THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Frontios
BBC
The Ark
aka. "The Space Ark"

Episodes 4 Who is Number One?
Story No# 23
Production Code X
Season 3
Dates Mar. 3, 1966 -
Mar. 26, 1966

With William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane.
Written by Paul Erickson (with Lesley Scott on episode 4).
Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Michael Imison. Produced by John Wiles.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Steven and Dodo visit a survival Ark containing the survivors of humanity traveling toward a new home, and inadvertantly cause a disaster with unexpected consequences.


Reviews

Okay, Don't Skip It by Daniel Callahan Updated 6/10/97

I have previously gone on record stating that The Ark is the worst of William Hartnell's stories. I'm not sure that's true now. The central flaws of the story still exist and in gargantuan proportians:

But a recent reviewing changed my mind somewhat, along with reading about the story's production in The First Doctor Handbook. First and foremost, Michael Imison was perhaps one of the most innovative directors ever to work on Doctor Who. Given that he worked in the third season (second only to season six in low production values), Imison challenges the script, sets, and special effects in a way that I had overlooked previously. Imision leaves nothing to the ordinary: from the live animals to camera angles, he put his stamp on the series just as he intended. Just like the BBC to drive such a talent into another career.

The acting is bad, but not universally bad. The regulars perform well, except Hartnell, who is (as always) exceptional. Stephanie Heesom is positively charming as Steven's underplayed love-interest in the story's second half. Roy Spencer (Harris in Fury from the Deep) plays his limited role well, as does Terence Bayler (Major Barrington in The War Games and Macduff in Roman Polanski's Macbeth).

The costumes and the hapless, waddling, Ringo’s-bad-hair-day Monoids are what put The Ark, at first glance, into the Ed Wood genre. Imision and producer John Wiles end up taking the blame because they were in charge, but I must state that I doubt that anyone else could have done much better, given the limitation of the production budget and schedule.

The central aspect that seperates the average Doctor Who from the average Star Trek fan is tolerance for bad and/or cheap special effects. In order to enjoy The Ark, one needs to work a little harder than usual, but the result is not entirely unpleasent.


Dodo's nose might be running but the Monoids couldn't... by Nick Waghorn 29/6/98

The Ark is one of the most underrated of Hartnell's stories. Better than The Web Planet, not as good as The Aztecs, and yet it is still ranked at around the level of the more mundane Sensorites. But why?

Some state the Monoids. I must disagree with this weird idea fandom has of hating the Monoids as they seem to me that they are a rare type of monster: they have original motivation, they are not out-and-out 'baddies', and they have a set of colloquialisms and foibles that make them far more interesting than, say, the Cybermen. Not until the Kandy Man would we see such un-Nazi-like, vaguely interesting monsters (with personality) again. And, better still, they do seem to be cumbersome with weapons and awkward with violence, as their background would suggest.

My favourite scene has to be the first in the Refusian's castle. The Monoid accompanying the Doctor and Dodo, when he sees no-one inside, decides to bring the inhabitant out by smashing a vase. "When he hears what I am doing, he will come out to investigate," declares the Monoid cunningly. This rather childlike, basic logic, amply demonstrates the Monoids' fundamental ineptitude at violence, and lends a pathetic air to the Monoid--he believes that this is a masterstroke of Monoid tactical genius. His surprise at being restrained by the Refusian and the Doctor's reprimands of this childish action heighten this feeling.

Other excellent Monoid moments include One giving a comrade a friendly pat on the arm, and their magnificent ability to talk about secret plans loudly, without noticing the Doctor hiding behind a bush. Another notable feature is the difference between Monoids--Four has obviously eaten one too many pies. Surely we can ignore the hair, in lieu of all that?

Some people bemoan the effects as being substandard, even for Doctor Who, and I can agree with this to a certain extent--especially when considering the poor model work. There are some gems though--particularly effective is the "instant food". The Monoids weapons are simple, and yet their effect on humans is horrific--look closely at the Maharis' charred fingers in Episode 4.

As for the Guardians, they are an admittedly a dull bunch, with notable exceptions. The female Guardian in the court when Steven is speaking at the trial picks up a metaphorical Oscar for "Most annoying incidental character." Another is the Commander--an Autloc of the future. The Doctor is not massively involved with goings-on, a sign of Hartnell's ill health, but he does have some good scenes conversing with the Refusian, and his speech about the Monoids repaying in kind is great. Steven is left on the Ark and slips into his regular, stir-up-the-rebels role for much of the story. Dodo's cockney accent is a refreshing change to the usual BBC English--pity the BBC banned it. Other than that, Dodo acts as little more than a foil for the Doctor.

A mark? 8/10


When I Get Older, Losing my Hair.... by Matt Michael 3/11/98

BBC Video's 35th anniversary Hartnell release is another Third Season entry, The Ark. Unlike The War Machines, this is still very clearly a Hartnell-style story (although the Monoids' hairdo's anticipate Troughton), albeit with an unusual twist.

