Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"The Ark"

Aired Mar 5 – Mar 26, 1966

Episode 1: The Steel Sky
Episode 2: The Plague
Episode 3: The Return
Episode 4: The Bomb

Story 23

Written by Paul Erickson & Lesley Scott

Directed by Michael Imison


Arriving ten million years in the future aboard a giant spacecraft, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo are fascinated to discover the ship is carrying Earth's surviving plant, animal and human life, with the bulk of it being miniaturized and in suspended animation. The Ark is on a 700 year voyage to the planet Refusis II, the new home of the survivors.

Unfortunately, Dodo is suffering from a common cold, and unwittingly causes a deadly outbreak among the humans and their servant race the Monoids, as they have no resistance at all to the virus. 

A faction of the humans blame the travellers, and place them on trial, and it is up to Steven to defend them from the charge that they infected the crew deliberately. Luckily, the Doctor is successful in finding a cure, and their lives are spared and they leave the Ark as friends of the crew and the Monoids.

The TARDIS next materializes again on board the Ark as it nears the end of the journey. The Doctor and his companions are shocked to discover that in the intervening years since their last visit, the Monoids rose up and have now enslaved the humans. The Monoids plan to rule Refusis II as well, but while the Doctor and Dodo persuade the native (and invisible) Refusians to help them convince the two races to live in peace, even as Steven leads the enslaved humans in an uprising. As the Doctor and his friends prepare to leave, the two races resolve to live together with the Refusians.

The TARDIS crew depart, but while in flight, the Doctor seemingly vanishes!


It's hard to out and out hate any story that contains the line "Take them to the security kitchen" but The Ark is certainly hard to like. It's too bad that the story and the supporting characters are all so tedious, because there is great ambition on display here.

First, the story tries to bifurcate the serial into two distinct sections through the innovative decision to have half the story take place in one era, and the other in the same setting, but separated by centuries. It's a cool idea, but it does mean you better have something interesting and fast-paced going on in both parts. Sadly, the first half of the story is slow even by the standards of 1960s Doctor Who, and the supporting cast is populated by dull and uninteresting characters who wind up not mattering at all since we leave them behind for the final half of the story. The second half is more packed with incident, but the central antagonists are terminally uninspired.
It's the first full serial for Jackie Lane's Dodo, and her character is all over the place. Lane has perhaps the saddest behind the scenes story, created by an unpopular production team who wanted her to be a modern cockney girl, but then forced by upper management to be a more traditional companion. The result is a character that is all over the place in her first story, and who never settles down until she is unceremoniously dumped from the show. But more on that later.

The Monoids look cool, in kitschy silly sort of way. Let's call them charming, shall we? But they are indistinguishable from each other, even when they're wearing those stupid collars with their helpful numbers painted on. Too bad the writers didn't paint on personalities as well. The concept of the Ark is good. There's nothing wrong with the concept of the Monoids, but as always, it's the execution that counts.

All of this is odd, because in all other respects, this is one of the finest directed serials of the classic series. Michael Imison pulled out all the stops with extravagant camera movements designed not just for style and a sense of energy, but also to take advantage of the sets to their fullest. It could very well be the best-looking serial of the decade. This is what elevates the serial from what could be excruciating tedium to merely a draggy failed experiment. Imison's work here is first class (there's a live elephant in the studio for Pete's sake!), even if he over-spent to an incredible degree and basically ended his directorial career. But his efforts save The Ark from completely crashing and burning.

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