“The Ark” is something of a watershed story in Doctor Who terms. It is the first story ever to be recorded on a set-by-set basis, with the scenes being assembled into the correct order only at the editing stage. Moreover, it is unique in that the four parts are essentially comprised of two separate two-parters, each with their own different cast and (almost) self-contained story. Finally, “The Ark” will forever be remembered in infamy as Dodo Chaplet’s first trip aboard the TARDIS…
As you may have gathered, I am not a big fan of Jackie Lane’s Dodo. Not at all. She is absolutely horrendous, to put it mildly. I thought Steven’s pig-headed disbelief in “The Time Meddler” was annoying enough, but in the first episode of this story Dodo puts him to shame. Interestingly, Dodo’s introduction here sees Steven come full circle – this time he’s the one in the position of trying to convince the disbeliever that the TARDIS can really travel through time and space! Initial gripes over Dodo’s reaction to the TARDIS aside, her character is downright awful. She’s thick, opinionated and not even that pretty to look at; I really haven’t got a clue what the producers were thinking about when they conceived of this character. And what is it with that daft crusader’s outfit? In this, her very first story, she nearly destroys humanity – her common cold infecting the humans on the Ark who, ten million years of evolution down the line, have no immunity to it.
Mercifully, apart from Dodo’s contributions, Paul Erickson’s story is quite a clever one, and it is also one that translates very well onto the small screen, even considering the tight Doctor Who budget of the time. The Monoids (a slave race) are very impressive for a 1960s alien, and the Ark sets themselves actually manage to look sleek and futuristic without descending into the cheesy futurism that certain stories do. Basically, ten million years into the future the Earth is about to plunge into the sun. All Earth life is on a huge Ark on a 700-year journey to a new planet, Refusis II. In the first two episodes, Dodo’s cold wreaks havoc (very War of the Worlds!) on both the humans and the Monoids, but the Doctor comes up with a cure, saves the day and the TARDIS leaves at the end of the second episode with everything wrapped up. Or is it? The TARDIS rematerialises on the Ark 700 years later, when the Ark has reached Refusis II, and the statue that the humans had spent centuries building is revealed to have a Monoid head! It’s a superb cliffhanger.
Sadly, I didn’t find the second half of the story anywhere near as good as the first half. It’s interesting that for once the Doctor has to deal with the consequences of his actions – he lands in the same place, hundreds of years on to learn that his interference (well, Dodo’s cold) has caused the Monoids to advance into a dominant, militant species, and caused the humans to regress into passive slaves. Rather predictably though, the Doctor makes peace between both races and they both live happily ever after on Refusis II.
As with the next story, “The Celestial Toymaker,” there are a tumult of wonderful ideas here that just aren’t explored satisfactorily enough for my liking. At the end of the day, “The Ark” isn’t particularly good, but the first two episodes are a lot more palatable than a lot of the other rubbish farmed out during this very inconsistent third season.
Season 3 is a bit of a shambles really, but then going as it did through three producers that’s only to be expected. Consequently much of the stories are sub-par, although it does contain its share of greats. The Ark, however, is one of the only complete stories that survive this fragmented period. People criticise this and justly, although calling it too much like Star Trek is a bit unfair seeing as it predates that show (although an anagram of its name is “ah, Trek”), but when you consider what it lost it does give rise to the whole What Were They Thinking question. That said, it’s by no means a lazy episode and gets full marks for effort.
The Ark has a big advantage of having Barry Newbery as a designer and he delivers some outstanding sets and special effects, creating an extremely impressive looking episode. The jungle set is outstanding, looking absolutely perfect (even though black and white does mask imperfections), and the inclusion of a live elephant is the icing on the cake. The story’s major icebergs though are the Monoids, probably the worst monsters of the decade; they could be reasonable (not great, but perhaps not so heavily criticised) were it not for comparatively minor details such as their hippy-wigs and the fact that the actors’ legs are held together so that they walk like they all have haemorrhoids. I noticed that there were no Monoids aboard Platform One, as The End Of The World takes place at exactly the same time as this; the production team of the new series have decided wisely which elements are best left in their own eras.
The story still has an ace card, though, and that’s Tristram Cary’s superb score, which shows how good electronic music could be back in the 1960s. I know the score dates back to The Daleks, and was far more appropriate to the tone of that story, but even so I lap up every opportunity I can get to hear it.
