Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reoccuring Plotline: The Deadly Antarctica/Arctic Virus

Due to its nature this post contains general spoilers for a number of episodes of a couple of shows, but not specific ones unless you follow the links and read in detail.

I'm sure you've noticed. There are certainly plotlines that occur again and again in science fiction shows. Writers seemingly can't seem to avoid doing their own version of these reoccurring plotlines. I like to play snap with plotlines and I thought that when I come across three shows that contain the same plot I would share it with you.

One that occurs quite often and is strikingly similar in its basic plot elements is The Deadly Antarctica Virus story.

The story goes like this:

A team of Gentle Bearded Scientists (never the main characters) on remote research base in Antarctica or the Arctic make a biological discovery. It can be botanic, zoological, bacteria or 'unknown', but it is always dormant in its frozen state. However, this biological always has the same effect: almost immediately, this biological turns out to have a disease or have disease-like qualities. Gentle Bearded Scientists start acting strangely and/or fall sick.

The Main Characters arrive at the base either because of the discovery or because of the reported strangely-acting Gentle Bearded Scientists. They always arrive before the infection is truly apparent or taken hold and so never take precautions against infection.

However, once the Main Characters are on site, the situation rapidly goes downhill. One Gentle Bearded Scientist likely dies. As the plot progresses, one or more main characters might become infected. The Main Characters must battle against not only an infection that not only kills its carriers, but often turns them into murdering maniacs. The virus often has the added danger of destroying the world should it escape from the remote base (due to its ancient or alien nature).

The situation is remedied by the Main Characters and the few remaining Gentle Bearded Scientists, who in this story are the Red Shirts (for the uninitiated, a term originating in the original series of Star Trek that means they are expendable characters used to raise the stakes of the story by dying.) As always, the world is saved. The biological is never preserved, whatever it is.

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you've seen this plotline in Stargate SG-1? Or maybe you've seen it in The X-Files? (If you count the movie, twice). If you're like me, and have a fondness for rather old science fiction, you may have seen it in Doctor Who (those are my three examples). Perhaps there are other shows that I've overlooked that also contain the Deadly Antarctica Virus in one form or another.

It is of course the remoteness and unusual conditions of the Earth's poles that make it an attractive target for writers, and not only in Science Fiction. House, for example, once diagnosed a patient in Antarctica. The first season of ReGenesis revolves around a Deadly Arctic Virus (although not an ancient or alien one). Antarctica is the only continent that is mysterious to us temperate creatures. The age of the ice and its preservation properties, the concentration of small groups of humans living in tiny restricted communities on the edge of the world, the ease with which bad weather can cut off communications and travel... all contribute to an exciting alienness that makes Antarctica ideal for a Science Fiction show setting.

And so the Deadly Antarctica Virus is born.

1 comment:

Jake said...

Don't forget John Carpenter's 1982 reimagining of The Thing; it fits the pattern almost exactly. The earlier version does so too, to a degree, but not so perfectly as does Carpenter's.

If you think about it, the first two Alien movies follow this pattern as well, although they don't have the "ice world" element to them.