As a follow up to a surprisingly good opener, this is a bit of a mess. On the one hand, the Atrios/Zeos War works: the Marshal is a recognisable type of Doctor Who villain, the “victory at any cost” warmonger, and Merak’s search for the peacemaker Princess Astra has a touch of the Star Wars about it (it also results in one of the greatest moments in Doctor Who as he declares ‘I love her’ and Romana and the Doctor look a bit embarrassed).
The Black Guardian/search for the Key plot ought to compliment this well: there’s plenty of evidence that the two things dovetail. Astra is associated with the sixth segment (Romana quizzes Merak on anything she habitually wears or carries); the Marshal is clearly taking his orders from a sinister third party – it’s not spelt out who but it doesn’t take much imagination. But rather than lean into this, the script seems to work against it. It’s not so much that there’s too much going on as that what’s going on isn’t quite tight enough so some of the clarity is lost in the not-quite good enough comedy of the Doctor trying to think of ways to end the war without genocide. Donald Cotton did it better.
There’s still a lot about this I like. Romana gets her own companion in Merak. K9 is placed in jeopardy on a conveyor belt to the furnace: the kind of scene that’s perfect for winding up kids (the same thing happens in Toy Story 3). The crystal skull behind the black mirror is a brilliantly sinister image, as are the Death Eaters who kidnap the Doctor at the end. There’s a doomy atmosphere lightened by some funny jokes, like:
MARSHAL: Now that you are here, you are the one
DOCTOR: I am. Am I?
MARSHAL: The one who will lead us to victory
DOCTOR: Oh, good! As long as there’s no personal risk involved of course
Next episode: The Armageddon Factor – Part Three