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Arc of Infinity

story 124 | season 20 | serial 6e
Robert Tymec

In comparison to the other stories involving the Doctor on Gallifrey, this one is the weakest of them all. And that's probably what causes it to leave such a bitter taste in most of fandomn's mouth. But if we view this story on its own merits, it's really not so bad.

It's got a decent little plot structure to it. Two different events at very different locations eventually entwine in a somewhat clever way. Very stereotypical Davison era-type stuff. It's got an old villain coming back with a new twist to him. It's even got a nice foreign location that doesn't actually slow down the plot too much in order to show off that the crew went to a foreign location (sorry folks, but some of those scenes in "City Of Death" of walking and/or running through Paris could've stood a bit of trimming!). It's got quite a few nice things going for it. So why, then, does "Arc of Infinity" get panned as much as it does?

For me, the biggest problem of this story is the techno-babble. There's just a bit too much of it, really. With barely enough explanation given to what all the babble actually means. For instance, we have all these vague references to molecular bonding with the Doctor. It almost sort of happens in Part One. It's what keeps the Doctor alive through Part Three. But then, suddenly, in Part Four, Omega just seems to do it all on his own. How exactly does that work? I suppose, with a bit of imagination, one could theorise that the bonding process needs the Doctor alive as a sort of "master copy" for Omega to work from. But it's never properly explained. And, though there have been some other stories where ideas where not given full explanations (ie: "Warriors Gate" or "Ghost Light"), this seems to come across more as lazy writing than creative effort. Now add to this seven or eight other "techno-babblic" ideas being thrown out all over the place and we really find ourselves wondering if perhaps Johnny Byrne just didn't feel like getting bogged down with too much of a real plot. And that, everytime he got stuck, he just came up with a pseudo-science of some sort in order to work around the problem. The "pulse loop" in episode four being a great example of this. We get the vaguest idea of how it works. But it really should have just been called "A piece of techno-babble I made up in order to get the Doctor off Gallifrey without Omega knowing". It would have been just as effective of a name.

This problem persists throughout the story. No proper explanations get offered anywhere, really. How exactly did Omega gain control of the Matrix? Or the Arc of Infinity, for that matter? How was Hedin able to use Borussa's code to get the Doctor's bio-data extract? Again, we can fill in the gaps using our imaginations but when I find myself doing that as much as I do in this story, I can't help but think that maybe the writing is a bit weak instead. And this remains my biggest problem with this tale.

Some weaker, more "niggly" negative points would be Gallifrey's new sense of interior design. Personally, I loved the way things looked in "Deadly Assassin" and "Invasion of Time" and though I can appreciate a need to "re-vamp" things slightly, they went a bit too far and made the interiors look far too radically different from what they used to look like. It's a minor point, I know. But it always "puts me off a bit" when I watch this story.

My other minor complaint would be Borussa. In this incarnation, he doesn't seem at all like any of his predecessors or his successor. Is this the fault of the writing or the directing or the acting? I can't be sure. But, to me, this just doesn't seem like the Borussa we've seen before or after. Might have been better to just have an entirely different Lord President and have Borussa still on council. I know this could work to the detriment of "The Five Doctors" but it would have made it a bit easier, I think, for the fans to digest in this story. This just doesn't seem like the Borussa we know. Although, at least, his harsh decision to kill the Doctor heralds his growing sense of corruption. So, it's a bit of foreshadowing, I suppose. Mind you, I doubt this was done intentionally.

Now, before I go too far into the criticism, there are some things about this story I like. Part Four is an especially strong episode. Yes, the chase scenes are somewhat gratuitous and show off the Amsterdam scenery quite a bit. But, at least, it remains an interesting chase. Different things happen along the way to keep us involved. Had it just been shot after shot of Omega running down a street and then the Doctor and his companions running down the same street a moment later, I would feel entirely different on the matter. But with all the different incidents happening along the way, the sequence seems justified. And even quite enjoyable. And, of course, Omega's stop at the organ grinder is very touching. Much praise has been given already to Davison for his portrayal of this moment, I'll heap on some more. It really seems as though this is not the same man we see chasing along after himself a moment later. And, though Doctor Five is not quite my favourite, I do consider Peter Davison to be probably the most talented actor to have taken on the role. And this moment is one of the more shining examples of his talent. Though there are many more...

