Doctor Who (Classic): S03E06 “The Ark”

Season 3
Directed by Michael Imison
Written by Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott

It’s sure felt like a while since we had a complete series and I admit that it was starting to wear me down a bit even with the past two serials (“The Daleks’ Master Plan” and “The Massacre”) being two of the best serials to date, trying to watch and write about missing episodes can be a pain. Thankfully “The Ark” is complete with all four episodes having been recovered. It is remarkable how much more pleasant this experience is and it is something you don’t appreciate as much until it’s gone.

“The Ark” is set aboard a well ark. Unlike Noah’s however, this ark has been assembled by an Alien species called the Monoids as they travel to Refusis II from a dying Earth serving a group of humans referred to as Guardians. The ark is not only many years into its journey but also 700 years away from their destination. The Monoids look fairly stupid, but their gimmick of communicating through sign language is pretty nifty and offers a nice twist from the typical humanoid aliens who generally speak just like humans (though they are still fairly humanoid in performance). It’s a conflict free set up which also offers a nice change from the typical one good race and one evil race that Doctor Who too often defaults to. Instead the conflict arises when Dodo, suffering from a common cold, spreads it to the humans and Monoids living aboard. Without any built up immunities, the virus quickly spreads killing Monoids and making numerous humans ill (eventually killing one).

Steven actually raises a great point about infections in that if the show cared about realism, which of course it doesn’t very understandably, The Doctor and his companions would be tracking plenty of diseases throughout their travels and being exposed (and exposing others) to bacteria and viruses that their bodies have not built up an immunity to. They are the Spanish leaving plagues wherever they go and decimating the populations. But that consideration isn’t very fun for a show like this so obviously it’s an episode specific problem. Dodo being responsible for the deaths of countless individuals is a heavy burden to bear yet the show has a bit of a problem glossing over their responsibility. The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo are nearly killed for this (though annoyingly and in true Doctor Who fashion they are mostly attacked of doing this intentionally instead of merely doing it at all, but they are saved when The Doctor is given the chance and succeeds at curing everyone.

Everything wraps up nice and happy (well besides all those dead Monoids and the dead human) with everyone parting, The Doctor the triumphant hero, and his accusers apologizing which is normally where the serial ends. However all this happens in the first two episodes which I’m sure you will not is only half way through the serial. In a great twist, the second half of the serial takes place when the TARDIS drops them off 700 years into the future in a more typical Doctor Who episode.

The Monoids are now in power forcing the humans to serve them and have the ability to talk. What was once an idyllic paradise, a virtual eve disturbed only by The Doctor’s visit, is now marred by the typical master/slave dynamic that happens anytime two races come in contact with each other on this show. It turns out Dodo’s virus wound up mutating and sapping the will of the humans and allowing the Monoid’s to overthrow them which while a ridiculous concept, is at believable if you take it as being a falsehood that has become part of Monoid tradition. Sure it doesn’t make sense why the Monoids were subservient before since they were the ones with the technology saving the humans, but inevitably things change.

Thankfully, instead of focusing on the humans overthrowing the Monoids, that story is left as merely a subplot. Instead there is a focus on the arrival on their arrival on Refusis II and plans to settle upon it and scuttle the ark with humans onboard. While The Doctor plays a big role, it’s the Refusians who get to save the save with their invisibility and super strength. They see through the Monoids demands of control of the planet killing them when necessary and doing their part to aid the humans in overthrowing the Monoids since they see this as a way to peace. There’s something about invisible aliens on this show (see “The Daleks’ Master Plan”) that I just really like. It’s probably because it’s easy to hide the cheap special effects.

Ultimately a contingent of Monoids rebels from the leadership, angry at their foolishness and decides to join up with the humans and ultimately live in peace with them and the Refusians. I was very fond of the divisions in each faction both among humans (who frequently are allowed divisions) and the Monoids. It’s rare Doctor Who lets conflict and dissent brew with their alien races (at least the ones that don’t look like humans) and instead depicting them as one giant evil/good group with little nuance. It makes for a very satisfying end for a great, and much welcomed serial. At the very least, it is one of the most consistent serials in quality yet.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations

– In other news I’m permanently going to once a week since any more just feels like a bit much.
– In what is getting to be the show’s defining moment for new companions, we have Dodo not believing she has really travelled in space or time, but at least she seems to accept the explanation quickly when presented by evidence instead of spending a serial in denial.
– They couldn’t even bother to get animals that moved a bit could they?
– I love The Doctor being annoyed by Dodo’s working class accent and use of slang. Most interestingly, he gets mad at her for saying things such as ok, something that has long since become an accepted part of the vernacular.
– I love the cliffhanger at the end of part two with the close up of the finished statue (which had only just begun to be built when they left) revealing the figure of a Monoid.
– Not only does Dodo, Destroyer of Worlds track the virus in, she also plants the name “The Ark” for the vessel in their heads which winds up becoming the official name.
– The Monoid trashing the Refusian place of residence is hilarious.
– See also the tracking of an invisible Refusian towards the landing ship right before it explodes with Monoid inside in mid-sentence.
– I haven’t talked much about Dodo but while she gets plenty of screen time, like Steven she doesn’t make too much of an impression yet. She’s basically a lesser though still fine Vicki.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: The Doctor starts appearing sick and more relevantly begins to disappear and turns invisible. Just when you think they’ve stopped with the cliffhangers they bring ‘em right back!

Next Up: The mostly missing “The Celestial Toymaker” on 3/21