I started watching Doctor Who when Peter Davison was in his middle season. Saw a lot of Doctors three, four and five before I got a chance to see the Hartnell stuff, and in all that time, I always wondered why we never saw repercussions of the Doctor’s visits.
I know nuWho does that a lot, but I always wished they’d do that. Then I saw The Ark, and was overjoyed. Finally, a story that deals with what happens after the Doctor leaves an “adventure”.
It all starts out with some nice visuals actually. The TARDIS and its crew land in what looks like a jungle. A jungle is generally a pretty tight area, and given the production realities in the 60′s, that kind of cramped studio space lends itself to the effect well, I would think. This one however, was slightly different, in that the director thought Doctor Who could be used for more “striking” visuals than it had at that point. So much was made about the atmosphere here. Yes, it takes place on a spaceship, but I didn’t really get that feel too much.
When you think “Doctor Who Spaceship story”, that evokes a certain “look” (especially in the 60s). This feels different. I rather like the costuming and design in this one – with one major exception I’ll talk about later. One of my favorite examples is that the forest the crew initially land in had quite a few truly live animals that they interacted with. It was a very nice touch, and really helped the atmosphere. Once the TARDIS crew interacted with the humans on this ship, even then the 60′s spaceship feel didn’t show up too much, and I liked that. Some of this was achieved with good depth perception backgrounds (again, relatively speaking, this WAS the 60s). Another interesting thing visually here was that in the first half, whenever one of the Guardians was speaking, there was a “sign language interpreter” for the Monoids in shot. The sign language wasn’t real, but it was a nice touch to the story, gave it some depth, I thought.
It’s when the TARDIS crew interact with the other humans that the major drama of the piece comes in. The Ark was the first full story for companion Dodo Chaplet. While she will never rank near the top of favorite companions, I didn’t think she was that awful, despite the bum rap the actress got in her eventual series departure. Anyway, she started off the episode with a cold, another issue we didn’t see a lot – sick lead characters. Initially, the TARDIS crew were doing some nice exploring for a change, and then the cold that Dodo had started to spread amongst the residents, and their servants, the Monoids.
Some of them die, and we get the usual plot point of a “local” not trusting the TARDIS crew. This time, said local was the person with the power to expel them from the ship, and that’s where the drama heads for a time. Eventually the travellers are freed from their prison, and the Doctor cures the common cold, everyone is on the mend, so they are allowed to leave on friendly and peaceful terms. At the end of the second (of four episodes). That’s where things come back around. The TARDIS lands in the same spot, roughly 700 years later, when the ship is still en route to a planet to recolonize the Human Race.
Only when the crew returns, they were initially perplexed, thinking they hadn’t moved anywhere. After they realize that they were back in the same spot, a statue the humans had started building was completed, only completed as a Monoid. This leads to the discovery that the Monoids had overthrown the humans, and had subjugated them. The Monoids (or at least their leader) planned on ignoring the humans and killing them once they land on the planet, taking it for themselves. When they get close to the planet, the Monoids send an expidition with the Doctor & Dodo to examine the planet. The Refusians themselves were invisible (a big cost saving issue, I’m sure). There’s some conflict inside the Monoid structure themselves about the plan to do away with the humans, and eventually, a civil war breaks out within them, killing off a decent amount of the Monoids. Those that remain ended up having a peaceful co-existence with the remaining Humans/Guardians, as well as the Refusians.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning one of the failings of this story, despite how much I liked The Ark: the Monoids themselves. While they’re not too different from many of the other “slave” races that have appeared on Doctor Who, they have the misfortune of being produced in 1966, and I think their design suffered. The moptop hair is of its time. Checkov on Star Trek is another thing that has “Beatles Hair”, although in The Ark, the Monoids’ hair is actually Yak fur (according to the DVD trivia track). As characters, they were decent enough, but their look is pretty bad practically. Their one eye was moved around by the tongue of the actor in there, and the outfit was not that well realized, they were pretty easily spotted. The giant Monoid statue was much better looking then the actual Monoids themselves. There’s even a documentary on the DVD about “one hit wonder” monsters like the Monoids which is worth a watch.
I always felt The Ark was a great example of the Hartnell era of Doctor Who, the story was well paced, and looked visually different than most of it’s contemporary stories. The spaceship look wasn’t standard, there was some nice direction, and I’m glad that it’s one of the stories that survives in full into 2012.