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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (1979) – DVD Review

Doctor Who The Armageddon Factor DVD cover


Written by: Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by: Michael Hayes
Starring: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm, and John Woodvine


  • Commentary with Tamm, Woodvine, and Hayes
  • Pop-up production notes
  • Photo gallery
  • Who’s Who character and cast information

Released by: BBC Video
Region: 1
Rating: NR, suitable for most audiences
Anamorphic: N/A

My Advice: Own it

The Doctor and Romana are nearly finished with their task to recover the fragments of the Key to Time, but must make one more stop. They arrive at war-torn Atrios, engaged in a continuous nuclear exchange with the neighboring planet of Zeos. In short order, the Doctor discovers that nobody on Atrios has ever even seen anyone from Zeos, and begins to suspect that the ongoing war is a pointless exercise perpetuated by a half-mad general.

[ad#longpost]Unbeknownst to the Doctor, his opposite number, the agent dispatched by the Black Guardian to acquire the Key just as he was sent by the White Guardian, has already arrived in the area, and has set about manipulating the general and others to keep the war raging while he waits on the Doctor. The evil agent’s plan is simple: let the Doctor collect the rest of the pieces, while staying camped on the sixth segment and building an elaborate trap to sucker the Doctor in and force him to hand over his pieces.

The Doctor travels to Zeos secretly, only to discover that the planet is deserted (and apparently has been for some time). The entire Zeos war effort is being run by an elaborate supercomputer, with no other goal than to completely annihilate the entire population of Atrios. Throw in a rogue TARDIS mechanic, and the plot spins to a last-second conclusion that hurls the Doctor adrift in the time stream, no longer able to control his destination in the TARDIS.

John Woodvine and Davyd Harries in Doctor Who The Armageddon Factor

The Armageddon Factor makes for a clever end to the ongoing Key to Time story cycle. It, unlike the previous five installments, doesn’t really hold up well as a stand-alone story, though. Too much of the plot revolves around said Key and the machinations of the Doctor’s adversary for it to make sense completely out of context with the other installments. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–it just means that newcomers to the Doctor Who universe would do well to watch at least the first Key to Time installment before tackling this one.

Extras are as always splendid. The commentary provides some interesting insight into the process of wrapping up a story of this magnitude, though I was a bit disappointed that Baker didn’t appear on this one. The production notes are exhaustive, informative, and any Who-fan’s ultimate trivia resource. The episodes themselves make the transfer quite nicely, maintaining good color balance and minimal artifacting or visual ‘noise’ often associated with older film stock.

For those following the Key to Time, this is a must-have, as it brings the whole affair to a stunning conclusion. For casual Who fans, this one might be a bit confusing if you’re not already invested in the six-parter, but check it out anyway – it’s not such a complex story that a clever viewer couldn’t piece together most of what was going on over the course of the feature. I will say that this doesn’t make much of an entry point into the Who-niverse for those uninitiated in the ways of the nameless one. Too much back story is necessary for a brand-new viewer to really enjoy what is going on.