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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts five and six)

We finished up the Key to Time storyline/season this morning with what our son really believed is one of the most epic Doctor Who adventures ever. He completely loved this one, despite a few hissing villain roadblocks along the way. I also enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, despite the interior of Shadow’s planet – slash – space station looking… well, it’s not so much that it’s fake, because lots of Doctor Who environments look fake. It’s that I kept expecting a bunch of kids to run in and start playing laser tag in it. It’s that kind of fake.

The best thing about it, though, is the introduction of Barry Jackson as a failed Time Lord called Drax. The character is just incredibly entertaining, and he and Tom Baker seem to have a great rapport. The Doctor, who apparently went by the name/designation “Theta Sigma” at the Time Lord academy and does not want to be reminded of it, asks Drax where he got the remarkable Souf Lundun accent and slang that he uses. Apparently, Drax was arrested (“got done”) in London some time back and spent ten years in stir. There’s absolutely no reason to nail this decade down to any given time period – I mean, Drax could be getting arrested right now in 2018 for all we know – but it amuses me to imagine that at the same time that the Doctor was exiled to Earth and fighting the Master, Drax was cooling his heels in HM Prison Brixton. Best moment of the whole story: Drax, on his way back to his TARDIS, telling the Doctor and Romana that he’s “done” a deal with the marshal of Atrios to provide reconstruction services for his planet, half an hour from now.

While Drax was sadly never seen again in the show, we do meet a new villain that will come back down the line: the Black Guardian. Valentine Dyall had a film career as long as your arm but was best known for his role hosting and narrating a radio series called Appointment with Fear. This anthology of horror stories ran for more than a decade on the BBC, and Dyall’s downright evil voice was known to pretty much every parent who sat down to watch this story in 1979, recognizing something terrifying from their own childhood.

So a couple of weeks ago, our son speculated that the third segment of the Key to Time could be a person. Today, we learned that the sixth segment was indeed a human being, which is how the Doctor unmasks the Black Guardian. At the end of the story, the Key is split into six parts again, hopefully leaving the poor Princess Astra to live her life in peace. Marie asked whether they’d ever need to turn a person into a Key segment again, and our son suggested that instead, one of the segments should disguise itself as “the worst tasting hot dog ever.” Well, if it sits around for decades waiting for somebody to come collect it, it probably would taste a little lousy.

So a couple of goodbyes to note this time. I’ve already noted that this was Dave Martin’s final script contribution. He did some more work in television but mainly wrote novels after this. He passed away in 2007. This was also Anthony Read’s final story as script editor. Douglas Adams had already been hired to replace him in the role, and apparently he worked on some of the rewrites of this adventure with Read. In that BBC way, we’ll see Adams commission Read to write a story in the next season.

Sadly, Mary Tamm decided to bow out with this story, and didn’t return to tape a farewell scene, which led to a pretty fun decision about what to do with the character of Romana. I don’t see that Tamm had any really major roles after this one, but she was regularly seen in guest parts on British television for the next thirty years and “gave good anecdote,” as they say, on the convention circuit. My older son met her in 2009 at a show in Atlanta that I didn’t attend, and came back with stars in his eyes. She died from cancer three years later at the horribly young age of 62.

We’ll take a short break from Doctor Who, but we’ll start season seventeen in August. Stay tuned!

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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts three and four)

I’m enjoying this one much, much more than I did the last time I watched it. The Doctor’s first confrontation with his mysterious opponent, the Shadow, is full of great dialogue, and there’s a real sense that our heroes have an absurd amount of things to do, with one genuine obstacle after another. None of it feels like padding, and after the writers’ last two stories for the show the previous year (“The Invisible Enemy” and “Underworld”), neither of which I enjoyed, this feels like they’re back on form. This was Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s last Who serial as a team, although Baker would write a solo adventure in the next season, and Dave Martin would write a few of the tie-in books in the 1980s.

In fact, the only scenes in this story that are at all long-winded are the ones where K9 communicates with the Evil Supercomputer that runs the planet Zeos. There are lots of long pauses, sped-up tape computer noises, and sound effects. It kind of gets in the way of the slapstick. Tom Baker and guest star Davyd Harries get to hide from each other in weird corridors and be silly, which delighted our son and probably kept Baker amused at a point where he was losing interest and yelling at everybody. Good thing one of the other guest stars, Lalla Ward, was around to keep him smiling.

