expounds on how only the Doctor and Romana can get into the TARDIS, despite the fact that he shouldn't even know what it is.

His insight continues in episode six, where he talks knowledgably of the sixth segment, having been told nothing about it.

In episode six Shapp acquires the same ability, somehow understanding the functions of the time loop.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Mary Tamm

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

'Hero' - Ian Liston

'Heroine' - Susan Skipper

Drax - Barry Jackson

Guard - John Cannon

Guard - Harry Fielder

Marshal - John Woodvine

Merak - Ian Saynor

Pilot - Pat Gorman

Princess Astra - Lalla Ward

Shapp - Davyd Harries

Technician - Iain Armstrong

The Guardian - Valentine Dyall

The Shadow - William Squire


Director - Michael Hayes

Assistant Floor Manager - Steve Goldie

Assistant Floor Manager - Rosemary Padvaiskas

Costumes - Michael Burdle

Designer - Richard McManan-Smith

Make-Up - Ann Briggs

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Ann Aronsohn

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Anthony Read

Script Editor - Douglas Adams uncredited

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Richard Chubb

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - John Horton

Writer - Bob Baker

Writer - Dave Martin

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Beautiful mushrooms will blossom and burst...' There's a parody of bad television and propaganda in the first scene, complete with hackneyed dialogue ('Kiss the children for me. Tell them their daddy will return before long.') and an obvious CSO backdrop. However, this would only work if the rest of The Armageddon Factor were lavish and believable and populated by actors working at the height of their powers.

Instead we get a dreary end-of-season Oh-my-God-the-money's-run-out 'spectacular' and acting from the Carry On school of subtlety (stand up, Davyd Harries). Even the great John Woodvine finds his dialogue a bit of a struggle. Despite this, the first four or five episodes actually have a very serious intent, but the whole thing is very uninvolving.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

A lot is asked of The Armageddon Factor. Not only does it have to tell a good story in its own right, but it also has to provide the resolution to the season-long hunt for the Key to Time - a largely successful experiment that has by this point created a high degree of expectation. Does it meet these twin requirements? Well, yes and no. It is entertaining enough in itself, with some good direction by Michael Hayes and generally fine production values, but ultimately fails to tie up all the loose ends and leaves the over-arching plot strangely unresolved.

As with other six-parters of this era, the story can be subdivided into a number of 'acts'. The first, consisting of Parts One and Two, focuses on the main protagonists on Atrios: the obsessed Marshal (a fine performance from John Woodvine); his deputy Shapp; the pacifist Princess Astra; her weedy lover Merak; plus an assortment of guards. Sadly, aside from the Marshal, all these characters are somewhat one-dimensional. Merak, in particular, is pathetic and seems to spend the entire story wandering around calling for Astra.

Parts Three and Four introduce the Shadow, agent of the Black Guardian, and things start to look up. The introductory scene itself is very effective, and the Shadow's presence permeates the remaining episodes. He is, indeed, by far the best thing about the whole story. Actor William Squire keeps the character totally believable and simply oozes evil. The only let-down is his use of small black Lego bricks to control others' minds. It is never explained how these work (and strangely they work on both Astra and K9 but not the Doctor) - although it is admittedly a rather more dramatic device than some possible alternatives such as swinging a watch in front of Astra's eyes or simply reprogramming K9.

Geraint Jones liked the character, as he wrote in TARDIS Volume 4 Number 2, dated 1 April 1979: 'The Shadow proved an excellent villain. His evil was total as his little game on Atrios and Zeos showed. The face mask was very convincing, as were the scars on the jaw. The voice was one of the best we have ever heard: a low, hissing sound, but very clear as well as sinister.' Less impressed, however, was Mike Ashcroft writing in Oracle Volume 2 Number 8, dated May 1979: 'I didn't really like any of the characters, to tell the truth... The Shadow was too corny (as the name suggests - he was rather like a comic-strip fiend) for a commanding lead role, but given the situation the actor turned in a good performance.'

