Saturday, 4 April 2015

Story 123 - Arc of Infinity

In which the Doctor and Nyssa are enjoying a bit of peace and quiet for a change. The Doctor has fixed the sound on the scanner whilst the TARDIS is idling in a region of space known as the Arc of Infinity. Suddenly, they come under attack as a powerful force breaches the ship. A ghostly figure appears and attempts to meld itself with the Doctor. This fails. The Doctor realises that for this unknown entity to try to meld with him, it must have access to his precise bio-data - to which only the Time Lords on Gallifrey have access. He sets the controls to take them to his home planet.
On Gallifrey, a member of the High Council is in contact with the mysterious entity, and is helping it to take over the Doctor's body. The attempt will be traced, so the Time Lord destroys the evidence and kills one of the technicians. Gallifrey is put on alert by the Castellan - head of security and a member of the High Council himself. The entity has been traced to the universe of anti-matter. Should it succeed, but the passage through to this universe then fail, matter and anti-matter would collide catastrophically. The approaching TARDIS is detected, and is diverted to a security area. However, the Doctor recalls the Presidential codes which unlock the doors, and he and Nyssa are able to avoid arrest. The Doctor is annoyed, as he had returned home willingly to try to resolve this issue. Maxil, Commander of the Chancellery Guards, shoots and stuns the Doctor and he is captured.

Meanwhile, on Earth, a pair of backpackers in Amsterdam have got themselves into a spot of bother. Colin Frazer has had his passport stolen, and he and his friend Robin Stuart are not able to book into their Youth Hostel as planned. Robin knows of the crypt of an abandoned building where they can spend the night. Their sleep is disturbed when a TARDIS materialises, disguising itself as a funerary monument. A bird-like bipedal creature emerges and shoots Colin, causing him to vanish. Robin runs off. The next morning he goes to the airport to meet Colin's cousin, who is due to join up with them for a few days. She is Tegan Jovanka. Robin informs her of the previous night's events, and so Tegan insists that they go to the crypt. Both are shot and stunned by the creature and wake to find themselves inside a TARDIS, where a mind-controlled Colin is being forced to work. on Gallifrey, the Doctor finds that he is to be executed - his body vapourised as a drastic measure to prevent the entity crossing over into this universe. This is sanctioned by the High Council - including Borusa, who is now Lord President. Only old friend Chancellor Hedin tries to save the Doctor. A last minute escape attempt organised by Nyssaand anotther old friend - technician Damon - fails. The execution takes place, and the Doctor's body is seen to vanish. However, the entity has intervened at the last moment and the Doctor finds himself in the Matrix facing his foe - the Time Lord he thought he had destroyed, Omega.

Omega reveals that he has Tegan as his hostage, but she is able to tell him she is in Amsterdam. The Doctor is returned to Gallifrey, on the understanding that he will not interfere - otherwise Tegan will die. The member of the High Council who has been aiding Omega proves to be Hedin. He attempts to frame Borusa, but dies in a gunfight. Borusa and Damon assist the Doctor in leaving Gallifrey without Omega noticing, and the TARDIS travels to Amsterdam. The Doctor and Nyssa manage to find the crypt just as Omega crosses over to this universe. As he has used the Doctor's bio-data as a template, he now looks just like him. The Doctor manages to wreck his TARDIS and destroy the bird-like servant, which he identifies as an Ergon. Omega flees into the city, and the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan give chase. The Doctor knows that the transference is unstable, and Omega will shortly revert to anti-matter. The Doctor gives him the opportunity to return to his own domain willingly. When he refuses, the Doctor is forced to shoot him with a molecular dispersal weapon and his body vanishes. Tegan reveals that she had lost her job with the airline. Now that they are reunited, she will rejoin the TARDIS crew.

