The Invasion of Time
The Sands of Time
Arc of Infinity
|Dates||Jan. 18, 1983 -
Jan. 26, 1983
With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton.
Written by Johnny Byrne. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Fiona Cumming. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: Omega returns (last seen in The Three Doctors) in an attempt to absorb the body of the Doctor, who has been summoned by the High Council to Gallifrey for execution.|
A Review by Robert Smith? 2/3/97
This has the dubious distinction of being my least favourite Doctor Who story of all time! The reason? It's just so booooooring!
For me, a bad story can at least entertain me in some ways. But a boring story is completely unforgiveable - and Arc has boringness in spades. The "climactic" finale, the chase through Amsterdam is so underdone it's difficult to stay awake...
The story has a few good points, I suppose. Nyssa does get to shine a bit (although that's not necessarily a good thing). However, I think this story pretty much proves that Peter Davison was completely wrong when he suggested the Doctor/Nyssa team would be the best (Personally, I'd prefer Doctor/Adric and that's saying something!).
The actual plot strives to make sense a few times -- Byrne has obviously gone to great lengths (most of them unsuccessful) to justify the locale -- there's some gratuitous technobabble about Omega needing to be below sea level, which almost justifies the trip to Amsterdam. Almost.
Oh, and speaking as an Australian, Tegan's "We've come all the way from Orstralia!" line is utterly hilarious (and something of a devastation for the character). The coincidence of Tegan just hapening to visit Amsterdam when Omega and hence the Doctor turn up is a bit too much to swallow. All in all a bit of a mess and a lot of an insomnia cure.
A Review by Dennis McDermott 15/3/97
Robert Smith's review sent me scurrying to my video library as I recall rather enjoying that episode. After re-watching it, I find I still enjoy it.
I think this is one of the Doctor's more tightly plotted stories. From the initial plot, to the attempted bonding, the Doctor's recall, the judgement, the "execution", the Castellan's discovery of the Doctor's survival, and finally the unmasking of Hedden as the traitor, the action proceeds at a brisk pace. Nor is it aimless action. There is a true dilemma in this story: is it proper to sacrifice one for the good of the many. An old plot, granted, but one that is particularly well done here.
The true genius of this story are its villians. Omega and Hedden are not unsympathetic characters. Omega's desire to return to his home is reasonable, if his view of his place in history is not. And who can blame Hedden for helping a true benefactor of the Timelords to return?
I find Robert Smith's objections rather trivial. Does it really matter if this story took place in Amsterdam or South Croydon? And while Tegan's reappearance is hugely coincidental, the use of coincidence is not harmful to a story if it leads to a positive plot development, as it does in this case. What he is correct about is the final chase scene; this is something Doctor Who never does seem to do well.
I am partial to Gallifreyan intrigue stories, and I find this one top-notch.
A Review by Jen Kokoski 27/3/97
At last, a return to Gallifrey, but my what have they done with the place? The JNT version of the timelord haven is brighter, more regal and celebratory than the original versions (The Deadly Assassin & Invasion of Time). The introduction of powerful Timeladies in the High Council (Thalia) was a definate improvement from the old stuffy university model. And renewing the epic saga of Omega was truly enjoyable to see. All in all, definately one I'd watch on a rainy afternoon.
A Review by Carl West 19/12/97
"Time to come home, Doctor. Time for rest."
The Omega tragedy was presented in a far more affecting manner in Arc of Infinity than it was a decade earlier in The Three Doctors. Ian Collier's portrayal of the stellar engineer is preferable to Stephen Thorne's bellowing original. Peter Davison (in my opinion the last original, and therefore good, Doctor) captures the pathos of the tale quite well. Davison is given a moment to shine in the final episode when Omega adopts the Doctor's form and the actor suddenly plays both characters. It is unfortunate that the final chase scene through the Amsterdam streets has been so maligned-- Peter Davison as the deteriorating Omega being pursued by Peter Davison as the Doctor through the streets of a foreign city is quite enjoyable actually. The synthesizer score adds a lot to the emotion of the story, too. Regarding its falling in Doctor Who's Twentieth Season, I think that Arc of Infinity, along with Mawdryn Undead, was a far more appropriate celebration of the endearing magic of the programme than the rather contrived Five Doctors was.
A flawed but decent adventure by Tom May 7/3/98
When I first saw this, about two months ago on UK Gold, I was mildly surprised. While definately no classic there is much to commend here.
Firstly, I love the Amsterdam location footage, but it's not used as well as Paris was in City of Death. Indeed, the setting adds a lot to the climax (some would saw anti-climax), and my favourite moment in this is in Part Four where Omega, in a duplicated body of the Doctor, smiles when faced with a simple, trusting child. Omega is used sensitively, which is more than can be said for The Three Doctors' use.
Other plus points concern a marvellous performance by Colin Baker as the efficient and arcane Maxil, and undoubtly the pairing of Sarah Sutton and Daviso-- which highlights the problems the series was afflicted with, with three companions. It comes to me as a major cop-out when Tegan returns as I've never liked her as a companion (apart from Kinda or Snakedance. It would've been highly beneficial for this story not to have included Tegan or those two rather sad boys at the start. Colin and Robin, apart from possessing a calamitous sense of fashion, are more gormless than Adric, and nearly spoil an excellent Part One.
The middle parts of The Arc of Infinity are disappointing and frequently inane-- the revelation of Omega's involvement is a damp squib, and the least said about the Ergon the better-- Gallifrey isn't as good, quite simply as it looked in the two Tom Baker stories. The leading Time Lords are portrayed indifferently and the regrettably straight-faced dialogue for them is cringeworthy: "A Pulse-Loop. The very thing. Fetch it, Thalia."
The characterisation of the Time Lords is reminiscent of Blake's 7, and that Damon is as wooden as a cricket bat. It's all let down a bit by the continued appearances of Tegan's stupid cousin (and mate) and the uneventful arrival of Tegan. I can't stress enough that if the story had seen just Nyssa and the Doctor it would've been excellent, as it is, it's fairly decent, shown in a disappointing season. 6.75/10
Four Eps in Amsterdam by Andrew Wixon 25/7/00
The script conference for this one must have been interesting. Most writers can expect to be given a few notes on characterisation, or maybe if they're really unlucky the job of writing out a regular. Not poor old Johnny Byrne: he gets saddled with reintroducing a fairly obscure villain, a gratuitously written-out companion, and then on top of that setting large chunks of the story in Amsterdam.
To call Arc of Infinity a bit contrived is like saying that Season 9 overused the Master or that Brian Blessed is prone to over-act. Faced with trying to come up with a reason for Omega, First Amongst Time Lords, skulking in a crypt in Holland's first city the writer gamely comes up with some technobabble about it being 'below sea level, on the curve of the Arc' but I doubt anyone has ever been in any real doubt why the first story of the anniversary season was filmed in such photogenic surroundings. The idea that Omega is reliant on a fairly rusty looking pumping station to effect his transfer into our universe doesn't so much require the suspension of disbelief as its' public lynching.
The Amsterdam end of the story is bolstered somewhat by the chase in the last episode (long-winded though it is) but weakened by the backpacker subplot. Robin gives one of the most irritating performances ever seen in Doctor Who (particularly in the first episode) and both he and Colin quietly vanish from the script once they've served their purpose (to get Tegan there). Within the narrative Omega's need for a human slave is pointless, served as he is by his enormous flayed chicken-thing.
Criticising Who monsters for being unconvincing is a bit of a turkey-shoot (especially in the Ergon's case). It seems people will happily forgive some stories for including rubbish monsters (Caves of Androzani being a prime example), but not others (the snake in Kinda has been especially pilloried). So all I'll say about the costume is that it's no worse than many others from the series.
Flawed though it is the Amsterdam end of the story has a bit of space and colour, but the Gallifrey end is equally contrived as well as being drab. Gallifrey seems to resemble the inside of a mid 80s three-star hotel or leisure centre. The Time Lords are ... dull. A couple of honourable exceptions: Paul Jerricho gives a rather nice performance as the Castellan, as does Colin Baker as Maxil, though he is fatally hindered by a plastic breastplate and feathered helmet (you can almost see him thinking 'Never mind, I won't have to wear such a silly costume ever again' - sadly he was wrong).
