Arc Of Infinity

State of body Frankensteinian.
Detail of inspection Inspected repeatedly at long intervals.
Forensic Investigator Keith Kelly
Comments It seems improbable that this creature could ever have lived, but strangely the main handicaps developed after initial conception.

The Doctor Who story “Arc of Infinity” by Johnny Byrne is usually dismissed as the obscene creation of a mad scientist, who insisted on stitching together a bunch of random parts with little regard for how any of them fit. The producer’s brief was certainly a complex one: first, he told the writer, you need to bring back the Time Lord villain Omega, last seen, erm, being blown to disembodied bits in an antimatter universe. Second, you need to resolve the cliffhanger from last season — in which the Doctor’s companion Tegan is left stranded back home on contemporary Earth, but having second thoughts about leaving him. Third… did I mention we want to film in Amsterdam?

And yet, while these three unrelated starting-points would appear to handicap the story from the start, they’re not enough to prove fatal in themselves. Many Doctor Who stories have had equally convoluted conceptions… most notably the recent “Dalek”, which had to incorporate a British seventeen-year-old (the new companion) into a Dalek story set in a secret underground base in Utah.

No, the problem comes later in the story’s development. Allow me to walk the observer through how the scribe goes about assembling this creature from these initial orders, and apparently works from the principle that the shortest distance between two points is for wusses.

The first steps in the main plotline are fairly sensible extrapolations from the premise: Omega is basically the Time Lord equivalent of Satan, fallen into an antimatter universe, continuing to exist only through sheer ego, and yearning to walk this world again. Last time around, he tried to drag the Doctor in to take his place so he could leave. This time, with help from an unseen shadowy Time Lord traitor on Gallifrey, he escapes from the anti-matter universe and attempts to bond with the Doctor’s body, to create a new form for himself and live again in our universe. The Time Lords are rather displeased by this, and summon the Doctor back to Gallifrey, with the aim of preventing this powerful extradimensional entity from breaking through into our reality with the aim of executing the Doctor before Omega can use him to escape. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this idea; even if Gallifrey is presented with all the mystic grandeur of an Ikea showroom, that’s down to shoddy direction and design rather than writing.

Trouble is, this opening episode is intercut with the travails of a couple of backpackers in Amsterdam, whinging about losing their passport, bedding down for the night in a crypt, and getting attacked by a giant rubber chicken which turns one of them into a zombie.

In the second part, Tegan is reintroduced — she’s decided to visit her cousin in Amsterdam, and it turns out her cousin is the one who’s been giantrubberchickenzombiefied. So through this coincidence, they’ve successfully tied Tegan into a subplot which has no apparent connection to the main plot. It’s a classic case of “meanwhile, in movie C”… it’s not until near the closing moments in episode two, when we finally get a shot of the GRC and Omega standing next to each other, that we have even the slightest indication that the Earth and TARDIS/Gallifrey sides of the plot have any kind of connection at all. Not even a hint to speculate about.

Further reducing the subject’s (and the examiner’s) chances of surviving are the multiple lacerations… myriad tiny cuts across its surface, cutting from one subplot to another, even one planet to another, almost at random. As if stitching together a bunch of tiny scenes will increase tension rather than distract and confuse.

Meanwhile, the Gallifrey story is assembled almost entirely from plot devices cribbed from “The Deadly Assassin” — the Doctor’s impending execution, a traitor on the High Council conspiring in a basement with a mysterious renegade, lots of kerfuffle about biodata and sticking one’s brain into the Matrix. But at least that’s merely being mediocre rather than needlessly convoluted.

Eventually Omega captures Tegan and uses her as a hostage to ensure the Doctor’s good behavior. The Doctor, behaving badly as always, uses her to trace Omega back to the crypt in Amsterdam, where he works out that Omega’s henchchicken and zombie slaves are working there to complete the transfer which will get Omega a new copied-off-the-Doctor body. Why Amsterdam? Apparently the stellar pheonomenon which Omega used to escape into our universe (the Arc of Infinity) intercepts Earth around here, and he needed a place below sea level in which to do the conversion… plus the church basement houses part of the pump system which helps keep Amsterdam from sinking into the mire, and he’s using the pressure in that system to help power his newbodyifier. So all those horrific wheezing and clanking noises we’d been hearing in Omega’s lair were in fact the plot machinery.

