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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Jack Graham
    December 28, 2011 @ 1:20 am

    There's a kind of double-bind internal self-sabotage thang going on in the last scene. As it stands it looks like the Doctor defeats the Black Guardian's ruse but never complete's his mission for the White Guardian. I think we were meant to take it that the Guardian at the start of 'Ribos Operation' was really the Black Guradian in disguise too – so the whole thing was a trick. This would come over much better if (no disrespect to Valentine Dyall) they'd got Cyril Luckham back. However, that idea – while it makes more sense in narrative terms – sabotages the whole notion of the arc. It removes the ambiguities even more than does the idea of Black and White in competition. It seems obvious, in hindsight, that the way to develop the ambiguous starting points created by Holmes and Adams would be to create a story in which the Doctor has to side with the Black Guardian because, in this case, 'Order' and 'Goodness' and 'Balance' are not what the universe needs, because the imposition of such things would be an evil. Like 'Progress' in 'Power of Kroll', 'balance' is one of those words

    Actually, it's not clear to me that the themes need developing anyway. 'Pirate Planet' already showed a situation of stasis, balance, prosperity and general happiness – based on mass murder. 'Pirate Planet' should've been the season finale.

    It's funny but, when they did another Guardian arc, they once again created a series of tales which relentlessly undermine simple moral ideas about 'balance' and 'stability'… only to cop out in much the same way at the end with a banal speech about how light and dark must always co-exist. It's like the show can only go so far rejecting conventional moral binaries before it has to snap back and start pretending everything is nice and simple again.


  2. John Callaghan
    December 28, 2011 @ 2:33 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  3. John Callaghan
    December 28, 2011 @ 2:34 am

    They missed a trick, actually. The dilemma concerns Astra, who is 'trapped' in the Key. Romana could have given up her first 'life' for her; so we'd have a journey from humble assistant to saviour, a big climax, and an explanation as to why Romana II looks like Astra.

    Why, why didn't they ask me? Oh, because I was nine.

    Repeating myself: I enjoy this season very much and feel the tone (literate whimsy, menace and near-surreal science fantasy oddballness) is just what I want from the show.


  4. fdfc49e4-466d-11e0-963e-000bcdcb8a73
    December 28, 2011 @ 3:41 am

    Myself, I've always believed that the Entropy which wipes out a good chunk of the universe in "Logopolis" was the apocalyptic event to which the White Guardian was referring to at the start of "The Ribos Operation".

    But that's just me… πŸ˜‰


  5. Billy Smart
    December 28, 2011 @ 6:57 am

    I'd recommend giving AI Indices next to no credence. The reason why Season 14 got a lower average score than Season 15 would be because a lot more people watched it. A larger audience is likely to include more unenthusiastic viewers than a smaller sample. By Season 15 a lot of these naysayers would have decamped to watching The Incredible Hulk on ITV, while those who actively enjoyed Doctor Who would have continued to watch it, thus bumping the AI rating up.


  6. Stephen
    December 28, 2011 @ 7:58 am

    You've almost certainly heard Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick before – in the TARDIS scene at the start of Tooth and Claw. I have no idea if it's similar to anything Lady Gaga's done, though.

    Oh, and I think you meant that JNT THREW Williams under a bus, rather than through him.


  7. inkdestroyedmybrush
    December 28, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    Despair is the operative word here. trying to sit through the unispired mess that is the Armageddon Factor is difficult enough, finding ways to talk about it as if it were interesting is even harder.

    i thought that the whole notion of the key was not that they white guardian needed the actual key, just the key assembled so that he could stop things for a second and "restore the balance" or some such. although the very fact that they didn't film cyril's final scene during the first recording block shows that they had no idea where they were going, how they where going to finish it off, no idea that they had any idea at all that they had no idea.

    we've moved into Doctor Who that wants to shoot itself in the foot and kill off the sacred cows (such as Baker's comment to the Daleks on next season's opener about climbing stairs) without being interest in creating anything new at all. Want to channel the punks into this show's zeitgeist? Here is is: they want to tear down a lot of things that we love about the show but weren't interested in building anything new in their place. And for that, screw them.