Plot contrivance rears its ugly head again as we meet the Doctor's old friends Damon and Hedin, neither of whom he's ever actually mentioned before. Still, it saves time when it comes to moving the plot along. Similarly, locking the Doctor up inside his own TARDIS saves the budget, and it's hardly as if he's got a reputation for resourcefulness, is it? The Time Lords also display a talent for technobabble and melodrama only hinted at prior to this story. The decision to execute the Doctor seems terribly arbitrary, even by Gallifreyan standards, but then there is a cliffhanger to be arranged. 'Omega has seized control of the Matrix!' shouts the Doctor, neglecting to inform the casual viewer just why this is so awful. Exactly how a pulse loop enables the Doctor to escape from Gallifrey we're not really told, but we're assured it's ever so clever.
Terrance Dicks has spoken of scripting The Five Doctors in terms of the game where you're given a set of disparate objects and have to come up with a story including them all. That description seems to apply even more accurately to Arc of Infinity. The story seems to consist of a jumble of wildly differing settings, themes, and characters forced together to suit the producers' agenda rather than the writers'. When a story is as much of a patchwork quilt - or, to be less charitable, a Frankenstein's monster - as this, it's hardly surprising if a lot of the stitching is on display.
A Review by Jeremy Deline 24/10/01
I'd like to talk about Arc of Infinity for a very simple reason.
It's the story that got me hooked on Dr. Who.
Dr. Who had been shown on the provincial public TV station here in Ontario, Canada where I live for several years. But apart from a few confused minutes of an episode seen when I was very young (and that my mother later attested 'scared me half to death for a week'), Arc of Infinity was my first exposure to the Dr. Who universe. And on this 7 or 8 year old boy, it amazed me.
The TARDIS was something I found fascinating. The Doctor and his interrelations with the Gallifreyan High Council were simple enough for me to follow, but there seemed to be enough history and complexity that I didn't feel 'talked down to'. I thought the Ergon 'looked cool', and Omega scared the hell out of me.
in short, the story did what it was supposed to - kept a child (and his family) tuning back to find out what would happen. That's why, watching Arc of Infinity again, now that I'm all grown up, I find it hard to criticize the things that others have pointed out.
Peter Davison's dual performance as the Doctor and Omega is worthy of special notice, as is the treatment that Omega is given in general-he appears far more otherworldly and well-developed here than he did in The Three Doctors. And his costume design and makeup when he is 'decaying', more than make up for the Ergon, who really does look like a plucked chicken on steroids.
My point however, is that it's useless for me to argue about Arc of Infinity's merit or lack thereof. Every Doctor Who fan has for them, a story, be it television serial, book, audio, or perhaps a movie or comic, that drew them to the mythos in the first place. Even though you may know the story to be flawed, you can't watch it or read it without associating it with the first time you looked down at the stark, imposing logo or heard that eerie theme strike up. And even though I can watch it now and sneer at the Ergon, or glance at the Fast-Forward button longingly throughout part two, part of me will always be seven years old, and watching round-eyed as Omega confronts Peter Davison's doctor, and removes his helmet to reveal.... Peter Davison.
Without Arc of Infinity, I wouldn't be a Who fan. And for that, it deserves my praise.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 21/11/02
I'll be brief about Arc of Infinity.
You know you?re in for a bad slice of DW when Peter Davison can't even save a story with his acting, or at least make it watchable.
The scenes on Gallifrey were painful to watch. It's the worst portrayal of the Time Lord home planet in the long history of DW. It was begging for a Doctor to crack jokes or wage war with the established hierarchy. Instead there's a limp noodle of a Doctor and Time Ninnies who change their mind when the wind blows.
The scenes in Amsterdam don't fare much better. Colin, Robin and Tegan all grate on the nerves.
Only in the last bits of episode 4, does this story of Omega's latest attempt to enter our universe have any fire or spark of life. And even this is dragged out far too long.
Such a shame. There are ideas in Arc of Infinity waiting to burst forth. Unfortunately, the script needed a few rewrites and the actors forgot to act.
An illogical and lacklustre story by Tim Roll-Pickering <5/4/03
Season 20 kicks off with the first story set on Gallifrey in five years. However very little at all is established in this tale about the Doctor's home planet and the result is that we get yet another tale of a treacherous member of the High Council teaming up with a renegade in order to prolong the latter's full existence, alongside trips into the Matrix, the Doctor facing a sentence of death and a slow investigation process. The result is that this entire section of the story feels unimaginative, tired and worn out. Omega returns in this story as a mystery villain but there is no reference to him whatsoever before the ending of Part Three and so there is not the slightest clue as to who the villain is. The Three Doctors may have been repeated just over a year before this story's original transmission, but this is not enough in itself to make the revelation at all surprising beyond 'it isn't the Master this time.'
The other half of the story is set in Amsterdam and once more sees the series undertake overseas location filming. Unfortunately Amsterdam lacks world famous landmarks other than its canals, whilst its famed Red-Light District and liberal laws on drugs are not exactly appropriate to show in a series like Doctor Who. What we're left with is a generic European city and whilst it is nice to see an acknowledgement that there is more to Earth than London and the Home Counties, the Amsterdam location feels extremely superfluous. There's an attempt to explain it by making the point that Omega needs to be below sea level for his fusion booster to work, but he could just have easily hidden himself in the depths of the London Underground to carry out exactly the same task. Worse still it seems highly bizarre that Tegan gets caught up in the action by accident, so far from home. The result is a story that suffers from a highly illogical and lacklustre plot and is let down further by the dialogue. There are few memorable scenes other than the moving one where Omega is wandering around Amsterdam and sees the music wagon and smiles as he realises what it is like to experience a proper existence.
The acting is not especially spectacular for this story. Colin Baker makes his first Doctor Who appearance as Commander Maxil, but the part is so relegated to the sidelines that there is little scope for development. Also bizarre is the way that Maxil and the Castellan disappear from the room between Parts Three and Four, with the former not reappearing at all in the story. The rest of the cast give straightforward performances, but none stand out. However of the regulars Sarah Sutton gives a strong performance as Nyssa, benefiting from not being around Tegan for much of the story, and so the character shows more potential than usual.
The production includes some nice location footage in Amsterdam and the imaginatively designed Ergron costume that looks like a humanoid pteradon but neither are fully justified in terms of plot. Otherwise we get to see a small scale Gallifrey and a few sets for the interiors in Amsterdam, but little spectacular. The whole result is a story that tries to be memorable but fails abysmally. 2/10
A Review by Brian May 1/10/03
The twentieth anniversary season of Doctor Who gets off to a not so remarkable start with this rather dull tale. Arc of Infinity is not badly made, and it certainly isn't dreadful - but neither is it very interesting.
This is more so the pity after an intriguing first episode. It piques the viewer's interest with a multitude of questions. Whose TARDIS has materialised in the crypt? Who is the alien? Who is the Time Lord traitor? The idea of the alien bonding with the Doctor is fascinating, as is the promise of a return to Gallifrey. The idea that the Doctor might be executed by his own people - albeit used before in The Deadly Assassin, but this time presented in entirely different circumstances - is also interesting. Part one has a nicely mysterious atmosphere, especially regarding the as yet unidentified Omega. (I must admit I remember really being frightened by the Ergon emerging from the crypt when I was young!) The story has the potential to be enjoyable throughout all four episodes. Unfortunately these opportunities are not taken advantage of.
For instance, the prospect of revisiting the Matrix, made famous by The Deadly Assassin, is rather disappointing when it turns out to be a series of weird criss-crossing lines with the Doctor wobbling badly in-between. As for the Time Lords, there are no new elements or revelations of their life to tantalise the viewer - just bad furniture and what looks like a caf?
Another example is the idea of the Arc itself. The gateway to the dimensions is an intriguing concept, but becomes sidelined and referred to only once or twice later; its significance is certainly not enough for the story to be named after it. The notion of Amsterdam being on the curve of the Arc is a silly excuse to justify the location shooting in the Dutch city. I have no problem with this setting in itself - but the above explanation, which results in Omega landing here, combined with the coincidence of his kidnapping Tegan, who just happened to visit at the same time, stretches credibility to the extreme. The playing of "Tulips in Amsterdam" - not once but twice! - brings the use of tacky national stereotypes to a new embarrassing low.