The twist to which I refer is, of course, the rather apt occurence of the episodes following one another two-by-two. The TARDIS's inexplicable return to the future Ark for the third and fourth episodes of this serial makes an very interesting philosophical point: the consequences of past actions. Unfortunately this is never really explored, and this is one of the chief failings of the serial.

The Ark is, by-and-large, quite an enjoyable story. The first episode is intriguing, and the second is quite disturbing (with an excellent cliffhanger). The chilling possibility that Dodo's cold virus might destroy the final remnants of humanity is a nice idea. As Steven points out, the TARDIS crew might have been spreading such contagions throughout time and space. The Doctor concedes that such an idea is "too horrible to think about". The only downside to these episodes is the rather cliched portrayal of the humans on the Ark -- from the wise commander to the hot-headed young reactionary, cliched characters not helped by some very kids' TV style performances.

Unfortunately things go downhill in the final two episodes, largely because the Monoids are such rubbish monsters (nice designs but an appallingly B-movie culture, especially the way they call each other "One" and "Four"). The humans are slightly more interesting than in the first two episodes, but again come across as rather faceless cliches. Meanwhile, the Refusians are very dull, and very cheap (they're invisible) aliens whose role in the plot seems to be rather superfluous, unless it is to provide a deus ex machina conclusion.

The regulars are all solidly acted, although Hartnell is clearly waning by this point, half the time inventing new words like "pootle". Jackie Lane as Dodo is passable, but she is yet another Susan clone there to act as a surrogate granddaughter for the Doctor. Peter Purves's Steven is, as usual, very good, but criminally under used.

Overall, a sound rather than astounding serial. Well directed but rather variably written, The Ark is an unusual example of sixties Doctor Who.


A Classic... But Only Once! by Tim Roll-Pickering 28/11/99

I first saw The Ark at a meeting of my school's Doctor Who Appreciation Society, some four years ago. At the time, I knew very little about the story and so it was 'new Who' for me, and to date it was the last time I saw a new story at the rate of one episode a week. At the time, I thought the story incredible, with brilliant ideas and concepts, and for the next few years, the story always found a place when I was drawing up my top ten stories.

Recently the story was released on video, and I was able to view it again. And apart from the improvement picture quality (at school, I had seen a second generation copy UK Gold screening of a standard, grainy print, but for the video the Restoration Team have gone back to the master negatives and worked magic on them), the whole thing came across as a disappointment. When I recently drew up my Top Ten Stories, I was surprised that The Ark did not make it into the short list of twenty odd stories. And I soon realised why -- I'd seen it too many times.

The Ark is one of the earliest stories that is structured around some pretty impressive concepts and surprises, and that is ultimately why I liked it so much at first, but found it average when the video came out. The ideas behind the story are impressive, whilst the production values are far beyond any of the all too few other episodes that survive from season three at the time of writing. The jungle in particular is wonderful, containing real animals -- not stock footage -- whilst the spaceship is impressive, and the Monoids look weak and puny, thus making the role reversal in the second half of the story even less expected, but there is an explanation behind this. The Refusians are interesting creatures, and their invisibility works, allowing for some interesting scenes. And the idea of the Doctor and his companions creating the potential disaster themselves, by spreading a long lost disease, is an original and well thought idea, as is the TARDIS returning to the same point (figuratively speaking -- I'm not Christopher H. Bidmead!) in space, but seven hundred years later is just as impressive, raising the question of the consequences of the Doctor's actions. On first viewing, the story comes across as a winner.

Unfortunately, when one views the story again, the surprises and novel ideas are no longer as effective as before, and the story is exposed as being simply two two-parters, each of which has too many characters, and so there is little opportunity for proper characterisation. Thus most of the human characters come across as far too bland, and although the Monoids show some diversity with the conflict between '1' and '4' (couldn't they have come up with any real names for them?) it is under developed. The ideas are still strong, but it takes more than just good ideas to tell a story. It takes strong characterisation, but The Ark leaves little room for that. The story is only average, at best. 6/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 13/6/99

The Ark boasts a lot of new ideas and concepts, introducing and reinforcing the idea that the TARDIS is able to travel through both time and space. This is largely due to the direction John Wiles and Donald Tosh were taking Doctor Who in. Paul Erickson`s tale is cleverly constructed, the last survivors of Earth heading for pastures new, was something different for the show, and the idea of new companion Dodo being responsible for the end of humanity was inspired and novel.

The acting is of a variable standard, the regulars coming up trumps, with both Steven and Dodo actually coming off better than The Doctor. The acting does fall down, when it comes to the humans who come across as inept and to a certain degree spineless. The Monoids fare better, as they are not really evil; they are slaves to begin with, and simply by rebelling against everything they have known brings across a more sympathetic side to them. Unfortunately their design leaves something to be desired; their mop-top haircuts and waddling do them no favours, and their addressing each other by numbers is irritating.

On the plus side the effects are top notch, the effect from the Monoid guns is horrific, the Monoid statue and the Earth burning up, not to mention the jungle sets all add up to something both ambitious and special. This only reinforces the fact that The Ark is an often neglected tale in a strong season, and just goes to show what could be done with both a strong script and even stronger production values.


