Countdown to Armageddon


Ben Chatham

March  2008

Plot:

The Master has finally been caught and put on trial for his crimes by the Time Lords. Since they need evidence, they summon the Doctor and his companion Commander Mark Triyad to Gallifrey to act as witnesses – but secretly they plan to end the Doctor's wanderings for good. The Doctor discovers the Master in custody is a hypnotized guard and the real Master is free; the evil Time Lord is diverting all the energy from the Eye of Harmony into the Great Key with the intention of firing the energy into another black hole and creating his OWN Eye of Harmony. However, deprived of power, an ancient force field shuts down allowing the mysterious Antithesis to manifest and attack Gallifrey – Antithesis was released when the original Eye of Harmony was created and had to be contained ever since. The Master tricks the Doctor into locating the Great Key and flees with it to Earth, where he uses the Pharos Project radio telescope and a hypnotized school girl called Dara Hamilton to broadcast the energy into the Black Abyss, a massive black hole at the heart of the galaxy. But the Doctor realizes this will release a new and more powerful force of Antithesis. If you've seen Logopolis, you can guess what happens next: the Doctor rips out the cable connecting the Great Key from the telescope, stopping the evil plan, so the Master rotates the telescope, hurtling the Doctor to his death. The mysterious white figure that has been stalking the Doctor for the last four episodes turns out to have been his future incarnation all the time.

Story:

After ten years of a carbon copy Fourth Doctor, I suppose a carbon copy Logopolis was the next logical step. An interview with the producers (no longer online, so just trust me) revealed the horrible reason why this travesty was created: “There was a lot of music from Logopolis we were dying to use.” Yes. That's pretty much it. They couldn't be ***** (and still can't, by the way) to compose their own music and so write stories AROUND the soundtracks they have stolen. But what of the plot: “Flushing out the TARDIS? The Master conquering the universe with a dictaphone? Come on!”

Pity that none of that constructive criticism went into Countdown to Armageddon. Flushing out the TARDIS was, at the end of the day, padding, and far worse padding occurs in the finished product. The Master at no point in Logopolis attempts conquers the universe with a dictaphone. He uses it to dictate a message. Rather a sensible use of a dictaphone. Worse, the entire sequence is copied word for word in Countdown for Armageddon. Just WHAT are they trying to prove with this?

The pacing of the story is all over the place. We don't see the trial of the Master, the new companion is introduced at the end of part three, we never see the situation on Gallifrey be resolved and all of episode four is padding as the TARDIS crew run around the Pharos Project. Over and over again. In fact, if you cut out all the chase scenes, Master gloating scenes, and antithesis sound effects, you'd end up with ten minutes of story and twenty five minutes of Christopher H Bidmead. Worse, the idea of the Watcher is never explained here – there's no universal chaos, and the Doctor does not SEE the bloody thing until the fourth episode, only hears about it from Mark (and neither he nor the Keeper of the Matrix know what it is). In fact, you start to wonder if the Watcher is coming to regenerate into Mark rather than the Doctor...

Worst of all is that scene in space traffic control. What the **** was that all about?

Personal Appreciation: **
I really enjoyed the story it ripped off.

Character Stuff:

It's the last story for the David Segal Doctor, and about time too. I'm glad I didn't suffer him for the previous ten years – a stocky bloke in a multicolored scarf sprouting Tom Baker quotes does not a proper Doctor make. Of course, any fan knows how difficult it is to capture the Fourth Doctor mannerisms without making him seem a petty moron or a smug prat. It's just something Baker himself was only capable of managing, mixing cynical contempt with wide-eyed childish innocence. Segal could be pardoned for failing, but not for giving up at some point before now.

The Segal Doctor is a petulant, guileless incarnation with a palpable desperation to sound witty or cool, but his attempts (“How would you like a trip to the sun?!?” he demands of Mark after some gentle needling) fall so flat you can feel the carpet burns. He has a massive chip on his shoulder about “responsibility”, constantly insisting he is responsible for his actions, which as far as I can make out seems to be a running theme in this most irresponsible of Doctors – even his anarchic Second incarnation would have slapped the Segal Doctor silly and told him to think about what the **** he was doing. At one point his flashback seems to show his companions didn't think much of him either (it's hard to tell, the sound quality is terrible.)