The Amsterdam scenes are lengthy, not in itself a bad thing when you take into account the long, meandering vistas of Paris in Season 17's City of Death. But the Tom Baker tale had a more elegant approach, with wonderful music and stylish camera angles. The Amsterdam scenes are very boring and the chase in episode four long winded; by this time the novelty of the foreign city has long worn off.
On the acting front, there is not much to recommend. The majority of the performances are flat. From the guest cast, there are only two of note - Michael Gough as Hedin and Colin Baker as Maxil. There are other competent ones (Leonard Sachs as Borusa, Paul Jericho as the Castellan and Neil Daglish as Damon), but they are not really allowed much depth or scope, wasting interesting characters. The two backpackers, Robin and Colin, are excrutiatingly bad, and Colin's Australian accent is pathetic. (Being an Aussie myself, I'm allowed to say that.) However for the regulars, it is a triumph for Peter Davison - especially so as Omega - and a wonderful performance from Sarah Sutton as Nyssa - in my opinion, one of her best (the other being Terminus, her last story). She is also given some very nice close-ups.
The music is also rather irritating. That bombastic synthesiser is played too many times, and only reinforces how badly it has dated. The design has mixed results - the costume for Omega is brilliant, whereas the Ergon is woeful (but enough to scare me at a young age, as I confessed before!) The corridors of the Time Lord Capitol are too bright and sterile, miles away from the dark and wonderful interiors of The Deadly Assassin. The ending is another anti-climax, the aforementioned Amsterdam chase-cum-travelogue.
Should Omega have returned? John Nathan-Turner's decision to bring back old enemies was very hit and miss - Omega could have worked if there was something new to his character. He has not changed since his first story, The Three Doctors. Ian Collier's performance is far more restrained than Stephen Thorne's but even so, the Omega of 1973, the large, shouting bully, ultimately had the viewer's sympathy - more so than Arc of Infinity's writer must have thought. With nothing new, the plot is simply another attempt by Omega to leave his anti-matter exile, there is no new ground covered (once again). Perhaps he should have remained in his one story.
The inclusion of Omega is another facet of the programme's ongoing dependence on its history and continuity. He is not revealed as the antagonist until the end of episode three, but there are plenty of clues as to who he is (all the references to anti-matter). However these would only be picked up by fans - new viewers would be none the wiser, and the great "unmasking of the villain" therefore means nothing to them. Yes, it is the show's anniversary year, and some nostalgia is justified, but not at the expense of alienating potential new fans!
All in all, Arc of Infinity is not a wonderfully memorable tale. It is certainly very watchable and has its moments, but fails to enthral or engage. Insipid is the word. 5/10
A Review by Joe Ford 8/4/04
Dear Sarah Sutton,I have been putting this off for a long time. You see before I review any Doctor Who story I feel I should watch it anew to afresh myself of its quality but my previous experience with The Arse of Infinity has had the profound effect of turning me into a psychotic creature of loathing, someone who barely has the strength to acknowledge his love for this great show. Either that or sending me to sleep early on, with the remaining hour and twenty minutes seeping into my nightmares, managing to make the story even worse, about alien chickens, plastic Gallifrey and a city of pornographic insignificance... or is that the genuine Arse of Infinity???
I love you more than you can ever know. You are one of my favourite actresses and easily one of my favourite Doctor Who companions. Your presence during the first half of the Davison stopped me from going out of my mind, you were a shining bacon of light amongst all the shite, one character who I could watch and admire. And never was your company more appreciated than in Arc of Infinity...
Doctor Who had been incompetent before; indeed it had a pretty good stab at getting everything wrong in the last story, Time-Flight (which for some bizarre reason I have some affection for) but it was rare for the show to sink to the depths it does here, where the feeling of nonchalance screams from the production. Frankly if the production team don't give a shit about the show then why should we? There is a mound of problems the length of the 'disappearances' list from Happiness Patrol that need to be addressed before I can finally travel the world, steal every copy of the story and burn them Galileo-style and create a huge vacuum in the Davison era, a lost classic that the world will never see again. Trust me, it would be better that way.
They kept hiring Roger Limb story after story despite the fact that his music has all the atmosphere of a Daz commercial. Humour me for a second, close your eyes and go 'Twing twing, twang twang' in a your best Cheeky Girls impression and you will have a rough idea of how the music for this story sounds. It gets everywhere, wafts around condom City, into the wibbly-wobbly Matrix, up Peter Davison's armpits... every single scene is infected with this aural torture. What's even worse characters and situations have their own signature 'tunes', the evil Maxil has a deep 'twing twang', the chase scenes are punctuated with a giddier 'twing twang', the dreaded Ergon is treated to a Close Encounters/mysterious alien style 'twing twang'... you can actually start to predict the music!!! This is preferable to Dudley Simpson's orchestral musings? Get a life! It wouldn't be so bad if the story actually had some merit but when you are bored to death and having your ears attacked with a cheese grater at the same time it is hard to remain objective, not to say sane.
Am I the only person who thinks Gallifrey is seconded only to Perivale as the 'dump of the universe' and that it would be more exciting/dramatic/funny/interesting/clever if the Doctor originated from a steaming pile of horse shit in Grimsby (sorry Grismbians!)? Ignoring (for a second) the destruction of the mystery that is essential to the show I hope I am not out of line when I say it looks CRAP. Cheaper than cheap with unconvincing sets, plastic guns and consoles, stupid huge collars, embarrassing FX and a back story that is so childish and convoluted it threatens to tip the show over into pantoland. This is the nadir of all Gallifrey stories, one that stupidly sticks to the visuals from the even cheaper Invasion of Time instead of forging its own identity. It is a symptom of the era, one that tried so hard to acknowledge the past rather than capatilise on it and this spangly, plastic, 80's version of the planet fails to convince on any level.
Gallifrey must surely be the peak of technological sophistication as it has a cafe with globe lamps! What were the designers thinking? The Matrix is now a black void with some criss-cross FX and a permanent wobble! Is that all those dead Time Lords could think up? And the collars are bigger than ever... so big, the ceilings had to be raised! Surely they aren't the easiest of uniforms to carry around? What's more the walls look like they are threatening to collapse when anyone leans on them, the doors have number codes on them (high tech security measures at their best!) and the lack of any sort of aesthetics makes this look even barer and sterile than ever. I don't think I could ever muster any enthusiasm for this deathly dull planet even if Justin Timberlake ran around the fake looking corridors butt naked.
The Doctor has encountered some horrific looking monsters in his time, creatures to invade your nightmares and leave you scurrying behind a pillow in case a Zygon, Silurian or Sontaran is lurking in the shadows. But I have never been so chilled to the bone as I was when I spotted Robin Stewart, truly the most hideous creation creature I have ever seen. Just how gormless is this guy? He has the acting capacity of a cast member of Star Trek Enterprise (don't get me started on that!) and looks twice as frightening as the Ergon. Are we honestly expected to buy into the conceit that these two losers and their horror escapades in the underground water pump? Are we expected to give a shit? No chemistry exists between them (if they were down there for a shag I could almost believe it...), neither can convincingly portray fear or shock or anything and one of them has bright green socks on! Surely those fashion statements have more colour and character than either of these kids. The hairstyles are an affront and you almost pray for something horrible to happen to them...
...but then the Ergon appears! YAUEAGH! What the hell? Have any of you ever seen the episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer suspects a roast chicken of being an alien, a Quagerg warrior? Well his dreams would come true here! How can we take such a creature seriously, it looks so unbelievably fake it makes all the characters look extremely thick as they scream and cower from it! Its unwieldy and clumsy when it moves, has a cheapo positive/negative gun and has some kind of weird glowing ball thingy on its head (dunno what that's all about). How can the money all be spent already... this is the first story of the season! The only entertainment comes when Peter Davison grapples with it and has act as if he is in pain and worse, being beaten down by this mutant cock (oh get a grip you guys). Thank God for little Nyssa, she pos/negs it out of existence and it never had a return appearance. Funny that.