Planet of the Monoids by Andrew Wixon 26/9/01

Once again, proof that within the vaults of Doctor Who there is something a bit like any other thing you care to mention. Here we have a timelost astronaut named Taylor, the human race overthrown by its' own slaves, a mysterious plague from space, the destruction of the Earth and the unexpected appearance of a familiar statue... sort of. It's a miracle Peter Purves doesn't drop to his knees and shout 'Damn you all to hell!!' at the end of the story.

While I'm in this whimsical mood let's fall into the trap of reviewing the story we could have had rather than the one we got. Imagine, if you will, a version of The Ark where the two halves of the story are swapped round. Episode One sees the travellers arrive to find the human race dominated by the Monoids as the long voyage nears its end. The story proceeds as in the existing version and by the end of Episode Two the Monoids have been overthrown and all is well - except Dodo's picked up a sniffle from the humans, amongst whom such things are endemic. The Doctor wonders aloud how the Monoids cames to be in control, as history only speaks of a legendary plague which ultimately put them in command. They set off in the TARDIS and arrive... on the same ship, 700 years earlier, with the humans in control. And once again, the story runs as in the extant version, except this time the Doctor and his friends are horribly aware of what will inevitably come to pass as a result of this second visit... Suitably sombre, unable to tell the Guardians their destiny, the travellers set off, and as Billy Hartnell heads for his holiday cottage the Doctor turns invisible.

Okay, it's a wild flight of fancy but I think it'd be a big improvement on the existing version, for one simple reason. The Ark's main problem as two linked two-episode stories is that they're in the wrong order. Steel Sky and Plague are grand, thoughtful, Wellsian SF, a bit of a throwback to Season One in many ways. Return and Bomb are just another pulp SF runaround with silly things like Monoids who can't think of names for themselves, galaxy accidents, Security Kitchens (oh, please), and the Refusians (sounds a bit rubbish to me). There's the priceless moment where Dodo asks Monoid Two 'Are you up to something?' and he goes 'Um... err.. no!!!' (The Monoids wouldn't need their daft collars to speak if only they took the ping-pong balls out of their mouths.) The story starts well but rapidly goes downhill past the halfway point.

That said, there is much to enjoy throughout. The production values are very high (Monoid costumes excepted), with the spectacular jungle set and its' occupants, a surprisingly large number of extras, and a few really neat optical effects. The space bong music from The Daleks, etc, returns, always a welcome development and adding to the Season One overtones. Chief amongst these is the extent to which the companions are as important to the plot as the Doctor. Steven gets to prove himself every bit as compelling a leading man as Ian in Plague's trial sequences. Jackie Lane is agreeably chirpy as Dodo even if most of her Steel Sky dialogue consists of 'Cor! Look at that!' followed by pointing. The structure of the story itself is easily as experimental as that of Edge of Destruction or The Space Museum. It's just a pity the miniaturised prisoner from the start isn't regrown at the climax, a la the novelisation, to provide some linkage and closure, but you can't have everything. Not a perfect story by any means, but a lot of fun to watch and providing plenty of food for thought.

(My version would still've been better, though.)


Some good ideas, some poor execution by Michael Hickerson 9/4/03

Years ago, when I first started watching Who, my local TV Guide mixed up The Ark and The Ark in Space in the TV listings, thus making me think that my local station was bestowing this Tom Baker story upon us out of order and for no good reason. (I'd only just started watching Who and was eager to see Ark in Space). I have to admit to being sorely disappointed when I tuned it only to see the black and white Hartnell logos starting up on my screen and not the much-loved Tom Baker opening credits. It was pretty much all downhill after that for me with The Ark, which I quickly decided was one of the worst Who stories I'd ever seen and not one that I was in any great rush to watch again.

And so, I come back to The Ark, years later, my impressions of the story still a bit tainted by that initial disappointment. (Come on -- how many of you can't tell me you wouldn't rather watch Ark in Space than this one?)

But this time around, I honestly tried to go in with an open mind. It can't be as bad as I remember, I thought. This, despite the fact that I've used my old, beat-up PBS taped copy of the story for years to help cure insomnia. (I'm not kidding on this one folks. For some reason, this story is vaguely soothing and puts me right to sleep fifteen or so minutes in, should sleep be proving elusive). For that alone, I should be grateful. This time around, I was determined to see the entire story -- though not all in one giant gulp, mind you.

And so, with my commercially released copy, I sat down, determined to give The Ark a fresh chance and not to use it as a cheaper form of Sominex. And this time around, I'd love to say the story finally clicked and I was stunned by the depth, intelligence, wit and all-around classic status of the story.

Unfortunately, that didn't really happen.