The elephant, toucan, lizard…they’re all great; it’s only the Dodo that annoys. I’ll not mince words: Jackie Lane is absolutely pathetic, and she drags the episode to floor level from the moment she steps out of the TARDIS with her stage-sneezes and her cold symptoms that get switched off when they’re not needed by the story. In fact she’s so bad that even Peter Purves, normally very good, seems uncomfortable – when she trills “Earth? Earth?” at him in that annoying voice I just want to strangle her. She did improve slightly in her short period as a companion, but here she is abominable. Hartnell soon arrives though and he well and truly sorts them out, as good an actor in his third season as he ever was, despite his increasing sickness. The “indoor nature park” is so obvious and takes so long to set up that it really dates the story to a time when the audience was patronised by some writers (they still get patronised now if I’m honest, but not in the same way).
Is it me, or does that crewman who gets miniaturised seem like the Arnold Rimmer type? The special effect of his punishment is good if a little silly, and there are some more fantastic (and huge) sets on display.
The writing in this episode is good, and the dialogue is never boring to listen to. Characterisation is a major problem though with people being portrayed in very obvious terms: so it is that Zentos and Controller play an exaggerated version of Good Cop Bad Cop when the regulars are brought to them. While as I said it’s worth watching to an extent, this story never rises above the level of Moral Lesson For The Kiddies territory. Dodo spells out the concept of Noah’s Ark when it would be better to let it speak for itself - however, while morals and supposed subtexts are a hallmark of John Wiles’s time as a producer, subtlety is not as far as it is possible to tell from his suddenly-curtailed tenure. This story, of the four he helmed the one where he had the most influence, seems typical of his attitude: while it attempts to be meaningful it displays its philosophies at surface level so that what was intended to be deep comes out extremely shallow. It is a shame, as the first episode is generally quite good concerning itself as it does with introductions.
The fever strikes very suddenly; it could have done with more of a set up. The scene where the Controller is struck down is also the first lapse in Jackie Lane’s accent; in a better character that might mean something to me. Zentos transforms into a word-twisting fool; it is a cliché, but he is appropriately dislikeable.
It is episode two where the flawed execution of this story starts to let it down. The excuse that data on the common cold was lost centuries previously is ironic in the light of the missing episodes problem; it’s a shame that there weren’t any missing episodes at this point as otherwise this would be the closest this comes to a subtext.
Eric Elliot as the Commander is a real ham, sending his dying-man characterisation into orbit, and Steven’s moralising to Zentos (not the last time we’ll have morals given to us on a plate) annoys; the Controller is even used to provide a commentary about it. However, although I’m not sure it was intentional, the fact that Zentos only really starts to care when a human dies undermines the idea of racial utopia very effectively, foreshadowing future events.
Despite some good moments (such as the cliffhanger) Michael Imison’s direction is also lacking, and his penchant for setting up some kind of explanation (“now listen carefully…”) and then cutting does seem very corny and B-movie like, although the worst moment is not now but in the second half when the Monoids go into a huddle.
The destruction of Earth looks wonderful though, as this story boasts some brilliant special effects. It’s the cliffhanger that steals the show though, slow and sombre, making Cary’s music actually fit for once. The double-plot idea stretches credulity, as it is hard to believe that the TARDIS would spontaneously rematerialise at the exact end of the journey (although it’s no worse than the randomiser taking it to Skaro thirteen years later). While it doesn’t quite work its concept is very good and original though, making it even more of a shame that this story isn’t a success; it really could be.
The scanner effect is good, and I’ll contradict myself and say that there is some good direction that gradually reveals the reversal of fortunes between humans and Monoids. Their voices are slightly daft but nowhere near as bad as they are sometimes made out to be; the Monoids certainly sound better than they look.