    And once they rip it down, there really is nothing more than the clever man, his attractive sidekick and the sometimes funny dog. And thats not good enough.

    Are you going to do a sidetrip to Game of Death? Great novel, a much better version of Nightmare of Eden.


  8. Iain Coleman
    December 28, 2011 @ 9:32 am

    Ian and the Blockheads' "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick," which I assume, especially based on what else is popular, is sort of like Lady Gaga's Disco Stick.

    …goodness me.


  9. WGPJosh
    December 28, 2011 @ 10:22 am


    I'm not convinced that's what the punks wanted at all, at least not the musicians "labeled" punks by the media. Maybe the people who followed them, but not the artists themselves. John Lydon is just a clever troll, gleefully attacking everyone with equal opportunity, including his merry "punk" followers, and then laughing behind their backs when they take the joke seriously. Anyone who takes "Anarchy in the U.K." at face value probably ought to stop and have a think.

    As for the others, someone like Siouxsie Sioux who was thrown in with the "punk" crowd in the late '70s had absolutely no interest in violent overthrow of the establishment as much as consciously choosing not to participate in it. If anything, I'd say these people were more interested in the freedom to be themselves and make new things than simply destroying existing institutions. Of course they had grievances with the system, as many creative people do, but many of them were wise enough to realise it wasn't going to change overnight. As Andy McCluskey says about his post-1981 output, a big creative turning point for him came when he finally came to the conclusion that thinking music alone could change the world was a hopelessly naive sentiment.


  10. jsd
    December 28, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

    For my money, this whole story is justified by this one exchange:

    The Doctor: We have the power to do anything we like, absolute power over every particle in the universe, everything that has ever existed or ever will exist as from this moment. Are you listening to me, Romana?
    Romana: Yes, of course, I'm listening.
    The Doctor: 'Cause if you're not listening I can make you listen, because I can do anything. As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time.

    And then Tom Baker literally ROLLS HIS EYES. Genius.


  11. The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca
    December 29, 2011 @ 7:31 am

    Okay, I've only read the first few paragraphs, but here's the thing I need to say:


    It's a bullshit statement, I'm sorry. Utter crap. Blondie didn't sell out with "Heart of Glass," they made a song that made them lots of money. Just because you don't like the style of the song, or the way in which is was produced or whatever doesn't matter. An artist who makes money is not an artist who 'sold out,' it's an artist who isn't starving, as as someone who's been a starving artist, I'm far more concerned about not-starving more than I am about maintaining some mythical idea of 'artistic purity' wherein I produce amazing things and then live off of the positive vibes people send me, rather than anything useful like money.

    Sorry, I just… 'selling out' is a load of bollocks. Say "Blondie made a song I don't like," or even worse, I'll accept "Blondie made a song that was commercially successful and, indeed, maybe have been written from a cynical place that wanted to exploit commercial viability in music," but 'sold out'? I can never accept "sold out."


  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 29, 2011 @ 7:44 am

    I agree that most accusations of selling out are bullshit for exactly that reason and really just mean "the thing I used to feel cool for liking is now trendy." But in this case I think it's apropos – Blondie was successful already. They did one song in a hyper-trendy disco style as a cash grab, made out like bandits, and then went back to the style of music they were known for and were good at. It was not a matter of starvation fixing, it was a crass move to make money.

    I mean, good for them. I don't begrudge them it. And notably, my favorite Blondie song was released after Heart of Glass, so it's not like I view them as jumping the shark. But I think dropping your style in favor of a trendy cash grab is accurately described by the phrase "selling out." And should I ever manage the feat, I'll happily own the phrase myself. πŸ™‚


  13. Jesse
    December 29, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Quite a few punk/new wave artists had a sincere interest in disco. At any rate, I enjoy "Heart of Glass," so I don't much care if it was made for art or for filthy lucre.