What did happen was that the story actually went up a few points in my estimation. Oh, I'll give you that the first two episodes are slow moving at best and that the entire story moves at a rather lethargical pace, but this time around, I found some interesting ideas lurking there just beneath the surface. The most interesting was the morality of the story -- namely that early on we see the Monoids as a slave race and no one bats an eye, but it's only when they've subjegated humanity that we get really enraged about the whole thing. It's an interesting concept and one that is certainly there undergirding the story. Also, the idea that a simple cold could wreak such havoc in a society and seeing the Doctor and company affect far-flung history in such a way is certainly a novel enough idea.

But it's the packaging that matters the most -- and no matter how hard I tried, the packaging just doesn't hold this story together all that well. The Monoids are your typical Hartnell era man in a rubber suit and not much more. Yes, they get their chance in the sun as the evil alien race who overthrows humanity, but they are never very well realized. At first, they are mute aliens who could possibly be telepathic (a story thread that's hinted at early, but is dropped quickly) and then they're basically little more than Daleks with one big eye and heat guns. All you're missing is a catch-phrase like "Exterminate" really. Indeed, in the final two episodes when we're supposed to have two groups of Monoids fighting one another, I rapidly lose track of just who is on whose side, simply because the Monoids aren't really made distinctive enough from each other to really follow the civil unrest, or to really care that much about how it's unfolding on screen.

The final two episodes feature some lazy script-writing as well. There's too much deux-ex-machina, with the Refusians being all powerful as needed. The idea that they can push the giant statue out the airlock in the final moments seems more like a desparation of the script to wrap things up rather than actually being foreshadowed or set up early in the story. Also, the concept that the Earth people might not contact or try to contact the Refusians is just ridicious in the extreme.

You've also got to add in some rather sub-par acting by the guest cast. The entire rank and file of humanity is rather one-note and it gets old rather quickly. Part of this is the script, but part of this falls firmly at the feet of the actors, who all seem rather tired and can't really make the lines rise above and become something more. I will admit that Harntell does a pretty good job here and Peter Perves delivers another fine performance as Stephen (so much so that I am starting to think of him as a severelly underrated male companion). But Dodo is a bit grating at times. It's easy to see why the production team gave her an early exit from the series since she is rather annoying here and never really gels with the other regular cast members.

Now, I know there are those of you who will bring up the technical merits of The Ark and I've got to admit those are good. Seeing live animals on a Who set works well and the giant statue is nicely realized. That said, the rest of it bores me. There are times when it becomes intrusive, like during the trial when we cut back to the Ark's leader, offering his commentary on the situation. It feels too much like the directing is trying too hard to be brilliant and not really achieving that goal.

So, despite the few good things that jumped out at me viewing The Ark this time, I've still got to say it was disappointing over all. Sure it's not the travesty that is The Web Planet or The Gunfighters. But it's still not improved enough in my estimation than to be anything more than a story I will revisit only when I'm in the mood for Hartnell and have seen most of his other better stuff or when I need that late night insomnia cure.


First time lucky by David Massingham 22/2/04

The first time you watch The Ark, the chances are you will be mildly entertained by a relatively snappy story, with some diverting science-fiction-y ideas and a straightforward, no-nonsense storyline.

Whatever you do, don't watch it two, or god forbid, three times!

It isn't that it completely falls apart upon a second viewing. It just becomes a dull ponderous tale which you suddenly realise isn't as original as you first suspected. The original aspects (the TARDIS bringing a crippling disease to a peaceful race, the return to the Ark immediately after leaving, the role-reversal between the Guardians and the Monoids) don't garner nearly enough attention in the script, and the unfortunate result is a story that briefly touches on some interesting ideas without fully exploring them.

Take the flu brought by Dodo. Although most of the second episode focuses on this aspect of the story, the really interesting parts occur in part three when One briefly touches on the fact that the disease continued on after the TARDIS left the Ark, thus allowing the Monoids' rebellion. This idea is promptly dropped and never addressed again. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this idea explored more fully in the script, perhaps showing the Doctor, Steven and Dodo's reaction to this revelation and them taking it upon themselves to put things to rights. As it is, this interesting moral issue is left behind before the crew reaches the "Security Kitchen".

And what about the TARDIS's immediate return to the Ark? It's quite a nice idea that this could occur and help tell another aspect to the story, but we get no explanation for why the TARDIS returns. I'm not really going to accept that it occurred through a million to one chance, and I'd be pretty surprised if the Doctor would either. Once again, this is washed over to get to the next plot point.

Then there is the power shift between the Guardians and the Monoids. Whilst such a rebellion is feasible after 700 years, there are aspect of the Monoids' behaviour which don't ring true. They become, as one character puts it, overlords. The Doctor argues to the humans that the Monoids treat the Guardians as the Guardians had treated them... except this isn't true at all. When the Doctor and the audience met the Guardians, they treated the Monoids pretty damn well for a bunch of slaves. The Guardians took the Monoids' opinions into account, they described them as friends who offered their services to the human race, and they expressed concern when Monoids fell to Dodo's cold. They even helped develop a system by which the Monoids could communicate more fully. The attitude of overlords? The Monoids, in contrast, WERE overlords, and cardboard cutout ones at that. They treated the Guardians with contempt, they shot them if they disobeyed, they intended to blow them all to kingdom come once Refusis was settled. The Guardians weren't always angels, but I can't see them setting up a bomb in order to commit genocide.

