[21 November 2008]
PopMatters Interviews Editor
As excellent as Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who reboot has been, even the most hardcore of fans must concede that there have been some lamentably average episodes produced during its tenure. Sometimes they include ill-conceived period locations (“Daleks in Manhattan”) or concepts that begin to stretch the very believability of what is an already “out there” science-fiction program (“The Idiot’s Latern”). Yet, as with any show, it’s hard to remain consistently brilliant, and the very fact that the Who reboot has spawned as many fantastic adventures as it has is something very commendable indeed.
The Infinite Quest is not one of those great episodes.
Initially running on CBBC, The Infinite Quest marks for the first animated adventure that the new Doctor has undertaken, and, despite featuring the voice talent of David Tennant (the 10th Doctor), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), and Anthony Head (evil pirate Baltazar), it feels remarkably dry. Though the story by itself is fairly rudimentary (the Doctor and Martha traverse the galaxies to gain the coordinates to a mythic ship called The Infinite, which is believed to grant its inhabitants their “hearts desires”), it’s the production values for this outing that really weigh the whole thing down.
First off, there’s a remarkable issue with the audio mixing, as most of the actor’s dialogue—especially during the first 30 minutes—tends to be barely audible, the viewer forced to crank up the volume to the point where the background music is practically deafening, all in effort to hear what Tennant and Agyeman are saying. Then, there’s the animation itself, which feels like it was created for a web Flash short—not a 45-minute Doctor Who episode. The characters’ movements are restricted to a very finite amount of pre-animated poses, most of which feature the Doctor with his arms at his side. After 20 minutes or so, it becomes very perplexing as to why the Doctor hasn’t done as much as raise his elbows in the midst of his pirate-thwarting, alien crisis-resolving, prison-escaping adventures. Needless to say, it makes for awkward viewing.
Yet once the initial weirdness of the show’s presentation wears off, there are actually some fairly decent moments to be had, especially when the Doctor and Martha arrive on the alien-infested planet of Myarr, wherein grotesque insect creatures are being bombed by an impending fleet of humans, all due to an incredible political(ish) misunderstanding. As the Doctor works his way out of this conflict his trademark wit and unflinching diplomacy, the Quest gains a bit more dramatic traction, even as Martha is relegated to the sidelines of the story, much as she was during her short appearance on Series Two of Torchwood.
This all leads up the big climax, which, really, isn’t all that big. Once one of Baltazar’s hench-creatures dies in trying to assist the Doctor, there is a dramatic pause, but—due to the creature’s lack of backstory beforehand—it often feels as if the show is merely going through the motions of a dramatic moment. The same goes for the Doctor’s final confrontation with Baltazar and Martha’s revelation of what her “heart’s desire” is. During a calmer moment later on, she asks what the Doctor’s “heart’s desire” would be, but he doesn’t elaborate, resulting in an enormous missed opportunity for the Who series, as even a hint of what it could be would bring much-needed gravitas to this non-canon story.
Yet this is not the biggest missed opportunity that The Infinite Quest suffers from. The whole point of having an animated Who episode is that it would allow the Doctor to explore even more fanatical and far-out worlds than what could be achieved during a live-action outing. Though, yes, he does in fact explore several different locales, the stiff, jerky animation and formulaic script keep this from being a truly great (or even memorable) Who outing. It’s a shame really: regardless of the medium he embodies, the Doctor deserves better treatment than this.