Arc of Infinity

1-story disc
Region 1

for North America
2-story box set
Region 2

for the U.K.
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 124, starring Peter Davison)
  • written by Johnny Byrne
  • directed by Ron Jones
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Roger Limb
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: A powerful and dangerous anti-matter creature seeks to cross the Arc of Infinity into our universe, but first he needs to finish imprinting himself on the Doctor. Curious to find out who has betrayed his bio data to the creature, the Doctor's investigations are cut short when the High Council of Time Lords on Gallifrey decide the best way to stop the creature and prevent universal annihilation is to terminate the Doctor themselves....

DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), and Colin Baker (Commander Maxil).
  • "Antimatter from Amsterdam" making-of featurette (35 min.), with Davison, Sutton, Baker, Ian Collier (Omega), writer Johnny Byrne,
    Paul Jerricho (The Castellan), Alastair Cumming (Colin Frazer), and script editor Eric Saward. Hosted by Sophie Aldred.
  • "The Omega Factor" featurette (15 min.), with actors Ian Collier & Stephen Thorne, and writers Bob Baker, Johnny Byrne, & Nev Fountain.
  • Optional new CGI effects
  • "Under Arc Lights" studio recording footage (11 min.) featuring bloopers & special effects setups
  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.) from part four
  • Isolated Music
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles by Richard Molesworth
  • Photo Gallery music montage (8 min.)
  • 1983 Doctor Who Annual .pdf file on DVD ROM

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Season Twenty is a particularly strong one for Doctor Who, and it comes with a powerful opening sci-fi adventure in "Arc of Infinity". There is a lot of dramatic depth to the story, and a very superb guest cast is assembled to pull it off brilliantly. The original effects work wonderfully, even before the modern DVD CGI crew comes along to fix what ain't broke again. The really significant rough edges of this tale are in the editing, music, and lasting thematic style.

Editing Literacy

As much as I like this story a lot, I have a big problem with the JNT-style "cutaway" flavour of the final broadcast edit, as it gets used in ways that interfere with making the program easy to follow, particularly for those who don't already know the show very well. It starts with the introductory scenes. First problem: Have they never heard of "establishing shots"? It's curious to note how many times models have been used on the show since 1963 to create establishing shots for the various places the Doctor has taken us to, yet even as this becomes the third story set in Gallifrey's citadel complex on the main character's home planet, there hasn't yet been an establishing shot of it on the show.

The first scene is a teleconference between two plotting villains which keeps both of their faces hidden. Fair enough if the show's creators don't want to reveal where this is taking place; the scene is nicely mysterious and atmospheric, and works excellently just the way it is.

Scene two, between the two technicians, comes out of left field. Who are we watching? What is their significance? Where are they? There is no establishing shot, of course, and so one has to try to glean some information from their idle chit-chat, which is not much help. On first viewing, I distinctly remember wondering if I was finally getting my first view of the Time Lord home planet of Gallifrey, something I was not able to confirm until many, many scenes later. I wonder now if viewers were meant to recognize the distinctive Time Lord costumes (I'd never seen them before), or if simply no thought had been given to making the story accessible to people who'd never seen Doctor Who before.

Scene three, the Doctor and Nyssa at a roundel in the TARDIS corridor, making a repair. Once more, an establishing shot of the police box exterior of the craft is called for, but sadly missing. Worse yet, this scene is just too short to properly establish these two main characters for new viewers. The editor should stick with these two and the idea they discuss and continue with their next scene in the next room, but....

Before you know it, we're already on to our fourth location and our fourth set of characters. At least this scene begins with an establishing shot, and a snippet of "Tulpen aus Amsterdam" in the musical score to help inform the audience of where we are. Why we are watching two apparently random young tourists is a mystery not helped by their pleasant, idle dialogue.

Back to the TARDIS interior, the Doctor and Nyssa's second scene has about as good an establishing shot as we can hope for, with a starscape gently floating along on the scanner screen while they stand at the console. Beautifully composed. And a nice scene. The regulars finally get their due.