The image of the Monoids we see in the first time frame doesn't gel with the later one either. In the first episodes, the Monoids seem quite content, with many having positions of power (such as the lawyer Monoid in one of the opening scenes); after the third episode they turn in the monsters of the week. And a pretty rum set of monsters, too -- silly costumes, silly speeches, silly gesture when trying to make a point. They also seem to demand food from the Guardians, which doesn't make a whole bunch of sense considering they have eyes in their mouth.

None of the characters in The Ark are interesting in any way, shape or form. The Guardians range from wet to nervous to egomaniacs, whilst the Monoids are all based on the same personality traits -- psychotic, war mongering, power-hungry, and pretty stupid. It is up to the three regulars and the director to try and save this serial, and thankfully none of them screw up. Hartnell and Purves are their usual strong selves, and Jackie Lane gives a performance which belies her unpopular reputation. Director Michael Imison tries his best with the material, and is only partially successful -- an inherently dull story will invariably turn up as dull on screen. However, he does manage to squeeze in some nice shots... the opening scene tracking through the jungle is lovely, the slow, ominous shots of the statue are well-done, creating a nice sense of menace, and we also get some creativity in the battle scenes between the two Monoid factions. The design also deserves a mention, because despite a terrible job being done of the costumes, the sets are some of the nicest thus far in the show.

However, these positives in no way outweigh the negative aspects of The Ark. The first viewing is all right, possibly because your mind wanders and thinks about the ideas that the production team keeps sweeping under the carpet. In the end, this is a dull adventure, and not really worthy of viewing more than once every five or so years.

5.5 out of 10


A Review by Joe Ford 12/4/04

D'you know I have a feeling that I have been far too harsh on The Ark in the past as I have just finished watching it and enjoyed it very much. In many ways it has given me knew perspective into how non-fans view Doctor Who as a childish, cheap, embarrassing series. You see any one watching The Ark will be pretty horrified by its hysterical mop top aliens, horrifically acted humans and slow, slow pace. Pretty much how people view the Hartnell era. But the trick is to look beyond the surface material and examine the script, the ideas and the setting. In all of these respects The Ark is a fine piece of work and one of the ambitious of these imaginative early years.

Robert Holmes should have been sued for blatant plagiarising because many of the ideas here, the Ark being humanity's last hope for survival and its inhabitants sleeping whilst they make their journey into the stars, crop up in his (admittedly far superior) Ark in Space. It is a lovely, simple idea and would have been enough to sustain the story but scriptwriters Paul Erikson and Lesley Scott refuse to stop there, they offer a race of mute one-eyed aliens and the original idea of the TARDIS crew bringing a cold infection to the colony which threatens to wipe them out. It is nice to see the regulars having a negative effect on the story for a change and it gives a good reason for the Doctor to get involved which is not just meddling.

The humans are building a huge statue of one of their own to celebrate their 700-year journey to their new planet of Refusis and is barely started when the Doctor, Dodo and Steven arrive. In a twist of serious magnitude they leave in the TARDIS after their cure is administered to the colonists only to arrive again in exactly the same spot. But it is 700 years later, the planet is approaching Refusis and the statue is finished. The regulars stare up, aghast as the head of the statue is revealed to be a Monoid... this is a fantastic cliffhanger, one that could only have the impact that it does after two episodes of set up.

It occurs to me that this is the first time we have been witness to the consequences of a visit by the Doctor (although not the last, the superb Face of Evil deals with the idea thoughtfully too) and it is great to see that the results are not pretty. The Monoids, once slaves have turned on their oppressors and made them the oppressed, a deadly mutation of the cold Dodo brought weakening them so they cannot resist the mop top aliens. The Doctor has to accept responsibility for the situation, as he is directly responsible for 700 years of history on the Ark. A shame the script could not spend more time pointing the finger, have the humans refuse his help because of his interference before but there is little time for that, just seeing the results of his harmless visit makes enough of an impact.

From here the story becomes little more than humans vs Monoids (and Monoids versus Monoids too!) with the added tension generated by the existence of a bloody great bomb that the Monoids have smuggled into the statue to eliminate the Administrators so they can settle on Refusis alone. There are some invisible aliens added to the mix and it is all very entertaining, lots of shooting and booming voices and statues blowing up in the vacuum of space.

The script is carefully constructed and loaded with fresh concepts and should be applauded for being tackled as the budget for the show is small but the ideas demand spectacular realisation. It is another example of the versatility of season three, a good piece of hard-ish science fiction that resembles nothing else in this schizophrenic year for the show.

Another area of genuine praise is the sets, which surprisingly manage to capture some of the awe of the script very well. Certainly the jungle set is impressively verdant and jammed full of exotic animals from all corners of the world. It helps you to buy into the idea of the Ark to see such a large-scale operation with vast sets; the jungle and the control room are huge (helped no doubt by the glorious matte painting in the background that gives the impression that the control room stretches on and on...).

