|(Doctor Who Story No. 23, starring William Hartnell)
- written by Paul Erickson & Leslie Scott
- directed by Michael Imison
- produced by John Wiles
- music from "The Daleks" by Tristram Cary
- 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each:
- The Steel Sky
- The Plague
- The Return
- The Bomb
Story: Taking her first trip in the TARDIS,
Dorothea "Dodo" Chaplet accompanies the Doctor and Steven Taylor
into the far future and onto a large spacecraft carrying a variety
of creatures from Earth and beyond, who plan to colonize
the planet Refusis. But all is not going well. Is the ship's
commanding Guardian being too smug about the tensions rising
amongst the personnel? Are the Monoids really content to play
subservient roles? Has the Doctor's visit inadvertently
triggered the collapse of this society? Or will they all encounter
the greatest challenge yet when they finally come face to face
with the unknowns and denied truths on the new planet?
DVD Extras include:
- Audio commentary by
actor Peter Purves (Steven Taylor),
director Michael Imison,
and moderator Toby Hadoke.
- "Riverside Story" featurette (20 min.)
on the larger studio in which "The Ark" and many other
season three stories were recorded,
with Peter Purves and Michael Imison.
- "All's Wells That Ends Wells" featurette (13 min.)
on H.G. Wells' influence on Doctor Who
- "One Hit Wonder" featurette (4 min.)
on why some creatures only feature once on Doctor Who
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- Photo Gallery (3 min.)
Buyers' Guide Review
by Martin Izsak
(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended
for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed
It could be argued that this story delivers enough great stuff
that it doesn't deserve to be included in what I call "the dregs"
of season three - that run of four stories from
"The Massacre" (story no. 22) to
"The Gunfighters" (story no. 25)
that couldn't inspire many viewers
to stay tuned in. However, "The Ark" really is an interesting
opposite to most of the stories of late season two, having heaps of
qualities that season two lacked, but not having that key
ingredient that gave season two its successful ratings:
the ability to trigger anticipation in the audience that
the story is going somewhere interesting.
Seeing as how this story is neatly split down the middle,
it's best to do like Noah and count the episodes two by two.....
Episode One - The Steel Sky
Michael Imison proves what a great and innovative technical
director he is with his masterful opening tracking shot.
Although the camera does pause during the trick dissolve, this
is all done so gracefully that the shot is a better example of
the TARDIS materializing in a motion shot than the much more
advertised example in 1980's
"The Leisure Hive" (story no. 110),
or for that matter, during the
Christopher Eccleston and
David Tennant years with all
their computer effects sophistications. Well done! Let the
competition eat their hearts out!
Episode Two - The Plague
Considering the "missing in action" status of surviving footage
of Dodo's series entrance in episode four of
"The Massacre" (story no. 22),
"The Steel Sky" is not a bad introduction of her
character at all, as Steven and the Doctor continue to lay down the
rules of TARDIS travel on her, and she makes her background fairly
obvious through her upcoming dialogue. Also, the Doctor's
preference for calling her "Dorothea", followed by her adamant
correction, helps to excuse her ridiculous name at the outset.
If she prefers the constant near-insult to her intelligence,
who are we to argue?
Imison's technical love for interesting effects shots
continues throughout all four episodes. Not all effects work
as well as others, but the Doctor Who program is at last providing
some decent eye-candy while dealing with a thematically-oriented
sci-fi story. The program enjoys a bit of an up-swing during these
four episodes (although sadly short-lived I fear).
Acting becomes a bit of a sore point, as the two main
guest characters don't come off too well. The commanding
Guardian is scripted to be a helpful, understanding character
that the audience should empathize with, yet the elderly actor
playing the part seems to be over-the-top, full of himself, and
often displays a creepy, insincere smile that sends shivers of
patronization up my spine. Xentos, the young antagonist of
the piece, is clearly uncomfortable with all the shouting
and pig-headedness that he has to display.
If only the physical age difference weren't so obvious,
I might suggest that the actors playing Xentos and the commander
swap roles with each other!
Thankfully the actress playing Mellium puts in a solid,
believable performance, and most of the other minor parts are
done okay. Episode Two is also fortunate enough to feature
Michael Sheard's first appearance as a Doctor Who guest character.
Here he plays a physician, as he would later also do in
"The Mind of Evil" (story no. 56),
and Sheard brings the character to life as a caring man
wrestling with one of the most difficult challenges his profession
can hurl him into.