The character of Omega, himself, is another really great strength to this story. Changing his appearance was not just good for plot expediency, it was very symbolic of who he had become. The ranting maniac of "The Three Doctors" was still buried deep within the character. But the tragic element of his tragic hero personality was played up one hundred percent. We almost can't really call him a villain. He's just a man who has become consumed with trying to get back home. And the obcession has made him so unreasonable that he's willing to abandon any morals he may have once had. The "poor unfortunate wretch" dialogue that's spoken after he passes on is truly befitting of our sentiment for him. We're glad to see the world saved but sad to see how the man threatening it was sacrificed. An excellent sense of pathos. I loved it.

Overall, this story rises just a bit above mediocre - but not much. Which is another thing that works so much against it when you view it in context of the rest of this series. Not only is the weakest of all the "Gallifrey-bound" stories, but it was also the opener for the 20th anniversary season. And it causes the season to start off with a fizzle rather than a bang. Still, as I said before, view it on its own merits and it's not so bad. Even quite good, in places!

Jason Wilson

Not one of the more popular Davison tales, this one. Having re-watched it recently, though, I'm not quite sure why it gets panned as much as it does. Certainly it brings back Omega without adding much to his character or pathos, and it's part of the much derided old-monster-fest-instead-of-fresh-ideas phase of the series but it is, nontheless, quite a solid story.

Admittedly, the bringing back back to gallifrey in criminal mode only to become a hero bit feels at first like an inferior retread of the Deadly Assassin especially when the game of who's-the-traitor starts (for Hedin read Goth), but there is a different spin on it here- and the detective work by Tegan in Amsterdam keeps things fresh and gives her character a chance to shine. Davison and Nyssa make a good opening team and Nyssa's battles (with tongue and gun!) give her some strong stuff also. The unravelling of the aborted termination of the Doctor makes for an intrgiuing third episode and the Doctor-Omega finale is solid. Yes, the chase basically shows off the location, but so does some stuff in City of Death and that doesn't get hauled over the coals for it.

It the story lacks anything it's really directorial flair- Something often happening in this 20th season alas. Ron Jones does a competent job, but he had yet to really find his feet- his work on Frontios and Vengeance on Varos would outstrip this by miles. Davison's acting often lends a flair and pace that the direction simply lacks, as if compensating- though having said that the darkly-lit Omega scenes in parts one and two look very impressive.

Was bringing Omega back worth it? maybe, maybe not- Rassilon might have been a better story subject as we know a lot less about him bar what the New Adventures and Big Finish audios have filled in, and good as they often are, I don't know whether non-TV stuff can really be canonical as the TV series reserves a perfect right to disregard it as it did with The Ancestor Cells' Gallifrey demise. (OK, so I know as far as they knew att he time there never would another TV series, but now there is!We could say canonical till proven otherwise?) Nonethless they could have picked a worst subject. As part of season 20 this pales beside Snakedance, or Enlightnment, or Mawdryn Undead, but compared with Terminus, Kings Demons, the preceding Time Flight etc...it's really not so bad. Yes, a steal from ASSASSIN in places, but a lot of WHO plots are recycled- and this does enough of its own stuff to stay fresh. An entertaining and underrated story.

Paul Clarke

After the pleasing interlude of Big Finish's Fifth Doctor and Nyssa audios, returning to the television series is rather disappointing given that the opening story of Season Nineteen maintains the quality of Season Nineteen's finale. By which I mean of course that like 'Time-Flight', 'Arc of Infinity' is crap.