And although there are areas of the story that are lacking the direction is rather good with lots of interesting visuals. The camera pushes through the jungle like some David Attenborough documentary and individual moments are given considerable impact thanks to careful work, the revelation of the statue, the landers leaving the ship, the Monoid with his back to the camera as he gives orders to the slave human... Michael Immison is clearly far more interested in making the show look good than other elements (acting, costumes) and in this respect he succeeds. The action scenes are genuinely exciting (but sparse), the Monoid fight in the jungle is a masterful scene of interesting shots. He manages to get across a genuine feeling of vastness in the story where I am sure none existed in the cramped sets. Good work.

Where the story falls down is the substandard performances and the costumes, both of which are frequently awful and sabotage what is a very interesting story. Eric Elliot gives a dreadful performance as the Commander, he is frequently grinning and gesturing emphatically to get his very serious points across. But there others are hardly any better, this bunch of humans lack any personality or sparkle. Let's hope the miniaturised lots are better company. And their costumes, a variation of Caribbean hoopla skirts are certainly interesting (you do see a fair bit of arse) but hardly practical. They look... well they look stupid. But hey the human race often is.

I'm not sure what to make of the Monoids because initially they look ridiculous but once you watch them for a bit they start to grow on you. It continues Doctor Who's fine tradition of creating aliens that are not just (pre-Star Trek) bumpy headed. Okay so they cannot move very fast (the only time they have to is hilarious, they waddle through the jungle like ducks with dynamite up their bums!) but those swively eyes are quite horrible and the hair at least marks them out as fans of the Beatles. When they go all evil they are treated to voice boxes and the results are quite pleasing, certainly One sounds malevolent enough to be believable. Plus the light guns are super cool, the least subtle weapon until the Happiness Patrol guns.

The biggest surprise of this story however is that dear Mr Hartnell manages to hang around for the entire story without taking a single week's holiday! Very impressive! It is hardly Hartnell's show as the Doctor and his friends are peripheral compared to the troubles of the colony, although they instigate and solve the troubles for the Ark the story is never really about them (oddly). He remains as commanding as ever though, no real sign of his weakening performance, he gives a couple of sweet speeches on tolerance and understanding that we should all listen to. Steven is around too but this is possibly his least active story; he spends much of the story locked up and trying to escape. He does have one superb scene during the trial though where he defends his friends.

Dodo on the other hand does not work at all and yet she is essential to the story's success. Dammit. Does anybody know anyone like this woman? How annoyingly chirpy and impulsive, she does not have the ability to do anything naturally (an early scene has a close up of Dodo saying "Hey look at him then!" and even that seems false!!!). Jackie Lane seems to be running on autopilot, saying the lines but not understanding any of them or bringing any sort of feeling to the role. As a result Dodo hampers the story whenever she appears, blubbing and sneezing and generally being an annoyance.

I think fans should be more lenient on this story if only for the vision in the scripts, there is a lot to enjoy here so long as you can get past the silly aliens and bland humans. It is a superior script with a superior production let down by some blundering actors (Monoid One is always waving his arms around to get his points across!) and designers (webbed feet!).

Watch it two episodes at a time over two days like I did and take your time to see the breadth of ideas that are apparent. Not many Doctor Who stories are this imaginative or clever.


A Review by Karl Roemer 12/2/05

The Ark is an rather unheralded gem from season three, forgotten amongst so many other black and white classics, and is notable as the full story for Dodo Chaplet, who boarded the TARDIS in mysterious circumstances at the end of The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve. It is an interesting debut for Dodo (especially with that cockney accent of hers) and she starts off in annoying manner, baiting Steven and giving the impression of being an know it all, but she settles down from The Plague (Episode 2 of The Ark) onwards, and becomes rather more likeable actually. I think it is an nice and original touch that the main crisis of this story is inadvertently caused by Dodo's cold, and the severe repercussions it would have on the life forms onboard the Ark, however it is not fully explained properly why the Guardians of the Ark (whom seem to vastly outnumber the Monoids) have their "spirits" broken by the more severe outbreak of Dodo's cold, but it does serve an excellent example of how the oppressed can become the oppressors.

The direction from Michael Imison is most impressive, and it is a shame he didn't work on more stories for Who. The Ark looks believable and well designed, and benefits from such live animals such as an snake and a baby elephant!

The first two episodes set on the Ark, and the crises aboard it, are probably better then the last two set of Refusis II, although I find the predictable courtroom trial scene tiresome and predictable. However the script of the first two episodes sadly glosses over the oppressive treatment of the humans towards their Monaid counterparts, something which would have served the story far better when the TARDIS rematerialized on the Arc 700 years later.

However the grief and guilt that Dodo displays during The Plague is nicely handled, as is the softer Hartnell Doctor, showing genuine pity and compassion towards her, something that probably would not have happened in Season One, when he probably would have ranted about the sanctity of space/time travel

It is also interesting to notice that the Doctor is the only one who suspects the intelligence of the Monoids when one of them helps him out with his experiments for an cure. The Plague also features one of the more chilling moments from the Hartnell era, when on the big monitor inside the Ark a vision of Earth is shown burning up as it approaches the sun, and the cliffhangar is also very cleverly handled, with the head of the giant statue supposedly meant to represent humanity, is shown to have been completed with an monoid head atop it.