  14. Iain Coleman
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    I hold no particular brief for Blondie, but are you sure you can distinguish your account of their behaviour ("a cash grab") from a band simply doing a one-off song in a style that they are interested in having a go at, and that song turning out well and therefore being successful? I mean, have any of the band gone on the record saying "we thought it was bollocks, but reckoned it would make a packet so we did it anyway"?


  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    I thought assuming cynicism was far more charitable than assuming a genuine love of disco. πŸ˜‰


  16. Jesse
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:15 am

    As a leftist media-studies academic, Phil, you ought to give disco revisionism a chance.


  17. Iain Coleman
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    I find that, in general, it's fans and critics who put up rigid barriers between genres and styles: the artists themselves tend to have far more eclectic tastes.


  18. Keith
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:43 am

    I share JSD's appreciation for that scene where Tom Baker starts acting like he's been corrupted by power, then reveals he was just making a point. Definitely the best part of the story, though I also liked the following exchange:

    MARSHAL: We must have the weapon that will wipe the Zeons clear of our skies once and for all. Can you provide it?
    DOCTOR: Yes, I think so.
    MARSHAL: What is it?
    DOCTOR: Peace.

    There are a couple other decent bits, such as the improvised segment used to put the Marshal's ship into a time loop, and the look of the Shadow. Unfortunately, that is about all there is to commend about the story.

    I'm not surprised that Mr Sandifer didn't dwell much on the events of the story itself since there is precious little connecting any of the elements to anything else. It is a bunch of half-formed ideas strung together in the hopes that people would be so intrigued by them that they wouldn't notice that none of it has been thought out, and the story has nothing to say.

    What is the Shadow? What are the Mutes? More importantly, what happened to the occupants of Zeos? Why bother adding the Timelord, Drax, to the story at all? Why does the so-called Third Planet look more like a space station and how does nobody notice it? The Shadow's plan for the war makes no sense. And what would they have done if the princess was killed in a nuclear strike? I'm sure one could have made something interesting out of those disparate things, but it's all just thrown out there with no thought or rationale.

    Then there's the scene where Shapp gets shot, which seems to be played for laughs (note the way he falls, plus how stupid the two weapon blasts sound), yet he looks to be dead. Then you're surprised when he shows up later.

    I kinda like the idea that it was the Black Guardian that recruited the Doctor in the first place, though I never got the impression that we were supposed to come to that conclusion (I always thought it was weird to have the White Guardian appear as someone we hadn't seen before, in the finale). It would resolve the problem of the Doctor dispersing the Key without giving it to the White Guardian if we assume the "imbalance" in the universe was just a lie. However, it is clear they never put any thought into the Key, the Guardians, or the linking premise of the season beyond the most superficial details, much like the final story of the season, so you could come to any number of connections with past and future events.

    BTW, if the White Guardian can stop the TARDIS and force the doors open, why can't the Black Guardian? Ugghhhh.


  19. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 29, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    On the other hand, Valentine Dyall impersonating a good guy is one of the funnier images in the history of the series.


  20. Nathan
    December 29, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    Philip, where does the Gareth Roberts quote come from?


  21. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 29, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    An essay reprinted in Paul Cornell's Licence Denied anthology entitled "Tom the Second," originally from DWB #122.


  22. Matthew Blanchette
    December 29, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

    "More importantly, what happened to the occupants of Zeos?"

    Anthony Read happened. From the Shannon Sullivan site:

    "In Baker and Martin's original storyline, submitted on December 19th, 1977, both Atrios and Zeos were populated. Astra (at that point called “Reina”, a name later changed to avoid confusion with Prince Reynart from The Androids Of Tara) was an astrophysicist who had discovered the Shadow's planet lying between the two warring worlds. The conflict had arisen because Atrios and Zeos blamed each other for a catastrophic shift in their orbits; they were being egged on by the Shadow, known as “the Presence” on Atrios and “the Voice” on Zeos. The Doctor was forced to use the makeshift Key To Time to temporally freeze both planets' armies. The Shadow's own shadow turned out to be the sixth segment of the Key To Time. His plan was to use the powers of the Key to pit one half of the universe in war against the other half. The Doctor stopped the Shadow by unfreezing the Atrian and Zeon armies and giving each the coordinates of the Shadow's “Castle of Evil”.


