Welcome to the Fifteenth Installment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to watch and review all available episodes of SF’s longest running television series, Doctor Who. This week, the TARDIS crew encounter the last surviving members of the human race in the year 10,000,000 AD in The Ark.
The Ark (4 Episodes)
05 March – 26 March 1966
Before we begin, a recap is needed. As mentioned in past Who Reviews, there are 106 missing episodes from the first six seasons of Doctor Who. While seasons 1 and 2 remain relatively intact and available, season 3 is missing 20 of its first 25 episodes, the majority of the first five storylines of the season.
In these missing episodes, the Doctor and his companions travel to Galaxy 4, become embroiled in the Battle of Troy in ancient Greece, battle the Daleks for a fourth time and the Meddling Monk for a second time, and witness the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve in Paris.
Along the way, Vicki departs, choosing to stay in ancient Greece after the Trojan War. She has been renamed Cressida by King Priam and has fallen in love with Prince Troilus. Her handmaiden, Katarina, becomes the Doctor’s next companion, but is killed in the battle with the Daleks, becoming the first companion to die while travelling with the Doctor.
After the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve, the Doctor and Steven arrive in present day London where they accidently gain a new companion, Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet.
Ok, that brings us up to speed and establishes the state of the TARDIS crew at the beginning of The Ark.
Arriving almost ten million years in the future, the TARDIS materialises in an arboretum aboard a vast starship. The Doctor and Steven have been joined by Dodo Chaplet, a free spirited and somewhat flighty teenager who is also showing symptoms of a cold.
The TARDIS crew are soon discovered by the alien Monoids, mute servitors of the humans who command the starship. They are taken to the command centre of the ship, where they learn that they aboard a giant Ark. The Earth is dying, about to be consumed by the expanding sun, and the surviving humans have gathered the last remnants of Earth civilisation, flora and fauna onto the starship. They are seeking out a new home, the Earth-like planet Refusis II, a journey that will take 700 years and see the passing of several generations of humans.
I’ve always loved the concept of generation ships in SF and The Ark is no different. This is high concept SF at its finest and it establishes a fascinating backdrop for the story that is about to unfold.
Like the humans, the Monoids have lost their home world. They live peacefully alongside the humans – known as Guardians – but perform most of the menial tasks aboard the Ark. Despite the seemingly amicable relationship between the two races, it is clear that the Monoids are almost slaves to the humans.
The Doctor and his companions also learn that the humans are hand-carving a huge statue of a human, partially to pass the time on the long journey but also as a symbol of the continued existence of the human race. When the TARDIS crew first see the statue, it is in early stages of construction, with only the feet complete.
Unfortunately for the TARDIS crew, Dodo’s cold begins to spread through both the Monoids and the humans, who have no immunity to the virus. When the Commander of the Ark falls ill, the Doctor and his companions are blamed and put of trial.
Fortunately, the Doctor manages to find a cure and save both the Monoids and the Guardians. Having repaired the damage they caused, the crew watches the destruction of the Earth on long-range scanners and then depart, believing they have completed their required task on The Ark. Naturally, things aren’t that simple…
Strangely, the TARDIS rematerializes on the Ark, 700 years after their departure. Emerging from the time machine, the Doctor and his companions find that the statue has been completed, but instead of a human, it now resembles a Monoid.
The revelation of the Monoid statue is a powerful visual moment and a huge cliff-hanger to end the second episode of this storyline. In many respects, it’s a precursor to such classic SF scenes as the discovery of the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes.
This is also one of the more intelligent and creative uses of the time travel concept that lies at the heart of Doctor Who. Earlier attempts at creative time travel, such as the time displacement at the beginning of The Space Museum, fall flat and often have little impact on the storyline as a whole. Here, the journey 700 years into the future lies at the core of the tale.
The TARDIS crew soon discover that the Monoids now control The Ark, having staged a coup sometime in the past. The coup was possible due to a genetic weakness introduced into the humans 700 years in the past by Dodo’s virus. The former Guardians are now slaves to the Monoids. The Monoids now have voice communicators and numerical emblems to distinguish each other. The control room of The Ark is now a throne room for their leader, Monoid 1.
Once again, the intelligence of screenwriter Paul Erickson (his wife Lesley Scott is also credited but it is believed that she actually didn’t do any work on the script) and his use of time becomes apparent. We see how events hundreds of years in the past can have long-term ramifications on the present and how dangerous time travel can be. In past storylines, the Doctor has often warned his companions of these dangers, but here we get to see them firsthand.