The plot of 'Arc of Infinity' concerns the return of Omega, the villain of 'The Three Doctors', and his attempt to bond with the Doctor in order to regain corporeal existence in the universe of matter. He tries this and fails, the Doctor gets dragged to Gallifrey for three episodes, then Omega tries again, partially succeeds, and gets shot by the Doctor. This sounds like an overly simplistic plot without any interesting subplots or subtext, and that is because it is precisely what it is. To make matters worse, writer Johnny Byrne, previously responsible for the horribly overrated 'The Keeper of Traken', litters his story with some horrible plot contrivances. The Time Lords' decision to keep the Doctor imprisoned in his own TARDIS is bizarre whether they disable it or not; it's akin to the police keeping people whom they've arrested locked in their cars with the sparkplugs removed. The script is littered with nasty expository dialogue, including "impulse laser?", and "that wasn't here before". In addition, the decision to have left Tegan on Earth in 'Time-Flight' results in a coincidence that seems ludicrous even by Doctor Who's standards, as Omega just happens to kidnap her cousin who is backpacking around Europe. One of the few plus points of the story is that Tegan is at least fairly well used in her scenes with Robin and Omega, proving as usual to be brave and resourceful.

The acting doesn't help. The regulars are all fine, but half of the guest cast seems to be asleep. Which considering the characterisation that they are given to work with is unsurprising. Elspet Gray's Thalia and Max Harvey's Zorac are nonentities; Paul Jerricho's Castellan is one-dimensional and grumpy, and Jerricho seems annoyed to have been cast in the role. Leonard Sachs is wasted as Borusa, a character so different to the one previously played by Angus Mackay and John Arnatt that he might as well be a different character (and yes I know Time Lords' personalities alter somewhat when they regenerate, but Borusa so totally lacks any of the shrewd intelligence that he previously displayed that it isn't an adequate excuse). Equally wasted is Michael Gough as the treasonous Hedin, a man supposedly an old and dear friend of the Doctor's who sells him out to a nutter who previously tried to destroy the entire universe. There's a flimsy excuse about Hedin's obsession with history, but it isn't very convincing; lots of people are interested in history, but they wouldn't necessarily want famous historical madmen to come back to life and take over the running of the world. Mention of Hedin raises the question of why his voice changes when he's talking to Omega, since no explanation is offered beyond the obvious need to keep the identity of the traitor a secret. Possibly it has something to do with his frantically gesticulated wand. And on the subject of hitherto unseen old friends of the Doctor, we also meet Neil Daglish's Damon, a man so charismatic and interesting that it is a crying shame that he hasn't been seen before or since. I am of course being sarcastic. Daglish's performance is so wooden that he might be considered the worst actor in the story were it not for the presence of Andrew Boxer as Robin, a man from the Matthew Waterhouse school of acting if ever there was one.

Mercifully, Omega is rather better than in 'The Three Doctors'. Partly this is because Ian Collier doesn't stamp around the set bellowing and pointing at the sky, and partly because he's more stable and therefore less of a pantomime villain than in he was in his debut story, but whilst still managing to retain the air of madness that the script keeps reminding us about during the last two episodes. Omega's motivation is believable, and Collier's largely vocal performance combines both menace and charisma. Once Peter Davison takes over the role, he gets to show off his acting skills and manages to make Omega different from the Doctor through body language and facial expressions alone; the oft-mentioned scene in which he smiles at a child as he watches a street organ in wonder is indeed highly effective, and does a great deal for Omega's character considering that he's just killed a gardener and shortly afterwards decides that if he cannot survive then neither will anybody else. Mind you, if I'd just regained corporeal existence of millennia of being trapped in the universe of anti-matter and I found myself in Amsterdam I wouldn't be standing around looking at street organs, I'd be nipping into a coffee shop to role a joint. By the end of the story however, everything goes to, erm, pot as Omega starts to decay. A protracted chase scene through Amsterdam shows off the nice overseas location work, but since 'Arc of Infinity' lacks the charm and wit of 'City of Death' it just feels like a gratuitous waste of license payers' money. In addition, the sudden switch from Davison to stuntman is painfully obvious despite the extensive makeup used to show Omega's degeneration, and the unconvincing blonde wig certainly doesn't help. The denouement is rubbish; Omega rants for a bit, then the Doctor shoots him.