Peter Davison returns to the series after his first almost successful (ratingswise he was a champ but for consistent characterisation look elsewhere) year. Year two should be his best, the hard work of finding his character out of the way and the inevitable boredom factor of year three yet to come. But he just doesn't do anything. Actingwise, I mean. He is dragged back to Gallifrey and sentenced to death and the most he can say is "I have a great deal to say" before sighing and accepting it all. ANY other Doctor would be incensed, arguing for his rights and I defy any of you Doc 5 defenders to come up with a convincing argument as to how 'good' Davison's non acting is during these episode two scenes. Why doesn't he do anything??? Simon suggested Nyssa shoot the Doctor and take Colin away with her, which would lead to some marvellous Doctor/Maxil confusion. I'll take THAT story over this.
But the real rot sets in during episode three. The Doctor is trapped in the Matrix where he can... do nothing! He lies there, all wibbly wobbly and chats with Omega and Tegan and has a nice old time of it whilst the rest of us are bored silly. At this point the Gallifrey scenes are suicidally dull, Maxil takes arch villain to extremes, the 'twist' of Hedin being the traitor so painfully obvious and yet is still treated with conviction, Nyssa has run out of people to shoot and Tegan is back in action... the pain...
The return of Omega was worth writing but Johnny Byrne lacks the skill to convincingly portray his anger or vengeance. Instead he opts for a mystery story but one that lacks any mystery and is full of boring dialogue about 'bio imprints' and 'anti-matter'. Worse still he bothers to set it all on silly Gallifrey. He populates it with characters from such extremes such as the lovely and helpful Damon, the horrid and rude Maxil, the irritatingly stupid Talor ("Impulse laser?") and of course the cross-cultural twats, Robin and Colin. They all stink, their lines, the performances, the costumes... everything.
I have no trouble with Arse of Infinity being set at Dildo Central as it is plausible (I suppose) that all roads could lead there. Better that than setting it in South East England. What I have trouble accepting is the five minute chase scene at what laughably passes as a climax to this delightful story. A foreign location and it lacks in any sort of atmosphere or tension, has Roger Limb working overtime and is full of stupid co-incidences that allow for the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan to catch up with Omega. When it all comes down to it Omega is defeated by a rising bridge... not exactly as spectacular as the season opener promised, ay? It is all very pretty and scenic but as somebody else pointed out this is not an episode of Wish You Were Here... because if it was we would all be having more fun.
Plus the pencil waving scenes that take Doctor Who comedy to a new level of hilarity. Hedin is so excitable, isn't he? It would help if static director Ron Jones would move the camera at all but he shoots that scene from the same angle every single time. With no mouths visible it is possible they only shot it once and superimposed the dialogue! It is weird that Jones should fail so spectacularly here because his work on Frontios and Vengeance on Varos was much more moody but fail he does, overlighting the sets, never disguising the crap monsters, leaving his actors to bore us to death and not shooting Roger Limb before he can finish his musical score. In all respects he lets the story down.
Feel free to enjoy this story if you will, some chap said that "Plot, scenery, locations all merged with magnificent acting..." so what do I know? I don't expect miracles (hell I rather enjoy Time and the Rani!) but I do expect some kind of basic competence, a nice shot here, some great acting there, a decent bit of music maybe but Arse of Infinity refuses to deliver.
Four episodes of mind numbing pain. Thanks Roger Limb. Oh and then there's the story which is just as bad. Avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid...
So you see Sarah your character of Nyssa was a delight in this story, the ONLY delight in the story. You managed to deliver those terrible lines with conviction and make me believe at least in your scenes. You shot loads of people (couldn't it have been the entire cast?) and dashed about Amsterdam and generally reminded me why I was still paying attention.
You are gem,
Joe Ford (2004)
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 4/5/04
As a season opener, Arc Of Infinity is definitely a case of style over substance. The production looks good and the acting is generally fine, but the plot is somewhat lacking. The story tries to cram too many ideas in: Tegan`s return, Amsterdam, the build up and return of Omega and Gallifrey. There are some good points to make about the story; Sarah Sutton gets a chance to shine as Nyssa, Ian Collier is more effective and subtle as Omega and Peter Davison is great as a villain. This aside there are too many unanswered questions, the bonding storyline is never really addressed and the Ergon is vastly underused. Passable entertainment at best.
An example of fan myth and hypocrisy by Jonathan Middleton 6/3/05
Arc Of Infinity is one of the most underrated stories ever and an example of fan hypocrisy and bigotry. This has also story has ended up on several top forty turky lists and has had only one positive review.
Myth: Davison is really rubbish, he doesn't try to fight for his life.
Fact: Davison is brilliant in this and what people don't understand is that unlike some Doctors he's willing to sacrifice his life so that Omega can't destroy the universe. He tries and decides to give up his life instead and he even gets Nyssa spared. Imagine if Colin Baker was the Doctor in this. Knowing him he would have let Peri die instead of himself.
Myth: The Time Lords are really boring and Gallifrey is cheap and
Fact: The Time Lords are a little bland, they're in no way up to the standards of Deadly Assasin. Zorlac and Thalia are two-dimensional but Hedin is excellent and the Castellan is very good. Although Borusa is a little badly portrayed by Leonard Sachs, he is certainly better than the one in Invasion Of Time. The sets do not look cheap - if you want a cheap Gallifrey then look no further than The Invasion Of Time and there is nothing wrong with a cafe on Gallifrey. Yes, true, the sets are a bit over-lit and aren't as good as Deadly Assasin's but they're pretty good.
Myth: The direction is awful and we hardly see Amsterdam.
Fact: The direction is actually quite good. Ok, so Ron Jones is not the best of directors but he tries and there are some wonderfully directed scenes in this story. Ok so if Graham Williams can go to Paris then why can't JNT go to Amsterdam? And the reasonn why not a lot of Amsterdam was shown was largely because of Amsterdam's reputation if you know what I mean.
Myth: The acting's rubbish and the plot's crap.
Fact: Micheal Gough is wonderful as Hedin, I never for one minute thought he was the traitor. He was utterly brilliant in Celestial Toymaker and is great here too; his scenes with Ian Collier are brilliant. Unlike Stephen Thorne's potrayal, Collier's Omega makes him more restrained, ruthless and scary and you genuinly believe he will kill Tegan. So the teens are crap, I'll give you that and they should have been shot. The plot is not crap, it makes perfect sense that the Time Lords would kill the Doctor if an anti-matter creature tries to bond with him. It would save billons of lives and Omega's insane that's why he tries to bond with the Doctor.
Myth: The plot relies on coincedences and the music's awful.
Fact: Most stories rely on the fact that the Doctor just happened to be there when the bad guy started being bad, so there is absolutely no way you can criticise this for a convenient plot considering classics such as City Of Death, Greatest Show In The Galaxy and Shada rely on convenient plots. The music's not awful -- true, yes, a little over the top at times, but not terrible. In fact it's often very spooky and atmospheric on many occasions enhances the story.
Myth: The story style over substance and the Matrix scenes are awful.
Fact: The story has got substance as well as style. It's got a tight if not slightly contrived plot. And considering a story such as City Of Death is style over substance this just strikes as hypocrisy by fandom.
The Matrix scenes probably should have been set in a police station and Amsterdam should have been in the Matrix. A flawed but enjoyable story.
A Review by Tim McCree 27/3/09
This story has taken its lumps over the years by Doctor Who fans for various reasons. Well, I just want to say that I am not one of those fans. Yep, I liked this story and it is the latest addition to my Doctor Who DVD library.
Perhaps the main reason that I like this story is that it gives Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) a chance to shine. As I explained in my Nyssa article, I felt that she never got the character development she deserved, because there were always other Companions around to hog the spotlight (hello, Tegan). For much of this story, Nyssa is alone with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and I think they make a good team. Peter Davison has said that he liked Nyssa the best of all the companions of his tenure. He felt that the two of them could very well have carried a story on their own. Well, this story proves that (as well as the audio adventures that Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton have done in recent years). Of course, this story was written by Johnny Byrne, the writer who originally created Nyssa in The Keeper of Traken, so maybe that had something to do with it. Mr. Byrne finally got a chance to give his creation the opportunity to shine, and I commend him for that. Like Peter Davison, I consider Nyssa my favourite Who companion.
Some fans have grumbled about the Amsterdam setting for part of this story. Why? No one complained when they went to Paris for City Of Death a few years before. Granted, Paris does have much more familiar landmarks than Amsterdam does, but that should not take anything away from the story. It was nice that they could get out of the United Kingdom every now and again; it made the show, in my opinion, much more universal.
