The Doctor finds himself called back to Gallifrey as Omega makes another attempt to re-enter the universe from his anti-matter exile. Meanwhile, Tegan’s cousin goes missing in Amsterdam.
Stories which see the Doctor return to Gallifrey are always a bit mixed bag, and sadly Arc of Infinity is one of the poorer ones and ultimately provides a disappointing start to the 20th anniversary season. There is a feeling that certain choices have been made simply on a whim of John Nathan-Turner and there are references to the show’s past, for instance, Romana and Leela get name dropped, however, it feels ultimately badly handled. I don’t think that the Gallifrey and Amsterdam plots stitch together perfectly and whilst I like the idea and the returning antagonist, I feel it could have been tightened up a bit.
I would like to talk a bit about the appearance of Gallifrey here, and why stories like this one probably lead to Russell T Davies taking the Doctor’s home planet off the table when he brought the show back. Gallifrey looks drab; almost like a mix between a coffee shop and a sofa salesroom. In the two previous visits to the planet of the Time Lords with Tom Baker, through directors, set design and locations, Gallifrey has at least looked interesting and alien. Here, it seems grey and lifeless. The Time Lords themselves are also pretty non-descript and their ridiculous collars just mean that the majority of their performances seem very stilted, which is probably not entirely down to the actors. It is easy to see, therefore, why Russell T Davies took Gallifrey off the board early on in the revival, why Steven Moffat, despite bringing it back from its fate in the Time War, did very little with it and Chris Chibnall has destroyed it all over again: it is very difficult to do something interesting with Gallifrey. Arguably, the last writer to achieve it was Robert Holmes in The Deadly Assassin.
The story also seems very disjointed between the sections set on Gallifrey and those set in Amsterdam. I don’t understand why the Earth based section of this story has to be set in Amsterdam and I think this was probably John Nathan-Turner just doing it because he felt he could get away with it. Unfortunately, it forces the writer Johnny Byrne into trying to make it relevant in some way, as opposed to the show’s first foray abroad in City of Death, where it feels much more organic for the Doctor and Romana to be in Paris. The titular arc, important to the return of Omega from the anti-matter universe, feels like an afterthought which just so happens to placed in Amsterdam. The return of Janet Fielding as Tegan feels much in the same vein, rendering her departure from the TARDIS at the end of the previous season ultimately pretty pointless. Time has obviously passed, as Tegan has managed to lose her job that she was so keen to get back to for the entirety of the last season, and the Doctor and Nyssa seem perfectly comfortable travelling with just the two of them. The Doctor’s face at the end of the story when Tegan announces that she will be travelling with them again probably summed up the feelings of a lot of the viewers of the time. The decision to bring back Omega is probably the best one as it manages to flesh him out a bit more, and I particularly like the scenes of him walking through Amsterdam like Frankenstein’s Monster. That being said, Omega only has one real motivation – to return to our universe – and this story doesn’t really add anything to this.
Amongst the central cast, Nyssa really stands out. Given some perhaps uncharacteristically aggressive moments, it might be that this is more in keeping with what Byrne, who also wrote her debut story, The Keeper of Traaken had in mind in her creation. It does have to be said that these actions might also be down to the fact that Louise Jameson was unavailable to reprise her role as Leela. Davison is okay here, more exasperated at the Time Lords than angry like some successive incarnations would be seen to be. Amongst the guests, Ian Collier does a passable Omega, but plaudits really go to Elspet Gray who really elevates some of the worst written scenes. Michael Gough is good here too, though having grown up with the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher helmed Batman films, seeing Alfred go head to head with the Doctor was conflicting for me! The less said about the ropey acting of Colin and Robin is probably best!
Verdict: Arc of Infinity is a bit of a mixed bag – a good idea that fails in execution and feels as though it could have done with another rewrite. 4/10
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Leonard Sachs (President Borusa), Elspet Gray (Chancellor Thalia), Councillor Hedin (Michael Gough), Paul Jerricho (The Castellan), Max Harvey (Cardinal Zorac), Colin Baker (Commander Maxil), Ian Collier (Omega), Neil Dalglish (Damon), John D Collins (Talor), Alastair Cumming (Colin Frazer), Andrew Boxer (Robin Stuart), Maya Woolfe (Hotel Receptionist), Malcolm Harvey (The Egron) & Guy Groen (Second Receptionist).
Writer: Johnny Byrne
Director: Ron Jones
Behind the Scenes
- This story started the 20th Anniversary Season, which saw each story bring back a component from the show’s past. Omega had previously faced off against the first three Doctors in The Three Doctors. Stephen Thorne, who played the character in that story was replaced by Ian Collier.
- Tegan becomes the first companion to rejoin the Doctor after having left the TARDIS.
- John Nathan-Turner appears in Part 4, trying to keep passers-by out of shot.
- To keep the return of Omega a secret, Ian Collier was credited as the Renegade for the first two episodes. Despite Peter Davison also playing Omega in the final part, Davison is only ever credited as playing The Doctor.
- It was originally intended for Leela to return in this story, however, Louise Jameson was unavailable to reprise the role. A hasty rewrite was done, with some of Leela’s actions being given to Nyssa.
- Of all the stories shot outside of the UK in the classic era, this is the only one to open a season.
- Colin Baker, playing Commander Maxil here, would go on to play the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor. He is the first actor to play an another character on the show prior to his casting as the Doctor.
- Michael Gough previously appeared in The Celestial Toymaker.
- Leonard Sachs previously appeared in The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve.
- Ian Collier previously appeared in The Time Monster.
- Paul Jerricho would reprise his role as the Castellan in The Five Doctors.
You know how it is; you put things off for a day and next thing you know, it’s a hundred years later.The Fifth Doctor
Previous Fifth Doctor review: Time-Flight
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