Doctor Who – The Armageddon Factor

Doctor Who Story 103 – The Armageddon Factor

Written By

Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About

The search for the Key to Time is near its end. The Doctor and Romana have traced the final piece to Atrios, a planet in perpetual war with the nearby planet Zeos. Their ruler, Princess Astra, has been abducted, and their Marshal seems to be taking secret orders from an unknown source. And hidden in the darkness between the two planets is a third planet, a shadowy planet.

I’ve Stopped the Universe

Source: Wikipedia. Copyright by BBC.
Source: Wikipedia. Copyright by BBC.

At least, that is how this story feels. It is six parts, and it is slow. This is a shame because on the whole, season 16 has been a lot of fun. “The Ribos Operation,” “The Stones of Blood,” and “The Androids of Tara” were great stories. “The Pirate Planet” was full of witty dialogue and was conceptually amazing, but it was a bit too ambitious to realize. It has only been these last two stories, “The Power of Kroll” and “The Armageddon Factor” that have let the season down. Bob Baker and Dave Martin are usually great at concepts, even if they don’t always realize them. And while the idea of the final segment being a living, breathing, sentient being is a great idea that has the potential to create a moral dilemma, in the end even that is squandered, and we have the equivalent of a megalomaniac trying to assemble a super-weapon. The tension between the White and Black Guardians, the restoration of balance to the universe, is gone. The scope is nothing more than a Cold War space opera, which doesn’t even have the courtesy to work on a meta-textual level. Indeed, what could be more fascinating than the Guardians being a metaphor for the East and the West, and true balance being the unification of the two. There is no shadow without light; there is no yin without yang. The anima and the animus. This is not pursued, and neither does “The Armageddon Factor” attempt to subvert them. And all the potential of the Key to Time falls apart.

In truth, at the end of this second Graham Williams season, I feel sorry for the show. I genuinely believe Williams wanted the show to succeed. The entire concept had potential, and the season started well. But beyond the MacGuffin, there seemed to be no real unity to the concept. There themes didn’t play out as well as they should have. This was one of the most ambitious stories Doctor Who had ever told, and it failed. And it is incredibly sad knowing that Graham Williams’ troubles are far from over.

Doctor Who – Underworld

Doctor Who Story 096 – Underworld

Who Wrote It?

Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About?

In order to avoid a spiral nebula on the edge of known space, the Doctor materializes the TARDIS onto a ship that has been traveling ten thousand years in search of its sister ship, the P7E.

The quest is the quest

Orfe is captured by The SeersIn so many ways, this story should have been amazing. Conceptually, it is quite clever. Underworld is a retelling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts but as a sci-fi story. The script is quite clever with how it plays with these themes. And the idea of mining Greek myths for science fiction plots is a very good one (sadly, Doctor Who has not made this work, but the idea is sound). Underworld makes good use of this initially, as part one is actually quite intriguing. The myth elements are established. There is even a fascinating revelation that the Minyan society, from which the heroes are descended, was destroyed after Time Lord interference. The Time Lords had shared their technology with the Minyans, who eventually destroyed themselves. This led to the Time Lord non-intervention policies. Part one leaves the viewer with the idea that something epic is about to unfold.

Unfortunately, the story falls apart soon after. Apart from the sets for the R1 and the P7E, the entire story is shot with CSO. In theory, this should have allowed the production to save money on sets by using models. However, the models were cheaply produced. The models used were merely reproducing caves, which seems a bit odd since Doctor Who has filmed in caves from time to time. Was the budget so tapped out that they couldn’t go on location? (The answer seems to be yes.) In the end, the CSO looks rather poor. Tom Baker seemed to lose interest in the story. Much of the guest cast doesn’t put forth the effort. Plot holes abounded. The Time Lord angle is dropped completely. In other words, a wonderful concept died a horrible, horrible death. Maybe the novelization, whenever I get around to reading it, will redeem this story in some way. I still think mining stories from antiquity could work, but maybe not on a television budget. I certainly applaud the show for trying, but clever ideas are not, in themselves, good stories for the same reason that many people have an idea for a novel, but few people have written novels. Underworld was a great concept, but after the development of the ships’ set, it seems everyone stopped trying. And when the show gives up, what are the viewers supposed to do?

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – The Invisible Enemy

Doctor Who Story 093 – The Invisible Enemy

Who Wrote It?

Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About?

A group of astronauts bound for Titan becomes infected by a virus that is looking for a host suitable to germinate a swarm. The ideal candidate is The Doctor.

Contact Has Been Made

The Nucleus being altered in size.
Source: Tardis Data Core

The problem with The Invisible Enemy is that it follows some great stories. After the high production values and wonderful atmosphere of both Talons of Weng-Chiang and Horror of Fang Rock, The Invisible Enemy really stands out—in a bad way. There are some decent effects when the astronauts first get infected. And let’s face it, when you study parasites, the behavior of the Nucleus really isn’t that unbelievable. Parasites can alter the behavior of the infected organism, even causing erratic and deadly behavior. I appreciate this angle of the story. But everything really falls apart in the end. An interesting resolution is cast aside for an explosion. The Nucleus fails to be effectively realized, more in the practicality of the costume than the design.

