Not the most welcoming return.
Recurring foes have been a staple of Doctor Who since the Daleks first returned to invade Earth. Typically, though, the Doctor’s repeat nemeses share a certain simplicity of purpose—conquest, domination, revenge—that makes sense even to viewers who have never seen an Ogron or a Sontaran before, their power coming from their present menace as much as their past misdeeds. Not so with Johnny Byrne’s Season Twenty opener, “Arc of Infinity” (Story Production Code 6E), which digs deep into the archives to resurface a complicated villain who took not one but three different Doctors, at the same time, to defeat: Omega.
Curiously, Byrne, producer John Nathan-Turner, and script editor Eric Saward never bother to clue viewers in to Omega’s backstory as the most tragic figure in Time Lord history, the ancient solar engineer who became trapped in an anti-matter dimension after triggering the supernova that powers all Gallifreyan time travel. His plans to wreak vengeance upon the Time Lords for abandoning him for millennia required the services of the First, Second, and Third Doctor to defeat, an effort that, supposedly, resulted in his final destruction in a second supernova (with which the Time Lords refilled their time travel tanks for another several thousand years). Without such knowledge, from “The Three Doctors,” which aired some ten years earlier in late 1972 and early 1973—albeit with a rare repeat in late 1981—much of the story of “Arc of Infinity” lacks significance or importance, rendering Omega (Ian Collier) just another in a long line of megalomaniacal madmen in an ill-fitting latex costume and with a litany of ill-defined greivances.
Lacking this understanding of Omega’s role in the annals of the Time Lords, it becomes difficult to comprehend why Councillor Hedin (Michael Gough), a member of the High Council of the Time Lords and an old friend of the Doctor, would offer up the Doctor’s “bio-data extract” to Omega, knowing full well that the following chain of events would put the Doctor in great danger. Though Hedin, who wears the orange of the Doctor’s own Prydonian Chapter of Time Lords, exclaims to Omega, “What we are, we owe to you,” such reverence offers thin justification for the acts of treachery he carries out in order to help Omega transfer his being from a state of anti-matter to matter, even if one recalls the minutia of “The Three Doctors.”
Byrne never fleshes out this motivation on Hedin’s part, but he does find time to intercut this taut, tense tale of Time Lord treason with the drawn-out travails of two hitchhikers, Robin Stuart (Andrew Boxer) and Colin Frazer (Alastair Cumming) who decide to sleep rough in an Amsterdam crypt…