Also, the Segal Doctor is vaguely reminiscent of the Seventh Doctor... in the fact that he is utterly clueless. Oh yes, he was. The difference is the Seventh Doctor was good at PRETENDING he was in control. The Segal Doctor is hoodwinked repeatedly by the Master, the Time Lords, even Antithesis (assuming it's sentient). He's not clever, and is staggered at the realization the Time Lords would betray him. He even reveals he doesn't have a good sense of direction, just homing devices. The Segal Doctor wouldn't last five minutes in the canonical Doctor Who universe, and it says so much that unlike the Fourth, he doesn't let go of the cable and struggle one last time to survive... he just loses his grip. No suicidal subtext or anything, this Doctor is not cut out for business. He's not prepared for the end, but it's sure prepared for him.

Commander Mark Triyad doesn't make much of an impression in this story. Sounding like Worf, he is a military commander from the future with a line of baffling swear words (‘frelbecarb' for example) he uses with gay abandon. It seems ludicrous that a soldier would not understand the benefits of downtime, such as a relaxing afternoon by the river, saying exercises need a point. Yet, later in the episode he is able to set up wry insults, and shows a relatively surprising amount of flexibility in a crisis. He's also suspiciously clever when it comes to piloting the TARDIS and Gallifreyan technology. Understandably given the universe is in danger, he prefers to shoot first with his phaser (give me strength) and ask questions later, even though he's willing to use stun blasts. Peter Hinchman gives the character a depth sadly lacking from the rest of the story, and his unemotional farewell to the Doctor actually increases the tension ten times more than the deliberate music cues.

Dara Hamilton. ***** ******, she appears in an episode and a half and I want to strangle the *****. Despite what the publicity will tell you she does NOT sound like a teenager, and all the hype that she was some kind of antecedent to the character of Rose Tyler... just walk out of the room if you hear that. Dara is a rude, pigheaded school girl lacking any kind of smarts you'd have to learn if teachers were always on your back. She says very loudly in the middle of a lecture that she's bored, gets her friend Michelle into trouble, and after getting a tongue-lashing from the Headmaster (not like that, you dirty little monkeys), she wanders off into the depths of the Pharos Project. It is damning testament that when the new companion is hypnotized and beaten by the villain, the instinctive response is to cheer him on: “That's it, Master, slap the ***** up, she's disrespecting you!” Of course, Dara is fully aware of the fact she killed two technicians in cold blood, but she's over it in a moment. Any kudos she gets from throwing her oar in with the Doctor and Mark is pretty much gone when she tries to chicken out moments later. Having her take up Nyssa and Tegan's position in regeneration is ****** silly – Keeper Haxton would have a better right, he acts more like a companion and actually knows the Doctor!

The Master... hoo boy. Turns out that the Doctor/Master rivalry is all down to the Doctor's ego (and with any Doctor rather than Segal, I wouldn't have bought it). The Master long ago planned to become all powerful with his own Eye of Harmony, but needed to get to Gallifrey without arousing suspicion, and so went on a ludicrous crime spree with the intention the Doctor would capture him and take him home. Ultimately, the Doctor didn't even manage that. The Master insists has no real issue with the Doctor, but does feel the need to do the ‘humiliation before you die' shtick, and despite his insults is not as clever as the Doctor's (amazingly enough). He has no idea how to find the Great Key without the Doctor's help, and the Doctor works out a way to defeat the Master almost immediately. The Master totally loses it in the final episode, sounding like he's going to wet himself in delight at how easy it was to conquer the universe, and goes absolute psycho when killing the Doctor. He also has a personal chameleon circuit that allows him to assume other's identity and uncloak whenever it is dramatically appropriate.

Clearly some memo has gone around saying the Master should (and I can quote this almost verbatim by now) “no longer be some drooling psychopath but a cunning threat who considers the Doctor an insignificant pest”. Trouble is the author doesn't know how to write the Master any other way – so the Doctor has to be made incredibly slow and stupid to make the Master a credible threat. And then the Master spends most of episode one in his TARDIS giggling about how his plans cannot be stopped and the Doctor is too late. Over and over again. Interspersed with “**** you, Doctor, you're too clever for your own good!” Worse, when we see him alone we realize how much of a cartoon villain he is. No credible threat spends the entire story laughing to himself, making very foolish mistakes, and has no real plan – he seems to be pretending it was all a conspiracy in order to save face. Worse, he seems to possess people rather than just hypnotize him, so both Dara and President Calib become sinister, moustache-twirling looneys who laugh too much. His philosophy appears to be that a fool deserves to be his slave, so he can kill them. Because that is the fate fools deserve. Get a life, Master.

