Season 3 – Story 23
"Don't you remember the story? Hundreds of years ago a doctor and a young couple came and then went away again, but they were the first people to call this ship 'The Ark' " - Venussa
In the 57th segment of time, ten million years hence, the Earth is about to plunge into the sun. A gigantic spaceship, preserving the world's flora and fauna and millions of human microcells, is making a 700-year journey to settle on the planet Refusis 2. When the Tardis lands aboard, Dodo passes on the common cold to the human Guardians and their servants, the Monoids. The virus is fatal to the people of the future (perhaps even Steven) so the Doctor must race to find a cure. Returning at the end of the Ark's voyage, the Tardis trio finds the belligerent Monoids have seized control and plan to blow up the humans in space. Peace must be brokered before the invisible Refusians will allow their planet to be settled…
1. The Steel Sky - Saturday 5 March 1966
2. The Plague - Saturday 12 March 1966
3. The Return - Saturday 19 March 1966
4. The Bomb - Saturday 26 March 1966
Filming: January/February 1966 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: February/March 1966 at Riverside 1
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Steven Taylor - Peter Purves
Dodo Chaplet - Jackie Lane
Commander - Eric Elliott
Zentos - Inigo Jackson
Manyak - Roy Spencer
Mellium - Kate Newman
Rhos - Michael Sheard
Baccu - Ian Frost
Maharis - Terence Woodfield
Yendom - Terence Bayler
Dassuk - Brian Wright
Venussa - Eileen Helsby
Guardians - Stephanie Heesom, Paul Greenhalgh
Monoids - Edmund Coulter, Frank George, John Caesar, Ralph Carrigan
Monoid voices - Roy Skelton, John Halstead
Refusian voice - Richard Beale
Writers - Paul Erickson, Lesley Scott
Incidental music - Tristram Cary
Designer - Barry Newbery
Story editor - Gerry Davis
Producer - John Wiles
Director - Michael Imison
RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
It's a pleasure to be able to sit down and watch The Ark - earliest of the three complete serials that survive from season three. An ambitious production, it's probably the sole unsullied fruition of the working partnership between John Wiles and Donald Tosh. Many stories during their tenure were inherited from the previous team, and some of their own commissions would be heavily reworked by their successors.
Wiles conceived the idea of an ark of the far future, and Tosh worked on the scripts with newcomer Paul Erickson. (Lesley Scott, the latter's wife, was co-credited on screen although it appears she had little input into the writing.) The concept is fine, especially with the time-lapse cliffhanger to episode two. Viewers in 1966, with no idea how long each story might last, would have been completely thrown when the Tardis returned to the same landing site 700 years later, only to see the Guardians' colossus topped by a Monoid head.
Otherwise the plot is lacking in dramatic incident and there are often tracts of extreme tedium. There's little time for the Guardians' characters to be established, and the men's camp costumes do them few favours. As the elderly Commander, Fred Elliott seems to be essaying John Gielgud but he comes over more like a sinister Quentin Crisp. He almost out-creeps the guest monsters.
Thatch-haired and one-eyed (natch), the Monoids are somewhat ludicrous, waving their "heat prods" and waddling about with webbed legs. "The Monoids … are rushing around all over the place," reports Steven, looking through a window. Now that I'd love to have seen! I'll content myself with the fleeting glimpse of a Monoid feeding grass to a recumbent elephant - absurd doesn't cover it.
There are plenty of nice touches in the production though. Director Michael Imison, in his only Who entry, achieves some creative film work and camera moves. Tristram Cary's mood music from the first Dalek story has a third airing. On the effects front, inlay shots allow footage to appear on a giant screen, and there's decent model work of the Earth's smoky demise, as well as capsules and the colossus in space. (The entire exterior of the Ark is left to our imagination.) And then there's the aforementioned elephant. Sweet.
A problem arose with new companion Dodo when drama dept high-ups decreed that Doctor Who regulars must speak "BBC English". Her character had been scripted, and already filmed, talking "common". Traditionally, she's remembered as starting out Cockney but to my ears she hails more from Coronation Street. Spotting the elephant, she squawks, "Ee, look at 'im then." Jackie Lane struggles to make the change work. "Once this crisis is over," says the Doctor, "I'm going to teach you to speak English." Indeed, he seems to have pulled off this miraculous feat by the final Tardis scene.
In The Ark, unusually for the period, the Doctor is fully involved in the plot. Was an unsettled period for William Hartnell coming to an end…?
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Radio Times archive material
The introductory feature and a regional variation for The Steel Sky.
1. The Steel Sky
2. The Plague
3. The Return
4. The Bomb
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[Available on BBC DVD and BBC Audio CD]