This four part adventure was written by Johnny Byrne, and was broadcast between 3rd and 12th January, 1983. It marks the opening of the Anniversary Season 20, and sees the return of Omega, who had played a part in the Tenth Anniversary run. It is the second story to have overseas filming - this time in the Dutch city of Amsterdam.
It had been producer JNT (then Production Unit Manager) who had worked out that the programme could afford to film in Paris back in Season 17. He did his sums again and they came up with the Netherlands. Neither the writer nor the script editor (Eric Saward) were happy about this as they felt is was hard to justify in narrative terms. The fourth episode does comprise mostly a touristy run-around. The locals, who did not know much about Doctor Who at the time, were bemused to see first Peter Davison then Ian Collier (who played Omega) running around with their faces covered in green Rice Crispies. The city's inclusion in the script is justified only by a throwaway line about Omega's need for a location below sea level - so this could equally have been filmed in Norfolk.
The story also sees a return to Gallifrey - though this time it is presented as rather bland. Colours are beige and pastel shades, and the furnishings come straight from Habitat. Time Lords lounge around as though waiting at an airport.
Borusa is now President, and he has regenerated yet again. This time he is Leonard Sachs, who had appeared in The Massacre back in 1966, but was best known for the music hall variety show The Good Old Days. Hedin is another veteran of the Hartnell era - the wonderful Michael Gough. (He's the best thing about this). The unnamed Castellan is played by Paul Jericho. He will reprise the role within the year. Damon is Neil Dalglish. Significantly, Commander Maxil is played by future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker. He was reportedly disappointed, as he thought this meant that he couldn't go on to ever get to play the Doctor. Of course, Peter Capaldi has since gone on to return to play the title role after earlier guesting in an episode. As mentioned above, Omega is played by Ian Collier, who had been Stuart Hyde in The Time Monster. He will also play Omega in a Big Finish production. The costume is radically redesigned. It would have been nice if they had recreated the original, or at least referenced it. When Peter Davison briefly takes on the double role of Doctor and Omega, Collier still provides the villain's voice.
One design disaster which is universally slated is the Ergon - a sort of giant skeletal plucked chicken. One of Omega's less successful attempts at psycho-synthesis indeed...
Episode endings are:
  1. Fleeing the Chancellery Guards, the Doctor turns a corner and comes face to face with Maxil, who shoots him down...
  2. In the execution hall, the Doctor's body vanishes in the vapourisation chamber...
  3. Omega takes control of the Matrix...
  4. Tegan announces that she is rejoining the TARDIS crew. The Doctor's expression says it all...

Overall, a disappointing story - considering all the elements that it includes. Much of this is down to the design and the flat direction. It should have been so much better. Byrne is hampered by JNT's shopping list approach to story-telling.
Things you might like to know:
  • It has been generally assumed that it was a conscious decision to include returning elements from previous stories throughout the anniversary season. This is not the case. It was only before the season was broadcast that fan adviser Ian Levine pointed out to the production team that there was something in each story from the past, so JNT added this to the publicity.
  • Janet Fielding finally gets out of that dreadful lilac flight attendant costume. Sarah Sutton would have to wait until the next story for a change of clobber, but publicity pictures were taken of her wearing her new outfit on location in Amsterdam.
  • Sheepskin jacket wearing JNT can be glimpsed in one scene in Amsterdam, as he was helping with crowd control during filming.
  • Byrne was instructed to avoid any Amsterdam clich├ęs in his scripts - namely drugs, diamonds or Rembrandt Van Rijn. The other thing Amsterdam is famous for was obviously a no-no. Tegan and Robin do sit down together in a Brown Cafe but the absence of a smoky atmosphere is noticeable...
  • To hide the fact that Omega was back, he was simply referred to as "The Renegade" for the first two episodes. The Scottish Daily Record newspaper announced that the story would feature Omega weeks before, however.
  • Guide books continue to persevere with the myth that Alastair Cumming, who played Colin Frazer, was the son of the late Fiona Cumming (director of the next story, amongst others). He is forced to dispel this myth at every convention he goes to. As well as the surname, the error might also be due to the fact that Fiona Cumming's husband has the surname Frazer.
  • A couple of "might have beens" in the casting - imagine Peter Cushing as Borusa, Pierce Brosnan as Maxil, and Patrick Stewart as the Castellan. Cushing had earlier been considered to play Solon in The Brain of Morbius.
  • Omega has yet to make a third appearance in the programme, though his return is often speculated. (There was a very strong rumour that he would be back in Series 4 - to be played by Jason Isaacs). As mentioned above, he was resurrected by Big Finish (as is, seemingly, everything - no matter how rubbish). As Ian Collier has now passed away, his next outing on audio is going to be with the original actor, Stephen (Understated) Thorne.

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