Doctor Who – The Ark

I’m still reeling from the slapdash way Dodo was introduced at the end of the previous serial, The Massacre. Jackie Lane continues to be thrown in at the deep end as this story begins, but as Dodo will eventually settle down I’m prepared to cut her some slack.

The opening episode – The Steel Sky – is a pretty impressive production. There’s plenty of rapid cutting in the jungle scenes from film, to studio, then back to film, etc. This sounds straightforward enough, but since the cutting had to be done live during the studio recording, the chances of something going wrong was quite high.

Unlike film/studio cutting during the colour era, the constant changes from film stock to studio videotape isn’t so noticeable in black and white, so director Michael Imison manages to get away with it. There’s some other nice shots in these early episodes and some decent model-work, which suggests that Imison was trying to use the series’ limited technical resources to their fullest degree.

This is just as well, as the acting is, to put it kindly, a bit hit and miss. Eric Elliott as the Commander and Inigo Jackson as Zentos both manage to chew any bit of scenery they come across. Kate Newman (Mellium) is better, but she’s not given much to do. It’s good to see Michael Sheard (making his DW debut as Rhos) but if it hadn’t been Sheard playing the role I doubt anyone would spend a great deal of time talking about this character.

What’s notable about The Ark is the way it neatly splits into two two-part stories. Although at the end of the second episode (which sees the Doctor and his friends bidding the inhabitants of the Ark a fond farewell after curing them of the terrible damage inflicted by Dodo’s cold) it appears that the story has run its course.

The reveal that the TARDIS has travelled in time, but not space, dropping them back on the Ark seven hundred years later is a good twist. As is the cliff-hanger reveal that the statue of humanity (which was only partly constructed at the start of the story) has now been completed with the head of a Monoid.

Ah yes, the Monoids. They spent the first two episodes in the background as mute servants of the humans. But now they’ve gained voices and – rather ticked off about the way they were treated as second class citizens for centuries – have taken over and are giving the humans a taste of their own medicine.

That the Doctor was partly responsible for this state of affairs (Dodo’s cold led to a mutated disease which, after they left, sapped the will of the humans) is an interesting story beat. Given that the Doctor can never resist meddling in local affairs, it’s easy to imagine him leaving a trail of unintentional destruction as he goes along his merry way. It’s not surprising that the series rarely comments on this though (Planet of the Spiders being a notable exception).

The Monoids, bless them, aren’t in the top rank of Doctor Who monsters. Their wobbling walk is bad enough, but when they begin to talk in part three – The Return – things really begin to career downhill. This episode features several of the serial’s most cherished moments – the Security Kitchen, for one. Maybe this is intended to be ironic and we’re simply not getting the joke (after all, where exactly do the Monoids stuff all the food they force the Guardians to make for them?)

Dodo’s confrontation with Monoid 2 (none of them have names, only Prisoner-ish numbers) is another classic.

DODO: Yes, I bet it’ll take some time to get the whole of the population down here, so the sooner you get started, the better, I should think.
MONOID 2: Don’t worry. It may not take as long as you think.
DODO: What do you mean? Are you up to something?
MONOID 2: Er, no.
DODO: No? But you gave yourself away, didn’t you?

Dodo’s tone here is rather like a mother chastising a naughty child. It helps to dispel any lingering menace that the Monoids might have had. This is a pity as they look quite imposing in still form (see below) it’s only when they walk and talk that they have a problem …

The Ark trundles along to a conclusion, with the humans and the remaining Monoids (after the more warlike ones perish in a brief civil war) agreeing to bury the hatchet and begin a new life on Refusis along with the invisible Refusians, who are looking forward to having a bit of corporeal company at last.

Given what’s happened before though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re at each other’s throats in a couple of decades time ….

It’s easy to be a little dismissive of the simplistic storyline and the lack of three-dimensional guest characters (all the ones we see are drawn from stock – the impulsive hot-headed human convinced that the Doctor is a menace, etc). But The Ark does have some solid science-fiction concepts – such as the generational spaceship in search of a new home – and the production design by Barry Newbery has plenty of little touches which still look good today.

Ratings-wise, I’ll give it three TARDISes out of five.

6 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Ark

  1. Welcome back to Doctor Who.

    Forty years ago, before the odd episodes of Daleks’ Master Plan and Galaxy Four turned up, all of the first half of Doctor Who’s third series was missing. The first episode which did exist was part one of The Ark and the serial exists in its in its entirety. (In fact most of the William Hartnell stories either existed in their entirety or didn’t exist at all.)

    It wasn’t Peter Purves’ favourite serial, and it’s true that Steven Taylor spend most of the story acting as a mother hen to Dodo. But they have perfected instant potato by the 57th century.

    The second half feature Terrance Bayler who later appeared in Life of Brian.


  2. If the TARDIS at the end of Episode 2 had traveled in Time but not in Space, it would be drifting in the void. The TARDIS clearly traveled in Time & Space to where the ship was 700 years later.

    Or as a semi evolved simian once deduced…..

    No, no, no, no, wait a minute. Where exactly is here?

    The planet Magrathea sir.

    But we just left there! This is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I thought.

    Precisely sir. The one was constructed on the ruins of the other.

    Ahhh! You mean we’ve traveled in time, but not in space!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Ark was one of the few Doctor Who stories (apart from the historicals) to seriously make use of the SF device of time travel. The cliffhanger reveal of the statue with a Monoid head must have made an impression on me, as I remembered the scene for decades afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • People tend to complain when Doctor Who makes references to stories that were broadcast decades earlier. (Or if they do more than one story on the same theme, eg the end of life on Earth, and the stories contradict each other.)

      In The Ark and The End of the World we did see the Earth swallowed up by the sun.


  4. In complete contrast to the Ark, one of the Doctor Who Magazine specials took the form of an upside-down-downside-up book, and there was a pair of comic strips. The first strip I think did feature the first Doctor, Steven and Dodo, and at the strip ended with the Doctor and his friend leaving in the Tardis, and the second strip began with the Tardis immediately rematerialising in the same place, but this time it was the Seventh Doctor and Ace who got out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s