|(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.)
In-Depth Analysis Review
by Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended
for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the
Buyers' Guide version instead.
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 shot, which flows
smoothly from a variety of animals to a freaky one-eyed alien
to a panoramic motion shot of the jungle set to a satisfying
and well-executed TARDIS materialization to yet more motion
as we follow Dodo's happy-go-lucky exploration of the surroundings.
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. Although the
scripting of his characters' resolution is too quick and
unbelievable at the end, it is only here that the actor actually
seems comfortable in the role, when he can be a reasonable
good-guy. 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 scientific/medical conflict and also a conflict
of trust, 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, but worse is the decision amongst the
time-travellers to let Steven represent them, as Steven's only
plan is to shout at the Guardians to show them how stupid they
are. What kind of a method is that for earning trust? The Doctor
is a much better diplomat and negotiator, and he has nothing to do
in finding a cure BEFORE the trust question is settled, so why
does he let Mr. Aggressive Buffoon speak for his party at this
point? At least the script remains believable in that Steven's
tactics get them nowhere, but this is quite boring to watch until
his developing illness restores some relevant drama to the
proceedings. In the end, the Doctor has to take over the
negotiating anyway, and he makes a MUCH better appeal to the
Guardians' sense of reason.
What is really needed is for the screen-time of Steven's
sledge-hammer tactics to be used instead to provide substantial
foundation for Xentos's fears about the unknown Refusians, with
something similar to Barbara's discovery of the scientist's theories
about the Tempo of Destruction back in
"The Screaming Jungle" (episode three of
story no. 5, "The Keys of Marinus"),
something written by Earth visitors to Refusis around about the 42nd
segment of time or so, something ignored by those who decided to
send the Ark there in favour of more recent data from unmanned
probes. This would make the trust conflict seem less artificial and
hopefully help to provide some anticipation for the truth to be
revealed at the conclusion of the Ark's voyage.
At any rate, the botched trust-conflict stage does not waste
too much time, and we quickly move on to the medical challenge
which engages William Hartnell's Doctor superbly in a heroic fashion.
Nice one! We also get a fine example of TARDIS time travel, sparing
no expense on effects, leading up to one of the finest cliffhangers
in the Hartnell era. The "next episode" caption should really
have waited until after the final fade to black for it to work
best though - it's not hard to imagine how the powerful final shot
would likely be butchered for the movie-length compilation version
of this story in order to have the caption removed.
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
Seven hundred years later, a total guest cast change has occurred,
not to mention some significant changes in circumstance as well.
The Monoids now come to the forefront of the story, and for this
stage in the development of Doctor Who productions, they come off
quite well as interesting alien creatures. Their constant
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.
Episode Four - The Bomb
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. Perhaps what the human guest characters need
is a more commanding representative amongst them. Neither Dassuk
nor Vanessa seem to be great leader / lead-character material, too
often taking their cues from others, and not having any obvious
central personal issues to work through either (unlike Xentos).
The Ark arrives at Refusis, and thankfully the Doctor is
allowed to join the exploration with the first expedition, and
he gets to meet and interact with the Refusians, offering a prime
example of good first-contact etiquette. He also has an
instrumental and somewhat risky, even though limited, role to
play in helping the humans conquer the Monoid bomb. The
invisibility of the Refusians is very believably and satisfactorily
done - the invisible character has motivation for each display of
effects that he causes. This is much better than the CSO antics of
"Planet of the Daleks" (story no. 68)
many years later, which seem to merely
display the spectacle of invisibility in an unmotivated way. We
also get a well-directed bit of Monoid 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. Our time travellers are all stuffed
into the kitchens in early episode three (from the writer's point of
view, to learn about the situation there, no doubt), but
this easily creates the sinking feeling that the Doctor and his
friends will simply be spending the whole episode there in a near
repeat of their episode two antics. We don't know that we're going
to get a cool exploration of Refusis until it happens, thus many
viewers did not stay tuned in. The conflict between humans and
Monoids seems quite one-dimensional at first as well. Only AFTER
it is all over, in the wrap-up, does the Doctor make it clear to
all that the Monoids quietly suffered injustice in the first two
episodes, although at least a hint of this came out in his
episode two scene where he praised a Monoid for being more
knowledgeable than the Guardians seemed to realize. Not enough
to hold viewers though. (In retrospect, perhaps a patronizing,
slightly irritating commander Guardian was an appropriate casting
decision, but unfortunately this ONLY works in hindsight.) The
difference of opinion amongst the
Monoids themselves is also a good source of dramatic conflict
in the final episode, but you can't see it 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, not just in our view of other species, but 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 the U.K.
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