Arc of Infinity ★

An excruciatingly dull season opener, set in Amsterdam and on Gallifrey, features Doctor Who's most absurd monster...

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Season 20 – Story 123

“I am not of your dimension, Time Lord. I have the means to enter, but without the physical imprint of bonding, I cannot remain among you” – Omega

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Storyline
Helped by a traitor on Gallifrey, old foe Omega attempts to cross over from the anti-matter universe by diverting the Arc of Infinity – the “gateway to the dimensions”. He hopes to regain physical form by bonding with the Doctor’s bio-data. To avert cataclysm, the Time Lords are forced to order the Doctor’s termination. Meanwhile, in 1980s Amsterdam, two tourists (one of them Tegan’s cousin, Colin) are in danger when they spend the night in a crypt. The curve of the Arc passes through the city, and this is where the Doctor must banish Omega once and for all…

First transmissions
Part 1 – Monday 3 January 1983
Part 2 – Wednesday 5 January 1983
Part 3 – Tuesday 11 January 1983
Part 4 – Wednesday 12 January 1983

Production
Location recording: May 1982 in Amsterdam
Studio recording: May-June 1982 in TC1

Cast
The Doctor – Peter Davison
Nyssa – Sarah Sutton
Tegan – Janet Fielding
Lord President Borusa – Leonard Sachs
Councillor Hedin – Michael Gough
The Renegade/Omega – Ian Collier
Commander Maxil – Colin Baker
The Castellan – Paul Jerricho
Damon – Neil Daglish
Chancellor Thalia – Elspet Gray
Cardinal Zorac – Max Harvey
Robin Stuart – Andrew Boxer
Colin Frazer – Alastair Cumming
Talor – John D Collins
Hostel receptionist – Maya Woolfe
Second receptionist – Guy Groen
The Ergon – Malcolm Harvey

Crew
Writer – Johnny Byrne
Incidental music – Roger Limb
Designer – Marjorie Pratt
Script editor – Eric Saward
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Director – Ron Jones

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Only two years after this bilge was broadcast, Peter Davison himself was admitting to dissatisfaction with his second season. In June 1985 he told my friend Richard Marson in Doctor Who Magazine: “It got just a little bit dull and the stories were over-complex.”

Really? The Doctor returning to Gallifrey… To be executed by the Time Lords… Omega back for the first time since The Three Doctors… A location shoot in Amsterdam with recently departed companion Tegan jetting in… Two young men nestling down for a night in a crypt… Surely all this cannot be dull?

But yes, Davison was spot on. It is dull. Eyes-rolling-back-in-your-skull, tongue-lolling-out-of-your-mouth dull. And over-complicated. The baffling finer details of Omega’s “master plan” may not matter to most viewers, but they will be left wondering, after Omega’s feeble reveal, who the hell is he?

You could also expect a more plausible re-introduction for Tegan. That the Doctor and Nyssa’s very next televised adventure, after accidentally abandoning Tegan, involves Omega, whose Tardis is in a crypt in 1980s Amsterdam, where Tegan’s cousin happens to be dossing, only a short while after Tegan was left behind by the Doctor, and just as she comes to hook up with her cousin, and stumbles upon Omega herself, just as he’s trying to bond with the Doctor, just after he abandoned Tegan… It’s an embarrassment of co-incidences.

This tripe would never have got on air under the Letts/Dicks or Hinchcliffe/Holmes production teams. Here, 1980s producer John Nathan-Turner has handed out a shopping list of comebacks and locations, and Eric Saward fails to tighten up Johnny Byrne’s struggling scripts.

Credit to JN-T for seeking an Earth setting beyond the Home Counties, but as producer he has no idea what makes good drama or satisfying science fiction. He’s also waved through the overridingly glitzy design and yet more distractingly wishy-washy music from Roger “pa-pa pa-paah” Limb. Most damagingly, he’s rehired his buddy, Ron Jones, after the disaster that was Time-Flight.

Jones’s flaccid direction strips every scene of dramatic impact. Episode one’s choppy succession of flat scenes in the Tardis makes the fifth Doctor and Nyssa look like the blandest pairing on record. Once on Gallifrey, there’s zero tension in the build-up to the Doctor’s termination. Later, the chase through Amsterdam has no sense of urgency, and is more a lesson in point-and-shoot camerawork.

The representation of Omega in The Three Doctors may not have been entirely successful, but no more impressive ten years later are his ridiculously ornate mask and exaggerated gestures when in conference with traitor Hedin. Worse, is Omega’s minion, the Ergon – a kind of etiolated turkey, eligible for the most absurd monster ever to waddle across a Doctor Who set.

How Omega has a Tardis and can only use the Doctor’s bio-scan are blithely skimmed over points. Also for reasons unknown, the Time Lords opt to hold the Doctor prisoner not only in his own Tardis, but in Nyssa’s bedroom! Hilariously, one Time Lord dies while identifying the weapon aimed at him: “Impulse laser!?” And… fall over.

On the plus side, JN-T and Jones have hired quality actors to puff up the ranks of the High Council. Elspet Gray, balancing a ceremonial neck-brace and gigantic wig, is imperious as Thalia. Doddery old dears Leonard Sachs and Michael Gough (who both last appeared in Who in 1966) inject some feeling into their parts, but Sachs often looks bewildered as the Lord President.

Colin Baker (long before he’d be considered as the sixth Doctor) stands out as Maxil. We expect more from his brusque, strutting guard commander, some form of comeuppance, but he stomps off in part three and is never seen again. Similarly, there should be a pay-off with crypt-dwelling duo Colin and Stuart, who are important at the start, yet they fade from the action in part four with only one nondescript line between them.

I’m sorry to sound so uncharitable but for me the only scene that has a ring of authenticity comes right at the end…

As our three heroes convene near a phone box in Amsterdam, a delighted Tegan reveals, “What job? Didn’t I tell you? I got the sack.” Stoical Nyssa, at last showing some joy, hugs her friend. Then Tegan turns to the Doctor with a cocky, “So you’re stuck with me, aren’t you?” The Time Lord responds, “So it seems,” and Davison’s reaction – a sort of smile/gulp/glare – is priceless.

It’s a look I often saw crossing JN-T’s face.

Radio Times archive

No big splash in RT for the start of season 20, just a spoiler-ish picture of “The Renegade” and regular billings.

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[Available on BBC DVD]