Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fifth Doctor adventure Arc of Infinity...
Welcome to Season Twenty & an old monster every episode. We kick off with 'Arc of Infinity' or the joggers guide to Amsterdam.
Our returning villain is Omega played by Ian Collier rather than Stephen Thorne. Whilst Thorne was expected to do much shoutier than Collier I think Thorne's vocal performance was much stronger. This version of Omega is over-designed & a little fussy. And to be honest whilst they are clearly trying to make Omega less black & white villain I think you end up feeling less sorry for him in this story. His fate is a tragic one & it has driven him insane & messianic but in this he just feels like a bog standard psycho of the week.
And talking of disappointments what the hell happened to Gallifrey? It's turned into a slightly out of date nightclub, complete with sofas scattered about its corridors in tasteful cream. It takes ten million years of absolute power to develop such great interior design skills. It's pretty unimpressive, particular when the costumes look so different. It's as if two totally different civilisations are at work. One does the interior design, one makes the clothes and never the twain shall meet.
The filming in Amsterdam is also mildly disappointing. It suffers from the Paris problem of 'The City of Death'. No one can film inside anything so most of the sequences are exteriors & what you effectively create is a dash around the sites outside filming. So as Tom & Lalla & co spend huge chunks of time dash across the roads of Paris so Peter, Janet & Sarah do a lot of running around Amsterdam. There's no additional atmosphere to be gained from being in Amsterdam, even if the script makes a feeble attempt to justify the location through some gobbledygook about being below sea level & the use the hydrogen in water as a power source but you might as well have filmed it in Birmingham, which also has lot of canals, for all the Amsterdam-ness that the location filming brings. I mean playing 'Tulips from Amsterdam' does not a feeling of Dutch-ness create.
Then there's the Ergon: "one of Omega's less effective creations". There's an almost good costume struggling to get out of what looks a bit like a walking chicken carcass. Again it suffers from the classic Doctor Who monster problem of waddle, which just makes it so obvious that we're looking at a man in a costume.
Finally add discussion about some energy link thing called 'The Arc of Infinity' which makes very little sense & this story starts to look a little poor. However that's not totally fair. It does move a long at a fair old lick with a strong first episode laying down all the relevant plot points.
Sarah Sutton gets to be the Fifth Doctor's only companion for a short while & she & Nyssa thrive as a result. The Fifth Doctor & Nyssa work really well together & make an excellent partnership. If they'd stayed like that I think we'd talk about one of the great Doctor-Companion match-ups but Tegan returns from her short exile in this via a series of incredible coincidences too silly to outline her. Tegan (Janet Fielding) looks very different on her return with a short haircut & a new costume. Now I have to admit to having fond memories of Tegan in that costume but it is totally impractical in reality & whilst it isn't quite as unsubtle as some of Nicola Bryant's costumes were to be it does have 'one for the days' sewn into it pretty damn obviously.
There's some good support to from some of the guest stars, particularly Michael Gough's Hedin (another friend of the Doctor's whose gone bad); Paul Jerricho's cold-hearted, jobsworth Castellan & Colin Baker as Commander Maxil. Colin Baker does a good job of Maxil making him unlikeable but understandable. It's obviously taken on slightly more importance as Colin is to become the Sixth Doctor but ignoring the history I reckon Colin would make a damn fine villain (like Tom Baker) if given the chance.
In the end this isn't a great story & in my opinion wastes some good opportunities. There's a great Omega story to be told somewhere, but this isn't it. It's not bad but it ain't great. File it in the Doctor Who cabinet as underwhelming & average.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.