Doctor Who complete reviews: Arc Of Infinity
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
JNT's foisting his bizarre Doctor Who ideas on the writers again...
How appropriate that Arc Of Infinity is set in Amsterdam, since the whole thing's Double Dutch.
Arc Of Infinity was the first story of season 20, a clutch of stories that was designed to feature various friends and foes from The Doctor's past. A nice idea in theory - in practice it got a little botched. For one thing, the Dalek story planned to wrap up the season was postponed until the next one. The Mara had only been in the previous season, while the Guardians hardly featured in the much-anticipated Guardian trilogy. A bit of a con overall, especially since only two stories - Mawdryn Undead and Arc Of Infinity - heavily drew on the show's history.
What's more of a shame is that Arc Of Infinity isn't much cop. It's a casualty of one of the eccentric shopping lists that John Nathan Turner insisted on giving to his writers. This time around, Johnny Byrne is asked to bring back a whole load of elements from The Doctor's past - The Time Lords! Gallifrey! Omega!
Oh, and Teabag, which is enough to sour the party mood by itself.
In addition, Byrne is asked to include the location of Amsterdam for no good reason, and on top of all this, he's asked to tie all these random elements into a coherent whole. That he just about manages to do so is a miracle, but the end product is deeply flawed as a result.
It's a pity that some of the individual elements don't really work either. The Time Lords and Gallifrey have lost all their sense of awe and grandeur, for one thing. Gallifrey now resembles a floodlit, corporate yuppie hotel, full of bland wine bistros, tacky wall designs and OTT bling. I must be careful, otherwise I'm going to start wondering what has happened to the magic of Doctor Who in angry capital letters.
It also doesn't help that the Time Lords are now even more duplicitous and ineffectual than ever before. I wonder why The Doctor lately remininsced about Gallifrey and the Time Lords with dewey-eyed sentimentality, given that more often than not, they treated him like shit. He was placed on trial, forced to do their dirty work and worse still, sentenced to death. Arc Of Infinity is no exception, as The Doctor is chosen by a renegade Time Lord to be the conduit for Omega's big comeback. The Time Lords can choose to expel one of the two elements in order to avert galactic catastrophe, so guess which one they choose...
"Again, The Doctor spends the first two parts blundering about with a perpetually crumpled "Please Feel Sorry For Me" expression on his face"
A big downer about this is that again the Fifth Doctor is shown as such a girly wimp. He blandly goes along with the Time Lords' insistence that he be terminated. In the long run, it's all a big cunning plan to meet the mysterious Renegade who's behind all this - the problem though, is that again, The Doctor spends the first two parts blundering about with a perpetually crumpled "Please Feel Sorry For Me" expression on his face.
The nadir of this comes at the end of the first part when he rushes headlong into the path of trigger-happy bully boy Maxil. This isn't the first instance of a character reacting in a stupid way to the threat of being shot. With that in mind, here's a quick multiple choice question for you. It's very simple, and is as follows:
If you were faced with a gun-toting maniac, what would your reaction be? Would you:
A. Stand around and muse on what make the gun is like an imbecile?
B. Hold out your hand and introduce yourself like an imbecile?
C. Scream, try to avoid wetting your pants and then run a mile?
"Hedin may as well have written I AM THE BADDIE on a scrap of Gallifreyan parchment and held it up to the camera in part one."
The answer, is of course, C, although no one told Talor or The Doctor this. Talor is too busy wondering whether his killer's gun is an impulse laser before he's gunned down. And worse still, The Doctor just says: "Hello, I'm The Doctor" like an idiot before naturally getting zapped. Even more stupid than booking an entourage of clowns for a funeral wake.
Even with this crass nonsense, the Time Lords are too busy bickering among themselves. The Castellan is trying to overthrow Borusa from power with the aid of Maxil and his camp chicken. Note that the Castellan is never given a name on screen, which means that his real name is something excruciating like Horace or Ernest, hence the Castellan's massive inferiority complex. Elsewhere, Zorac and Thalia just blithely go along with whoever seems to carry more clout in the Time Lord ranks, and doing so in very loud, posh voices. Thalia also has a designer Christmas turkey on her head. The traitor, is of course, Hedin, a plot twist that's blatantly obvious for a number of reasons. Chiefly, he's the only nice guy in the ranks, which is a dead giveaway, a genteel grandfather-type figure. He tries to set The Doctor free from captivity, and when this fails, he is the only one to vote against his termination. Hedin may as well have written I AM THE BADDIE on a scrap of Gallifreyan parchment and held it up to the camera in part one.
He also has this odd habit of inhaling helium from a party balloon and then talking to Omega in a Chipmunk-style voice in his dark den of deceit. Quite why is anyone's guess, and even with this pitiful attempt at disguise, you can tell it's Michael Gough from a mile away, such is his distinctive voice.
Luckily, the Time Lord performances are, by and large, very good. Gough, in particular, is excellent as Hedin, while other Who veteran and Good Old Days compère Leonard Sachs is equally as impressive as Borusa, despite one or two fluffed cues. Paul Jerricho is convincingly weaselly as The Castellan, and look, there's Colin Baker, nicely warming up for his turn in the TARDIS as the blustering Maxil.
