I let out an audible “Hooray” as I checked Mark Campbell’s Doctor Who: The Complete Series Guide and discovered that the next serial, The Ark, was 100% complete. For the first time since The Time Meddler, which was the last serial in Season 2, I could sit back and relax after I’d put the shiny DVD into the Blu Ray player. After two seasons with all but two serials alive, kicking and released on DVD, it came as somewhat of a drag to be confronted by an almost continuous stream of missing episodes and reconstructions. The BBC did a superb job in reconstructing the three missing episodes of Galaxy 4 in condensed form which appeared, together with the recently found episode three, on The Aztecs Special Edition. Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, the epic 12 part The Daleks Master Plan, and The Massacre were all viewed on YouTube using Loose Cannon’s splendid reconstructions. Only three episodes in that 21 week run from Mission to the Unknown to The Massacre are no longer lost and available for our viewing pleasure on Lost in Time, the triple DVD set of orphan First and Second Doctor episodes.
It would be fair to say that The Ark doesn’t have the best reputation. Frequently dismissed as not a great deal better than utter nonsense, it is nonetheless praised by some, such as Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke, for its originality and brilliant direction by Michael Imison. It’s generally the second half of this four part story which attracts the greatest criticism and it has been posited by Ian K McLachlan that the serial is actually “two two-part adventures stitched together.”
Episodes one and two of The Ark are set in the far future, the 57th segment of Time, on an enormous space ship (the Ark) headed for the planet Refusis 2. The Doctor estimates that they may be up to 10 million years in the future. As was the case with all of the First Doctor’s adventures, the Doctor was unable to programme the Ship’s route and it landed slap bang in the middle of the Ark. On board the Ark are the sole survivors of Earth who have left the dying planet for the safe refuge of a new planet. Refusis 2 is 700 years travel from Earth and yet the closest planet with similar atmosphere and vegetation. To ensure the human race’s survival millions of humans have been miniaturized and stored on trays for reanimation upon arrival at Refusis 2. The humans are not Christian, Jewish or Muslim as they do not know the story of Noah’s Ark. Also travelling on the spaceship are an assortment of animals and the Monoids, a peculiar mute race whose most distinctive feature is their one eye. This single eye is in their mouths, or at least what would’ve been their mouths if they had human anatomy. These eyes are actually painted ping pong balls which the actors held in place with their mouths. Now that’s ingenious small budget special effects for you! On the top of their heads is a long Beatles style mop top wig, whilst the rest of their bodies are clothed in green ill fitting garb. They have webbed hands and feet and move slowly.
The Monoids are the servants of the human occupants of the spaceship. The humans are referred to as the Guardians, so named for their responsibility maintaining the human race. Not surprisingly for the 1960s, all of the Guardians are white and hardly representative of the earth’s racial diversity. One can only assume that there are non Caucasians miniaturized and stored for later reanimation. In the eyes of Doctor Who they clearly can’t be trusted to staff a space craft. The Guardians are of the belief that they treat the servant Monoids with respect, however their inferior status is profoundly obvious when the common cold, introduced by the new companion, Dodo, begins to decimate the population. The common cold had been eradicated in the 20th Century and as such none of the occupants of the spaceship have an immunity to it. Such diseases are said to have been one of the contributing factors to the decimation of indigenous societies upon the arrival of Europeans. Even Steven, who comes for several hundred years later than Dodo, has no immunity. Notwithstanding the earlier death of a Monoid, it isn’t until the first death of a Guardian that the humans take action against the perpetrators of this crime against them, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo. It is only with the Doctor’s assistance that a cure for the common cold is found and both the humans and the Monoids saved from extinction. The Doctor and his crew are quickly forgiven for the destruction that the cold virus had wrought.
Having effectively overcome the damage they had caused, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo depart the spaceship, which is now known affectionately as the Ark, at the end of episode two. It is with surprise, therefore, that upon the Tardis materializing it is immediately evident that the Ship has landed in the very same spot it had left from. Making their way back to the control room of the Ark, the Tardis Crew are unable to find any of the Guardians. It is only upon seeing the enormous statue that the Guardians had been building that they realized that something was very wrong. During their first visit to the Ark, our heroes had been advised that the massive statue would take 700 years to construct. The statue which the Doctor and his companions were now staring at was not only complete, but had a head of a Monoid, rather than a human’s. At least 700 years have passed and the Ark must now be nearing its destination.