Anyway, after a rather charming sequence in which Omega uses his new copied-off-the-Doctor body just to wander around listening to a street organ and smiling at children, the Doctor despatches Omega before he can decay back into antimatter and destroy the Earth/universe/whatever. Tegan rejoins the Doctor, and we all head off, four episodes older if not wiser.

The main problem with this tale, as an interested student can see, is that the linkage between Omega and Amsterdam, and Tegan and Amsterdam, are deeply contrived, and the linkage between Tegan and Omega is completely coincidental. So the writer clearly wasn’t able to come up with an elegant solution to the brief… but is one possible?

Let’s start with getting Tegan to Amsterdam. There’s no need to contrive a cousin for her to visit and drag her into the plot. As Jonathan Blum pointed out on Outpost Gallifrey some time ago… Tegan is a stewardess. For an international airline. If there’s ever a character in Doctor Who who could just happen be in Amsterdam for a couple of days, it’s her.

Okay, so why is Omega in Amsterdam? Heck, why is he on Earth at all? Well, his main motivation in the story is to use the Doctor — specifically the Doctor, because of their history — to break on through to the other side. So why not have him decide from the get-go to target Earth, because that’s where he thinks he’ll find the Doctor? In his previous story, he sent blobby henchthings through to Earth specifically to locate the Doctor. (The giant rubber chicken is version 2.0 of this design.) This time, though, the Doctor’s not around… so say instead they fixiate on things which are associated with him. Things — or people — which show the same sort of temporal displacement.

In this case, they find Tegan.

So the Amsterdam side of the plot becomes one of alien weirdness specifically coming after Tegan — and she has to escape from the nasties that are trying to get her, while figuring out what’s going on. Omega can deliberately decides to target her as a potential hostage, to ensure the Doctor’s good behavior. And he and the henchchicken set up operations in Amsterdam specifically because that’s where Tegan is.

You could make this a small-scale story, with jelly-monsters oozing through the taps in her hotel room and taking over the people close to her, or you could make it a global tale… have reports of nasty creatures popping up, thrashing about for a bit in search of someone, and disappearing again as mysteriously as they came. (And then Tegan realizes that it’s all to find her…)

So once you’ve got less insane connections between those pairs of elements — Tegan and Amsterdam, and Omega and Tegan — the story tracks in a much less contrived way. The parts of the body are all in the correct places now… the only problem is the large amount of fatty redundant tissue on the Gallifrey side of the story, but that could be healed with an imagination transplant and some literary liposuction. It probably would never be beautiful… but it would live.

3 Responses to “Arc Of Infinity”

  1. winstoninabox Says:

    I’ve never seen it, but your description certainly paints a vivid picture of its lack of plot cohesion. One wonders if any discussion at all were done about the plot elements, and how to best bring them together. If such diverse plots had all come together in some sleight-of-hand revelation on the interconnectivity of the stories (a la Pulp Fiction or Sin City) then it might have been a masterpiece in the Dr. Who canon!

    Welcome to FF Keith.

  2. shellshear Says:

    I’ve only seen part of the story myself, so I really oughtn’t comment. However, the solution does sound deliciously elegant, though not actually specific to Amsterdam – I wander if there’s a way to tie it specifically to that city? Perhaps (in the subtext) Tegan is actually going to Amsterdam to score a little pot. After all the stress of her adventures, she really needs to *relax*.

  3. Dave Says:

    We might need to save character motivations like *that* for Torchwood, I think…

    Excellent FF, Keith. It must have been a long time since I bothered to watch AoI, because I remembered everything that Omega and the GRC were up to but I’d completely forgotten that part of the story happens on Gallifrey…

    What was *up* with that GRC anyway? Could they not tell that it would never look anything but completely stupid? gah!