So to Omega - actually quite an inspired choice of baddie in a way, given that he'd recently been in the Three Doctors repeat in November 1981. The downside though is that casual viewers and kids can't make the visual link. He no longer stomps around shouting with a great big tin can on his head, he now looks like an overgrown walnut in a cape. It's also never explained as to how he survived a great big supernova at the end of The Three Doctors. Hedin just blandly says "He exists" in part three, which is textbook enigmatic for saying that Byrne couldn't think of a convincing enough solution.
"Ian Collier's deep, menacing voice is perfect for Omega, and far more convincing than Stephen Thorne's manic hollering"
Omega, in a way, is actually better in Arc than in Three Doctors. Ian Collier's performance, for example. A revelation, considering that he was previously camp old boot Stuart Hyde in The Time Monster. Collier's deep, menacing voice is perfect for Omega, and far more convincing than Stephen Thorne's manic hollering. Omega has always been quite a tragic character, and this is looked at more closely in Arc, especially in the final part when he finally gets his wish to live in the real world rather than in anti-matter limbo, if only for a few minutes.
The scenes in which Omega - now with The Doctor's face - staggers about Amsterdam - are the most effective of the story. This is all down to the considerable acting talents of Peter Davison, who perfectly conveys Omega's bewilderment, delight and then horror at his new-found but short-lived existence through subtle facial expressions alone. Just look at how Omega learns to smile after some spoilt Dutch brat barges past him to look at a street display. Davison manages to repeat the kid's smile without making the character look silly, and you really get the impression that Omega is slowly but surely adapting to normal life. All the more tragic that he's then reduced to running about with green Rice Krispies on his face, as his body refuses to adapt and quickly breaks down. In the end, he vanishes into explosive nothingness, and unless Moffat decides to bring him back, that really is the end of Omega, whose rather sad subplot is one of the saving graces of the story.
"Pity that we didn't get to see more of The Doctor/Nyssa dynamic, which could have shown great potential"
Another saving grace is that finally, Nyssa gets more to do. Since she's not having to share the limelight with two other companions, she gets a bigger chunk of the action and far better lines than of late. And because Johnny Byrne knows the character inside out, this means that Nyssa is the strong-willed (she's ready to use a gun to save The Doctor) but fiercely intelligent Trakenite that we last saw way back in her début story. As a result, Sarah Sutton is finally given something substantial to do with Nyssa, resulting in a very good performance. Just a pity that we didn't get to see more of The Doctor/Nyssa dynamic, which could have shown great potential.
Quite why the story's set in Amsterdam though is never explained. The filming looks very nice indeed, but there's no good reason to set Arc in Holland, apart from to show off. Given that there's a lot of running around and not much else, the story could have been set in Stoke On Trent, and it wouldn't have made a scrap of difference. Robin and his buddy Colin could easily have gone back-packing there, even if Robin's idea of accommodation is outside the normal conventions of comfort.
A gloomy crypt. Wow, that certainly didn't feature in the brochure. Robin clearly doesn't have a bright future as a travel agent. Imagine if you will Robin's Nests, a tour operator that allows you the ultimate in crappy holiday experiences. Delight in the attractions of a smelly French latrine and the atmospheric aroma of thousands of deposited turds! Wake up to the stinky breath of a tramp on this charming old park bench in the heart of London on a rainy November day! Enjoy the horror of the Dutch crypt and see your buddy vanish in a blaze of negative flashing lights after being shot at by an overgrown chicken!
I don't think he'd feature on Wish You Were Here.
"The Ergon surely snatches the wooden spoon award for silliest monster"
Anyway mention of the crypt hi-jinks does bring me to some of the most risible aspects of the story. The aforementioned walking chicken, a Muppet thing called the Ergon, is the most lamentable element of Arc, dementedly staggering about like a drunkard in a power cut to the sounds of farting music from Roger Limb's tinny keyboard. What's worse is that we're being asked as viewers to take this seriously. Rubbish monsters were at least balanced by a knowing sense of humour in the late 70s, but because the early 80s adventures are more po-faced, the crappy creatures become even more laughable. And you can't get worse than the Ergon, which surely snatches the wooden spoon award for silliest monster.
Even Robin with his rather alarming Simpsons-style bulgy eyes is scarier than the Ergon, although Andrew Boxer's rather iffy performance doesn't help. He's saddled with a moaning Teabag, who's been sacked from her job (can't imagine why) and has now returned with a boob tube and shorts for the blokes and a Paul Weller haircut for all Jam fans, who were shuddering in horror at the thought of The Style Council. Teabag's reappearance is crowbarred into the story in the crassest way possible, and it's just so unlikely that The Doctor and Nyssa would chance upon the moaning old grump again just like that. You do feel for The Doctor though at being stuck with Teabag again - just look at his miserable expression in the final shot.
Which is probably the expression that you'd have after sitting through Arc Of Infinity. Some nice ideas at work here, and the return of Omega is handled well. But it's so blandly written and poorly put together. Ron Jones' direction may boast some good filming in Amsterdam and some strong performances, but there's a complete lack of menace or atmosphere in Arc, thanks to Jones' rather uninspired handling of the story. The script itself is riddled with cardboard dialogue, cardboard situations and cardboard characters, resulting in a story that's totally unconvincing and dull. Despite the many eclectic elements, they never mesh together to form a satisfying whole, and when you need to launch a much-touted anniversary season, that's a big problem.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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