All is soon revealed. The Monoids can now talk. Not having a voice box (presumably because they have an eye in their mouths) an artificial one was invented by the Guardians during their time as overlords. The voice box looks not unlike a badly made paper necklace. The Monoids are now in control and their usurping of the Guardians was not, as one might expect, the consequence years of oppression but rather because of a mutation of the common cold which in same way had effected the will of the humans. The Doctor and his companions, therefore, have more to answer for than originally thought.
The tables have been reversed and the humans are now enslaved by the Monoids. Most have been killed, although a small number have been spared and are imprisoned in the “Security Kitchen.” That has to take the cake for the most imaginative portrayal of a prison. In the Security Kitchen the humans cook for the Monoids, although preparation is now more efficient. There’s no need for real potatoes as a tablet dropped into water immediately produces beautifully peeled ones. The special effect is very well realized and made me wish for my own bottle of food producing tablets! Any humans that are out of line are executed, without trial, by the Monoids’ heat guns. The Monoids use of martial law evidences the deterioration of order in the society and their “payback” for the years of enslavement to the Guardians. The manner in which they treat the humans is far harsher than the Guardian’s treatment of them previously.
So aggrieved are the Monoids at their past treatment that they intend to relocate to Refusis 2 without the humans, and to blow the humans and the Ark up with a bomb which has been hidden in the head of the statue. In cute looking shuttles the Monoids and a few human slaves leave the Ark to scout out the previously unseen Refusis 2. Unknown to all, the planet is inhabited by benevolent (at least to humans) but invisible creatures. Needless to say, the arrogance and aggressiveness of the Monoids soon sees them almost embark on a Civil War, with Steven contemplating that they might soon wipe themselves out. From being rather quaint non-threatening creatures in episodes one and two, the Monoids have become the typical malicious monsters. Perhaps because speech is such a new phenomena to them, the Monoids have the most annoying trait of explaining their devious plans out loud. Intelligent creatures they certainly aren’t.
Having won the confidence of a native Refusian, the Doctor has the invisible creature pilot one of the space shuttles back to the Ark. It is there that the Refusian’s incredible strength comes in handy as he lifts the statue from the ground and throws it out of the escape chute. It explodes in space shortly thereafter. The humans have been saved from destruction, but how will they deal with the murderous Monoids on Refusis 2? The Refusian and the Doctor both offer the humans some advice.
REFUSIAN: We’ll do everything we can to assist you in settling on our planet.
DASSUK: Thank you.
REFUSIAN: But one thing you must do.
VENUSSA: What’s that?
REFUSIAN: Make peace with the Monoids.
DOCTOR: He’s right. A long time ago, your ancestors accepted responsibility for the welfare of these Monoids. They were treated like slaves. So no wonder when they got the chance the repaid you in kind.
REFUSIAN: Unless you learn to live together, there is no future for you on Refusis.
DASSUCK: We understand.
DOCTOR: Yes, you must travel with understanding as well as hope. You know, I once said that to one of your ancestors, a long time ago. However, we must be going. Goodbye.
And so ends The Ark. The above was a succinct summary of the story’s moral however it was all rather unsophisticated and infantile. We have no idea if the Monoids would accept the need to co-operate with their former overlords. Given their actions in episodes three and four it’s just as likely that would maintain the rage and continue their devious plots for vengeance. One can only hope that the human’s enhanced understanding of stewardship will facilitate a reciprocal abatement of hostilities by the Monoids.
©Vivien Fleming, 2013.
Mark Campbell, Doctor Who: The Complete Series Guide (Robinson, London: 2011).
Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke, Running Through Corridors. Rob and Toby’s Marathon Watch of Doctor Who (Mad Norwegian Press, Des Moines, Iowa: 2011),