Friday, 29 May 2015

Arc of Infinity

Chapter The First, in which interesting or funny things about a dull one have to be scrambled for

Big Bad Timelord legend Omega comes back to our universe from an anti-matter realm, through a magic door in space, and the only way to stop him is for the Timelords to kill the Doctor. Omega and his henchman The Ergon (more of a henchchicken, actually) bully a couple of backpackers in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, recalled to Gallifrey, the Doctor is bullied himself by the petulant Commander Maxil, played by none other than Colin Baker in a silly hat. And Tegan comes back, even though she'd hardly been away.

Watched the DVD over two days during half-term as a family event, with my better half and three kids: eight, five and three (I know, yes, we gave them unusual names). The children sat still throughout which surprised me. The eldest, a boy, proving he is simpatico with old-school fandom thinking, recognised Colin Baker and shared his theory that the Fifth Doctor had deliberately modelled himself on Maxil when he later regenerated ("But God knows why!"). Youngest, a girl, was a little scared in places and needed a cuddle; middle child, another boy, said nothing until towards the end when he turned to me with the callousness of youth and asked "Why does the Doctor bother to save his companions?" Good point.

First-time round:
I first saw this on its broadcast on BBC1, January 1983; I remember it started while I was still off school for the winter hols, as I had the rare treat of reading the listings in the Radio Times (we only got it at Christmas, we were lower middle class, but we were happy). The two days per week when Who was broadcast changed from the previous year, so I no longer had to keep pulling a sickie from cub scouts to see a whole story. Somehow I knew that Tegan was coming back, or maybe I just hoped so - I was feverishly infatuated with her at this point, in my prepubescent way. Don't judge, I was young.

Frustrating: a story where the potential is stubbornly unrealised, but it's not bad enough to be camp.

The concept is sound, but the script gets bogged down in the mechanics: Omega needs control of the Matrix to power his transfer into our dimension, but why? It's just a supercomputer made of dead timelord minds which appears as a wibbly dreamscape; it doesn't seem to provide him anything tangible. He also needs a few other bits of technical cobblers: the bio-extract of the Doctor including booster element, plus a fusion device from Gallifrey which is fuelled by hashcakes or tulips or something.

All this will allow Omega to transfer into our world. Except, he can already transfer space chickens and fey backpackers to and from his realm with ease. But for he himself, he needs to take over the Doctor when he arrives. Which is why the Timelords have to execute the Doctor.

Isn't it? I'm not sure because at the end, the Doctor and the transferred Omega co-exist quite happily. Perhaps Omega only needed to use our hero as an imprint or exemplar, rather than as a host; but in which case, what were the Timelords hoping to prevent by killing the Doctor? The threat is never visualised, and never very clear: are we worried that Omega will fail and blow up the universe when matter and anti-matter collide? Or are we worried he'll succeed and then take over Gallifrey?

The end of episode 3, the crisis point from whence the final act begins, is pretty risible. Lots of people look aghast that "Omega Has Control Of The Matrix", and it's supposed to be a very bad thing. But if you substitute any other person and object into that sentence, it produces something with just as much meaning:

"The Ergon has control of the bio data extract!"

"Colin Frazer has control of the Ergon!"

"Janet Fielding has control of Commander Maxil's plumed hat!"

Backpackers Robin and Colin are fun, but it would probably be more economical of the script to merge some characters and start with Tegan backpacking with a female chum. Nothing's gained by holding her back for an episode, and prepubescent me would have got to see her new haircut and boob tube sooner. Omega could have traced her there deliberately perhaps based on her recent contact with the Doctor, which would have the benefit of explaining away the otherwise whopping-great coincidence of her involvement.

Amsterdam in the early-Eighties looks cold but is more interesting than the usual corridors for chasing about in; also - although he's never shot well - the Ergon isn't that bad a monster: a six-foot rubber chicken from space has got to be a good thing (actually, the Ergon's neck makes him look more like a turkey than a chicken, I think).

Deeper Thoughts:
Who votes for Timelords? A line of Hedin's caught my ear, when he says the Castellan is "sensitive to public opinion". So at least one of the High Councillors is accountable to the public of Gallifrey, and perhaps even voted in by them. I got to ovethinking it, as the same week I'd been rewatching Star Trek: First Contact (it's full tilt in our house at half-term) which contains some dialogue about the federation not using money. This suggests in one stroke that the federation is a communist utopia, and a quick web search will net you dozens of articles about this and generally on the politics of Trek. For Who, though, nothing much.

It's established that Gallifrey has a constitution, but one worded to allow the president to remain in power for centuries, decide himself when he's going to resign, and name his successor.  Only if he's brutally gunned down before he can do so does anyone think of having an election. It's not clear who would have been polled to choose between the two candidates for the presidency in The Deadly Assassin (assuming one of them hadn't died and the other left the planet), but my bet is it would have been an elite cadre rather than the public.  There's something rotten about the systems of the Capitol. Perhaps the insurrectionists who ran amok on Gallifrey (as reported during Trial of a Time Lord) had the right idea. The revolution will be televised on Public Register Video, and presented by Runcible the Fatuous.

In Summary:
Six-foot space turkey.

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