Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Doctor Who - Time-Flight & Arc of Infinity

It's been slightly delayed but here are my old reviews of the latest Doctor Who stories released on DVD from the Doctor Who Ratings Guide.

It's a double bill this time, as the latest release is a box set containing two stories. First Time-Flight:

A damp squib ending for the season

It is difficult to know where to begin with this story. It shows a degree of ambition and an attempt to bring more realism into the series through its use of Concorde, but at the same time the story is poorly structured, contains several inconsistencies such as the complete disappearance of Angela Clifford (though Judith Byfield's performance is so unspectacular this oversight is not exactly missed) or the Master adopting a disguise for no apparent reason that he abandons some considerable time before his goal has been apparently achieved. The story also contains a lot of technobabble that makes very little sense and might as well be magic, whilst the Doctor initially establishes himself with the authorities not through his actions but by name dropping about UNIT. [Those who get wound up on UNIT dating might nitpick for this story clearly having a contemporary setting yet it appears to be set some years after the Doctor's time with the taskforce and then wonder why Mawdryn Undead gets all the flack for this but who cares about that can of worms anyway?]

Peter Grimwade's script is fundamentally flawed from the outset and is further let down by some atrocious dialogue. The story starts with the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan still coming to terms with Adric's death in Earthshock but quite quickly they stop their tears and seem to forget about their late friend. It would have been better to have established that some time had passed since the events of the previous story rather than this half-hearted attempt at characterisation which fails to satisfy any of the conflicting demands of the story and the ongoing narrative. Apart from this switch, both Peter Davison and Janet Fielding give competent performances but they are not at their peak, indicating perhaps a dissatisfaction with the whole production, whilst Sarah Sutton is noticeably weaker than usual as Nyssa. Anthony Ainley returns as the Master but gives first an almost comical performance as Kalid and then fails to make a strong presence whilst the disguise is shed. None of the guest cast make much of an impact at all.

The production values feature some good filming at Heathrow, but it is clear when stock footage of Concorde is being used, whilst the intercuts of film of the cockpit interior or closeups of the engines with the videotape of the prehistoric studio set or CSO illusionary Heathrow result in many shots being ineffective. he stock shot in Part Four of Concorde taking off with the landscape CSOed in front of it is particularly poor. The studio sets generally show little imagination at all, whilst the Plasmatrons seem to be little more than lumps of grey plasticine with legs that just stand jump around when they appear. The result is that much of the story is tired and so the season limps to a conclusion. The only noteworthy point at all comes when it appears that the Doctor has abandoned Tegan when he and Nyssa escape in the TARDIS. This apparent departure makes for a memorable final shot for the season, but otherwise Time-Flight is a complete damp squib for Peter Davison's first year to end on. 1/10
Next Arc of Infinity:

An illogical and lacklustre story

Season 20 kicks off with the first story set on Gallifrey in five years. However very little at all is established in this tale about the Doctor's home planet and the result is that we get yet another tale of a treacherous member of the High Council teaming up with a renegade in order to prolong the latter's full existence, alongside trips into the Matrix, the Doctor facing a sentence of death and a slow investigation process. The result is that this entire section of the story feels unimaginative, tired and worn out. Omega returns in this story as a mystery villain but there is no reference to him whatsoever before the ending of Part Three and so there is not the slightest clue as to who the villain is. The Three Doctors may have been repeated just over a year before this story's original transmission, but this is not enough in itself to make the revelation at all surprising beyond 'it isn't the Master this time.'

The other half of the story is set in Amsterdam and once more sees the series undertake overseas location filming. Unfortunately Amsterdam lacks world famous landmarks other than its canals, whilst its famed Red-Light District and liberal laws on drugs are not exactly appropriate to show in a series like Doctor Who. What we're left with is a generic European city and whilst it is nice to see an acknowledgement that there is more to Earth than London and the Home Counties, the Amsterdam location feels extremely superfluous. There's an attempt to explain it by making the point that Omega needs to be below sea level for his fusion booster to work, but he could just have easily hidden himself in the depths of the London Underground to carry out exactly the same task. Worse still it seems highly bizarre that Tegan gets caught up in the action by accident, so far from home. The result is a story that suffers from a highly illogical and lacklustre plot and is let down further by the dialogue. There are few memorable scenes other than the moving one where Omega is wandering around Amsterdam and sees the music wagon and smiles as he realises what it is like to experience a proper existence.

The acting is not especially spectacular for this story. Colin Baker makes his first Doctor Who appearance as Commander Maxil, but the part is so relegated to the sidelines that there is little scope for development. Also bizarre is the way that Maxil and the Castellan disappear from the room between Parts Three and Four, with the former not reappearing at all in the story. The rest of the cast give straightforward performances, but none stand out. However of the regulars Sarah Sutton gives a strong performance as Nyssa, benefiting from not being around Tegan for much of the story, and so the character shows more potential than usual.

The production includes some nice location footage in Amsterdam and the imaginatively designed Ergron costume that looks like a humanoid pteradon but neither are fully justified in terms of plot. Otherwise we get to see a small scale Gallifrey and a few sets for the interiors in Amsterdam, but little spectacular. The whole result is a story that tries to be memorable but fails abysmally. 2/10
Doctor Who - Time-Flight & Arc of Infinity can be purchased from

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