Most helpful positive review
Last story to the Key To Time is also the weakest
on January 31, 2004
In their search to the final segment to the Key To Time, the Doctor and Romana land on war-torn Atrios, which has been fighting a war of attrition against its twin Zeos. As there's variable radiation counts even 140 meters beneath the surface, one can imagine what it's like on the surface. The Doctor jokingly says of the high radiation reading that it might not necessarily be nuclear war, that someone might be holding a huge breakfast party.
Things begin bad, as usual. The Marshall, the military leader conducting the war, mistakes the Doctor and Romana as Zeon spies, yet he does a volte-face and welcomes the Doctor as "the one to head us to victory." However, he's not all he seems. One, he makes his decisions by meditating and mumbling in front of a black reflective surface. Two, he has a tiny black object around his neck. Three, he and Princess Astra, a figurehead in charge of people's morale and comfort, are at odds what with her pacifist stance.
Astra and her lover, the surgeon Merak, are trying to contact Zeos to try to negotiate a peace, but something is jamming their communications. The same jamming that is blocking the navigation system of the Marshall's fleet, perhaps? First Astra, then the TARDIS, and then the Doctor vanishes, kidnapped by sinister masked figures in black robes. On Zeos, he meets his nemesis the Shadow, who's working for the Black Guardian in the same way the Doctor's working for the White Guardian.
The Doctor's condemnation of a war fought by machines is given when he describes the commandant of the Zeon side as a "passionless lump of mineral and circuitry, highly efficient, doing very well, giving Atrios a beating, killing millions without a flicker, just doing it's job, and it's totally invincible." Yet it's programmed to not accept defeat, and as the Doctor says, "there'll be a rather large bang, big enough to take Zeos, take Atrios with with it, and make the whole thing end in a sort of draw. That's the way these military minds work-the armageddon factor." But the story condemns war period; even the lamely romantic patriotic drama in the beginning is a satire on propaganda movies.
I agree with K-9's definition of optimism: "belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insanity." And the Doctor lectures Romana on optimism, but doing an about face as he goes on: "Listen Romana, whenever you go into a new situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly what the situation's all about, then believe the worst." Romana: "Ah, but what happens if it turns out not to be the worst after all?" Doctor: "Don't be ridiculous. It always is." Classic Tom Baker comedy right there.
John Woodvine does an portrayal of the Marshall as a ruthless leader fanatical on victory. "You don't beg for peace... you win it!" he tells Astra. He's someone who'd use the ultimate deterrent, and when the Doctor ironically congratulates him on having a typical military mind, he takes it as a compliment, missing the irony. His patriotic speeches bear in mind Churchill's morale speeches during WW2, but with a more rabid edge. And Lalla Ward (Astra) would regularly appear as Romana in the next two seasons, replacing Mary Tamm.
But in Episode 5, we meet Drax, a renegade Time Lord who picked up a chirpy Cockney accent, and Barry Jackson's presence lightens things up when the story plods along.
As the final story to the Key To Time season, The Armageddon Factor draws it to a conclusion, but leaving with it an atmosphere of "Is that what it's all been about?" It also suffers from weak characters and continuity errors, such as Merak knowing things about the Key To Time though not told about it, and bad acting, such as the Shadow's diabolical laughter. The weakest of the six stories, although redeemed by the themes of the follies of war, especially total war. Rating: 3.5, rounded to 4.