The third episode of a story is notorious for being dull, but I’ve never had any real problems with them myself. That said, there is a gigantic exposition scene here that gets by only through assured dialogue. The pill being dropped into the water is another superb effect, although why it suddenly transforms into a bowl of peeled new potatoes is beyond me. The spacecraft effects are similarly good, this being an example of how the black and white years can surprise. I’m perfectly prepared to overlook the visible wires and the fact that the statue falls downwards at the end. Refusis II is a well-realised alien planet, not looking too much like a set. A Monoid trips over coming down some steps, but Cary’s score stretches out into its full majesty. The Refusians sound good and their invisibility is well done, although the explanation of a solar flare being responsible for their condition is stupid and lazy – and lazy is a criticism I’ve tried to avoid for this story. The cliffhanger is a bit strange, with Hartnell not making the prospect of being marooned seem very dramatic.
By episode four I’m getting tired of all this, and I’m even going to criticise the visuals by pointing out the painted backdrop in the Ark that can be seen waving about. The search for the bomb could be dramatic if its location hadn’t already been revealed to the audience, and similarly the Monoids wondering who is flying the shuttle is dwelled on pointlessly. There is lots of eavesdropping in this episode, which drives the plot. With every criticism, I lament the promising idea and introduction yet further.
The insurrection among the Monoids is well written but with such poor monsters it’s hard to care about them really. Their battle scenes are pathetic, as they hobble around with their fastened legs shining lights at each other; they’re so pathetic that I feel sorry for them when they die. Maharis is equally irritating, reminding me of Weyland Smithers.
And so on, so forth – the bomb is found and explodes harmlessly (another decent effect), and the moral is finally and unsurprisingly hammered home. All that follows is a poorly-done lead-in to The Celestial Toymaker, with Dodo and Steven (in absurd costumes) taking ages to notice the Doctor is fading away. In fact, even the Doctor takes his time to realise it.
I feel bad for criticising this story; if it had a facial expression it would be looking at me with puppy-dog eyes, willing me to like it. Sadly, that’s just not going to happen as it is so unsophisticatedly made when it should have been so much better. That said, it will always be remembered as a story that tries its very best. There are worse things to be remembered as.
The Ark is an rather unheralded gem from season three, forgotten amongst so many other black and white classics, and is notable as the full story for Dodo Chaplet, who boarded the TARDIS in mysterious circumstances at the end of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve. It is an interesting debut for Dodo (especially with that cockney accent of hers) and she starts off in annoying manner, baiting Steven and giving the impression of being an know it all, but she settles down from The Plague (Episode 2 of the Ark) onwards, and becomes rather more likeable actually.
I think it is an nice and original touch that the main crisis of this story is inadvertently caused by Dodo’s cold, and the severe repercussions it would have on the life forms onboard the Ark, however it is not fully explained properly why the Guardians of the Ark (whom seem to vastly outnumber the Monoids) have their ‘spirits’ broken by the more severe outbreak of Dodo’s cold, but it does serve an excellent example of how the oppressed can become the oppressors.
The direction from Michael Imison is most impressive, and it is a shame he didn’t work on more stories for Who. The Ark looks believable and well designed, and benefits from such live animals such as an snake and a baby elephant !
The first two episodes set on the Ark, and the crises aboard it, are probably better then the last two set of Refusis II, although I find the predictable courtroom trial scene tiresome and predictable. However the script of the first two episodes sadly glosses over the oppressive treatment of the humans towards their Monaid counterparts, something which would have served the story far better when the TARDIS rematerialized on the Arc 700 years later.
However the grief and guilt that Dodo displays during The Plague is nicely handled, as is the softer Hartnell Doctor, showing genuine pity and compassion towards her, something that probably would not have happened in Season One, when he probably would have ranted about the sanctity of space/time travel
It is also interesting to notice tat the Doctor is the only know who suspects the intelligence of the Monoids when one of them helps him out with his experiments for an cure. The Plague also features one of the more chilling moments from the Hartnell Era, when on the big monitor inside the Ark a vision of Earth is shown burning up as it approaches the Sun, and the cliff hangar is also very cleverly handled, with the head of the giant statue supposedly meant to represent humanity, is shown to have been completed with an monoid head atop it.
Episode Three, The Return, has shown quite clearly that the Monoids have now enslaved the humans aboard the ship, which is no surprise as clearly the guardians of humanity’s last hope appear to be toothless wimps. The story picks up a pace when The Doctor, Dodo and the Monoids touch down on Refusis II, and its hilarious to see the arrogance of the Monoids brings them unstuck on the planet, due to the invisibility of the inhabitants.