Episode Three, The Return, has shown quite clearly that the Monoids have now enslaved the humans aboard the ship, which is no surprise as clearly the guardians of humanity's last hope appear to be toothless wimps. The story picks up a pace when The Doctor, Dodo and the Monoids touch down on Refusis II, and it's hilarious to see the arrogance of the Monoids brings them unstuck on the planet, due to the invisibility of the inhabitants.

I suppose this serial does become rather formulaic at this point, with the Monoids planning to desert the humans aboard the Ark and destroying them with a bomb planted inside the statue, but at least it's handled with aplomb with plenty of desperation among the humans and Steven does get a lot more to do in this portion of the story, having been separated from the Doctor and Dodo, he displays his leadership skills amongst the rather insipid humans aboard the Ark.

The final episode, The Bomb, contains some nice scenes as well, such as the Doctor fairly pointing out some of humanity's flaws, including intolerance and how they treated the Monoid's as slaves in the first place. I also enjoy the civil war that rages amongst factions of the Monoids, which probably elevates above other alien races during this period, it is rather regrettable that they never got another appearance in the show as they look superbly designed and convincing.

I do think it's sad that so many fans rate this story so poorly as it's really quite a competent (if admittedly unspectacular) outing for the First Doctor. The plot is fairly thin and doesn't cover humanity's poor treatment of the Monoids in the first place, but it has a great performance from all the regulars, beautiful sets and fast direction, and a great new race of aliens in the Monoids.

Sadly it remains only one of two complete stories remaining from season three (along with The Gunfighters), long regarded as one of the finest seasons in the first decade of Who.


A Review by Brian May 1/3/05

I remember, back in the good old pre-video days, being fascinated by The Ark. It was the black and white stills of the Monoids and jungle scenes that really did it. Knowing it was one of the intact stories, I had to see it! I eventually did, but not until the VHS release, so it was a long wait (well over ten years). Of course, as is the case with many sixties Doctor Who tales, the having is never as good as the wanting. However it didn't disappoint like The Keys of Marinus or The Web Planet did. The Ark is an imperfect story, that's for sure, but one that's difficult to dislike. It has a strong charm that wins you over, with fascinating ideas and some terrific visuals.

Take the jungle set for example. It's wonderful. The design is exquisite, and the inclusion of wildlife enhances it no end - especially the elephant and the toucan. It's all very lush. Basic effects, such as the Earth burning up and the miniaturisation are quite impressive although there are some less than successful ones - namely the shuttles spinning through space and landing on Refusis. Even though the design of the Monoids is on the unremarkable side, the very first sight of one, as it suddenly turns round and mugs the camera, is quite startling. A big gong must go to Michael Imison for his superb direction - there's a wonderful moment in the jungle where a view of William Hartnell zooms out sweepingly to a high angled wide shot. There's a similar image in episode four, when Eileen Helsby (Venussa) moves away from the centre of the shot to reveal a low angle of the Monoid statue - at this point the viewer knows the bomb is hidden inside whist the crew doesn't, so the desired dramatic effect is superbly realised. All of the statue shots are convincingly filmed to convey the impression that it is gigantic - the piece de resistance is, of course, the slow tilt up at the end of episode two - and what a cliffhanger this is!!!

In terms of plotting, the basic idea is excellent: the first half deals with the Doctor and companions inadvertently introducing the common cold to the remnants of humanity, who've never experienced it before and therefore have no immunity. Although the Doctor finds a cure, a further strain breaks out, with extreme ramifications. For the second half, we jump forward in time 700 years to find out what they are - the humans have been subjugated by the beings they once enslaved. The great dramatic impetus is that all this is the fault of the TARDIS crew.

The story is also renowned for being, as referred to in the last paragraph, two stories in one. This is its greatest strength - and its biggest weakness. It's been mentioned already that viewers of the day didn't know when one story would end and one would begin (Ian K McLachlan, Matrix, 6, 1980, via The Television Companion). So the false ending and sudden shock cliffhanger to the second episode would have been terrific telly. However, both two-part tales are very slow. Writer Paul Erickson seems to have focused his energies on the great plot twist; while indeed it's very effective, he forgot there had to be forty-five minutes' worth of story leading up to it, and another forty-five to follow! The first two episodes, despite the underlying urgency to find a cure for the plague, drag on for quite a while. The trial is very dull; we have some melodramatic speeches from the Guardians and a badly acted lynch mob. Only Peter Purves makes these scenes worth watching. This first half also suffers from some poorly drawn - and badly acted - incidental characters. They're all pretty bland and lifeless, even down to the extras (the aforementioned lynch mob). There's one exception; this adventure sees the first appearance in Doctor Who of the wonderful Michael Sheard. However, he appears for less than two minutes - and has about two lines! But at least we know he would be back later in the series.

