We have covered in other reviews the stories that comprised Doctor Who’s 20th season. Resolved to celebrate the series’ history, producer John Nathan Turner brought back a returning nemesis for each adventure. In the middle of the season was a loosely linked trilogy featuring the Black Guardian, last seen swearing painful death to the Doctor in The Armageddon Factor. This powerful being, the embodiment of darkness, chaos, and destruction, finally succeeded in tracking the Doctor down, and decided to enlist a helper to aid his cause.
In Season 20 the Doctor Who production team decided that the Doctor would face off against a returning foe in each adventure, originally intending that the season would conclude with an adventure entitled “The Return” – which was delayed until Season 21 as Resurrection of the Daleks, leaving viewers instead with the lamentable King’s Demons as an unworthy substitute! While the season opened with the return of Omega in Arc of Infinity, and the Mara in Snakedance, the season’s three middle stories were covered by a loose trilogy featuring the Black Guardian, last seen cursing the Fourth Doctor in The Armageddon Factor.
All together now: “He’s got a deaaaaaaaaad birrrrrrrd! On his head!”
Ahem. Let us skip past the elephant in the room of why the supreme being of all darkness in the universe wears a hat with a stuffed raven, and instead ask why the Black Guardian is a pretty bad-ass recuring bad-guy. In actual fact, I would say that 99% of why he made such a grim and threatening spectre was due to the excellent portral of the character by Valentine Dyall. He had exactly the voice you would want for a powerful force of darkness, evil and chaos – a voice that will not only leave you behind the sofa, but trembling in fear that he’s someone still behind you.
And this isn’t bad given that he only appears in the final ten minutes of The Armageddon Factor for his introduction, but the testimony to his character is that he undoubtedly makes his presence felt. So much so that when he makes his reappearance in Mawdryn Undead your skin crawls any time the music changes into a menacing key and his Guardianess makes an unholy apprearance. So much of this is due to excellent acting and that voice.
I emphasise this, because actually the rest of the Guardian is a bit of a let-down. I think he was much better realised in The Armageddon Factor when the producers cunningly dressed Dyall in white, and then inverted the negatives to produce the ‘Black’ Guardian – it is a deeply disturbing effect, and therefore very effective! The resultant drab attire he is given for Season 20 just doesn’t cut it somehow, nor the protestations that he cannot be seen to be acting in determining to dispose of the Doctor.
The Daleks get a bit of a bad rep for being all shout and no substance. The Black Guardian could equally be accused of being all scare and no senseless. Which is why it would be great to bring him (and his equally etheral friend the White Guardian) back in a future series of Doctor Who. Christopher Lee would be an obvious choice but for his advancing years – but then he if he would be up for it, oh what a Black Guardian he would make …
I am well aware that the concluding story in the Key to Time arc is not highly regarded in Doctor Who fandom. But I unashamedly include The Armageddon Factor in my top 100 (albeit it at the bottom end) as a story I manage to get great enjoyment from. I grant you that as with The Ribos Operation and The Power of Kroll, it would probably be less enjoyable were it not for the overall story arc for Season 16. But the fact is, it is the concluding episode of the season long story-arc, and a very satisfying conclusion at that.
This story is infamously remembered for the moment when Nyssa decided to take her clothes off for no readily apparent reason. For those wondering how this escaped the watershed, I should perhaps point out that she was still wearing an underlayer that by present standards is moderately modest, but it says a lot about the rest of the serial that this is the talking point most fans take away. (For the record, as Sarah Sutton knew it was her last story and had heard of complaints from fans that she’d been too well covered up, this was her response. Misogyny is sadly timeless)