The Gallifrey scenes were also well done. It was nice to get these glimpses of the Doctor's homeworld and his race. Borusa and the rest of the High Council of Time Lords were very well portrayed, although their actions and priorities were often very questionable. The Castellan in particular was a pretty nasty piece of work. You got the impression that he was very overzealous in his job and felt he was right, circumstances be damned. The fact that he was wrong in the end didn't seem to bother him the least. You can't help but cheer when he gets killed in The Five Doctors. Commander Maxil (played by future Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker) would have made a very good Nazi. When asked to justify his harsh treatment of the Doctor, he replies with the old excuse: "I am just following orders." He was never seen again after this story, and one has to wonder if the High Council realized he had gone too far and fired him (in fact, Colin Baker was asked to reprise his role of Maxil in The Five Doctors, but couldn't do it because of another acting commitment).
Since this was the Twentieth Season and anniversary of Doctor Who (1983), producer John Nathan-Turner decided to bring back an old monster or enemy for the stories of this season. For this story (which opened the anniversary season), the old enemy was Omega (who had previously appeared in The Three Doctors, back in 1973), the ancient Time Lord who had helped Rassilon give their race the ability to travel in time and space. During this process, Omega had ended up trapped in an anti-matter universe, where his body was eaten away, until only his will remained. Omega had already made one attempt to return home (in the aforementioned Three Doctors) and now he was trying again in this story. What made Omega different from the other renegade Time Lords on the show (like the Master) was that he didn't want to destroy worlds or take over the universe, rather he just wanted to come home. The problem was that his act of coming home would have destroyed worlds, as he no longer had a matter body, only his now-anti-matter will. That is what made him a threat that the Doctor had to stop.
There is only one aspect of this story that I found hard to swallow. The guy that Omega grabbed on Earth JUST HAPPENED to be Tegan's cousin and Tegan JUST HAPPENED to be on her way to Amsterdam to see him at that time. This was clearly just a way to get Tegan back into the TARDIS. If you ask me, they could have left her on Earth for a few more stories before bringing her back. I have nothing against Tegan (or Janet Fielding, the actress who played her), but, as I said above, her absence gave Nyssa a chance to shine, and Nyssa deserved that for a change. The way they got Tegan back, by this series of coincidences, really challenged my ability to suspend disbelief.
The DVD includes audio commentary by Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), and Colin Baker (Maxil). I found many of their comments insightful and funny. Peter Davison even points out a scene in the last episode, when the Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan are chasing Omega through the streets of Amsterdam. At one point, as the Doctor and co run by, you see two women standing there with looks on their faces that seemed to say: "What the heck is going on here!?" Well, those two women were not extras, rather they had just wandered into the shot somehow. No wonder they looked so freaked out! Also mentioned is the infamous incident of the cast visiting the red light district of Amsterdam and two men trying to pick up Janet Fielding, who they thought was a prostitute!
In closing, let me say that I like this much-maligned story, and I hope that other fans will eventually give it a chance. It may not be perfect, but I think it was a worthy story to open the 20th anniversary of Doctor Who. I give it a 9/10.
A Review by Finn Clark 25/10/09
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a government that summoned home one of its greatest heroes and executed him. Sounds good, eh? Therein lies the failure of Arc of Infinity.
For me, this is a more frustrating story than Time-Flight. There's plenty wrong with that too, but at least it didn't waste much potential. It should have had dinosaurs. That's about it, really. Arc of Infinity, though, has an epic story that by rights should have blown us through the back of our sofas, but piddles it away with a complete lack of conviction on almost every level.
The Doctor comes home. That should have been a bigger deal, for a start. If you look at the TV show's Gallifrey stories, they hold together rather well and each one has a story worth telling. They even have a clear progression. The first two are classics and even after that it's generally the production rather than the concept that lets things down. Map the story of Arc of Infinity to any real-world equivalent and you'll see what I'm talking about. Instead of the High Council of Gallifrey, imagine the U.S. President and the CIA summoning one of their spies back to Washington for the electric chair. Now that's a story with weight. You'd see important people struggling with terrible decisions, instead of a bunch of under-motivated actors standing on a 1980s BBC set and showing little sign of having thought anything through.
What would be that version's equivalent of the scene where Nyssa bursts into the execution chamber to hold everyone at gunpoint, for instance? There would be consequences, that's for sure. She'd be lucky not to be dead before the door had even closed behind her. However here it doesn't even occur to you to be scared for anyone. The Time Lords don't matter. Nyssa doesn't matter. It's just a wooden actor waving a plastic prop, with everyone standing around as if they've just learned their train has been delayed.
Obviously the director wants shooting. It's a surprise since I like most of Ron Jones's stories, but here he fails catastrophically. Johnny Byrne is at fault too, though. The Time Lords' decision is pulled out of thin air, with no justification or moral struggle on their part. What had they been so frightened might come to pass if they didn't kill the Doctor? At one point someone mentions condemning untold billions to destruction, but he might as well have pulled that from his arse. That's the best you're going to get for explanations, I'm afraid. It's certainly never dramatised. Forget "show, don't tell"... this isn't even bothering with the "tell" part. For another example, look at the episode three cliffhanger. "It's too late! Omega controls the Matrix!" With no explanation or build-up, a meaningless lump of words is dumped upon the audience. The Matrix? Sorry? What's that? Why should I care? "Omega has cut us off." "A pulse loop, of course!"
Note that the only Gallifreyans not being played by Peter Davison who are of the slightest interest are the policemen, Maxil and the Castellan, who have no interest in the ethics of executing the Doctor but simply want to keep a lid on any trouble. Michael Gough is good, but that's because he's Michael Gough rather than because there's anything worthwhile in the role of Hedin.
Curiously, this story has a good-sized cast (17 named parts) in which almost everyone who counts is played by a Doctor. Colin Baker takes one role and Peter Davison two. Seeing them together was actually one of my favourite things about this story, especially in the early episodes where Maxil gets more to do. Even his personality is like the 6th Doctor's. Colin's clearly acting in a completely different story to everyone else and is thus one of the most watchable things on display. If only they'd brought him back too for The Five Doctors! Oh, and love that hat.
Then there's Peter Davison. I'm a big fan of his and he does good work again here, especially in part four, but I'm not sure he couldn't have done more. The obvious caveat of course is that this was an impossible situation. He's fighting an uphill battle against the director, the music, the script, the script editor and his fellow actors, but even so I never got much sense of a condemned man facing death. Admittedly, the Doctor faces death all the time. Theoretically it's business as usual for him... except that for once it shouldn't be. Then there's Omega. Davison's Omega is almost an animal, a cruel beast who's stumbled blinking into the sunlight and hardly even seems to be thinking half the time. "Unfortunate, wretched creature" is how he's described afterwards and it feels apt. There's none of the grandeur, madness or genius of the version from The Three Doctors, although in fairness you'll also look in vain for that from Ian Collier.
However, I laughed at Davison's final line. "You're stuck with me." "So it seems," pronounced, "Oh shit." Casts new light on the end of Time-Flight, doesn't it?
Of course, it wasn't his job to write the scripts. That would be Johnny Byrne and No Bloody Clue Saward, who wait until he's in Amsterdam to give us even a single scene that I'd concede might qualify as drama. I quite like the Doctor's confrontations with Omega. The finale in particular is memorable, although I'd be happier about it if Nyssa hadn't previously shot about 10000000000 people on Gallifrey. Am I supposed to be thinking that guns are bad, or what?
Oh, and did I mention that the two backpackers in Amsterdam are among the worst actors I've ever seen? They're so shockingly bad that in comparison Sarah Sutton is an actor and Janet Fielding is Laurence Olivier, despite her performance here being so dodgy that at one point I openly laughed at it. Delightfully, she's not in episode one. In fairness, she's normally better than this, but like Freema Agyeman two decades later she's not at her best when playing an ex-companion. However I liked the "Australian" [sic] backpacker as a zombie, while I was surprised to find that their homoerotic subtext could be argued to be outright text. It's broad daylight when one of them takes the other to the loneliest spot in all Amsterdam in order to sleep with him, even though we learn later in the same episode that he has a hostel room reserved in his name. "Have I ever led you astray?" "Sleep with him" may or may not be a euphemism.