Episode One works on the basis of exploration, discovery, and
spectacle, which is played to in the script. Episode Two, however,
sets itself up for certain specific conflicts,
and then wastes much screen time unable to come to grips
with the issues at hand. Xentos's obstructions have little basis
to make them interesting. Exploring good reasons for those
obstructions would have been a much better use of screen time.
At any rate, the botched trust-conflict stage does not waste
quite as much time as viewers are lead to anticipate,
and we quickly move on to a different challenge
which engages William Hartnell's Doctor superbly in a heroic fashion.
Nice one! We also get a unique
lead up to one of the finest cliffhangers
in the Hartnell era.
Background Music in "The Ark" is primarily
re-used material from
"The Daleks" (story no. 2)
by Tristram Cary
which has been
made available on:
Episode Three - The Return
Many new guest characters are introduced in the second half,
and there are some significant changes in circumstance as well.
I have less to complain about in terms of acting for these
two episodes, but neither is there anything remarkably outstanding.
Generally the acting is okay, perhaps a bit bland, but tells
the story well.
Episode Four - The Bomb
The Monoids come off quite well as interesting alien creatures, at
least for this stage in the development of Doctor Who productions.
fiddling with their voice-box collars is somewhat distracting
though - it wasn't until I read the Archive feature in Doctor
Who Magazine that I understood they were trying to turn a
black-dot display on and off to help indicate who was speaking.
Not only does this never work to any good effect, it is totally
unnecessary. Unlike the boxed-in Daleks, the Monoids have every
capability of gesture and easily understood humanoid movement.
The one who moves and gestures emphatically is always the one
speaking. It's as plain as day without the voice-box dot.
The Doctor continues to get a lot of good things to do,
including exploration of the Ark's destination,
while many of the visuals continue to outdo those of
later stories like
"Planet of the Daleks" (story no. 68),
both in terms of what we see and what motivates the characters
We also get a well-directed bit of action, wisely shot and
edited on film, and even after that a peaceful, moral resolution
wraps things up nicely. The conclusion is satisfying and well-done
How "The Ark" tripped up...
Even with all that going for it, this island of excellence
within "the dregs" of season three did not manage to improve
ratings. What went wrong? The scenes that we actually get are
all exceptionally good, but what the story lacks is the ANTICIPATION
that it will continue to be good as it unfolds. Episode one spends
all its time explaining what situation exists in this era, and
projects a largely slow and uneventful voyage for the Ark. There
is also nothing to suggest that the Doctor will be able to show
us viewers the arrival at Refusis. Not enough questions are
raised about Refusis in episodes one and two to make us want to
discover the place in episodes three and four, or believe that we
will discover the place at all. Episode two also projects the
aura that it is artificially creating conflict to fill time,
even though it doesn't actually waste much time at all and
does move itself forward.
The next episode easily creates the sinking feeling that
the Doctor and his friends will simply be spending the whole episode
in one less-than-exciting spot in a near repeat of their episode two
antics. We don't know that we're going to get a cool exploration
of the Ark's destination until it happens, thus many
viewers did not stay tuned in. One of the biggest conflicts of
the story also seems quite one-dimensional at first.
Only AFTER it is all over, in the wrap-up,
do we get the interesting motivational details that could have
drawn and kept audience interest.
(In retrospect, perhaps a patronizing,
slightly irritating commander Guardian was an appropriate casting
decision, but unfortunately this ONLY works in hindsight.)
There are significant sources of dramatic conflict in the
final episode, but you really can't see them coming from watching
the first three episodes.
Anticipation is the key ingredient
lacking in all of the stories in "the dregs" of season three,
and "The Ark" highlights this well because it is so good in
almost everything else.
As such, "The Ark" is actually more
enjoyable with repeat viewing, when the audience can bring along
its own sense of anticipation without relying on the narrative
to do it for them. It is then that the idea of causing injustice
through lack of faith in the intelligence of other beings takes
on the slightly horrific twist, where we can wonder if we are
doing that in any aspect of our lives now without really realizing
it, in parents' view of their children,
in management's view of its employees, in
the media's view of its audience, in the marketers' view
of the consumers, and in government's view of the people it
I wouldn't call "The Ark" a great Doctor Who story,
but it does deserve honourable mention.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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for pricing and availability:
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for the U.K.
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