The Armageddon Factor

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103 – The Armageddon Factor
Doctor Who serial
Armageddon Factor.jpg
The Doctor and Romana question Princess Astra about the mysterious third planet.
Writer Bob Baker
Dave Martin
Director Michael Hayes
Script editor Anthony Read
Douglas Adams (uncredited)
Producer Graham Williams
David Maloney (uncredited)
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code 5F
Series Season 16
Length 6 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast 20 January – 24 February 1979
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Power of Kroll Destiny of the Daleks

The Armageddon Factor is the sixth and final serial of the 16th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 20 January to 24 February 1979. It is the last story in The Key to Time arc, and the last to feature Mary Tamm as Romana. It also marks the temporary departure of John Leeson's voice as K-9.


In their search for the final segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Atrios, which has endured a recent bombing by their neighbouring planet Zeos, with whom they are at war. The Marshal of Atrios is about to launch a counterstrike on Zeos, but the Doctor finds that Zeos is deserted save for the giant computer Mentalis, which is controlling the war. He also discovers that the true opponent is a third planet called the Planet of Evil, ruled by "the Shadow". The Shadow, an agent of the Black Guardian, has Princess Astra of Atrios captive, threatening to torture her if she doesn't give him the location of the final segment of the Key to Time (which she doesn't know).

After disabling Mentalis, with the assistance of Romana and K-9, the Doctor creates a substitute sixth segment out of chronodyne, which gives the Key enough power to create a time loop in which to trap the Marshal's ship (armed with missiles for the final strike) as well as the Mentalis control room (engaged in an automatic self-destruct sequence). On the Planet of Evil, the Doctor encounters an old Academy mate, a fellow Time Lord named Drax, who has been employed under duress by the Shadow but agrees to help the Doctor.

With K-9 and Astra now under his control, the Shadow wants the Key for himself, and forces the Doctor to retrieve it for him. The Doctor leads a Mute to his TARDIS and opens the door, but is suddenly shrunk to tiny size by Drax, who then shrinks himself using the dimensional stabilizer from his own (in-need-of-repair) TARDIS. Originally, Drax was supposed to use the shrinking beam on the Mute, but misinterpreted the Doctor's plan.

The Mute returns to the Shadow with the Key, but the Doctor realises why the Shadow has requested it: Astra is the final segment, and is transformed in front of everyone. Using their diminished size, the Doctor and Drax smuggle themselves into the Shadow's lair inside of the now-restored K-9. Drax again uses the stabilizer, this time to return them to their normal size. The Doctor snatches the partially assembled Key and the final segment, and disappears with Romana and K9 in the TARDIS, assembling the Key after dealing with the Mentalis self-destruct (with the help of Drax) as well as the Marshal's missiles (using the TARDIS to deflect them onto the Planet of Evil).

The White Guardian appears to congratulate the Doctor on finding and assembling the Key to Time, and requests that it be sent to him. However, the Doctor, realising that it is actually the Black Guardian in disguise—due to his lack of compassion for the fate of Princess Astra—orders the Key to re-disperse. Enraged, the Black Guardian, now reverted to his true form, threatens him with death. In an attempt to evade him, the Doctor fits a randomiser into the TARDIS guidance system, sending it to an unknown location in time and space (initially to Romana's annoyance at the Doctor's lack of responsibility), and leaving the Doctor with no idea of where they are headed, and the Guardian being unable to follow.


This is the sixth of six linked serials that comprise the whole of Season 16, known collectively as The Key to Time. It is also the last broadcast six-episode story (Shada was intended as the six-part conclusion to the following season, but was left unfinished due to a technician's strike). Drax also features in the novels Divided Loyalties (in a flashback sequence to the First Doctor's school days), The Quantum Archangel (in an alternate timeline where he is working with the Master, the Rani and Mortimus to destroy Earth), and in Search for the Doctor, a "Make Your Own Adventure" book by Dave Martin. Valentine Dyall would return as the Black Guardian in the Black Guardian Trilogy, consisting of the Fifth Doctor serials Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment.