After a time, events between the four separate areas begin to link together, and only then does something of a focus for the story begin to take shape. Eventually..., the story itself makes clear the point that it is in fact set on Gallifrey. How early you can figure out how events connect may easily depend on how well your previous knowledge of the show allows you to follow the dialogue, but those who know nothing at all may have to wait until part two to have it all laid out and demonstrated properly.

The whole thing seems like it could have benefitted from a more careful sequencing of scenes, with dialogue written to aid the flow of logic as we cut from one location to another - something like what we get in "The Green Death" (story no. 69). Instead we've got things like a TARDIS console room scene jammed between two scenes of the tourists exploring. The tourists' scenes could easily have just flowed one into the other, following a line of exploration. Instead, Nyssa and the Doctor interrupt just to say that they don't know what's going on... which can only encourage similar confusion in the audience. Content like that should hit the cutting room floor, no questions asked, instead of being used as a band-aid to hit the right episode timing as it must have been.

The concept of the impossibly big white interior being inside of the police box isn't impossible to grasp from watching this story, but it requires concentration. The editors cram a lot of other scenes between the Doctor and Nyssa in the console room, and the Doctor and Nyssa exploring the area the TARDIS has landed in - fortunately one of these is a proper materialization for the police box, and if you happen to already recognize it as the TARDIS, you'll be able to follow the dialogue about it between the guest characters in the following scene. Ideally, the materialization shot should not be an isolated scene in itself; it should be preceded by the regulars in the console room, and followed by showing them coming out as soon as possible. And if other characters need to interrupt, and this story wants them to, we should still see the police box as they talk, so the vehicle can make sense to brand new viewers.

Dramatis Personae

"Arc of Infinity" still shines very brightly in spite of these technical considerations, thanks to a wonderful cast that is able to bring the dramatic elements of the story to the foreground, and a generally good sense of atmosphere being created for most of the scenes.

Borusa is a popular Time Lord character, one who quite bizarrely has never been portrayed by the same actor more than once. Here in his third television incarnation, he is played by Leonard Sachs who creates what is easily the least pompous version of Borusa while recreating the regal air he originally had in "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88). Although the writing of "Invasion of Time" (story no. 97) made a friendlier Borusa, "Arc of Infinity" delivers a friendlier acting performance for its Borusa. Sachs is very watchable, likeable, and lively in the role, and is my personal favourite Borusa - not surprising as he was the first one I'd ever seen.

Michael Gough, veteran of four Batman feature films and "The Celestial Toymaker" (story no. 24) returns to provide Councillor Hedin with his graceful, sympathetic presence. Paul Jerricho creates a new nameless Castellan that is easily the most serious and efficient on the series yet, and very enjoyable to watch.

Ah, and then there's Colin Baker, making his Doctor Who debut as Commander Maxil, a heavy, nasty Presidential Guard commander who reveals no obvious redeeming qualities. Baker is so successful at throwing himself into this role and becoming the character you love to hate, he easily typecasts himself in the eyes of those Doctor Who fans who haven't yet seen him do anything else - which will eventually work hard against him when he takes over the role of the Doctor two years later and needs to be our heroic favourite.

Perhaps best of all amongst the guest cast is Ian Collier in the role of chief antagonist. His wonderfully deep, rich, resonant voice makes it easy to create a gripping sense of menace and a powerful presence, yet both Byrne's script and Collier's excellent acting manage to balance this with an enormous growing sense of pathos towards the character, making him far more sympathetic and interesting than was managed the last time this villain appeared.

Neil Daglish also features prominently as computer technician Damon, successfully making him a very likeable and watchable character. Andrew Boxer is also very well cast in his role as young Tourist-of-Amsterdam Robin Stuart, having great eyes and face with which to play against the frightening events in the crypt, and being able to pull off both those scenes and the lighter side of the story with superb believability and make his character very likeable.

Peter Davison is firmly established in his own version of the Doctor by now, and performs it as only he can, brilliantly, getting many scenes with dramatic and emotional meat in them. But perhaps his best acting moment in the story is in the beautifully simple moment he creates beside the young boy at the musical display in the street. Pure gold. Worth the price of admission alone.

This is also one of the best stories for Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, as she gets to play the sole companion for a change. Sutton's utterly believable expressiveness really sells the first two episode cliffhangers, and she takes center stage for many of the story's sequences and shines in her role, making one suspect that, had a 5th Doctor & Nyssa duo remained exclusive to more stories, it might have been an even more outstanding run.

