Friday, 12 October 2012

Story 23 - The Ark

In which the TARDIS materialises in a jungle - and Dodo is sure it's Whipsnade Zoo. There are birds, lizards  and other animals from different parts of the Earth. The Doctor notices a trembling sensation coming from the ground - and the sky appears to be made of metal. He realises they are in some kind of artificial environment containing various flora and fauna. Their arrival has been observed by monocular reptile beings, who report what they have seen to some humans in a nearby control room. They have just sentenced someone to freezing and miniaturisation for committing a maintenance blunder. This is a vast spacecraft which contains the entire population of Earth, plus animals and plants, which is about to embark on a 700 year voyage to the planet Refusis II to begin a new life - as the Earth is about to be swallowed up by the dying Sun. It is some 10 million years in the future. Most people and animals are miniaturised and in suspended animation.

The time travellers are initially welcomed by the human Guardians - though second-in-command Zentos distrusts them. Dodo has a cold - and the Doctor is horrified when he discovers that it is starting to affect the Guardians and the reptile beings. These are Monoids, a race who were given shelter on Earth generations ago and who are now joining the exodus. They are respected and consulted - but given menial tasks to perform. Neither future humans nor Monoids have immunity to the illness, and they start to die. The travellers are put on trial. Steven comes from a time when humans have already lost immunity and he too succumbs. The Doctor convinces the Guardians to let him find a cure. He succeeds, and the TARDIS crew depart.

The ship materialises next in a very familiar environment. They are back on the spacecraft, but at the end of its long journey. At some point in between, the Monoids have rebelled and taken over, enslaving the humans. The Monoid leader decides that only his people will establish themselves on Refusis II. They will leave a powerful bomb behind on the Ark  - a name originally coined 700 years ago by Dodo. Her cold left a lasting effect on the crew - which has lead to this takeover. Once on the planet, the Monoids bicker amongst themselves and start killing each other. The Doctor enlists the help of the invisible Refusians to make peace. The bomb is found hidden in a huge statue which is ejected into space. The Refusians will allow colonisation of their world  - but only if the humans and Monoids agree to live in harmony with each other.

This four part adventure was written by Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott, and was broadcast between 5th and 26th March, 1966. It is a rare survivor from this era in that the whole story still exists in the archives. Whilst Scott gets a writing credit - Doctor Who's first female writer - she did not actually contribute anything to the script. She was Erickson's wife at the time.
The director is Michael Immison, and the designer Barry Newbery - outside his normal historical comfort zone. The massive flight-deck is an impressive set, as is the jungle biosphere. The Refusis sets are not quite so good.
The structure is very unusual in that it is basically two 2-part stories set in the same location but at different times. It is one of the few early stories to make use of time travel to help tell the tale. Events of the first half - Dodo's cold - are shown to have a consequence in the second half.
Neither of the two storylines is really strong enough to sustain more than a couple of episodes each.

The normally wonderful costume designer Daphne Dare has a bit of a bad day on this one. The humans wear  what appears to be plastic strip curtain material over their vests and knickers. The Monoids might have been acceptable if it hadn't been for their Beatles mop-top wigs. The eye is quite obviously half a ping pong ball being moved about by the actor's tongue.
Character-wise, the humans are a thoroughly wet lot. The Monoids are mute in the first half, and when they gain voices in the second half squander them by squabbling and uttering clichés.
Hartnell and Purves deliver solid but workaday performances. Jackie Lane seems to have trouble pinning down her accent. It veers from Cockney to Home Counties. This may be due to her "acting" having a 'cold in de dose' in the earlier sections - but is more likely due to a memo from the BBC's 6th Floor regarding regional accents on the telly.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Steel Sky - Zentos demands the strangers answer for their crimes. His people cannot go home, as the planet Earth is seen to start to burn up.
  2. The Plague - The Doctor and his companions find themselves back on the Ark. They notice that the massive statue of a human has now been completed - but it now has the head of a Monoid.
  3. The Return - Their landing capsule has been blown up - and Dodo thinks she and the Doctor might be stranded on Refusis.
  4. The Bomb - In the TARDIS, Steven and Dodo are shocked to see the Doctor turn invisible. He announces that this is some kind of an attack.

Overall, an inconsequential adventure made up of two inconsequential plots. Not bad - but nothing special. Things you might like to know:

  • This marks the first of six appearances by Michael Sheard in the programme. He's the physician, Rhos, in episode 2. I think he deserves a post of his own - so watch this space.
  • One of the Monoid voice artists is Roy Skelton in his first "appearance" in the show - and he also deserves a post of his own. He is credited with 16 stories in total after all.
  • You'll get to see the voice of the Refusian soon - Richard Beale plays Bat Masterson in The Gunfighters.
  • The elephant which appears in the biosphere early in part 1 was delivered a day early. It couldn't stay at the BBC so spent the night in a horse-box outside the director's home.

Me, Monoid One, stuck on this Ark with all you lovely ladies, with my reputation...?

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