Observations:

Is ANYONE fooled by crediting the Master as “Anthony Ainley” (inverted commas included on the cast list). It's David Segal talking in a deep voice and going “ho ho ho” like a stoned Santa. If *I* can tell that through the atrocious sound quality, everyone should be able to. Why use the Ainley Master anyway? Was it a decision to parallel the parent show in order to keep the audience? If so, it failed. It failed bad.

Speaking of casting, it's painfully obvious that Sheri Divine is doing all the female voices that Rachel Sommers isn't. I wouldn't mind if she had a voice that could vary itself...

What does the Doctor's opening narration have to do with anything? Why should the theories of a few 20th century human scientists be worth mentioning? Do they often discuss black holes and think “Wow, if we could control black holes, we'd be Master of Everything”? And why would humans know anything worth repeating in a Time Lord monologue?

The announcement that the Master's ludicrous and pathetic schemes were just that, an excuse for the Doctor to whup his ***, at first makes you think: “Ah! Thank God! Now all those stories make sense!” What stories, smart ****? Of the 1980s only Time-Flight and The King's Demons could fit into that category and they both have perfect explanations for the Master's actions. Ergo, this plot thread must be there to excuse lots of crap Master stories in THIS audio series... and suddenly the retcon is pathetic.

Just who was sending the distress signal in part one?

Why is the TARDIS dubbed a Type 61 instead of Type 40? Is the Doctor using a new ship or are the technicians talking out of their *****? For the record, the TARDIS' number plate is AZ99/35D.

The Master reacts with understandable contempt to President Calib's summing up (a word for word quote from Borusa in The Five Doctors), basing his entire defense on the idea “I know what you are, but what am I?” which causes a public outcry and he is immediately found guilty. Is this a cunning ploy to get the trial over with quickly so no one notices the fake Master in the dock? Or am I justifying some incredibly crappy story telling techniques?

Would the Time Lords have forgotten Morbius so quickly he's just “a fellow” they executed on Karn?

If the Time Lords can be the most powerful race in the universe using only 20 per cent of their power source, why does the Master want a new black hole instead of using the one there is? And wouldn't a larger black hole have less potential than a smaller one? And “Black Abyss”? What kind of name is that? At first I misheard it as “Jacob's Disc” and that's far the better name. And why do both the ancient Time Lords and humanity refer to it by the same name? Is this name in neon lights in front of the black hole?

How does the Doctor twig that the Master is heading to the Pharos Project? Or even Earth? Why not a planet closer to the black hole instead on the edge of the galaxy? And surely Gallifrey is right next to the black hole, unless it's in a different galaxy...

Why doesn't the Doctor dematerialize the TARDIS instead of trying to overload the engines to break free of the gravity? And if the TARDIS is knackered by a computer virus, how does it escape at all?

Didn't the technicians notice the new tea lady was dressed in a school uniform and under sixteen? Were they just so **** stupid they HAD to die? And why didn't the Master land the TARDIS straight in the control cabin – as he later does anyway, it appears.

I notice that not only does the Great Key delay the conquest/destruction of the universe for 24 minutes, allowing the Doctor a whole episode to fix it, it also generates a force field that stops the Doctor taking the simple option of traveling there in the TARDIS.

The headmaster is pretty confident he won't lose his job over a disappearing pupil on his watch.

Why is Davenport so hung over?

Why doesn't anyone try and stop the Master until half an hour AFTER his made his speech?

The Doctor has several flashbacks using footage directly from the TV show... why? Especially when other stories had dialogue inserted into them specifically to recall the flashbacks (a Time Lord shouting, “DOCTOR YOU WILL DIE FOR THIS!!” in The Last Colony). Are we really to believe the Segal Doctor is a future incarnation who sees the Fourth Doctor's companions before he dies? Plus, sampling “Hey, intruders, after them!” is dumb. Having an actor pretend to be the same person with a fake British accent is just painful.

Why does the Doctor give Mark the keys to the TARDIS after he sees the Watcher – he knows, therefore, he will survive the story in some form, yet he's acting like he's dead meat. Why doesn't Mark have his own key to the TARDIS?

Assuming this came out in 1992, that was only ten years after the genuine Logopolis, setting the standard for the DWADs to be a full ten years behind the times, a ratio they broke out of only this year.

Preposterous Plot Points:

The Doctor hears the Cloister Bell (a specific warning of imminent catastrophe) moments after a Class 1A Disaster Beacon and Mark sees a mysterious white figure watching them... and decides to carry on with what he's doing without letting these signs and portents bother him. No wonder the moron is dead three episodes later...

