07 February 2014

AFT: Pure Armageddon

As this finale is two and a half times as long as normal, I've decided to do just a 'Verdict' section for each episode, before a concluding summary of my thoughts on this epic arc wrapper-upper, rather than over-analysing ever last detail as usual. I don't normally do this, but in a story with so many twists, turns and revelations, I'd really advise you to read the story first before the following review. Yes, that's right. This is a SPOILER ALERT. Please don't ruin the story for yourself, it's so worth enjoying with no foreknowledge.

In this 36-frame installment, we get a quick recap of both the Daleks v Cybermen arc and the ongoing story of the Seventh Doctor, Thadius Torchwood (created in 2002 and based on Phil Lawrence's likeness) and Belinda (introduced in 2008, a sentient TARDIS). The team fail not only in stopping the races fighting, but in preventing the crashing of the comet. Speaking of which, it seems to have shrunk quite considerably since last time, although this could just be the 'heart' mentioned before (made of Pure Armageddon).

A final spoiler warning. You can't unread it, remember!

On the planet from the preceding story (which seems to have warmed up considerably, though I thought it was a nice touch to have the snowy mountains in the background, as 'printout' as they look), the Doctor is joined by his companions just as ol' Davros turns up to reveal all. The Daleks and Cybermen were only fighting to 'collect the ultimate weapon' against the Doctor. All of the conflict has been a pretence to hide their alliance and to prevent the Doctor from discovering their true goal in obtaining the comet. 

The figures used in this first part look great. It's interesting too that Phil has gone with the Genesis Davros, rather than the Imperial Emperor from Remembrance. Speaking of which, the Earthshock Cybermen look incredible! As do the Remembrance Daleks. I especially liked the inclusion of the 'damaged' Dalek. These forces really look great together. I've never been a huge fan of the Imperial livery, but here they're shown off to their best.

And of course, the conclusion to this first episode is the contents of the comet; the ultimate weapon against the Doctor. This is the object that will destroy the Doctor for good and allow the Daleks and Cybermen to finally conquer the universe (presumably this would be when the war really started!). And what's in the comet?

Ace, naturally.

Much of this 33-frame second part is dedicated to the story of how Ace came to leave the Doctor, a legend that's been built up over the past few years on the AFT. It's satisfying to finally see it, especially brought to life this well. Phil makes good use of the recently-released Scarman figure, replacing its head with that of a skull, thus creating a Deathwrite. The Doctor overdoes the dispersal machinery and destroys the entire planet of the Deathwrites, rather than just their base, which it's implied is the intention. Ace is caught in the explosion and thus 'dispersed'. 

Whilst it's very nicely done, this isn't the 'betrayal' that it's been built up to be. This wasn't some pre-engineered masterplan which went wrong, which I had imagined it might be (through no fault of Phil's), but simply Ace getting caught in an explosion - essentially. This all makes it a bit odd that Ace keeps saying that the Doctor abandoned her. He can't go back and mess with the time lines, not for anyone. Ace should know that.

Anyway, the first thing the 'streetwise' 'kid' does in this episode is blow up the TARDIS with her Sontaran blaster, which she refers to as 'two rounds of Nitro Ten' (?). This is revenge in a big way. You've really got to hate the Doctor to go this far. Although she did die whilst with him, and it kind of was his fault, it certainly wasn't intentional. I can't figure out why she's got such a grudge against him yet. Maybe it'll become clear in the following three episodes.

I must just comment on the effects and filters that have been used to indicate someone phasing in or out (usually out) of reality throughout this arc. It's a kind of pencil outline of the body with some kind of layer mask on the actual person to fade them out. It looks really effective, and I may have to copy it! I just wanted you to know I had noticed and appreciated it, Phil. Other things in that category include the John Hurt page (which I found in December). 

Elsewhere in this episode, Belinda dematerialises and Torchwood is blasted down to the lower catacombs by Ace. Here, he discovers either some sort of statue of Omega, or the real Omega but frozen in time (or something). But the real punch of this episode comes in the cliffhanger as the Doctor agrees to wipe out the Time Lords using the Deathwrites' Ancient Urn (the Pure Armageddon of the title) in order to prevent sending Ace to her death a second time (although I'm not entirely convinced he did the first time).

The main thrust of these 29 panels is the reintroduction of the Linarian Time Robots Cause and Effect. As Belinda puts it, they straighten out time paradoxes. She summoned them to bring about her own demise, because she thinks she is the paradox, when in fact it's the Doctor. As you can imagine, it doesn't end well for him when they decide to erase the anomaly.

We start the episode seeing how Ace managed to survive the Time Dispersal as Belinda saves her, presumably then taking her and putting her inside the comet - as revealed further into this installment. There's also the revelation that Ace actually has destroyed the TARDIS, because the Doctor didn't leave the HADS (Hostile Action Displacement System) on. Who knew Sontaran blasters were so powerful?