    With Baker and Martin no longer writing together, the burden of rewrites chiefly fell on Read's shoulders. Of particular concern was the cost of “Armageddon” and to this end, Read decided to eliminate the Zeons altogether, replacing them with the computer Mentalis."

    Also, despite the end TARDIS scene being, yes, very good, the original ending from Baker and Martin seems like it might've taken Philip's fancy:

    "By the end of the script editing process, Read was being trailed by his successor, Douglas Adams. It was Adams who changed the serial's name to The Armageddon Factor, and he and Williams cowrote the Doctor's climactic confrontation with the Black Guardian. As originally written, the Doctor simply decided that he did not trust the White Guardian with the Key, and consequently scattered the six segments again to prevent anyone from controlling it."


  23. William Whyte
    December 31, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

    Since this is the last Baker & Martin story, and since whatever you may think of their output they were trusted by three different production teams to deliver the goods, it would have been nice to see an overview and farewell. Maybe you can squeeze one in under Nightmare of Eden. There are some running themes that are very Doctor Who that I think Baker and Martin hit consistently and are worth highlighting. In particular:

    * Advanced races don't just drop in altruistically / Colonialism is problematic. This comes up in all of their stories except the Armageddon Factor and arguably the Hand of Fear. (The Minyans throw this argument off slightly, but they are essentially observers in the battle between the technologically advanced Seers and the backward Trogs). The more technologically advanced a race is the less it is to be trusted. Because of the way Doctor Who stories are structured this can easily come over as straight xenophobia, particularly when the right thing to do is clearly to reject (for example) the riches offered by the Axons, but I think the key story here is The Mutants where the Earth guys are the ones not to be trusted and are the more technologically advanced. So it's not just xenophobia; it is more a fear of the motives of powerful people who you know insufficiently well. In the context of the Bristol Boys it's surely worth mentioning that Bristol rose to wealth as a port because of the slave trade, and you see the influence of this over and over again as they try to work out what it felt to be the person going out, terrified and alone, a long distance away, to do something evil that you felt was wholly justified. This is only a spit and a polish away from the Philip Hinchcliffe theme of baddies from the distant past that you identified under Brain of Morbius and others, but that is equally true of Hand of Fear (though Hand of Fear loses impact compared to Pyramids of Mars and Brain of Morbius by not being allowed to be about the end of the universe etc).

    * There is a natural pattern of discovery, and races should be left to follow it themselves / Be careful what you look at, you may be looking at yourself. This is strongest in the Pertwee stories, where it's also a strong theme in Malcolm Hulke and in The Time Warrior — essentially in all the genuinely thoughtful Pertwee stories except Day of the Daleks and The Green Death. A lot of Baker/Martin scripts turn on a discovery about the nature of one of the players — not used as a crass double-cross but as something more fundamental, for example (obviously) The Mutants but also Nightmare of Eden, Princess Astra in the Armageddon Factor, the end of the Kastrians in The Hand of Fear and (most effectively, because it has little bearing on the plot but is entirely emotionally sound) the revelation in The Three Doctors that Omega no longer physically exists.

    * The things that are meant to keep us safe make us vulnerable. Nuclear power plants get taken over, medical asteroids are used to grow the Nucleus to full size, the scientific research process itself is abused by an obscene Sontaran, the Oracle may choose to blow itself up at the end, war is peace and peace is war.