In Logopolis, at least, the Master's plans made sense – an assassination of the Doctor and also getting blackmail on the Logopolitons. His plans here are rubbish. Why does he need an Eye of Harmony of his own? Given he KNOWS it will release a race of psycho tornadoes, why does he want to do it anyway? Does he really think he can hypnotize them? Why does he need to hypnotize Dara to do stuff he is perfectly capable of doing himself (rewiring the telescope and killing people)? Given he HAS to have help, why hypnotize a fifteen year-old schoolgirl – surely someone that worked in the Pharos Project would be a better bet? And for a cold, calculating machiavellian genius, he makes a lot of mistakes: letting the Doctor twig that he has escaped, accidentally revealing he is after the Great Key, giving the TARDIS a computer virus rather than shooting the unsuspecting Doctor through the head, and letting the Doctor get to the cable without a fight. Unlike the genuine Ainley Master, there is no hint this incarnation is a bleeding psychopath and doesn't care what he does as long as people suffer...

Just what are Anithesis? Described as an “energy breech”, it is unclear whether its some kind of electrical phenomenon or an evil-alien-race-out-to-destroy creatures. Kinda like the vampires, if you believe the New Adventures, but while this story predates such ideas, it doesn't use them well. How is the Doctor able to survive their contact? Is he just lucky? Clever? Did the Antithesis spare him for some reason? Are they intelligent? Are they pretending to cooperate with the Master for their own ends (as he will unleash their brethren out onto the universe)? And why would Rassilon make it so ****** difficult to find information about them when the information could be bloody useful? And why does Castellan Dominik think that marooning the Doctor on Gallifrey will be all right if the Doctor “causes trouble wherever he goes”?

Finally, this story rather wobbily seems to be set in an unbound version of Season 18 – the Doctor recently ducked into E-Space, had adventures on Traken, etc. Is this a parallel version of Doctor Who or are we really expected to believe that the tenth/future incarnation of the Doctor suffers exactly the same fate as the fourth? Either possibility irritates.

Notable Dialogue:

Gratuitous use of the title:
DOCTOR:
It's a Countdown to Armageddon now, Mark.

Gratuitous use of another title:
MASTER:
No, Doctor! This shall be your last Battlefield!

The Master's cunning closing statement, GUARANTEED to get him off scott free --

MASTER: Lord President, believe me when I say that sharing a common ancestry with such miserable, spineless fools such as yourselves fills me with as much disgust as you believe it does to you. You sit here in judgement of me when you yourselves, as a race, are guilty of even higher crimes than you accuse me of! While I will not try to hide from my sins behind such fancy facades as high councils and laws of time, history itself shall be your final judge - then we shall indeed see who is called the villain.

Despite the moronic idea of silent characters on audio, this scene still is creepy especially with the violins in the background --
MARK: Doctor, do you remember that being I told you about, just before we came here?
DOCTOR: Yes.
MARK: I saw him again. In the Prison Complex.
DOCTOR: (SHOCKED) What? Here? On Gallifrey?!?
MARK: He was just standing there. Watching.
DOCTOR: Watching? Watching us?
MARK: You.

Just one of the many moments the Master gloats to up the tension and pad out episodes --
MASTER: Fools. Run, run! You're too late! The power of the Eye of Harmony is almost completely under my control! When it is, I shall crush this insignificant planet into cosmic dust - then I shall be the sole Lord of Time!

Just how the **** does this “logic” work?
DOCTOR: (CLAPS HANDS) Wait a minute! I think I've got it! We're looking at it the wrong way. Instead of thinking of Antithesis as a thing, a phenomenon, think of it as a being! Let's call it Fred. Now look at it: Fred IS Antithesis! Computer: if Antithesis IS Antithesis, then what is Antithesis?

The kind of snappy dialogue and acid wit that mean you won't miss this version of the Doctor --
DOCTOR: Did you even bother to try just calling me on the comm-link?
DOMINIK: We did. But it seems that circuit has been disconnected in your time capsule.
DOCTOR: (AWKWARD) Oh. (GUILTY) Ah, I wonder how that happened?

MARK: A homing device?
DOCTOR: Of course - you don't expect me to remember where I put the TARDIS all the time, do you?
MARK: I thought you were part-homing pigeon.
DOCTOR: Oh, shut up and come on.

