Saturday, 10 October 2009

Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity

Part One

“I’m simply following orders.”

A season begins, and it’s the twentieth! It’s quite a landmark, and frankly quite mind-boggling to think I’ve actually got this far. From this point on the rest of the marathon looks like it’s going to be a doddle. Anyway, what exciting new adventures have we to look forward to now?

Er, some technician type people doing some dull repairs and stuff. A planet once full of either wonder or skulduggery now feels very mundane and domestic. Meanwhile, in the TARDIS, the Doctor has repaired the sound on the scanner. Wow.

To Amsterdam, where a couple of backpackers are about to sleep in a crypt. I think I’ll go out on a limb here and assume I’m not going to be the first person in this thread to mention An American Werewolf in London.

Wow, the Doctor and Nyssa are discussing the fact that the TARDIS used to be in a state of “temporal grace”, referring right back to The Hand of Fear! I never noticed the reference before. But even though my initial thought was “cool”, I immediately started wondering whether it was healthy for a show, in 1983, to be referencing a fairly throwaway line from 1976. This is a turning point, I feel; we’ve had plenty of continuity references before but this feels worryingly gratuitous, as though the show is gradually starting to aim itself at the fanbase and not the general public.
“Impulse laser?” No, you muppet, it’s an armadillo. This is one of those scenes which occasionally appear in episode one and make you fear for the rest of the story. As does the appearance of the High Council, with its obligatory regenerated Borusa. Somehow all the familiar trappings of Gallifrey are being used in a purely perfunctory way, which rather strips them of any impact they once had. And the Time Lords’ hostility towards the Doctor is just aggravating; you know full well they won’t actually kill him because this strange extra-dimensional figure needs to bond with him and this mysterious traitor is clearly working for him. And the whole thing achieves nothing but to allow Johnny Byrne to put this bit of the plot on pause for a bit. So far this is every bit as bad as his previous Keeper of Traken.

Fortunately we get Michael Gough, albeit pointlessly wasted in the role of Hedin, and the magnificent Colin “Archie” Baker as Maxil. So far he’s been the best thing in it.

Part Two

“I have my orders.”

“You don’t have to relish them so much.”

Crikey, the number of bedrooms we’re seeing in the TARDIS these days is ridiculous. This time it’s the Doctor’s room we see. Come to think of it, it’s episode two and we’re still seeing a lot of the TARDIS interior, something that seems to be happening a lot these days.

To Schipol Airport, and who should arrive off the latest flight but Tegan. She’s back! And wearing actual clothes! This raises the possibility that we may see her actually wearing different outfits in different stories. Can it be?
The Doctor gets a mild ticking off for failing to return Romana, but receives an otherwise disconcertingly friendly welcome from the High Council following his initial rough treatment. They all agree he hasn’t done anything wrong. And then promptly sentence him to death. Even though they’ve abolished capital punishment. It’s not the Doctor’s lucky day.

Tegan, meanwhile, has lost her job, but as soon as she realises her cousin has disappeared she throws herself into the investigation. That’s the Tegan I like to see. But, er, isn’t the fact that she of all people should turn up a bit of a massive coincidence? Other important characters are the Castellan, probably the most obvious red herring in the history of the world, and Hedin who, for equal and opposite reasons, must obviously be the baddie.

There’s more continuity as Damon informs the Doctor that Leela is “well and happy” as the Doctor regrets he missed the wedding. Again, this is nice, but it’s a reference to something which was screened five years ago, it’s not relevant to the plot, and it’s hardly subtly done. Should the programme be doing this sort of thing?
Nyssa, being brave and generally heroic in a way which demonstrates how recent stories have started to give her some bare outlines of an actual personality, tries to rescue the Doctor. He doesn’t seem very keen though, and is apparently executed…

Part Three

“So it’s you.”

No he isn’t, shock horror, he’s just floating about in some other reality being gloated at by our mysterious villain. Elsewhere, Maxil and the Castellan continue to twirl their metaphorical moustaches while Tegan gets on with actually advancing the plot, finally uncovering the villain’s layer.

We also get a scene in which Ome- er, the mysterious bad guy strokes his “chin”. This is quite the silliest thing to appear in Doctor Who for quite some time. Unfortunately this is about the most entertaining thing to happen this episode, most of which consists of Omega just trying to delay the plot. It’s all very dull.

Still, the villain’s identity is at last revealed, and I’m pleased to see we get a full and detailed explanation from Hedin of how he survived the events of The Three Doctors: “No, he exists, Doctor!” It’s almost as though he was the Master…

Part Four

“If I am denied life, then all must perish!”

This is the episode where everyone realises they’ve spent money to film in Amsterdam, so they’d better make sure it shows up on screen. This leads to plenty of outdoor chase scenes, and an amusing moment where the Doctor’s plans are scuppered by a lack of coins for a payphone- that wouldn’t happen nowadays!

We’re also treated to the most eye-poppingly absurd technobabble to justify the location: “Amsterdam is located on the curve of the Arc, below sea level to maintain pressure for atmospheric conversion.” Why on Earth did anyone think it needed to be explained at all?

The Doctor uses a gun again, this time threatening Omega with it, and the story basically ends because Omega didn’t bother thinking through his plan properly because he’s basically a rubbish villain. Er, right.

“So, you’re stuck with me, aren’t you?” says Tegan, inviting herself back on board the TARDIS. “So it seems” replies the Doctor. It really comes across as though he’s never liked her very much. I’m beginning to suspect he doesn’t. I’ve never known such a dysfunctional TARDIS crew before.

Overall, well, rubbish. I have no hesitation whatsoever in awarding this 1/5. This is the first time I’ve felt a story was pure fanwank, with no substance whatsoever. The plot is gruel thin, the villain’s actions make no sense, and worst of all the trappings of Gallifrey are rendered dull by being treated as obligatory references to be ticked off to please the hardcore fans instead of fun concepts to be played with. Suddenly all the sense of wonder is gone. This sets a dangerous precedent- is this how the icons of the series are going to be treated from now on?

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