Now prisoners of the Monoids, the Doctor and his companions are put to work in the kitchen, preparing meals for their masters alongside the other human slaves. Steven attempts to rally the humans to revolt but their efforts prove unsuccessful.
The Ark’s long journey is drawing to an end, with Refusis II close at hand. While Monoid 1 has promised the humans that they will be allowed to live on the planet, he secretly seeks to ensure that only Monoids be allowed to inhabit the planet. He has placed a bomb on the Ark that will detonate once the Monoids have landed on Refusis, killing all of the humans aboard.
When the Ark arrives at Refusis, a landing party is assembled, consisting of the Doctor, Dodo, Monoid 2 and a human named Yendom. Exploring the planet, they discover a castle that is home to the native Refusians, giant beings rendered invisible by solar flares. The Refusians welcome their new guests and reveal that they will happily share their planet, but only with peaceful beings.
Monoid 2 and Yendom flee the castle. On route, Yendom realises that the Monoids will not allow the humans to reach Refusis. Monoid 2 kills him, but is himself killed when their launching pod is destroyed, leaving the Doctor and Dodo stranded on the planet.
Meanwhile, aboard The Ark, tensions are mounting within the Monoid ranks, fomenting dissent. Monoid 4 openly opposes Monoid 1’s plan to destroy the humans and wants further exploration of the planet before the Monoids settle there. Three more launching pods are sent to the planet, commanded by Monoid 1 and Monoid 4. When Monoid 4 finds the original destroyed pod, he interprets this as a sign that Monoid 1 is leading his people to potential doom. The building tensions amongst the Monoids finally boils over, leading to civil war between the two factions.
As fighting erupts between the Monoids, the Doctor, Dodo and a Refusian use the chaos to steal a launcher and return to the Ark. There, word of the Monoid bomb has spread amongst the Guardians, spurring their revolt. The bomb is soon discovered within the head of the Monoid statue and the Refusian is able to transport the statue into space before the bomb can explode.
The human Guardians use the remaining launchers to travel to Refusis themselves, where they are offered support on peaceful terms by the Refusians. The Monoids have been decimated by their infighting, and those that have survived the fighting are offered peaceful settlement alongside the humans and Refusians.
With the Ark’s journey complete and peace settled amongst the races, the Doctor and his companions return to the TARDIS and continue on their journey. Steven and Dodo are shocked when the Doctor suddenly disappears from the control room…
There’s a strong message present in the Monoid/Human relationship, as well as a sense of history repeating once the Monoids enslave the humans after centuries of servitude. This morality, along with the intelligent and meaningful use of time travel, adds weight to this fascinating tale.
Surprisingly, this is one of the lesser episodes for the Doctor as a character. While he cures the Guardians of illness and helps in discovery of the Refusians, we don’t really learn anything new about him as a character.
What does stand out, though, is his relationship with Dodo. With Susan and Vicki, the Doctor adopted a strong, caring paternal role. With Dodo, he is more forceful and less protective, often treating her with a level of dismissal, if not contempt. Her child-like nature seems less endearing to the Doctor and more irritating and he responds in kind.
Dodo Chaplet does not come across as a strong character in her first storyline, and seems to be a poor replacement for the departed Vicki. While Vicki, and Susan before her, were both teenagers with a certain level of youthful naivety, Dodo is more childish and immature. I believe the series producers were attempting to create a free spirited character in tune with the era, but Dodo unfortunately comes across as juvenile and slightly irritating.
Steven, on the other hand, continues to impress as a companion. He is resourceful, intelligent and charismatic.
The Monoids are certainly one of the more bizarre alien races to appear in these early episodes. Completely alike in appearance, they each have a single eye where a human’s mouth is (an effect created by having the actors hold a ping-pong ball between their teeth) and a full head of Mod-like wigs. It’s a well-intentioned design and a laudable attempt to create a truly alien visage for the race, but it’s only partially successful. It does work well when the statue of the Monoid is first revealed.
As villains, the Monoids are in some respects sympathetic, having reversed their servitude to the humans and made themselves the masters. Unfortunately, they repeat the mistakes of the past, providing a strong moral message to the storyline.
Generation ships, clever uses of time travel, morality tales about enslavement and servitude and even an anti-war/pro-peace message make The Ark one of the best pure SF stories in Doctor Who’s early seasons.
Unfortunately, the next storyline, The Celestial Toymaker, is another lost tale. Instead, we skip ahead to The Doctor’s journey to the Wild West in The Gunfighters.