Janet Fielding's Tegan is off on an adventure of her own, sporting a new haircut and new outfit - neither of which is particularly an improvement on her look the previous year. Tegan shows some strength, having to command an entire strand of the story herself for an episode and a half, but this doesn't last.....

Holes of Infinity

Johnny Byrne employs a lot of conveniently intangible technobabble - decaying magnetic shields and such - to string all the various elements of his story together and create the drama that he wants. The finished product seems to still have a significant hole or two if one examines it closely enough.... But that's a discussion best saved for the In-Depth Analysis version of this review.

Action-wise, the story works best in the crypt. The Ergon poses a successful threat, offering bizarre visuals of the unknown to an already creepy setting, and nicely remaining very clean and non-grisly in its execution. Good job. There is also much evasion of guards in the corridors of Gallifrey, all of which is executed decently enough, but is far too cliché to win any points for innovation.

It is a bit disconcerting that this story was chosen for CGI effect upgrades, since it doesn't really need it as badly as many other stories that haven't been touched. In fact, significant time and money seems to have been spent on the original effects, and the new CGI, although more modern, really isn't all that much improvement. Most of the new effects boil down to painting a predominantly white glow over old footage, and sadly obscuring some of the clarity of the original material a bit too much. In many cases story points actually made more sense with the old effects, where you can still make out faces and characters, and appreciate a person's acting. Mind you, the new effects aren't bad, they just aren't that much of an improvement to truly justify the effort, and at least they are respectfully included as an option. Options are cool.

Set design is an enjoyable success this time around, creating an enjoyable and rich cultural look for Gallifrey, and appearing spacious enough (particularly in the corridors) even without the grandiose areas previously seen in "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Invasion of Time". The crypt also works superbly, and the villain gets a hauntingly familiar lair with some cool new twists thrown in.

Many of the DVD's from this era are worth buying for their isolated music tracks alone. This is not one of those. "Arc of Infinity" is hands down the worst score of the Radiophonic Workshop's five-year (Seasons 18-22) monopoly on the incidental music of the program. Roger Limb's emotionless motifs, played on his trademark cheesy high-pitched fake instruments, are easily mistaken for aimless randomness, and return time and again to crutch themselves on semi-tone drops. Extremely irritating and disappointing, although the story survives this and remains extremely watchable.
Music by Roger Limb and Special Sound by Dick Mills
"Field Force" (1:54),
"Ergon Threat" (1:03), and
"The Termination of the Doctor" (2:10) are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who - Earthshock
Silva Screen FilmCD 709

More info & buying options

The Doctor doesn't quite get as much to do in this adventure as in some of his others, but he does manage to achieve something in each episode and remain front and center in the drama. Nyssa looks ready to upstage him in heroic actions at one point, yet he is playing a different game, and rises above her in a very emotional and moving scene, managing to appear wiser and more courageous in the end. Sweet. The spiritual Doctor at work. If only the show had done more of that for Peter Davison....

Expel or Destroy...

The final climactic act is not quite as satisfying as the adventure that led up to it.... and I'm only going to discuss it fully in the In-Depth Analysis version of this review. Suffice it to say, this climax suffers an unpleasant aftertaste, similar to that which graced the end of many episodes of the "Space: 1999" series that Johnny Byrne himself previously worked on as script editor. A more satisfying coda is tacked on afterward here, but feels a bit too rushed and out of place.

"Arc of Infinity" is still a powerful success despite its less wonderful elements, and delivers an emotionally engaging and thought-provoking adventure. Although not quite as good as Byrne's previous Doctor Who triumph, "The Keeper of Traken" (story no. 115), this is easily a close second, and contributes to an exciting rise of quality in the stories crafted for Peter Davison's Doctor.

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
DVD NTSC Region 1
single-story disc
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
2-story box set
for the U.K.:
VHS Video
NTSC A U.S. (and Canada)
NTSC B U.S. (and Canada)
PAL for the U.K.

Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page


Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Snakedance"

Home Page Site Map Star Trek Sliders Doctor Who Peter Davison Era Episode Guide Catalogue