    [to be continued…]


  24. William Whyte
    December 31, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

    They also have a great sense of how to write episodic fiction, essentially by throwing something new in every episode. I haven't done an analysis, but I would guess that the Baker and Martin scripts have a greater tendency than other scripts in the colour era of introducing significant characters (other than the Big Boss) after episode 1: Sondergaard, lady Eldrad, Marius, everyone in Underworld, the Shadow. (Hulke, again, matches them here). They also throw in entire new settings late in the game (Invisible Enemy (twice), Underworld — I would love to count the interior of the Sontaran ship in the novelization of The Sontaran Experiment, but I think credit for that has to go to Ian Marter).

    And (to repost an older comment of mine) they understand structuring those episodes using the (presumably monomyth-inspired, though it predates Star Wars) recurring trope, the descent through multiple layers and return. I demonstrate this with a bulleted list:

    * Claws of Axos — Axos buries itself in Earth, everyone goes down inside it, is changed, re-emerges.
    * The Mutants — Descend from station to Solos; when in Solos, go into the caves.
    * The Three Doctors — Through hole to Omega's universe; when there, go into huge underground palace
    * The Sontaran Experiment — only two episodes, let's get on with it.
    * The Hand Of Fear — Earth to Kastria, a big underground place, then down in a big lift, then a desperate scramble back to the surface and an epilogue back on Earth. For bonus points, villian ends up (SPOILERS) down a big (SPOILER).
    * The Invisible Enemy — Titan Base to the medical center (not a descent as such) then down into the DOCTOR'S VERY BRAIN to re-emerge as a PRAWM.
    * Underworld — Does exactly what it says on the tin. Note the zero-gravity descending to the CENTER of the WORLD. There is no more under. And note that we have to go all the way back to the P7E at the end.
    * The Armageddon Factor — Atrios -> Zeos -> The Shadow's World. And then shrink everyone! Because we have two extra episodes and have to do something.

    (I'd also note that although I dismissed The Sontaran Experiment quickly above, it does feature a lot of falling down holes).

    What I think makes The Armageddon Factor the strongest of these stories, at least in its use of the descent theme, is several things: (a) the descent is a bit less literal than usual and much more clearly about moral corruption; (b) the physical movement is mirrored by the characters going bad one by one EVEN K-9; (c) unless I'm misremembering, it doesn't unwind all the steps back to the beginning the way the other Baker & Martin stories do; instead the Doctor and Romana break out of the cycle at the lowest point and head off… which mirrors how the Doctor reacts to the Key to Time itself. It's all done pretty nicely.

    But I can't defend Drax. What were they thinking?


  25. William Whyte
    December 31, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

    And specifically on The Armageddon Factor, its focus on a planet in permanent war nicely echoes your criticism of the whole Guardians setup back under the Ribos Operation. These conflicts acquire their own momentums and retrospective justification. Who knows what the significance really is of the ongoing conflict between the White and Black Guardians? Are they just doing whatever they're doing because they're doing it? So not only do we start the story with a critique of the eternal just war that the season initially presented us with, the idea is further subverted by concentrating the entire ongoing war into one person endlessly yelling "Fire!" inside a Time Loop.

    Really, only Drax lets this down significantly. Letts and Dicks trusted Baker and Martin to write the 10th anniversary story, Hinchcliffe and Holmes trusted Baker and Martin to get rid of Sarah Jane, and Williams and Read knew exactly what they were doing asking Baker and Martin to write this one. If they'd done a Planet of Giants on episodes 5 and 6 it would have been a great five-parter.


  26. William Whyte
    December 31, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    But one of the more sickening aspects of the era is the way in which Nathan-Turner presented himself as providing a glorious rebirth for the show and unabashedly thr[ew] Williams – his previous employer, keep in mind – under the bus to do it.

    Both Nathan-Turner and Williams came in to the job with the basic brief that the show was Doing It Wrong. Nathan-Turner was much smarter politically than Williams and made more of a virtue out of this. Revolutions need figures of reaction. At least Williams wasn't shot in a cellar in Ekaterinburg. Not to say that Nathan-Turner's behavior was admirable, but they were crazy times.