Drax refers to the Doctor by the name "Theta Sigma". Not counting aliases like John Smith, this was the first time an actual name (albeit a nickname) was attached to the Doctor. Later, in The Happiness Patrol, the Doctor states that Theta Sigma was his old college nickname. Later, in "The Pandorica Opens" (2010 series), the characters for theta and sigma are the first two symbols under River Song's "Hello Sweetie" message written to the Doctor as the oldest words in recorded history.

The fate of Princess Astra is revealed in the Big Finish Productions audio story The Chaos Pool, the third in new series of Key to Time stories that start with The Judgement of Isskar. They reveal that the Doctor's use of a substitute sixth segment for the Key to Time disrupted the balance of the segments and caused them to decay, resulting in them causing significant damage to the Web of Time. Chaos Pool also explains Romana's decision to regenerate and take Astra's form in the next TV story Destiny of the Daleks.


Working titles for this story included Armageddon. This story was the last that Bob Baker wrote with Dave Martin. Baker's next story, Nightmare of Eden, would be a solo effort. In the original draft of the script, the Black Guardian did not appear at all. He was only inserted in the later drafts by incoming script editor Douglas Adams and Producer Graham Williams.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"Part One" 20 January 1979 (1979-01-20) 24:39 7.5
"Part Two" 27 January 1979 (1979-01-27) 23:56 8.8
"Part Three" 3 February 1979 (1979-02-03) 25:03 7.8
"Part Four" 10 February 1979 (1979-02-10) 25:09 8.6
"Part Five" 17 February 1979 (1979-02-17) 24:42 8.6
"Part Six" 24 February 1979 (1979-02-24) 25:09 9.6

Twenty-three minutes into transmission of Part Five, a technical breakdown resulted in the episode going off the air for twenty seconds. The break occurred at the point where the Doctor is being escorted to the TARDIS by the Mute; and the Shadow makes to remove his control device from Princess Astra, saying "Now, Princess, your work is done. Your dest-". Music was played ("Gotcha" by Tom Scott, better known as the theme music to NBC's Starsky & Hutch) and a TEMPORARY FAULT caption slide displayed until the fault was rectified. When transmission restarted, the videotape had been slightly rewound so there was a repeat of the action immediately prior to the break — with the Shadow's line also finally completed as "Your destiny is at hand." A reconstruction of the break can be found as a bonus item on the serial's remastered DVD release.

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping gave the serial an unfavourable review in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), describing it as "a dreary end-of-season Oh-my-God-the-money's-run-out 'spectacular'" without subtle acting.[3] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker wrote that The Armageddon Factor was "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". They praised the Shadow but felt that the other characters were one-dimensional, and called the ending a "cop-out".[4] In 2011, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times stated that the serial "hugely disappoints, yet it's not an unmitigated disaster". He criticised the characterisation and much of the plot, but praised the direction and the Shadow.[5] On the other hand, DVD Talk's Justin Felix gave the serial four out of five stars, saying that it "packs more of a wallop than the previous two stories" and had everything typical of Doctor Who. Felix also called it Mary Tamm's best performance.[6]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor
Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Bill Donohoe
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
26 June 1980
ISBN 0-426-20104-3

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in June 1980. A typo has the Marshall introduce himself as the warlord of Zeos.

Home media[edit]

The Armageddon Factor was released on VHS in June 1995. This serial, along with the rest of season sixteen, was released on DVD in North America as part of the Key to Time box set in 2002. The set was only available in Region 1. A remastered limited edition Key to Time box set was released in Region 2 in the United Kingdom on 24 September 2007.[7] It contains more extras than the previously released US set. This remastered set was released in Region 1 on March 3, 2009.


  1. ^ "The Armageddon Factor". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  2. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "The Armageddon Factor". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "The Armageddon Factor". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. 
  4. ^ Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7. 
  5. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (30 January 2011). "Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor". Radio Times. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Felix, Justin (4 April 2009). "Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor". DVD Talk. Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  7. ^ "DVD News". BBC. 18 May 2007. 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]