“Once we have the Key to Time, we shall set not two small planets but the two halves of the entire cosmos at war, and their mutual destruction will be music in our ears.” – The Shadow
After a grand build up in the search for the Key to Time this season, we end with a story that is a bit of a let down. It starts out well enough. After a momentary flash of a propaganda film touting the honor of serving in the war to save Atrios, the camera pulls back to reveal that this rosy noble picture of the war is (as is usually the case) nothing like reality. The war on Atrios is not going well and there is dying and destruction all around. The government is having to fool the people with a good face, not revealing how depleted their military really is. This is a good setting for a story and a great social commentary.
As the heart of the people, Princess Astra cannot go along with this farce and is seeking peace. The Marshall is driven to win at all costs and seeks undercut her. It’s into this conflict that the Doctor and crew stumble. Things switch gears a bit when it’s made clear that the Commander is also under some control of some third entity which takes our story into a realm of mystery, especially as we see the skull sitting on the reverse side of the mirror. It seems he may be on the side of the enemy. There is still potential for a great story.
It’s by the fourth episode when the action moves to Zeos and the Shadow’s satellite that everything starts to go a bit wonky. There’s no shortage of good ideas to use. It’s interesting when we discover that the Zeon side of the war is being entirely run by a computer as the Zeons apparently died out years ago. We also see the Doctor realize that the 5/6th of the Key that they possess may have some power to use. He creates a Time Loop that won’t quite hold (the Key only being partial) and we can see it expanding slowly as evidenced by the increasingly longer time between restarts of the countdown. What could have been especially interesting was the revelation that the sixth segment is a person. Romana’s disgust at this as being the case is great and could and should have been the heart of the story.
Unfortunately, the final episodes are crowded with a lot of useless additions—the run around of holographic projections in the corridor, some silliness with K-9, and worst of all the arrival of Drax who turns out to be a random Time Lord. This goofy character with a Brixton accent of all things not only undercuts what we know of Time Lords but also totally wrecks any momentum for the story. From here, it gets even worse as they toss in some runaround with him and the Doctor being miniaturized and then resolve things with some last minute back and forth of de-arming the computer.
The Doctor’s last minute realization that the Black Guardian is posing as the White in order to get the key is good at least. But overall the story runs way too long and fizzle at the end, a most unsatisfying conclusion to the Key to Time arc.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
The appearance of the Shadow is quite disturbing. His twisted face is one thing and topped of with the skull mask even more. He really does seem full of evil just by his appearance. It’s especially chilling to see loyal K-9 sitting beside him calling him ‘Master’. It’s too bad they didn’t pursue more about his character of darkness who has been waiting eternity for the Doctor to assemble the rest of the key. (“I have waited so long, even another thousand years would be nothing for me. But you. I have watched you and your jackdaw meanderings. I know you, and I know there is a want of patience in your nature.”)
There is just too much added into this episode and it really doesn’t give the payoff that the final story should. Much of it should have been cut out. There are also a lot of script mismatches with the facts from previous stories and minor characters suddenly know of things they shouldn’t like the TARDIS and the Key to Time.