I should mention the other characters, I suppose. Borusa is utterly forgettable. There's a random button-pressing dude who gets quite a lot of screen time and yet has no personality. I don't mean "not a lot". I mean "none". Um, that's about it.
The production is obviously lamentable, but not without points of interest.
I'd also like to defend the line about the impulse laser. Obviously it's a fairly silly line, since the last thing one normally does before being murdered isn't usually to comment on your killer's choice of weapon. However, there is that line later about having "arranged an accident", so presumably it's merely a piece of technical equipment that also happens to be powerful enough to kill people. Less plausible is the way in which not a word is spoken about this death thereafter, despite the fact that fatal accidents would be expected to be even more remarked upon among a race of near-immortals than they are for us.
Incidentally, is it my imagination or was the TARDIS unusually vulnerable in and around the Davison era?
Obviously Amsterdam is nice. It would be churlish to deny that. Episode one has cosmic stuff going on, but it's unfortunately conveyed through TARDIS scenes. It still feels like an appropriate introduction for Omega, though. Everything up to the halfway point suffers from being a good idea appallingly handled, but I was surprised in a good way by episode three's whodunnit aspect. It's still poor, of course. Episode four comes nearest to being good Doctor Who, thanks to abandoning Gallifrey and going on location instead with double Davison action.
This story isn't actually horrible, but it's often amateurishly poor. For my money, the second worst Davison story after Warriors of the Deep. I still want the new series to complete an Omega trilogy by bringing back Peter Davison in the role, though.
Armageddon in Amsterdam by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 22/5/11
Dear Joe Ford
People from Grimsby are not called Grismbians, we are in fact known as Grimbarians. Also, piles of horse shit, steaming or otherwise, have no place on the streets of our town and I can assure you that it is a long way indeed from being the 'dump of the universe'.
So then, Arc of Infinity. Widely regarded as the compost heap of Season 20, a dubious honour which it shares with Terminus. Personally, I'd take Terminus of Arc of Infinity any day. There was a time when I actually quite liked Arc of Infinity and thought that its unfavourable reputation was undeserved but, as time has passed and I've grown more cynical, it has slipped down the ladder in my estimation and I've come to consider it to be tolerable at best.
On the plus side, the Amsterdam location filming looks great, Paul Jerricho and Michael Gough are wonderful, and the Ergon looks quite good. Yes, that's right! The Ergon looks quite good! It isn't the most memorable creature to grace the series but visually it actually looks pretty creepy. Ian Collier's Omega is much more successful than Stephen Thorne's; he takes a much more subtle approach to the character. Stephen Thorne was just too shouty and ranty to tolerate let alone take seriously.
On the downside, the actors playing the Time Lords seem to be finding the dialogue awkward as much of it is delivered in a terribly clunky way; although, to be fair, the script doesn't exactly fizzle with vitality. The actor playing Damon seems to be sleepwalking his way through his performance with no discernible emotion or personality whatsoever. Colin Baker seems to be trying far too hard to be tough and crusty. Okay, so Maxil is commander of the guard but I still don't buy it. I like Colin Baker as the Doctor, I think he portrayed him in such a multi-layered way but as Maxil I just can't take him seriously. The backpackers are irritating; they should have been given the chop within five minutes of their first appearance. Yeah, so what if he's Tegan's cousin?
The biggest gripe I have with Arc of Infinity is the music. Roger Limb provided a beautiful, elegant score for The Keeper of Traken but it seemed to go downhill from there with Time-Flight, Arc of Infinity and Terminus being prime examples of why he's one of my least favourite Doctor Who composers. He fills up virtually every scene with dull, turgid, rambling synth and it becomes tiresome very quickly. Whenever I think of Arc of Infinity, I instantly think of the music and it puts me off watching this story. The score is intrusive and it it isn't actually saying anything, it isn't making any kind of contribution at all. Whether it's the Doctor and co hot-footing it around Amsterdam or the Time Lords informing the Doctor that he's for the high jump, the music makes no dramatic contrast between scenes.
I'm sorry Arc of Infinity. While I have never loved you, there was a time when I found you vaguely entertaining but I'm afraid those days have come to dust...
"A pulse loop, of course!" by Hugh Sturgess 24/7/14
Along my (slow, haphazard, pot-holed) journey through the series' Gallifrey stories (after my review of Assassin in Outside In and The Invasion of Time on this here website), I've come to a story that is regarded as highly as penis ulcers by the majority of reviewers, who are right on this occasion. Like The Invasion of Time, Arc of Infinity has a really great premise that has been smothered by stiff acting, daft sets and impenetrably bad writing - and yet I can't find it in myself to hate it. It feels like it would a waste of time to summon up any strong emotion. Wooden characters we don't care about exchange technobabble for four episodes, capped off by an overlong and repetitive chase around Amsterdam that ends with the villain getting zapped.
Finn Clark's review points out the startling fact that Arc of Infinity is the story of the Time Lords summoning home their greatest hero to have him executed. And yet you wouldn't know that from the episode as broadcast. The Time Lords aren't shown grappling with their consciences, or explaining the consequences of not killing the Doctor, they just utter pseudo-scientific jargon at each other. Omega is "shielded" by "quad-magnetism" that hides him from the Time Lords, but Thalia warns that the "molecular bonding" may have failed - "And we know what that would mean, for the Doctor!" This is a typical line, not least for its "but what does it mean?" factor. What would that mean for the Doctor? Later she speaks of "untold billions" being condemned to destruction - who are they? The people who will die in the potential matter-antimatter explosion? This story seems to believe that antimatter is some magical force that can destroy the universe, rather than simply a different kind of matter. That's in keeping with its treatment in stories like Planet of Evil, but it's never stated openly. We have to guess that the Time Lords are worried about some giant, galaxy-eating explosion rather than (at most) a moderate sized bang somewhere if the creature happens to touch matter. The central dilemma of the story has nothing to back it up.
This is a story killed by technobabble. Plot points aren't composed of characters and situations, but made-up scientific concepts shuffled about the script. "A pulse loop!" "Omega controls the Matrix!" "fusion boost", "One of Omega's less successful attempts at psychosynthesis", "I have to find the matter converter!". The opening episode cuts to a brief TARDIS scene that exists entirely to inform us that the Doctor and Nyssa have fixed the sound on the scanner. Gee, that'll get them watching next week. It's appropriate that Talor's line "Impulse laser?" gets so much attention, since it is so perfectly archetypal of the story: a character's final words are yet more pointless technobabble. This kills all of the drama that could come from the situation. This isn't just a story of the Time Lords executing their greatest hero because he poses the greatest danger to the universe. It's also about Gallifrey's Prometheus (or Milton's Satan) from the distant past wanting to return home to die (one of his last lines, "peace at last", hints at this) or alternatively become dictator. It's about a nice old man stealing information, killing innocent people and betraying his president to bring about the return of the founder of his civilisation. And yet all this is totally, utterly lost, murdered in cold blood by the script long before the actors can stick the knife in too. This was the opening story to Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary year. What here could grab the casual viewer?
Just what is the Arc of Infinity? It's mentioned in the first episode as the name of an area of space, and then in episode three the Castellan talks about "moving" it "permanently" to Gallifrey. So the arc moves? In part four, the Doctor offhandedly notes that Amsterdam is on the "curve" of the arc. You tell us this now? So what is it? "The gateway to the dimensions," the Doctor suggests. What does that mean? Of Johnny Byrne's three Doctor Who scripts, this one is the worst. At least you can work out what's going on in Warriors of the Deep. Did Byrne think that a story on Gallifrey needed space-talk? This is like a bad Star Trek episode, all chronitons and lapsed positrons affecting the cellular doo-dah array and causing a subspace infarction.
Gallifrey is amazing in its mundaneness. Sinking below even The Invasion of Time, the most powerful planet in the universe now looks like an airport foyer, with lampshades and lounges where Time Lords can sit, drink tea and chatter amiably. The High Council are neither awesomely powerful demigods with intelligences vast, cool and unsympathetic, and neither are they the absent-minded old ratbags of Holmes's Gallifrey. They're boring space-wizards who chat with each other. What's the point of hiring actors like Leonard Sachs and Michael Gough if you're going to give them dialogue like this?
