Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest Review
Ah...so this is where it got to. Throughout my earlier reviews of the individual DVD releases of episodes from the third series of Dr Who, I questioned the absence of bonus material, saying that with both Totally Dr Who and Dr Who Confidential (CBBC and BBC3), there really was no shortage of material within the BBC that could have been included. Granted Dr Who Confidential, by its being a making-of particular episodes, would have been the most suitable but Totally Dr Who, if produced for an audience of children, still included interviews with the cast, a good many chats with Russell T Davies and the kind of gently prodding look behind the scenes that Blue Peter once specialised in. And it had a bonus in an entirely new animated Dr Who story called The Infinite Quest.
Dr Who And The Infinite Quest stars David Tennant and Freema Agyeman as The Doctor and Martha Jones, opening this short story by confronting Baltazar (Anthony Head) on board his space ship. Baltazar is a legendary figure, one that mothers tell their children stories about to frighten them into going to bed. The Doctor compares him to Napoleon or to Blackbeard and warns Baltazar to stay away from Earth. It is, however, too late. Baltazar warns The Doctor that he has already set his mind to conquering the planet and on successfully enslaving its population, will compress the carbon in their bones to diamond. The Doctor produces...a spoon? Cutting it in half, the fungus that was within it eats through the metal of Baltazar's ship. The TARDIS disappears and Baltazar flees on Caw (Toby Longworth), his metal bird.
Many years later, The Doctor and Martha visit Caw on his home planet. As a way of saying thank you to both of them, Caw gives Martha a brooch while, to The Doctor, he piques his interest, coughing up a microchip and telling him that it is one of four. Collecting the remaining three will reveal the location of the Infinite, a mythical spaceship that will grant the one who commands it their heart's desire. To The Doctor, the Infinite is nothing but a fairy story but Caw tells him that there is one who disagrees with him...Baltazar. Last heard of as a prisoner on the ice planet Volag-Noc, Caw tells The Doctor that not only has Baltazar escaped but that he has a copy of the first datachip. Concerned that Earth will be Baltazar's target should he find the Infinite, The Doctor sets off on a quest to find the other datachips. And to find the Infinite before Baltazar.
There can be no doubt that this will find an audience - like chinaware featuring the face of Princess Diana, anything Dr Who will find an audience - but adult viewers will be disappointed. Dr Who has been criticised by many for being childish - the farting Slitheen did little to convince anyone otherwise - but the BBC have realised that by toning down what little horror there is in Dr Who, it can be made a perfectly acceptable show specifically made for children and not simply one that serves the more general family audience. like The Sarah Jane Adventures, The infinite Quest has been produced for children, who will certainly enjoy its drawing out the essence of a Dr Who story to its very basics, being a villain, Martha and The Doctor, aliens and some kind of mission, of which saving the Earth is part of it. Running no longer than the average length of an episode of Dr Who, The Infinite Quest must fit a good deal in. It jumps across two spaceships, four planets and most of the galaxy in pursuit of the Infinite. The Doctor resolves particular conflicts on each one - warring mining corporations on one, a battle between humans and insects on another - while picking up the datachips on his way off each planet.
This complete series is, without question, the best way to enjoy The Infinite Quest. Originally shown in twelve parts in Totally Dr Who, with each episode lasting less than a few minutes, The Infinite Quest proved hard to like. Miss one week and it seemed to have jumped to an entirely new location and a very different set of villains. While there is an overriding quest, each short episode ends with a cliffhanger, which, though neatly resolved in the opening seconds of the following week, prevents there being any flow to the story. Shorn of most of those problems and presented in a single episode, The Infinite Quest becomes much more enjoyable and is certainly, even for the most inattentive of young viewers, an easy watch. Expecting the worst, I was surprised to hear David Tennant and Freema Agyeman reprise their roles of The Doctor and Martha Jones for this, while Anthony Head and Stephen Greif (Blake's 7) are strong in support as Baltazar and Gurney.
To be fair to the BBC, they did seem to recognise this before the release of this DVD. Following the conclusion of the third series of Dr Who in June this year, CBBC showed the complete Infinite Quest with this DVD presenting that same feature looking better than it ever did on Freeview. However, it's hard to see it attracting the same audience on DVD that other releases have. It won't prove to be as popular as series three of Dr Who released on the same day nor, I suspect, will it be as well-loved as The Sarah Jane Adventures. Those who are more particular about Who and have not purchased anything not authored for release by the Restoration Team will look upon this as they might a dead rat, with an obvious amount of distaste. However, children, who will appreciate the animation, the memorable villain and the zip of the storyline, will be less discerning and will enjoy it for what it is, a planet-hopping Who adventure with aliens, skeletons and insects. All that said, though, it does still feel as thought it only ever ought to have been an extra on the series three box set. More commercially minded folk at the BBC clearly beg to differ.
The BBC's Childrens department have released Flash animation before on DVD - the Bobinogs have popped up on a couple of CBeebies compilations though there may have been others - and generally, they've done a very good job with this. There is a clear softness to the picture but that looks to have been designed into the characters. Other than the strong outlines to their faces and to their features, there is precious little detail to any of the characters and so long as a character is speaking, only their lips will be seen to move. The animation is very basic. However, the DVD does a fine job of presenting this feature. Colours are certainly very good, there are no obvious problems with the encoding and all of the action happens slowly enough for the picture to cope with it. However, while The Infinite Quest is sometimes very pretty to look at, it's not very exciting to watch. And although that again is the fault of the animation, it will prove entertaining for a young audience, particularly those who find Dr Who frightening at times.
The DD2.0 isn't the most thrilling of audio tracks but it has been well-prepared for DVD. Anthony Head, perhaps proving how experienced he is at doing this, sounds very good indeed as the evil Baltazar and is supported very well by the audio effects. While there is little front separation happening and, like an audiobook presentation, the cast are perhaps too respectful of one another's place in the story, there is little background noise and, generally, everyone sounds very clear. However, there is a peculiar effect during the pre-title sequence in which David Tennant and Freema Agyeman sound as though they were recorded while underwater with no good reason for why that should be. Rest assured, though, that this problem does not occur thereafter. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
There isn't a great deal included on this disc but what there is is as easy to follow and to navigate one's way through as the main feature. The bonus features begin with Character Profiles, which briefly explains who's who in the story with the aid of a little image for those who struggle with reading. Which you might think of me as being snippy for saying so but given the intended audience for The Infinite Quest, that's actually quite a fair thing to say. This is followed by a series of Cast Interviews, including David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Anthony Head, Toby Longworth and Gary Russell, with each of them lasting somewhere between one to three minutes. A series of Animation Tests (42s) follow, which present different character designs for The Doctor, before a Photo Gallery offers a number of stills from the show.
These are followed by a series of behind-the-scenes looks at the making of The Infinite Quest. These haven't been produced specifically for this DVD, although this may have been in mind when they were first made, as they were also shown in Totally Dr Who in between the onscreen fun and games, a preview of the next day's episode and the actual instalment of The Infinite Quest. The first feature here is With The Animators (2m33s), which is then followed by With The Voice Artists (3m13s) with Totally Dr Who presenter Barney Harwood, who has a small part in The Infinite Quest as Control Voice. Two features on Dialogue Recording are also included in this set, one for Episode 1 (4m04s) and another for Episode 9 (4m00s), which aren't terribly exciting given that they feature the cast standing about in a recording studio reading from their scripts while Animatics And Deleted Scenes (9m18s) are presented more as storyboards than as animation. Finally, there are a pair of Trailers, one for Dr Who Series 3 (1m57s) and another for The Sarah Jane Adventures: Invasion Of The Bane (1m47s).