The story in a nutshell: The Key to Time has been assembled at last and the whole universe has been paused. Two worlds are at war and missiles are heading towards one planet and a bomb is waiting to demolish both. Trapped in a 3 second time loop which is bleeding to a conclusion…wow this sounds really exciting on paper!
Teeth and Curls: Another season sixteen story and Tom Baker again at his height. No I don't mean tall, I'm talking about an actor that is showing no signs of fatigue and still giving all that he can t make sure that the final product is as good as it can be. What is immediately obvious from the very first episode is how comfortable Baker and Mary Tamm are at the end of their time together, they fire dialogue at each other like automatic weapons hitting their target and make a wonderfully watchable team (‘As soon as we hand this over to the White Guardian, the better!’). The Doctor always goes into every situation thinking the best but knowing it will always be the worst. That is a pretty good way to live your life. The Doctor is at his improvisational best, telling the Marshall that he has visited a war zone for the purposes of tourism, running a profitable, educational business visiting different battle zones. Baker makes this preposterous material not only convince but make you wish it was true as well because it sounds great fun. Watch the scene where the Doctor babbles about ventriloquism and suddenly realises the Marshall is a puppet for another power, it is a fantastic example of his lunatic intelligence at it's finest thinking through a situation and coming up trumps. The Doctor’s ultimate deterrent to war is peace, which might sound like an obvious solution but not to those who have grown accustomed to such a lifestyle. There is a great visual when the Doctor bursts from the furnace shrouded in steam and holding K.9, every inch the wild eyed lunatic adventurer. There is a want of patience in his nature. What is it about the Doctor that he keeps getting people to give him a good blow? He's not all amiability and smiles though, I was grateful that somebody was cruel to Merak (who takes uselessness to a whole new level) and who better than the Doctor in a bad mood (‘Insects! With stings in their tails!’). Baker and Lalla Ward have instant, intimate chemistry. This might an instance of love at first sight. Theta Sigma was his nickname at school and he and Drax were at tech school together. Baker and Matin have been responsible for filling in more background about the Time Lords than practically anybody (Omega, their ability to time travel, the reason behind their non-interference policy) and now they are sketching in some of the Doctor's background too. The Doctor’s megalomaniac speech over the Key to Time manages to be both over the top hilarious and pretty scary. He has absolutely no sense of responsibility whatsoever; he’s capricious, arrogant, self opinionated, irrational and he never knows where they are going. And yet somehow when he is around everything seems to work out fine. A delightful year where the Doctor is involved in dazzling adventures and at the top of his game, adding much to each one. I love season sixteen and Baker is one of the reasons why.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You could fry eggs in the street!’
‘This blessed plot!’
‘No glory, no speeches, no medal and no blood.’
‘Imagine the amount of power needed to stop the entire universe…’
‘What’s this heap of junk?’
‘Any second now beautiful mushrooms will blossom and burst…’
‘Remember me to Gallifrey!’
The Shallow Bit: It is Mary Tamm’s best costume yet and she looks positively edible! Having two Romana’s together must give the guys in the audience some very bad thoughts. ‘Care for a blow?’ There is five Mary Tamm’s together in one scene to answer to your every whim – down boys!
Result: A perfect representation of the Graeme Williams era; moments of comedy, darkness and imagination interspersed with moments of pure pantomime. The first four episodes are as good as anything in the sixteen season but the story really stutters come episode five and thankfully recovers for a marvellous conclusion. It’s a well-plotted story, at least initially and the script keeps bringing fantastic ideas to the surface and dramatically explores a very unusual war. Tom Baker is driving the show at this point and he and Mary Tamm are completely comfortable with each other by now, indulging in some very witty interplay. Despite some empty moments, I find the Armageddon Factor an extremely watchable story full of inventive touches, thoughtful direction and a general feeling of everybody (aside from a few dodgy performers) trying their damdest to make this end of season oh-shit-the-budget-has-run-out spectacular as impressive as possible. Underrated: 8/10