I suppose this serial does become rather formulaic at this point, with the Monoids planning to desert the humans aboard the Ark and destroying them with a bomb planted inside the statue, but at least it’s handled with aplomb with plenty of desperation among the humans and Steven does get a lot more to do in this portion of the story, having been separated from the Doctor and Dodo, he displays his leadership skills amongst the rather insipid humans aboard the Ark.
The final episode, The Bomb, contains some nice scenes as well, such as the Doctor fairly pointing out some of humanity’s flaws, including intolerance and how they treated the Monoid’s as slaves in the first place. I also enjoy the civil war that rages amongst factions of the Monoids, which probably elevates above other alien races during this period, it is rather regrettable that they never got another appearance in the show as they look superbly designed and convincing.
I do think it’s sad that so many fans rate this story so poorly as it’s really quite an competent (if admittedly unspectacular) outing for the First Doctor, the plot is fairly thin and doesn’t cover humanity’s poor treatment of the Monoids in the first place, but it has a great performance from all the regulars, beautiful sets and fast direction, and a great new race of aliens in the Monoids.
Sadly it remains only one of two complete stories remaining from season three (along with the Gunfighters), long regarded as one of the finest seasons in the first decade of Who.
How depressing. Ten million years from now, mankind will be led by a leering old man and every man, woman, and child will choose to wear stringy togas as the new fashion.
"The Ark" is inconsequential and (at times) silly. The monoids look ridiculous with their Davy Jones-style haircuts (Obviously put there at the last minute by a worried costumer. Imagine how rude they'd look without the wig.). Tristam Cary's score from "The Daleks" is used for the umpteenth time. And why does mankind travel 700 years just to colonise one planet? Let's not get too picky. Surely there are more than a few habitable planets along the way?
One bright spot stands out amongst all these sore points - Dodo, the Doctor's new companion. Ah, Dodo, when you sneezed and indignantly told the Doctor, "Me nose is runnin'!" you stole my heart forever...
Most of the Hartnell Doctor Who stories that I consider to be overlooked by fandom are either wholly or partial missing from the archives; the exception to this rule is 'The Ark'. Even with its recent video release, it is seldom talked about either fondly or with contempt, although exactly why this should be is not entirely clear. My best guess is that, quite simply, 'The Ark' is an oddity.
The direction and design of 'The Ark' is exemplary. There are numerous shots that impress, including the take-off of the landers from the Ark, and most notably, the scenes of the invisible Refusian moving objects around, which are incredibly well done. The interior of the Ark is also very impressive, meshing futuristic sets and model work with ease. The giant statue is the best example of this, as the camera switches from shots of its feet to panning shots up the model. The jungle too is excellent, and made all the more convincing by the presence of real animals, especially the elephant. The castle on Refusis II is another effective use of model work, again meshing well with the countryside sets of the planet's surface. The only visual aspects of the production that has aged badly are the space shots, with wobbly landers on strings, an unconvincing nuclear explosion, and a truly dreadful shot of the Earth burning up. The Monoid costumes are another triumph, with the creatures numbering amongst the most convincing aliens of the era. This is largely due to their single eyes, which are achieved by the actors holding them in their mouths and moving them with their tongues. Compare this with the later appearance of Scaroth in 'City of Death', which is far less convincingly achieved. This, and their mop-top hair, makes their appearance much more memorable than generic reptilian alien. Sadly, the human Guardians fare less well, boasting the most absurd costumes of any humanoid characters in the series up until this point, including the Thals; they look very much like a kitsch sixties vision of the future, which I suppose they are, and have aged very, very badly.