Also introduced in the middle section of the story is the computer Mentalis, a nice idea that works all the better for being presented in not too overblown a way - it is simply a computer in a room. It is also a nice touch that only K9 can communicate with Mentalis, giving him something to do in the story that is specifically tailored to his capabilities.

Parts Five and Six, set largely on the Shadow's 'planet' (obviously a spaceship of some description), bring the story and the search for the Key to Time to their conclusion. The biggest point of contention here is the character of Drax. 'I just didn't like him,' stated Ashcroft. '[Part Five] has to take first prize in the all-time "waste of time" category. It totally deflated my rising opinion of the intelligent, well-constructed storyline... After... the various parties roamed round endless corridors in "the valley of the Shadow" we were introduced to Drax, who encapsulates my distaste for this adventure. His instant recognition of the Doctor - "Theta Sigma" as he called him - made me fear for the worst; fears that were soon confirmed... As a Time Lord [Drax] did more to ruin the image of Gallifrey than Robert Holmes ever did. His [cockney] accent was taking things a bit too far... and the intended humour just wasn't funny.'

The story ends reasonably well with Astra herself revealed as being the sixth segment - which may perhaps explain Lalla Ward's rather lifeless acting throughout the adventure - and the Doctor finally assembling the complete Key to Time. Unfortunately, the resolution to the over-arching plot is something of a cop out - the Doctor simply decides that the Key is too powerful for anyone to possess and oders it to redisperse, thus thwarting the Guardian's plan. This all seems far too easy and makes a mockery of the preceding twenty-five-and-a-bit episodes of adventure and the Doctor's struggle to locate and assemble the six segments.

'My overall view on the last episode can only be [that it was an] anticlimax,' wrote Jones. 'It was very exciting, unpredictable and well produced. But as a successful conclusion to a twenty-six week lead up, it was a let-down... Explanations were far from being clear throughout. Was the universe stopped for a brief moment to restore the balance? Was this done by the White Guardian? How was Astra restored and the segment retained?

'It balanced the season nicely to meet the White Guardian at the opening and the Black at the end, but I think it would have worked far better with both in this last story... Surely it would have been better to have concluded the basic story of The Armageddon Factor in the first four episodes and [left] the last two to develop and conclude the running theme more successfully?'

Ashcroft had similar misgivings: 'The climax with the Black Guardian, at last, was... impressive but rather brief. The power of the Black Guardian was also a bit underplayed, I felt. Since the White Guardian could trap and open the doors of the TARDIS in The Ribos Operation, then I was surprised that his counterpart couldn't act against the ship here - even if the defences were on... And where was the White Guardian during all the action?'

To be fair, the choice the Doctor makes is the only one that allows Astra continued existence; and it is hard to see what other outcome could have been arrived at that would have allowed Doctor Who to continue without a major revision of its format. If the season had ended with the Black Guardian being given the Key, what would have happened? How could the Doctor have prevented him from running the universe exactly as he pleased?

This dilemma could certainly have provided the basis for an interesting new strand of adventures - a revamping of the series akin to the Doctor's exile to Earth in the early seventies, perhaps - but clearly there was no call for such a grand scale development at this time. Then again, the season could have ended with the White Guardian being given the Key, in fulfillment of the Doctor's mission, but that would have been even more undramatic than what was actually transmitted - and, in any event, the closing scenes could be interpreted as suggesting that the two Guardians are really just two sides of the same individual, or else that the Doctor has been inadvertently working for the Black Guardian all along.

So it is that the Doctor wins the day by denying anyone ultimate power and, fitting a randomiser to his TARDIS, heads off into the great unknown. The Armageddon Factor effectively marks the end of another of Doctor Who's sub-eras and a return to the old days, where the Doctor was a wanderer in space and time, never knowing where or in what time period he would arrive next.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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