In Amsterdam, a couple of tourists spend the night in a crypt. During the night, one of them is hypnotized by a strange creature who employs him carry equipment. This alien being is composed of anti-matter, and is using the city as a power source for an elaborate plan, a plan that involves the Doctor. Meanwhile, on Gallifrey, the alien has an accomplice steal the Doctor’s bio-scan. This creature appears to have knowledge of the Time Lords, and wishes to live in the world of matter again by bonding with a Time Lord, namely, the Doctor. On the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa are hit by an energy bolt which attacks the Doctor. He recovers, but is anxious to locate the source of the attack. The High Council of Gallifrey are also concerned about this anti-matter creature, and it’s plan to bond with the Doctor. Should this creature manage to cross into the world of matter, the effect would be devastating. They recall the TARDIS, and both the Doctor and Nyssa are pleased to cooperate with the investigation, fully aware of the danger to the universe posed by this creature. However, while the Doctor wants to find the anti-matter being, discover who he is, and prevent him completing the bond, the Council has another solution in mind: kill the Doctor…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
“Arc of Infinity” was the first story of Doctor Who’s twentieth season, broadcast in January of 1983. Part of producer John Nathan-Turner’s plan for the show’s twenty year anniversary was to bring back an old character in each episode. For this story, the returning character was [SPOILER] Omega, the renegade Time Lord last seen in the tenth anniversary special, “The Three Doctors,” featuring Doctors one through three. Ten years on and the poor guy’s still stuck in anti-matter world, longing to join the rest of his kind, and willing to go to dangerous lengths to make that happen.
The Amsterdam location shoot apparently had nothing to do with the story. Nathan-Turner wanted to film the story on location, chose Amsterdam, and then told the writer, Johnny Byrne, to make it fit. Always up for a challenge, Byrne used the fact that Holland is below sea-level to contrive a plan by Omega use a fusion booster from Gallifrey to power his bond with the Doctor. This booster draws energy from hydrogen atoms, which are in plentiful supply in Amsterdam.
The “Arc of Infinity” in the story is a curve between dimensions whose properties shield anti-matter, enabling Omega to appear in the matter world, though only in one location. He later uses the Arc to take control of the Matrix on Gallifrey.
This isn’t a bad story, with some good ideas, and a workable plot. Johnny Byrne had previously written “The Keeper of Traken,” the story that introduced Nyssa, so no doubt he was pleased to get the chance to develop her character a little more, especially since she’s the sole companion for this story. However, I think it suffers from some dodgy effects and costumes, and what seems to me a lack of real drama. There are some potentially gripping scenes that just don’t come off, either because the effects are a bit blah, or the acting is, frankly, a bit blah. At the end of part one we have a great cliffhanger with Commander Maxil, played by future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, shooting the Doctor. First, Colin Baker doesn’t look at all comfortable with his weapon, which makes the scene a bit awkward. Then he shoots, the Doctor collapses, and we see him on the floor. The part two cliffhanger, where the Doctor is apparently executed, had a lot more going for it, with all the smoke, Nyssa’s pleading and tears. Then we get to part three, and Omega has taken over the Matrix. That’s a big deal! And our cliffhanger is the Doctor’s somewhat plaintive, “We’re too late,” and a shot of Omega floating across the criss-cross Matrix pattern on the screen. Again, a good cliffhanger idea, but lacking punch.
Sarah Sutton has an opportunity to shine here, and she does. I’ve said in previous reviews how she plays Nyssa with such conviction, and this is no exception, taking full advantage of the scenes given to her to put her all into this character. Aside from some of the other leading characters, however, the performances seem a bit laid back for the supposed danger the universe is in thanks to Omega.
And then there’s the chase scenes. It’s hard to determine whether the lengthy excursion through the streets of Amsterdam is truly relevant to the plot, or whether they are padding for time, or if John Nathan-Turner wanted to make the most of his travel budget. Probably all three to some extent. Yes, we need time for Omega to gradually deteriorate, but it does seem a little protracted beyond what is needed for the story. At least I think so.
At the end, Nyssa laments Tegan having to return home to her job. Tegan, beaming with delight, informs her she got the sack (a phrase that, surprisingly, Nyssa understands). Everyone is overjoyed that Tegan is now one of Britain’s many unemployed… well, okay, they’re happy because this implies she is free to rejoin the TARDIS crew. When Tegan makes explicit her intentions (“So you’re stuck with me!”), Nyssa is delighted. The Doctor says, “So it seems,” and gives a rather bemused smile. I wonder, if this was the modern series, would the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa have been like the Tenth Doctor and Rose? He appears to look on Tegan as an awkward third party. Peter Davison has made no secret of the fact that he thought Nyssa was the best of his companions, and (no offense to the others) he would have liked to have seen more Doctor-Nyssa stories. Perhaps his own feelings are showing in that scene.
To sum up, “Arc of Infinity” is good, but not great, thanks to the execution more than the writing. The average viewer won’t be bored by it, and there are far worse stories, but aside from finding out what happened to Tegan, it’s totally non-essential.