Arc of Infinity

Wow, Season 20. We really are hurtling towards the end of the classic era. This is a show that’s celebrating two decades of glory with all manner of nostalgic treats, whilst blissfully unaware that it’s about to career into deep, deep trouble; losing its format before eventually losing its life, which I’m only a few months away from witnessing. Sadly, on the evidence of the last two serials, I think the warning signs are already present.

This was a decent idea, combining various Gallifreyan tropes that have been successful in the past, along with some always-welcome foreign filming and an interesting twist on the companion narrative. But everything was handled so clumsily, and the results varied between dull and annoying. Nothing quite worked the way it should have done.

The action darted wildly between locations and characters throughout the first three parts, never following any one story strand for more than a minute before whizzing through several other elements. It lead to a disjointed, almost schizophrenic feel, which never gives enough time for the plot to become gripping, regardless of what’s involved.

The Amsterdam elements were spoiled by those two teenagers being such bloody awful actors. The Gallifrey bits never really worked because almost everyone was being an intolerable prick, even if they were The Black Adder’s mum. Given The Doctor’s track record, how did nobody believe that there might be a traitor framing him? There’s always a traitor on Gallifrey; they’re all terrible people. Including that Commander Maxil.

Yeah, that was a weird one, seeing Doctor Who talking to Doctor Who, except that one Doctor Who wants to kill the other one. Colin Baker plays it very well, but Maxil is such an pompous little prick, and from what I’ve seen of Colin’s Doctor, it’s not too far off what he brought to that role. Maybe when the regeneration trauma caused the Sixth Doctor to be a bit of a prick, the Fifth subconsciously conjured up the image of this odious twat of a Time Lord as inspiration.

Elsewhere, I admit that I was fooled into thinking Borusa was the traitor – a similar confusion occurred during the last Gallifrey story – but even taking my gullibility into account, he doesn’t come out of it well. He sanctioned the Doctor’s death sentence, and he didn’t even have the excuse of being under the control of Omega. Based on their previous encounters, I simply can’t believe Borusa would do that to his friend, no matter what the circumstances.

And speaking of Omega, hey – Omega’s back! Except, he isn’t really, is he? He was so different to the version from The Three Doctors that it might as well have been anyone. If it was some other ancient Time Lord, they’d have avoided the deeply annoying lack of explanation for how he survived his explicit death in his first appearance. At least with The Master, they always leave him in an escapable position, or give some kind of lip service to it when he shows up out of the blue. Basically, the nostalgia-fest so far consists of dredging up good memories and making them worse.

There are positives, of course, and the regulars are all on good form. Nyssa getting a bit of time as the sole companion gave her a chance to finally establish herself, just a whole season later than most companions manage it. She’s capable, fiercely loyal and has a strange affinity with guns. The bravery shown in trying to save The Doctor from execution demonstrates that she’s clearly devoted to The Doctor in the same way as your Sarah Janes and your Jo Grants, but the TARDIS has always been too crowded for her to display this until now.

It all seemed to be ramping up nicely in Part Three, when Omega was unveiled and Tegan became more involved. But this was completely squandered by a tedious last part in which the action is held up by The Doctor and Nyssa having a casual meander round Amsterdam – the sort of scenes that usually take place before the plot is heading towards a climax.

But then, what’s this? A confrontation between The Doctor and Omega, leading to the creation of a second Peter Davison? Hooray! Double Davison! This’ll be good… oh, no. They’re just going to run around Amsterdam for absolutely ages. Seriously, so much running. Just running and a puppet show. Until The Doctor eventually saves the day by shooting the baddy with a big gun. Brilliant. This serial can do one.

RATING: 5

The Three Doctors

It’s the start of season ten, and nobody in the production has seemed to notice that if you do one season each year, the start of the tenth season is actually much closer to the *ninth* anniversary than the tenth. But their lack of knowledge of how calendars work is a small price to pay for the joy of having our first multi-Doctor story a year early.

It’s such a pleasure to have Patrick Troughton in the TARDIS once more. He’s still my favourite ever Doctor (at the time of writing), and he slots back in effortlessly. The return of the old irreverence and obfuscating behaviour brings the contrast with his successor in to sharp focus, and it’s this clash of characters that provides some of the funniest scenes of all time. It’s great that Troughton’s presence ups Pertwee’s game, rather than overshadowing him – there’s a danger that bringing back long-gone elements from the past could make you pine for the old days, but Pertwee’s performance here reminds you that the role is still in safe hands.

It’s a shame that Hartnell couldn’t be more involved, and it’s probably best not to approach his performance with a critical eye. But the vacuum created provides great opportunities for the other regulars to play their part. The Brig is on fine form, playing it for laughs by becoming increasingly pissed off at everything he can’t understand, culminating in the brilliant “Cromer” line. Elsewhere, Jo’s utter devotion to the Doctor is further evolving into a fear of being separated, to such an extent that I’m blatantly going to be a blubbering mess come the end of this season.

It’s also a strong showing from Benton, who gets to have a go at being a proper companion for the Second Doctor, and takes it all in his stride. One thing, though – where’s Captain Yates? Were the injuries sustained in the doodlebug incident worse than we thought? I’m trying to work out how I’ll feel if he’s been quietly written out between seasons (I genuinely don’t know, so no spoilers please). I don’t think I’ll be too bothered – unlike Benton, he’s never really had much of a distinct character, and has always just been the spare army guy if the Brig is doing something else.

As well as being the first multi-Doctor story, this is also the first time we’ve really had a good look at Time Lord mythology. Having only seen bits and bobs of it during the classic series, I’ve always been a bit confused by this element of the show, so it’s great to see it all play out without having to worry about half-remembered bits from other stories. Omega himself is hammy as all hell, but entertaining with it. The reveal of his empty armour and his subsequent breakdown was compelling, and the earlier battle between the Third Doctor and Omega’s dark side was completely mental.

There were undoubtedly a few less successful elements, such as the fantastical world of anti-matter Omega creates looking just like an English quarry, the pan-dimensional monsters and wibbly video effect not being the most convincing, or the convenient way that the Second Doctor’s recorder fell into the forcefield generator and landed upright. But when there’s so much joy sprinkled throughout, and so many brilliant actors at the top of their game, this serial is nothing short of an absolute classic.

RATING: 10