One thing I was really struck by was that the story never bothers to explain just what is so bad about Omega returning to our universe. When he does, he begins to revert to antimatter almost immediately, but surely that has something to do with the Doctor's sabotage of the fusion boost. (Meaning that the Doctor is responsible for putting the Earth in danger, thus necessitating Omega's murder in the first place.) Is the Doctor convinced that there is no way for Omega to convert to matter from antimatter? He doesn't make that point to Hedin, he merely screams that Omega is "mad". Fans, who remember Omega from The Three Doctors (or, given when Arc of Infinity was broadcast, read about him in The Making of Doctor Who or whatever), might just nod their heads and accept that Omega is obviously a baddie, but what about viewers who don't remember a character from ten years ago? (Or from the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat two years previously.) Move over Attack of the Cybermen - this is the real example of kisses to the past wrecking your story. Everyone can tell that the Cybermen are bad mofos and need to be stopped. This story simply assumes that Omega is the bad guy and never bothers to justify it.
The crucial point about The Three Doctors is that Omega is a tragic figure, a lonely old man who wants to return home but can't, a man who is king of an infinite universe of illusions but cannot walk outside his front door. Arc of Infinity seems to recognise that on some level. Hedin is presented, ultimately, as sympathetic, genuinely believing that Omega only wants to live among his people and live a "normal" life. (Borusa even calls Hedin Omega's "friend", not accomplice or ally, and Omega is enraged when told that he is dead.) Omega's trip through Amsterdam, particularly his joy at the pipe organ and his brooding that he wanted to return to Gallifrey to find "peace", makes him pitiable. Borusa hopes that he has found that peace. So why the hell doesn't the story make more of a deal of that? We barely even learn who Omega is. One single line that he is "the first and greatest" Time Lord who gave the Gallifreyans mastery of time is all that we get. Nyssa never asks who he is, nor does Tegan. Given that so much time is wasted on the repetitive chase through Amsterdam at the climax, it's not as though there wasn't enough time to explain this rather key plot point.
The acting is also pretty atrocious. Peter Davison is a great actor, but throughout his time on the show he was trying to act into a black hole; i.e., his companions. It's just really difficult to be convincing when you're surrounded by Sarah Sutton and Matthew Waterhouse. Other reviewers have praised his relationship with Nyssa in this story, which I find bewildering. What relationship? There's no rapport, no sense that they understand each other, no trace of character from Nyssa at all. Part of that is the script's fault. Maybe if Sutton had been asked to play an emotionally damaged aristocratic super-genius whose entire family was killed by a man who looked like her father, rather than a robot who moves like she took dancing lessons rather than acting lessons, she would have turned in a better performance. The two-handers between Nyssa and Damon are in violation of the Geneva Convention. Neil Daglish, who plays Damon, is truly remarkable. It's not even bad acting per se. It's more like he's doped out of his mind on tranquillisers. Does he display any reactions at all? He can't deliver a single line of dialogue naturalistically. "How did you open the door?" sounds like he's stoned. He makes Tegan's cousin (with his "Australian" accent) and his friend seem like Lawrence Olivier.
On the matter of the two backpackers, what's the big deal about losing his passport in Holland? Why not just go to the UK embassy? (I must be missing something here.) What time of the year is it meant to be? The English backpacker takes Colin to squat in the crypt with the sun blazing outside, and yet immediately wants to bed down for the night. (OK, maybe we're missing scenes of them partying, getting blotto and stumbling back blind drunk to the crypt.) It might be summer (Tegan can wear her Season Twenty nightie outfit, seemingly comfortably), but their hefty parkas seem to suggest otherwise (at the very least, it suggests a different climate to the one Tegan is experiencing). On the subject of Tegan's outfit, does she really continue to wear those same clothes right through to Enlightenment without changing? Does she have lots of identical clothes? Does she wash them and wear something else in between, and we only see her wear that particular outfit?
A lot of fans don't like Tegan, mainly for her endless complaining and moaning - but that's exactly why I love her. She's a breath of joyous fresh air against the boy-scout fifth Doctor and goody-two-shoes Nyssa, who are pleasant and polite to everyone they meet. Tegan, on the other hand, is rude, self-obsessed, abrasive, short-tempered and thus great fun. The nicer and more fifth-Doctory the Doctor is (see Four to Doomsday), the more openly abusive she becomes. The fifth Doctor was festooned with anti-companions, and Tegan is the most subtle - someone who doesn't seem to enjoy being a companion at all. Unfortunately, she's not given anything Tegany to do. The Gallifrey scenes would be hysterical if she was in Nyssa's place. That pained smile Davison gives when she says that he's stuck with her is too good.
Honestly, that people single out the Ergon for criticism in all this! Come on, we've seen a lot worse. Given the recent discovery of the "chicken from hell" dinosaur, it's almost prescient. It's so weird that I can't help liking it. The Doctor describes it as an example of "psychosynthesis". So it's meant to be some manifestation of Omega's own consciousness (or subconscious)? Why the hell did we sit through four episodes of boring technobabble when we could have had a psychic zombie-chicken all along?
"While Europe Slept" by Thomas Cookson 2/10/18
Whereas Season 19 prompted viewers' letters praising the show's turnaround improvement and renewed excitements, Season 20 seemingly wasted that good will by being inaccessible and dull as ditchwater. Fanwank became the flimsy season's glue. The only significant pre-1980 case of the show acquiescing to fan requests, was The Three Doctors. Ironically, that had helped the show back to full ratings health, and probably ensured Who's survival another decade.
But under JNT the exception became the rule. As though JNT (addicted to convention crowds cheering his every announced returning old monsters) felt need to not only prove the show could still work in the 80s, but every single past element of it could. Even the parts only intended as one-offs. Following 1981's Five Faces repeat season, it almost made sense to give the reshown The Three Doctors a belated sequel, even establishing Omega as a ten-year recurring apparition.
Johnny Byrne was tasked with fusing Amsterdam's setting to Omega's story. Byrne drew on Amsterdam's underground rivers as a potential untapped source of kinetic power. It's an imaginative idea to children. An underground gateway to another dimension. Byrne seemed, in interviews, a philosophical writer, sharp-eyed for thematic sources and inspiration. Yet his Who serials consistently come off hollow and leaden.
For those remembering Omega's strange universe, seeing the silly rubber Ergon emerge lumbering from the overlit vault was hardly stuff of nightmares. It's a colossal disappointment of our memories, sullying past efforts to conjure that universe's strange wonder. It may seem tacky picking on the Ergon, but he's not even an enjoyable rubbish monster. Everything feels half-hearted. None of it connects to a coherent wider mythos. It's less than the grotty sum of its parts.
Making a sequel still work coherently for newcomers, like The Empire Strikes Back, requires being compelling enough to keep everyone's attention as they absorb the details, eagerly awaiting what happens next. Arc fails to make its continuity lore enticing, alluring or intriguing. It's three and a half episodes of grey filler that doesn't get good until its final ten minutes, which are so close to gold it hurts.
Perhaps Byrne was too complacent in his scriptwriting and didn't bother giving it extra thrills or magic, trusting the slavish classic mythos to be interesting in itself, with the belief that audiences would be moved by Omega's story, just because it'd moved him in 1972. Somehow he doesn't translate more than a viewer's echo of The Three Doctors' substance.
Gareth Roberts described Arc as New Who's dour, humourless antithesis, whilst insisting RTD's rewrites could've salvaged it, having audiences 'weeping' for Omega. Whilst I'm wary of New Who's cultish, sentimental, audience love-bombing, it's true Arc's failures reflect how emotionally illiterate JNT's writers were. How continuity indulgences trumped characterisation, whilst poor directing/editing often failed to capture a scene's potential poignancy.
The opening TARDIS scene could've explored Nyssa and Davison's father-daughter bond, and addressed Logopolis's emotional repercussions. Instead they're discussing why the state of grace circuits failed in Earthshock. Whilst it's cute them taking time to answer DWM's fan questions, it's a grossly missed opportunity.
Omega's ghostly apparition invading to merge with Davison, should've been poignant. A lost cosmic spectre seeking its spiritual mirror or brother. The problem is, this Doctor's no longer a rich character. He's a blander figure who doesn't convey an ancient soul within him equal to Omega's. Davison's the show's brand image, caught in carbon-copy Pertwee rehashes that further rigidly typecast his character. Necessitating him balking at past opposition he'd already long overcome, seeming retroactively incapable of having ever beaten these redundant foes.