The plot of 'The Ark' is its greatest strength, due to the novelty structure it adopts, effectively being two two-part stories back to back. The first two episodes are basically the build-up, but form a tight drama in their own right; the concept of the Ark carrying the last survivors of humanity to an new world is a good one, and initially appears to be a typical science fiction portrayal of an advanced utopian future society. However, the cracks in the veneer are soon exposed, as Dodo's cold infects the Ark's inhabitants and threatens their future; paranoia and suspicion become rife, and the seemingly peaceful Guardians are soon out not for justice, but for retribution (they want the travelers banished from the Ark, but won't allow them to leave in the TARDIS; instead, they refuse to accept that Dodo brought her cold to the ship by accident and demand that they be ejected into space, and thus executed, as punishment for their crimes). But there are other, subtler, hints that this human society is less advanced than it seems. When Dodo's cold causes an outbreak, they suspect that the travelers are agents from Refusis, their chosen destination, trying to prevent their colonization of that planet; this immediately suggests that the Guardians are determined to colonize the planet whether the native inhabitants like it or not. More importantly, they claim that the Monoids are their friends, and seem to genuinely believe this, but the Monoids clearly form a second class of citizen, occupying the menial tasks on board the Ark. Most tellingly, when the occupants of the Ark become sick, Zentos notes that the Monoids are starting to die, and then adds that it will be really serious if a Guardian also dies, immediately demonstrating the relative importance ascribed to the two different populations by the Guardians. The pay-off for all this comes in episodes three and four, when the Monoids have taken over and the Guardians are reduced to the role of slaves, the Doctor noting at the end that their rebellion is hardly surprising and that both races must learn to live together on an equal footing. Incidentally, the cliffhanger ending to 'The Plague' is another example of a cliffhanger that, whilst still impressive, must have had far more impact on its first broadcast, as the TARDIS returns to the Ark and the travelers discover that the huge statue has been completed and has the head of a Monoid. Even with foreknowledge, it is still a classic moment.
William Hartnell and Peter Purves once more deliver on the acting front, with the Doctor seeming more of a wise bystander than on previous occasions. He seems less cantankerous than usual, and is determined to help the inhabitants of the Ark. His frustration at not being allowed to try and cure the cold unleashed by Dodo is palpable, as is his delight when he succeeds in doing so. His forgiving and understanding attitude towards Zentos' earlier rabid desire for vengeance is admirable, and he is gracious when he accepts the deputy commander's apology. In the second half of the story, he continues his active role in resolving the situation, speaking on behalf of the Ark's passengers to the rather likeable Refusian, and generally mediating between various parties; it is the Doctor who at the end tells the humans that they must make peace with the Monoids, a sentiment with which the Refusian agrees on as a condition to both races staying on Refusis II. Throughout the series thus far, we have often seen the Doctor deal smugly with villains, only to be suddenly brought up short when they gain the upper hand (the Daleks are the most obvious example, but others range from Lobos, to the Animus, to Nero); it makes a refreshing, and indeed amusing, change, to see the Doctor's obvious contempt towards Monoid 1, whom he speaks to with condescension and sarcasm. There is no particular lesson to be learned from this, but it is highly entertaining. Steven is on fine form as usual, seething with righteous anger during the trial in 'The Plague' and denouncing the supposedly advanced Guardians as no better than their primitive ancestors. During 'The Return' and 'The Bomb', he plays a crucial role in the enslaved Guardians' rebellion, hinting for the first time at hitherto unseen leadership skills, a character development that rises quite logically out of his frustration at being unable to help those around him during 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve'. And then there's Dodo.
As a new companion, Dodo fills the young-female-sidekick-for-the-Doctor-to-explain-things-to role, previously occupied by Susan and Vicki (and, briefly, Katarina, although Sara Kingdom rather broke the mold). Since it is her cold that almost wipes out the human race, she is immediately given an active role, which is good way to introduce a new companion, and she immediately comes across as likeable enough, in large part due to the compassion and guilt brought out by the tragedy she unwittingly caused. Sadly, this doesn't last, and in the last two episodes she does very little, not even reacting very much to the revelation that her cold contributed to the success of the Monoid revolution. Nevertheless, I'm not sure why she is quite so reviled by fandom as she is, although her sporadic cockney accent doesn't do her any favours.
Unfortunately, because of the structure of the plot, there is little for characterisation of the supporting characters in 'The Ark'; the Guardians are two-dimensional, but the Monoids are even worse. Monoid 1 gets the most lines, but he's portrayed as a stock megalomaniac, to such an extent that he actual gloats almost constantly. In fact, the best-characterised supporting character is the Refusian, and even he gets little to do, although he comes across as considerate, thoughtful and intelligent. Nevertheless, 'The Ark' manages to remain interesting throughout, and its unusual structure and excellent production standards compensate for its shortcomings. It isn't a classic, but it is a solid story and undeserving of its relative obscurity.