The Doctor and Torchwood discover that Belinda has planned this whole affair, and a whole load of the Doctor's recent AFT history returns for this epic conclusion. Even the planetoid upon which this story is taking place is that which Omega brought through from his universe in Empire of the Time Lords. The Doctor sneaks off somewhere and quickly returns with a humming sound filling the air, commenting only that he'd implemented an 'insurance' plan.

It's nice too that while Davros thinks they are subservient to him, and him alone, they are still looking out for themselves. I wondered how long it would be until they turned. As soon as they discover something in the catacombs, they radio CyberControl because "this changes everything".

There is not much more to comment on in this short episode, aside from saying how good the effects and editing is once again. My favourite panel is that where Ace is shot by a Cyberman (not because of that); the explosion and the ray just look so highly defined, and the composition is just right. It's hard to explain. It's a bit of a shame that the final page or so descends into full-width frames after the interesting visuals delivered earlier in the story, but perhaps it was necessary.

In the concluding moments of Part Three, Davros once more tries to get the Doctor to end the Time Lords, but it is revealed that the Doctor can't because he's phasing in and out of reality; he's not really there. This is why Cause and Effect feel the need to eradicate him, to stabilise the timelines. The consequences of their destruction of the Doctor (and how permanent it proves to be) are surely to come in Part Four.

Part Four is possibly the most exciting yet. At 34 panels, it's also one of the longest. The main event in this is the Sixth Doctor taking over the lead. This comes about because the insurance scheme mentioned in Part Three was actually a cloning machine of Omega's with the Sixth Doctor's body print in. So the lead role in the series is now a clone. Ace and Torchwood are naturally bamboozled and it takes a little time for each party to get to know the other, particularly seeing as the Doctor obviously doesn't remember any of the events of the last few episodes, given that they all occurred long after the body print was made.

The discovery that the Cybermen made was Omega's Eye of Harmony, a piece of information they relay to Davros just as they declare the alliance at an end and begin to fire on the Daleks once more. As a source of unimaginable power and danger, it's only natural that the Daleks, Cybermen and Davros would want a piece of it. This is a much more believable object for the two titans of the Whoniverse to come to blows over than Ace. It was a great gag (being the ultimate weapon, etc.) and a genuinely unpredictable revelation, but this justifies the (falsified) conflict.

The Eye is a really nice piece of design. I don't know if (like the effect in The Coming of the Comet that did turn out to be done by hand, regular readers) Phil was behind it or if it was bought, but it looks really effective. Even more so because it's not perfectly smooth, its exterior instead being composed of a series of triangles. If this was 'home made', so to speak, then Phil really does deserve more credit for his skills as an origami engineer. The bit of the planetoid it's nestled in with the pillars is really nicely done too.

What puzzles me still is why the Cybermen and Davros seem to have some sort of alliance or agreement despite the breakdown between the Mondasians (or possibly Telosians) and the Skarosians. When the Doctor reveals that they will all be sucked into Omega's universe in two minutes, the Cybermen are keen to escape, but Davros less so given there's only three minutes until the Eye opens. However, he does seem to shuffle off hastily in what would seem to be his last appearance in the series. It's a shame his megalomania isn't played up here as it was so enjoyably in preceding episodes, but it's understandable. It would lead to the same conclusion, and there are more important events to squeeze into this penultimate part, possibly the most jam-packed of the lot so far.

So, once they've cleared off, Team TARDIS decide to go on the hunt for their ship (seemingly forgetting Belinda, who's being held captive by the Daleks) until the Doctor is informed that Ace blew it up in Part Two. There seems to be only one solution to stop the rock being sucked into the Anti-Matter universe, and that's by sacrificing organic matter to the 'tent peg' (the thing that keeps it from slipping back which the Doctor destroyed on the assumption they could escape). The Doctor sends Ace and Thadius off to look for Cyberman parts whilst he gives himself to it. This is a much more dignified exit for Colin Baker's Doctor and I feel like Phil has wanted to do him justice for a while.

Consequently, the Doctor begins to regenerate...

Half surprisingly, half not, the fifteenth and final episode of the Daleks v Cybermen series begins its 32 frames with the Doctor becoming Sylvester McCoy. It seems that the transition from Baker to McCoy was always fixed, and not circumstantial based on anything that happened preceding his regeneration. It might've been a nice trick to have had the Doctor become a future or past incarnation, but it's always great to have *the* Seventh Doctor back, even though this isn't strictly him.