Our son really thought these two parts were incredibly exciting, especially when Atrios’s marshal launches his attack on Zeos, which will trigger a doomsday device in retaliation, like Dr. Strangelove. He was completely thrilled by this, but incredibly aggravated by the cliffhanger revelation that the Shadow has abducted K9 and put one of his little black control boxes on him. K9 now calls the Shadow his master! He was incensed, and refused to agree that this is a good adventure at all, just because that ending had him so riled.

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Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor (parts one and two)

The Key to Time story makes its way to the finish line with this story written by veterans Bob Baker and Dave Martin. It’s got John Woodvine as the main villain – so far – and guest stars Lalla Ward as the mysterious Princess Astra.

The story’s kind of “Genesis of the Daleks”-lite, and it shares that story’s problem with creating a believably large environment. Lots of Doctor Who stories have this issue, but the heavily radiated K section of Atrios looks to be about one corridor away from the main control room. It’s a story where I have more than a little trouble suspending belief, but I do like the way that the Doctor pretends quite deliberately that he’s really dumb enough to fall into the marshal’s traps. Tom Baker seems to be having more fun in this story than usual. Maybe he really likes a guest star or something.

Our son was initially pretty restless with the situation but calmed down and started worrying as we learn more about the marshal’s strange controller. He’s talking to a skull that’s perched on a pedestal on the other side of a mirror, and he knows that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Our kid says that this one started out a little scary, but that it is really, really creepy overall. Then again, he was also being distracted by the promise of new (old) video games to play tonight!

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The Avengers 4.7 – The Murder Market

I did “The Murder Market” a great disservice many years ago. I wrote a pretty tepid review of the story, which was Tony Williamson’s first of nine scripts for the series, but it’s really entertaining. Before we hit play, though, we started with a quick discussion with our son about what a marriage bureau is, because of course he’s too young to have heard of match.com, much less the mostly defunct lonely hearts businesses of the pre-internet age.

In one of those weird coincidences this blog keeps running into, I paused last night’s episode of The Bionic Woman to explain what a will is. I also explained how there are thousands of cases in drama and detective fiction where villains conspire to eliminate somebody who is in the way of an inheritance. And here’s what the murder market of this episode does, under the masquerade of being a marriage bureau: it’s an organized version of what the characters in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train concoct, with supposed “partners” swapping murders while the office arranges a perfect alibi for the prime suspect, usually for somebody to get their hands on somebody else’s money.

But it’s unclear who, other than Steed’s mysterious department, would investigate these killings. As I mentioned last week, The Avengers is set in a fantasyland which, per Brian Clemens, doesn’t have any police in it. Mrs. Peel’s supposed murder is very, very strange. Steed pretends to have killed her for this organization, but then all the details of how her body got instantaneously to a funeral home are completely glossed over, and then a man she’s met exactly twice arranges for her immediate burial… and who are the mourners? This is the first episode of the show in this season to be so thunderously unreal, and yet it works here because this isn’t the real world and our rules don’t apply. It’s Avengerland.

It’s also the first episode of the show that we’ve seen to be so overtly kinky. We’d seen a little of this in the Honor Blackman years, but not nearly as much in the previous six episodes as here. This time, though, there are boots and riding crops and gazes that linger a little too long, a striking photo session with a long-legged model posing in only a shirt and tie, and Mrs. Peel looking for a husband with stamina. You can almost hear the other character in the scene ask himself “Did I hear her right?”

Anyway, the guest stars this week include the legendary comedy actor Patrick Cargill along with John Woodvine, who played a heck of a lot of cops in his career. Cargill plays the main villain (although not the actual head of the gang), and Woodvine’s role is a clever surprise. Diana Rigg has a fabulous fight with Canadian actress Suzanne Lloyd, who had been working in American TV, mostly Westerns, for most of the fifties and early sixties. In another odd coincidence, we skipped over her appearance on The Twilight Zone, which we otherwise might have watched literally two nights ago, in favor of the very next episode of Zone, which had Patrick Macnee in it. Anyway, she relocated to the UK in 1964 and played the babe of the week in The Saint six times before retiring.

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