Byrne was used to Space 1999's traditional 45-minute runtime. Doctor Who was a different animal. At 45 minutes, this could've been a tighter, more-satisfying viewing. At 90 minutes, Arc's prolonged past its natural lifespan, rendering it cumbersome and unengaging. Space 1999's characterization revolved around the crew being individually one-note but collectively resembling a living mind conscience. Each reflecting ways we respond to isolation or suspect visitations, by either seeking peace of mind or resorting to panic.
I don't think Byrne understood Who's instinctive morality or humanism. Maybe his pacifist-minded writing could never understand the cathartic, fluent language of violence, or people's better nature. Only lazily assuming their worst. Where Arc's writing is emotionally demonstrative, it's in unhealthy, repressive ways. In one particularly ugly scene, Robin demonstrates his macho, bottled anxiety over Colin's abduction with smarmy hints of his vanishing to the hostel receptionist, before becoming abusively aggressive when she doesn't follow. It furiously sterilises the story's potential for emotional investment.
Then there's Nyssa shooting Gallifreyan guards for doing their job. Feeling like an expression of Byrne's pacifist misanthropy, pandering callous violence cynically and contemptfully to the worst in us. It's indigestibly misanthropic, leaving a nasty aftertaste. Like we're to accept these lives and collateral shouldn't matter if we're to accept they don't to Nyssa. It's poorly considered, mindless action grot, rendering the guards soulless cannon fodder - made worse by revealing Davison was safe all along, rendering Nyssa's actions pointless. Though thankfully, unlike Warriors, there aren't many apologists trying to argue its pointlessness was somehow the point.
We get an uncompelling, poorly acted Matrix sequence. Davison witnesses Tegan tortured by crap ripple effects. We cut away to give the illusion of pace, before returning to Tegan's continuing torment and Davison apparently having taken this long to protest.
Many claim Colin's Doctor alienated casual viewers. I think Who was already losing casual interest here, no longer providing moments for our hero to shine.
The main disappointment's the scarcity of substantial interaction between Davison and Omega. When Pertwee had to trick and abandon Omega, there was an accumulative tragic poignancy to the betrayal.
Fans wanted to re-experience The Three Doctors' sharp tragedy and believed Byrne's po-faced slavishness would surely reproduce it. They remembered the tragic, mythic way Omega's story got our emotions without being soppy. That's the only way they'd welcome emotional content. Seemingly the conformist pressure within fandom's predominantly masculine ranks, demanded team loyalty to this fannish direction, regardless of genuine viewer enjoyment. In fact, perversely Byrne's failure to elicit emotional connection with casual viewers was treated as a positive.
Really, the Pertwee classics deserved leaving alone. Not reviving and prolonging their concluded story with needless sequels that cheapened the original. Especially the tragedies. They were meant to end that way.
There's no curiosity about Omega here. He's not an enigma like back in 1972. Not a being of sheer will, nor prone to bi-polar swings that gave him life, spontaneity, layers. He's just a generic past foe we know too much about. JNT assumed old revived foes would be iconic now because they were iconic previously. Forgetting that what made them iconic was the deeper contemporary meaning their image once conveyed (Daleks=Nazism). 1972's Omega had the regal look and nobility of a Greek God. Here Omega's redesign is atrocious, conjuring nothing but a clumsy mish-mash, indistinct from the degenerate Ergon.
The mythic grandeur and reverence that State of Decay conjured about the Time Lords is crushed here. This is as stock and routine as Gallifrey gets, rendered the universe's biggest, most unexciting grey spot. The 'Omega invades the Matrix' cliffhanger fails to convey why it's an important, devastating moment worth caring about. The Matrix was never rendered that important, especially here. The worrying implication being this violation of Gallifrey's sanctity's supposed to horrify us for purely conservative, evangelical reasons the Doctor shouldn't care about.
We delay Davison and Omega's confrontation until episode four as a pleasure deferred. By then Davison's learned nothing new about Omega but has the easiest solution in his hands. We procrastinate further with Davison scouring the phonebook. So conservative are Davison's efforts he doesn't even resort to begging for change for the phone, because that'd be 'rude'. You feel those universe-shattering stakes, don't you?
When you've got so little story to tell after a completed work, all you have is contrived padding. It's a lame, spiritless rehash of City of Death's climactic race against time in a foreign city that just reinforces how the show's pinnacle is long behind it.
Nonetheless, Davison's wordless performance of Omega's brief mortal existence is beautiful. Meeting that child and, like Frankenstein, realizing he's forever the abnormal pariah. Articulating its emotional undercurrents far better by visuals than dialogue. Davison brings his full game to this rare, dramatic moment. That's when you realize how desperately starved you've been of quality.
However, the ending seems a sinister culmination of the script's worryingly repressive, stifled emotional articulation. Like Warriors and its sycophantic fan dictates concerning its 'tragic' foes, Arc's ending demands our sympathies for essentially a self-venerated spree killer.
It's like JNT's insistence on keeping things apolitical left Byrne only able to engage in dog-whistle politics, speaking exclusively to the nutters. Endorsing the nihilist's pitiless, sociopathic, destructive mindset that "Being hard done by gives you the right to jealously hate and destroy anyone who's different or thinks and lives differently to you or any authorities who (rightly) try stopping you."
In fact Omega's declared jealous intent to destroy the universe just to spite it renders him a far pettier, shallower character. Undermining why Pertwee ever sympathised with him. Unless Omega was secretly bluffing, trusting and counting on Davison to mercy-kill him first.
Doctor Who was at best when being uncomfortably hard-hitting. When Genesis and Logopolis, for want of a better word, 'hurt'. Even that's botched by the cop-out need to acknowledge Omega might've survived, as canon precedent dictates.
Mark Kermode cited among his favourite films, 1970's teen love-story Jeremy. Its heart-breaking ending left him in despair. He spent his youth wanting a sequel reuniting its teen lovers in a happy ending.
The film's power is it doesn't do that. In later decades, Jeremy could've lost its ending to demands of test screen audiences who didn't want it ending on a downer. But a happy ending would've made Jeremy a weaker film, ruining what made it uniquely special
Effectively, Ian Levine was JNT's singular fan test screen audience, correcting continuity, but ultimately okaying Warriors, Resurrection and Attack's downbeat tabloid nastiness. But, troublingly, those stories' onscreen horrors reflected fandom's tabloid sociopathic disposition. The deaths concerning untroublingly unlikable characters, allowing the Doctor to quickly move on after a tokenist remorse. Fans fooled themselves this was genuinely challenging to mainstream viewers rather than simply repellent.
Davison was billed the new-age, sensitive Doctor. But a sensitivity born of naive, upper-class Eton-esque privileged security. Not passionate, crusading moral struggle, overcoming battlefield trials and pain like Tom's Doctor had. Whereas Pertwee and Tom's Doctor often showed cheery enthusiasm and relish for violent conflict, unnerving their Zygon foes, Davison was required to seem horrified, burdened, saddened and mawkishly remorseful over taking any violent action, to exhibit his 'superior' moral nature. A Barbara Bain-esque feminized cipher (the obligatory insipid, morally chastening voice).
We've lost his lust for danger. Qualities that gave him character and spirit, without which he didn't make sense as an adventuring crusader who carried on despite how grim events got. Davison could only be envisioned giving up despairingly.
Davison blasts Omega, whilst adamantly refusing to look anything but regretfully remorseful. Initially, this seemed to characterise his special empathy and respect for Omega. When Warriors repeated this trait ad nauseam, it became a vacuous trademark of Davison's impotence at anything else.
Last season, Davison seemed to be refreshing the brand, racing against the clock in Earthshock. Now he's already looking like throwing in and needing replacing. Tegan constantly complained about wanting returning home. Her tears bookending Time-Flight, having gotten her wish, she seemed insincere. Yet it could've been an appropriate, bittersweet goodbye if she'd stayed gone.
Davison meeting Tegan again, through her contrived cousin Colin's another coincidence too far. The only reason Tegan returns to this dangerous life is JNT wishes it. Saving her return until The Five Doctors (via time scoop), would've provided some damage limitation. Realistically Adric's death should've put her off TARDIS life forever. But the makers don't care, so how can we?