Top critical review
"Your silliness is noted."
on January 6, 2003
It's somewhat fitting that THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR features a time loop in the later episodes, as viewing this serial gave me a similar feeling of being trapped in an impenetrable sequence of technobabble. Watching the same footage over and over. Seeing the same plot twists mentioned time and time again. Observing identical corridor scenes with no ending in sight. My hand kept reaching for the big red button, but like the Marshall's pilot (hey, it's Pat Gorman, kids!) my fingers kept being smacked back before they could end it all. As the end to the Key of Time season, this story comes as a huge disappointment.
Tom Baker tries to save a lot of scenes with his own brand of bizarre humor. He only partially succeeds, and this just leaves the parts of the story that he isn't in with a huge Tom Baker shaped hole. Despite the threat of universal armageddon that the story presents us with, I simply couldn't feel bothered by anything that was going on. The plot concerning two major power blocs locked in a constant state of warfare is an idea that would barely cover three episodes, yet here it's stretched out to double that number. And while padding Doctor Who serials could sometimes result in sparkling dialog, engaging subplots and memorable extra characters, all that's added on here are excess corridor scenes, repeated time loop footage and clichéd villains.
One of the biggest flaws of this story is the real lack of urgency. Despite the huge stakes that the script offers, despite the endless series of countdowns, and despite the momentum of an entire season leading up to this, the story just seems to be hanging around with no serious weight to it. This is driven home by the inclusion of the Drax character, who enters the picture in episode five. In any other serial he would have been an amusing foil to Tom Baker's Doctor, but he's a bizarre addition here. He's the comic relief, but the story simply isn't as serious and grim as it thinks it is and therefore he's counterbalancing something that doesn't exist. It's a bizarre and haphazard inclusion. A pity, because there are loads of other Doctor Who stories that would have greatly benefited from a goofy character like Drax.
The serial really suffers from the annual "Oh my God, the season's over and we've no money!" syndrome. Their solution to the lack of a set budget apparently includes stripping down an old mainframe and gluing the circuit boards to the wall. Ho, ho, ho, futuristic. Yeah.
The DVD commentary doesn't really tell us anything that we didn't know already, save the fact that the cast and crew evidently found the story to be as boring as the audience did. It's a pity that they don't have much to say, and by the time the final closing credits roll, the three commentators seem utterly burnt out. Clever anecdotes dotted the first five of the Key To Time discs, but on this one the best story is about a silly typo on one of the script pages - a story that gets repeated far past the point of tolerance.
All in all, THE ARMAGEDDON FACTOR is a let down after the five serials leading up to it. The production money ran out, the script ideas ran out, and what should have been a massive spectacular ends up looking like an unexciting mess.