The production is also rather poor. The attractive location work is undermined by some dreadful studio sets. The crypt looks OK, but Gallifrey does not. Back in 'The Deadly Assassin', Gallifrey had an air of faded grandeur, which 'The Invasion of Time' at least made an effort to recapture. Here, Gallifrey is represented by drab sets littered with office furniture and lurid plastic. On the other hand, perhaps designer Marjorie Pratt deliberately made tasteless sets for Time Lords to walk about in as a deliberate homage to 'The Three Doctors'. At least the recycled costumes look decent enough, and I like Omega's new outfit, although the Ergon looks ridiculous. Mind you, it's better than the Gel Guards. Ron Jones' direction is also rather drab, although he does at least get a great incidental score from Roger Limb to work with.

Finally, I can't mention 'Arc of Infinity' without mentioning Colin Baker, for obvious reasons. It's weird in retrospect to see him in a role other than the Sixth Doctor, but he's nevertheless playing a different character in the shape of Maxil. He plays the part with brutal efficiency, although Maxil isn't as sadistic as he first appears, merely very devoted to his duties. Beyond acting as henchman to the Castellan however, he doesn't get a great deal to do except stomp about bullying people; Baker is reasonable enough in the role, but there's little else I can say about him. Still, at least his later involvement with the series makes seeing him in 'Arc of Infinity' interesting, and it needs all the help it can get to be interesting. It is by no means as diabolical as 'The Three Doctors', but it is still very poor; hopefully Big Finish's forthcoming 'Omega' will be the first story featuring the character that is actually worthwhile.

Erik Engman

I remember that I was very excited when I first read about this episode back when I was barely a teenager. In those carefree-days of youth where I was teased mercilessly as I was not a jock and had large thick glasses…on second thought they weren’t so carefree at that. Anyway I didn’t know any better and basically was, at that point, obsessing about all things Who from the posters on the wall to making up Doctor Who lyrics to popular songs ("Don’t talk to Cybermen" and "Dalek in the Centerfold" to name a couple). For years we were watching the Tom Baker years with the only glimpse of Peter Davison being that double-chinned face after falling to his regeneration in "Logopolis". Suffice it to say I was very ecstatic. Now, here it is 20 years later. Does the episode hold up? Can I get over my utter hatred at Script Editor Eric Saward whom I consider the man who destroyed Doctor Who? Read on, my children, read on.

THE PRODUCTION: Producer John Nathan-Turner had planned for the 20th season of Doctor Who to bring back old enemies of the Doctor, which included The Black Guardian, The Mara, The Daleks (which got bumped back a year) and The Master. Script editor Eric Saward was very fond of "The Keeper of Traken" and asked writer Johnny Byrne to submit story ideas. Unbeknownst to Saward, "Traken" was almost completely rewritten by former script editor Christopher Bidmead. It was decided to have Byrne write the first episode of the season with the following stipulations: He had to reunite Tegan with the Doctor and Nyssa (designed as a cliffhanger, and isn’t it nice to see at least one of the characters dressed differently?), he had to incorporate Amsterdam, as JN-T decided to bring the show out of the country for the second time in it’s history (the first being Paris in the hugely successful "City of Death"), and he had to incorporate Gallifrey, which Saward wanted represented because of the show’s anniversary.

Johnny Byrne came up with a script entitled "The Time of Neman" about the Doctor suffering from nightmares about his regeneration (weren’t we all?). These were happening because an entity from another universe known only as "the Avatar" was trying to permanently become a part of this universe. He takes on the Doctor's form and goes to Amsterdam where he takes over people’s minds. JN-T and Saward had immediate concerns about "Neman", especially that the Amsterdam location was essentially incidental to the plot and that the Doctor’s nightmares were similar to Tegan’s nightmares in "Snakedance". JN-T also wanted another old enemy in place of the character of Avatar. Unofficial Fan Advisor Ian Levine suggested bringing back Omega, who was in the 10th Anniversary story "The Three Doctors". His name came from the letters OHM (WHO backwards and upside down – the anti-doctor, as it were). Byrne re-wrote the episode; titled "The Time of Omega", then finally titled "Arc of Infinity" to make the return of Omega a big surprise (even going so far as to name him "The Renegade" at the end of Episode One so as not reveal the baddie. Which surprises me as any fan of the show was bombarded by pics of Omega in Doctor Who Monthly. So much for secrets.)