A truly worthy scene which sums up a) the problems of the story and b) Dara Hamilton as the most irritating companion in the history of Doctor Who --
DARA: I was walking along this hall, when this weird guy jumps out and says he's my master... (ANXIOUS) What's happening to me?
DOCTOR: (SOOTHINGLY) Easy... You were under the control of the Master.
DARA: "Master"... I remember. He had me operate some control thingy... (HORRIFIED) ...and kill.
DOCTOR: Where? Where did he take you?
DARA: To the dish tower.
DOCTOR: I thought so. Direct and un-interruptible. That's where he's gone to now.
DARA: Wait a minute, who is this "Master"? What does he want?
DOCTOR: He's a renegade from Gallifrey and he wants the universe.
DARA: "Gallifrey?" Never heard of it. Is it some new country?
DOCTOR: More like a planet.
DARA: "Planet"?!? Hold on... are you saying that this Master is an ALIEN? Er, and who are you? Scotland Yard?
MARK: Well...
DOCTOR: I'm the Doctor - a Time Lord - and this is Commander Triyad, United Federation of Planets.
DARA: Aliens?!? YOU'RE aliens too?!? W-wait a minute, I thought all aliens had green skin!
MARK: Doctor, we don't have time for this.
DOCTOR: Come with us - we'll need your help.
DARA: (HAPPY) All right!

The Segal Doctor's last words before “the end but” quotes --
DOCTOR: (SHOCKED) I did it... I did it! Can't... hold... on... much... ...longer!

Cliffhangers:

  1. Guard Captain Tinell enters the President's office wearing the Sash of Rassilon, and uncloaks to reveal he is really the Master. “I am the Master and you will obey me or die!” he quotes evilly from Planet of Fire cliffhanger three.
  2. The Doctor returns to the Power Centre and finds Mark lying unconscious. The Doctor realizes the Mark he spoke to moments earlier was really the Master in disguise and he's just made the biggest mistake in the universe by telling the Master the location of the Great Key. Elsewhere, the Master is laughing his head off: “It's mine! After all this time, the Great Key! It's all mine!” he misquotes evilly from Dragonfire cliffhanger two.
  3. The Master has Dara activate the Great Key and feels compelled to shout “The Black Abyss! It's mine! It's all mine!” and laugh. Again. Meanwhile, the Doctor watches energy hurtling out of the radio telescope. “It means the Master's won!” he misquotes from Time-Flight cliffhanger three.
  4. As Dara and Mark watch on, the Watcher fuses with the dying Doctor and he regenerates into a new body. The new Doctor opens his eyes, introduces himself and bids them a good afternoon, misquoting from Logopolis cliffhanger four.

Miscellaneous:

The opening music – which segues from the opening Howell theme to the Argolin Dawn from The Leisure Hive then the Eye of Orion intro from The Five Doctors – is really rather good. Pity it doesn't blot out the narration entirely. Countdown to Armageddon also shows how much of the Watcher's menace is down to music, and the Master gets a ‘dangerous' theme which works the first time. Not the fifteenth.

But the concentration of Season 18 incidental music is ruined in the last episode when a chunk of music from The Caves of Androzani.

What Could Have Been Done To Improve It:

- A total rewrite so the last thirty five minutes aren't a cut and paste of Logopolis with all meaning stripped from it

- Give the New Doctor some better opening words. “Good afternoon, I'm the Doctor!” is crap to start with, and is not exactly in keeping with the doom-laden feel the story is trying to get across. Since they nicked everything else from Logopolis, why not the intended first words of the Fifth Doctor? “Well, that's the end of that, but it's probably the beginning of something completely different.

- Ditch Dara, or at least introduce her earlier in the story so the climactic final episode is not padded out

- Lose the Doctor's insane plan to use a sonic grenade to blow up the tissue compression eliminator, risking not only the lives of himself and his companions, but by extension the entire universe... when Mark could just zap her unconscious the whole time.

- Improve the characterization of the Master and/or Antithesis.

- A better explanation for the ‘Antithesis is Antithesis' stuff. Hell, a better name for them would help.

The Party Line:

Althoughthe Watcher and the regeneration are taken straight out of Logopolis for logistical reasons, the rest of the story is very well conceived and executed. Don't let a bit of plagiarism put you off. By the end, you'll shed a tear for Segal just as you did for Baker. Oh, and always be on the look out for Antithesis!

The Awful Truth:

Theoriginal material is awful and the stolen material is used senselessly with the Watcher and the regeneration having no real reason to occur, and the rest of the story is pointless rubbish with an admittedly effective apocalyptic feel. Let the plagiarism put you off, because you'll want Segal dead long before he finally bites the bullet. Antithesis competes for most pointless monster in Doctor Who.


Last updated: Friday, March 8, 2008