  27. Alan
    January 2, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

    Then he cackles a bunch and engages in more schemes that make the Master look clever.

    I never understood why they didn't just use the Master (other than they just weren't clever enough to think of it)? The Shadow was visually reminiscent of the Pratt/Beever Master and was the logical choice for the Doctor's antithesis. Even the Shadow's primary schtick (mind control) is the same. If the Black Guardian had promised the Master a new regeneration cycle in exchange for service, it would have been perfectly believable AND gotten us a new Master without all that silly mucking about with body-snatching on Trakken.


  28. Henry R. Kujawa
    April 26, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

    I remember having the exact same thought, that in both "TALONS" and "ARMAGEDDON" it felt like it should have been The Master, but wasn't. And frankly, when The Master did turn up in "TRAKEN", I found it very disappointing. The best part, at the time, seemed the visual of Tremas turning into The Master (with a vague resemblance once again to the original), but in retrospect, too many follow-ups were even more disappointing.

    By comparison, as of 2 days ago I'm now sorry nobody ever thought to cast Peter Jeffrey as a regenerated Master. With that personality and charisma, he could have equalled Delgado in a way Ainley never did.

    Meanwhile, I've always seen "ARMAGEDDON" as one of Mary Tamm's finest appearances. She absolutely gorgeous in this. And her character and relationship with The Doctor has been coming along so wonderfully, it's easy for me to imagine that exactly how it continued the next season could have happened if she had just stuck around. So why didn't she??? Then again, considering Bob & Dave broke up, and Holmes quit the show, and John Leeson left, and Anthony Read… what was going on just then? Good grief. (And how on Earth didn't they have Cyril Luckham at the end?)

    By the way, when The Doctor gets sarcastic with The Shadow about his TARDIS security in part 3, he reminds me of Hartnell again. Shapp, meanwhile, reminds me an awful lot of Bernard Cribbins. Which made me suddenly think, this story might have been fun if Peter Cushing had starred in it.

    I did enjoy Drax. Someone suggested he'd have been a good fit beside Colin Baker. Too bad nobody ever thought of doing that!


  29. Josiah Rowe
    March 4, 2013 @ 4:50 pm

    Actually, Dave Martin did put Drax into a Colin Baker story of sorts, in the Choose Your Own Adventure-style book Search for the Doctor. But as I recall the two don't have much interaction in the story.


  30. Nicholas Tosoni
    May 14, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

    I think what happened was, Mary Tamm (may she rest in peace) found out she was pregnant around the time of "Armageddon Factor."

    ''That'' would truly have been the controversy to end all controversies!


  31. YaramahZ
    November 2, 2021 @ 5:55 am

    So, here’s a comment 8 years after the last one. I just re-watched the whole Key to Time Season over the past 5 months or so, and I must say I quite enjoyed it all. I thought the Armageddon Factor wasn’t too bad. I didn’t mind Drax, he was silly, but it wasn’t my biggest issue with the plot. That was the “no Zeons on Zeos” when there were numerous mentions earlier in the story about Atrios and Zeons trading with one another. I understand now that for productions reasons Zeons were replaced by Mentalis, but it really left more questions than answers as to what was going on. However, the atmosphere, the teleporting between three planets / bases, the stretching time loops and the Shadow’s lair made for an entertaining Dr Who story. You’re right, it didn’t quite come together, but overall it was worth watching. The last scene with the Black Guardian was very memorable, and I liked that the key was broken up straight away. It’s probably the most memorable / identifiable seasons of Dr Who, whereas I often can’t place where other stories fit inside different seasons, so that’s a marketing success.

    For what its worth, my overall ranking of the season in terms of enjoyment:

    Pirate Planet
    Stones of Blood
    Ribos Operation
    Armageddon Factor
    Androids of Tara
    Power of Kroll

    And even with Power of Kroll, I didn’t think it was as bad as your review, it just dragged a bit, which is impressive given the shorter episode lengths.


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