And so we have "Arc of Infinity" a patched-together episode, which exemplifies what’s good and bad about Doctor Who during the Nathan-Turner/Saward years.

I won’t go too much into the plot. I’m sure all of you have seen it, and if you haven’t then do so and come back. That’s ok. We’ll wait. Have you seen it yet? Good. Let’s continue.

THE BAD: The episode suffers horribly with the aim to please everybody and in doing so loses any sense of competency. I look at the episodes of that time as the powers that be trying to give people what they think they want as opposed to telling a good story with the characters they have. I have a sneaking suspicion that at this time Doctor Who was looked at a moneymaking machine. How else do you explain Colin Baker’s coat in the next season? Merchandising. And the episodes lost out.

Let’s take a look at this episode to illustrate the point. Gallifrey is shown as a Draconian military state with Commander Maxil shooting at everything before asking and the High Council is ready to fry the Doctor as if they were located in Texas. These are one of the supreme powers in the galaxy? You don’t see any other inhabitants; probably they’re afraid to come out of their rooms. Someone dies and immediately everyone who could possibly be innocent is placed under house arrest. Reactionary. Trigger happy. Gullible. This is the new Gallifrey. President Borusa’s doing a bang-up job. Where’s K-9 and Leela when you need them? It’s all well and good to bring back Gallifrey, just use it properly. A good story set solely in the TARDIS is worth 100 crappy stories set on Gallifrey. The story takes place in Amsterdam. Or does it?

So much for going overseas as most of the action takes place on BBC sets. I’ve been to Amsterdam and didn’t see anything that reminded me of it except for 1 canal early on. In the "City of Death" you saw all the sites of Paris. Where were they here? The Van Gogh Museum? Anne Frank’s House? The medieval torture museum? The red light district?! Okay, maybe not there. But you get the point. Why go there when you don’t use the location. And don’t get me started on "The Two Doctors".

And this Anti-Matter place that Omega’s in. People can walk in and out of it, so can the bird-thing that works for Omega, but Omega can’t because he’s in an anti-matter universe.

And I just cringe when Tegan whines out "AM-STER-DAM".

THE GOOD: Peter Davison rocks. And not as the Doctor, but as Omega. When he portrays Omega in the Doctor’s body, you just marvel at his character as he experiences life for the very first time, and you feel empathy for him when he tragically realizes. The loneliness, the pathos, the anger when he realizes he can never exist in our universe: it’s all there and beautifully realized. It’s too bad this theme wasn’t brought through the entire episode.

God how I wish this season wasn’t as hacked together as it was!

And let’s not forget Nyssa! She picks up a gun ready to shoot the council. Meow! She rocks in this show. She has the convictions and strength. Okay, I like her! I like her!

OTHER NOTES: There are two very interesting casting choices in this show: Michael Gough and Colin Baker. Michael Gough, who plays the traitorous Councilor Hedin, is probably best known for his portrayal as Alfred the butler, in the Batman movies, and he also played the Celestial Toymaker in the First Doctor era episode – "The Celestial Toymaker". How apropos. Also part of the cast is the incredibly familiar Colin Baker who played the incredibly two-dimensional captain of the guard, Maxil. Baker was chosen because of his wonderful role on the Blake’s 7 episode "City at the Edge of the World" as Baybon the Butcher, or is it Baybon the Berserker (it’s one of my fave episodes). Other under consideration for the part of Maxil: Tim Woodward and Pierce Brosnan. Though Colin was happy to play Maxil, he was sad because to him it meant he would never be able to play the Doctor. Good thing he was wrong.

Also of note: though Filming in Amsterdam went well, adoring Dutch fans became a problem when the recognized Peter Davison from his role as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. In fact, in a scene at a telephone booth, and though I wasn’t looking for it, rumor has it JN-T is visible in the background trying to chase away onlookers.