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Audio Drama Review
Reunited with the Doctor and Nyssa, Tegan joins them on a trip to Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum to see a new exhibition of the work of Rembrandt van Rijn, featuring his drawings of “Vessels of the Stars”. The Doctor is astonished to discover that they are designs for spaceships that would actually work, and decides to pop back to the Dutch Golden Age for a quiet word with Rembrandt – but the world-weary artist is no mood to help. Meanwhile, strange forces are swirling in the canals, creatures from ancient myth, the watery, goblin-like Nix. What is their connection to the mysterious Countess Mach-Teldak – and to the events of Tegan’s life during her year away from the Doctor…?
To Arc of Infinity, and beyond!
Arc of Infinity is a gift for those who like to insert new stories into gaps between the adventures of previous Doctors, as Big Finish is in the business of doing. That 1983 serial ended with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) reunited with their former travelling companion Tegan (Janet Fielding). However, we didn’t actually see them inside the TARDIS until the next story… Cue a return trip to Amsterdam, picking up the action mere moments after the conclusion of the Doctor’s battle against Omega. In fact, Big Finish has visited this interval before, in the rematch adventure Omega – the point at which the Doctor nips off on his errand for the Time Lords is signposted during the final episode of this release.
Writer Jonathan Morris includes some nice in-jokes for fans of the era. Early in the story, Tegan remarks that Omega’s servant the Ergon looks suspiciously like a plucked chicken. Later on, she and Nyssa ride bicycles to escape from danger, perhaps inspired by publicity photographs for Arc of Infinity showing Janet Fielding and Peter Davison on a tandem. When the time travellers head back to the 17th century to meet Rembrandt van Rijn, the painter observes that the Doctor has a “pleasant, open face”, which was Terrance Dicks’s standard description of the Fifth Doctor in his novelisations!
Popping back in time to see a painter regarding an enigmatic work of art will bring back pleasant memories for fans of a slightly older era of the classic series (City of Death) as well as for fans of the new (Vincent and the Doctor). The Waters of Amsterdam is especially reminiscent of the latter, because, like Van Gogh, the Dutch Master is living on the breadline, and the Doctor and his companions feel compelled to assure him of his greatness. Here the twist is that this knowledge is of little comfort to the impoverished artist (played to crotchety perfection by Richard James).
Counterbalancing the aforementioned lighter moments, this story has its more serious and poignant scenes – including an arresting conversation between Rembrandt and Nyssa, both of whom have lost loved ones. Earlier on, we discover (in sequences more akin to the new series than the old) that Tegan experienced a failed romantic relationship during her year off from TARDIS travel. Playing her clingy ex, Tim Delap puts in an intriguing performance. There are aspects of the Eighth Doctor to his vocal qualities, his youthful air of mystery and his unwavering compassion.
On the downside, the voices of the watery monsters are often difficult to understand – including, crucially, when they initially state their race’s name. A couple of the cliffhangers are somewhat perfunctory, too, with a feeling of, “Right, then, episode ending coming up, time to threaten one or more of the regulars…”
For the most part, though, this is a great work of art from the writer, the cast, and debut director Jamie Anderson. I can feel it in my waters.
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