Fans are always trying to come up with ways to fit their own little 'what if?' ideas into continuity when they directly contradict it. Phil has come up with a watertight solution, appropriately foreshadowed and credible. Now, we're not travelling with 'the Doctor' but he has his personality and biology. This is essentially a neat way of allowing new adventures to be forged, with that element of unpredictability back. Now the Doctor could regenerate at any time! Of course the linearity places the excitement on why it might happen rather than who he might become, but it's still a bold move - and an ingenious one. This is a true success, and if this is the foremost legacy of this arc, then that's fine by me.

In the catacombs of the (still unnamed, unless I missed it) planetoid, the newly-regenerated Doctor, still in a daze (peculiarly he seems to be in a particularly Third Doctor mood, with mentions of Sea Devils, Ogrons, Gallifrey and the dematerialisation circuit) stumbles across the interior components of the TARDIS, the time altar picked up by the drone in the last story. It's in ruins, and it's interesting to note that it's the Eighth Doctor's version of the console room. Ace doesn't seem surprised by its change of appearance, so for her this must be (going by the original timeline) quite soon before she meets Hex as this was around the time it changed in the Big Finish canon.

The Doctor re-assembles the TARDIS (somehow) and they fly out of the Anti-Matter universe (again, somehow) with just enough time for a quick costume change. It's pleasing to see the Seventh (or is that second?) Doctor in brown again. It seems to suit him more than the cream, in my opinion.

Davros then concocts a plan that when he reveals it, you realise you were too wrapped up in the story to generate this obvious solution. If the Doctor can't destroy the Time Lords with the Deathwrites' Armageddon, then any other Time Lord will do. The deranged Dalek creator then turns Belinda against the Gallifreyans, and plans to send her with the Armageddon and the entire Dalek army to the planet of the Time Lords. From here, they will use the Eye on Gallifrey to achieve ultimate power (and presumably unlimited rice pudding).

Davros, like the Master, seems to have gone to a lot of trouble when their reserve plan was actually a lot simpler and has a higher probability of success than their initial scheme. I think where both of them fall down is their loathing of the Doctor. This entire system, and the war, was built around the Doctor destroying the Time Lords. This could have been achieved much more easily by just skipping straight to Plan B in the first place. But that would be far less dramatic so I'm glad he didn't.

Anyway, Belinda fools Davros and takes the entirety of the Dalek army (who have just beaten the Cybermen when it came down to an actual Daleks v Cybermen fight) into the nearest sun, another nice Remembrance steal (I hate the word 'nod'). This is quite a significant move on the part of Grand Plotter Phil. It was revealed many stories ago that Belinda was created to house the Dalek/Cyber war within her to protect the rest of the universe from the damage it would bring. Her purpose was to ensure the war did not affect other civilisations' development. In the end, she does just this, but at the expense of her own life.

The poignancy of the moment is not lost on Torchwood, commenting that he'll make sure she's never forgotten. I've really enjoyed having him back and in a way, it's a shame he doesn't go with the Doctor and Ace, but really it's probably better to work through their relationship first. The sadness of this moment is brushed aside with a cheerful "Come on Professor, we've got work to do!" from Ace as the TARDIS sails off to horizons new and Davros is left at the hands of the Judoon. It's a good line, but feels odd coming so soon after one of their best friends who they owe a lot to (certainly Ace and the Doctor's, and probably Torchwood's too, lives were saved by her) sacrifices herself.

Overall, a fine end to Daleks v Cybermen. The Photoshopping of McCoy's head onto Baker's body must have taken a long time, so I appreciate the effort. When it comes down to it, the Daleks defeat the Cybermen easily - as I suspected they should from the start. It wraps all the arcs up neatly and satisfactorily, and has only one minor misstep (the final line), but I don't know how else it could have been included. All credit to Phil for originating an epic concept before bringing it to such a worthy and exciting conclusion. Moffat could learn a thing or dozen.

Daleks v Cybermen has certainly been a special and enjoyable series of stories, exploring aspects of the Doctor and visiting new worlds whilst always feeling the presence of the titular villains. The twists and turns in Pure Armageddon, if you were to list them, seem far more numerous than when skilfully interwoven with the central flow of storytelling. What Phil has done is astounding, and has unquestionably proved his ability as a producer as well as a writer. Although the opening five stories were enjoyable enough, this is where it really steps up a gear. This is easily the best of the six. The story is excellent, matching the effects and visuals given to us throughout this comic. I could go on all day saying how good this story is (some might say I already have) and how well we have been served as fans. This does something truly innovative with the series, and injects a little more excitement into the series. This has been the best arc I've experienced for a long time, and I can only hope this standard lasts. I know it will.

There's a new Doctor with a universe full of possibilities to explore. Come on Phil, you've got work to do!

For Pure Armageddon

For Daleks v Cybermen:

You can read Pure Armageddon on the Action Figure Theatre site here. View my Daleks v Cybermen review archive here.

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