The second half starts off well, by virtue of the plot twist and the set-up of the new regime aboard the Ark. And, happily, there are some interesting characters this time round. Brian Wright as Dassuk is pretty good, but I was especially taken with Eileen Helsby. She's not referred to in any reviews, but I thought she was excellent as Venussa - spirited, intelligent and helpful! Heck, I even think she'd have made a terrific companion! However, despite the empathetic humans, the Monoids have simply become a bunch of stock standard baddies. "One" is a tedious megalomaniac, and the rest aren't given any depth or examination. The rest of the story is as ponderous as the first half, with too much time on Refusis. Indeed, the Refusians are introduced way too early (although Richard Beale's voice is terrific!). The efforts to find the bomb are not very riveting, the planned takeover by "Four" even less so. And it's a squirmingly embarrassing way in which the Doctor finds out about the bomb; he and Dodo are eavesdropping on the Monoids, and one says:

"There is still time before it is destroyed by the bomb that has been left behind!"
And, to concur with Michael Hickerson above, the deus ex machina resolution the Refusians provide is a letdown dramatically, particularly the way they're conveniently able to lift the statue and eject it into space.

However, The Ark has its fair share of thoughts to provoke. Humanity is not celebrated as much as Robert Holmes would do in his vision of the far future in nine years' time. Despite the purely thuggish way in which the Monoids are depicted in the final half, their motives for revolting are understandable. They've been treated as second-class citizens, as evidenced by the Monoid fatalities from the epidemic. The human responses include:

"Thank heaven none of them [the humans] has died yet!
and
[the Doctor allegedly spreading the plague might]
"perhaps even kill one of the Guardians!"
Another less than flattering examination of humans in the future is their determination to colonise Refusis. The Refusians are willing to share their world, but this is only verified in episode three. The humans in episode one are determined to land on the planet; indeed Zentos believes their intended home is already inhabited, and is paranoid the TARDIS crew are Refusians sent to stop their journey. So he's concerned they might not be welcome. But it's evident the Guardians intend to land - whether the inhabitants, if any, welcome them or not. In any case, their plan to erect the statue smacks of arrogance - and great aggression - particularly if there is an indigenous population on Refusis. There's a warning from this, and from the Monoid situation, that colonialism and hegemony could start all over again.

William Hartnell plays a now mellow, bystander type Doctor, while Peter Purves goes from strength to strength, proving Steven to be one of the best companions. Dodo is a very under-utilised character, but Jackie Lane puts in a very likeable performance. Dodo is extremely irritating at times, and doesn't really get to do much, but these are faults with the character, not Lane.

All in all, The Ark isn't brilliant. But it's pretty good. It has its flaws, especially in the areas of characters and plotting. The basic idea behind the story is fascinating, however, leading to plenty of things to think about. Best of all, it's got an irresistible, unpretentious charm that does the story wonders. 7/10


Two By Two by Peter Niemeyer 27/10/08

I really enjoyed this serial. While watching the Hartmell stories in order, this is the only story of Season 3 I've liked so far, save The Myth Makers. It isn't brilliant, but it's got a lot going for it.

First and foremost, I really liked how the story was made up of two two-parters. It gave us a chance to see how the Doctor's visit affected the people he visited - something we rarely saw in 26 years of classic Who. The fact that each story was two parts provided enough time to get a feel for what things were like without drawing out the punchline too long. It was also an ingenious way of saving money on sets and costumes without making it obvious.

I like the fact that the guest cast for the two pairs of episodes were completely different. It adds to that sense of time passing. Similarly, I liked how episodes 1 and 2 focus more on the Ark's departure from Earth, and episodes 3 and 4 focus on its arrival at Refusis.

For the most part, I liked the Monoids. I think it was very ambitious to attempt an alien with no mouth, and I liked both the use of sign language and the voice boxes. Unfortunately, the costumes were the big failing. I am the sort of person who can suspend a lot of disbelief. I will dutifully ignore the zipper up the back of the Raston Warrior Robot. But the Monoids just looked like men in funny costumes to me - rather rotund men - and the yak hair didn't help. And, in parts 3 and 4, why do the Monoids have numbers on their voice collars? Surely both they and their human slaves can tell them apart.

The only other letdown was the Refusians. Invisible creatures in general can be interesting, but the invisibility wasn't put to great use, and we had just encountered invisible creatures on Mira back in The Daleks' Master Plan. This came across as a bit repetitive.

One Thing I Would Do Differently: Dodo. So far, she has come across as utterly unbelieveable. On her first trip in the TARDIS, she instantly accepts everything. Similarly, Steven and the Doctor act as if she's been with them for a while. She puts on that ridiculous panto costume. And she exhibits the least amount of personality of any companion to date. I find myself missing Katarina and Sara Kingdom. God, I'd settle for Anne Chaplette.

One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The statue. I thought it was a great mechanism for moving the story along dramatically.

Would I Watch This Serial Again: Maybe. Although there is much that I liked about it, I don't know if it would hold up to repeated viewings.