It is interesting, however, that in the first episode, the Doctor compared the human race to a disease. Leela questioned him on this, and the Doctor clarified that when humans “get together in great numbers, other life forms sometimes suffer.” First, this line signposts the monster, which turns out to be a virus. Second, it draws an interesting parallel between the actions of the Nucleus and humanity as a colonizing force. Are the actions of the Nucleus really any worse than the actions of humanity? Sure, the Nucleus erodes the free will of the beings it infects, causing the corruption to spread from within, but socio-political conquest works similarly, only with ideas that infect and spread. The Nucleus is correct that it has every right to exist and perpetuate that existence; it is just attempting this biological mandate on a grander scale. The Doctor, however, chooses to fight the Nucleus because it should only exist on the microscopic level. Attempting to conquer the galaxy and time itself are unacceptable. But is this not how evolution works, a sudden, drastic mutation that alters the destiny of a species? In this particular instance, the Doctor is playing God, choosing who lives and who dies. Leela asks why the Doctor does not contact the Time Lords during this crisis. He doesn’t need to; he is doing their work for them. Viewers recoil because the Nucleus threatens humanity and free will; the Doctor recoils because the Nucleus threatens his Time Lord sensibilities.

My Rating

2/5

Doctor Who Story 087 – The Hand of Fear

Doctor Who Story 087– The Hand of Fear

Eldrad in female form.
Source: Wikipedia. Copyright 1976 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About: After being buried under rocks during a quarry blasting, Sarah discovers a fossilized hand that contains the life-essence of an ancient warlord named Eldrad. Eldrad begins to reconstitute himself, using Sarah as a conduit, but is Eldrad benevolent or malicious?

I’ve had to sit on this one for a week or so. It needed to stew. And I’m conflicted over it. I love the central idea, the question of whether we can trust Eldrad or not. I love Eldrad as a concept, a silicon-based lifeform that can rebuild itself. There are some great supporting performances in this story, and even supporting characters get some development that moves them beyond cannon-fodder. And this is Sarah’s final story, which is a big deal.

Unfortunately, with so much going for it, this story failed to engage me. I can’t quite say what caused this disconnect. Perhaps I’m no longer in a Hinchcliffe/Holmes mood. In fact, when I watched this era a few years ago, I had a similar feeling. I grew tired of the era about halfway through. I think, despite some very different stories told along the way, this era of Doctor Who has a unified atmosphere and tone, which conflicts with what I appreciate about Doctor Who: variety. No matter what the story, every episode feels the same to me. When I watch the episodes out of order, I love this era. In sequence, however, it begins to feel redundant. The series isn’t trying to be experimental or innovative; it is telling the types of stories Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes want to tell. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but apparently it isn’t my cup of tea. I want diversity, even if it leads to spectacular failures. And the fact that this story ends with another dungeon crawl didn’t help it much.

That said, I welcome the change in dynamic, despite knowing what to expect. But I find that my attempts to watch all the remaining stories before the anniversary date are being stymied by a lack of enthusiasm. I think, since I’ve seen all the Tom Baker stories, I want to watch something new. Indeed, much of my enthusiasm for Doctor Who has been the joy of buying a DVD that I haven’t seen before and watching it for the first time. But I won’t be out of the Tom Baker era until sometime in May. That means I will not see a “new to me” episode for another three months. I think I’m experiencing the realization of the mortality of this project: when I finish, there will be no new “classic” episodes. And since new Who doesn’t typically satisfy my Doctor Who craving the way the classic series does, it feels as if a death is looming, the death of discovery. I’ve encountered this feeling before: the end of Babylon 5, the final issue of The Sandman. I don’t think I ever thought I would encounter it with Doctor Who.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Doctor Who – The Sontaran Experiment

Doctor Who Story 077 – The Sontaran Experiment

Styre intimidates Sarah
(Source: Tardis Index File. Copyright 1975 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About?: The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry transport to Earth to fix the planet-side controls of the transmat to Nerva. But they find that the dead planet isn’t quite as abandoned as they thought.

A two part story is a bit of a shock in classic Doctor Who because it is so rare. And, by classic series standards, this story is quite fast-paced. This places The Sontaran Experiment closer to a new series pace than an old series pace. Unfortunately, the story never gets fully fleshed out. The actual experiment seems rather un-scientific. The resolution is too quick and just a bit unbelievable (although, the new series is guilty of this as well). But where The Sontaran Experiment succeeds is with its tone. This is a bleak story. The world feels empty. The very idea of testing human survival is reminiscent of World War II and the holocaust. The paranoia of the captain turning on his crew is chilling. This era of Doctor Who is starting to show its cards: dark and horrific subtext. But this further emphasizes the strength of Tom Baker’s portrayal of The Doctor: he is upbeat and quirky. He is laugh-out-loud funny. The Doctor is charm and smiles in the face of a dark, cold universe. It puts me in mind of a quote from Talking With Gods, the documentary about comic writer Grant Morrison, in which one of Morrison’s friends says that the ultimate act of rebellion against a bleak, uncaring universe is to be happy.

So while The Sontaran Experiment isn’t the best that the Tom Baker era has to offer, at least it doesn’t stay around too long.

My Rating: 2.5/5