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8 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 769: The Infinite Quest

Dear diary,

Oh, I debated over including this one in The 50 Year Diary. The debates that raged inside my head! Largely, those debates were centred on the fact that it was broadcast in three minute chunks weekly alongside the series, so would be an awkward format to sit through (though I briefly considered doing one part a day, to write about alongside the episodes proper). It wasn’t like Dreamland, which I’ll be coming to during the 2009 specials, which was one nice, complete episode…

…until about three weeks ago, when I happened to be browsing the shelves in a DVD store and spotted The Infinite Quest among the other titles. I couldn’t have told you that this ever made it to DVD, and it transpires that it’s a compilation version that makes it a complete episode! I’ve since been reliably informed that this version was shown on TV at the time, but it must have completely passed me by. Suddenly, this changed everything. I’ve said several times in the last month that some of these episodes feel like new ones because I’ve not seen them for so long… but this really is an entirely new-to-me episode of the Tenth Doctor era! Exciting! Plus, the DVD was only a pound, so who am I to say no to that?

Truth be told, I wasn’t really expecting all that much from this one. After all, it was produced to go out in those little bites alongside a children’s show to accompany the main series. This was never going to beat out the episodes I’ve been watching over the last few days. Actually, though, it does a pretty decent job of standing on its own as a kind of ‘bonus’ episode for Series Three. Certainly, the Doctor and Martha are well written, and fit in with their characterisations throughout the rest of the run (Though I’d say it’s fair to suggest that both Tennant and Ageyman ease into it as the story progresses and they get more comfortable with playing these parts to a different medium).

As for the story itself… well, it’s good enough if a little on the slight side. It can’t ever get too involved, presumably because of the original broadcast format (and having to build to a king of ‘mini-cliffhanger’ every three minutes or so does become a little wearing as the episode goes on - even in this omnibus form, it’s very clear where the breaks were originally), but it means that this Hartnell-esque chase across space is perfectly suited. That also gives me yet more ammunition in my continuing (and not entirely serious) suggestion that Series Three is one big homage to the Hartnell story The Chase. Some of the locations we get here feel uniquely suited to those kinds of Hartnell stories, too, with worlds of ‘twin suns’ (hence, very hot), and worlds of pure ice (hence, very cold). There’s even a jungle thrown in for good measure, on a world populated by insects!

The main thing to mention, I suppose, in an animated episode of Doctor Who is the actual animation itself. It’s… well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, if I’m honest. On the one hand, there’s some really lovely bits of design going on. The look of the Infinite as a marooned shipwreck caught in an asteroid belt is lovely (oh, one of my favourite images from all of Doctor Who, I’d dare to say - it’s very nicely done). Then there’s odd hints of that pseudo ‘3D’ style that Futurama is so well known for dotted about here and there - most obviously in the character of Caw - which works very well, too. But then there’s the animated versions of our heroes, and they’re not the greatest. Occasionally (and, again, it’s something that happens more and more the further into the episode we go) there’s a hint of a movement or expression which feels very in keeping with the performances I’m used to seeing on screen throughout the rest of Series Three, but largely they simply don’t work for me. It’s even more of a shame when you watch some of the behind-the-scenes footage on the DVD and Ageyman and Tennant are doing odd little things here and there which end up totally lost in the translation. A pity! 

I also can’t help but wonder if they missed a trick by making our lead villain look like a man with a bandage wrapped around his head. In an animated episode, you’re not bound by the kind of restrictions the live action programme has, so it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to not have a villain which we’d struggle to see in a regular episode. I suppose that Caw fulfils that role to some extent, but having seen the kinds of creatures we’ve had in the show more recently (I’m thinking specifically of the huge robots from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), I’d love to see how the production team might build a working version of him!

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