I have finally reached the section of Doctor Who’s history in which there are more lost episodes than complete ones. “The Ark” is the sixth story of the third season (26th overall), and features William Hartnell’s Doctor, who is traveling with Steven Taylor and a new companion, Dodo Chaplet.
The story begins with the TARDIS materializing in what appears to be some kind of nature park/zoo. Dodo is convinced that they are in London, but they soon notice that there is no sky above this park; they are, in fact on a gigantic spaceship. They are soon captured by strange-looking, one-eyed creatures (called Monoids) and taken to the humans who seem to run the ship. From the commander of the ark, they learn that they have travelled about ten million years into the future, to the point where the earth is about to be destroyed by the expansion of the sun (I couldn’t help picturing them running into the ninth Doctor and Rose, as they watched the end of the world). The “ark” contains all that is left of life on earth: the humans, plants, and animals.
Before I continue with my thoughts on the story, there’s something I need to discuss: I think Dodo might be my least favorite companion so far. I wish I could explain exactly why I find her to be so annoying, but it’s more of an overall dislike (although seriously, who goes by the name Dodo?). I don’t feel like she adds anything to the story. She’s kind of silly and extremely opinionated for someone who really doesn’t seem to know anything. I know she was supposed to allow the Doctor to show his grandfatherly side again, but I felt that Vicki was the best at bringing that side of him out. Even Susan was a better companion than Dodo. Steven is okay, but he’s kind of a nondescript companion for me. There’s nothing I dislike about him, but there’s not much that I particularly like either. So, basically, I kept thinking about how much better this story would have been if it had been done during Barbara and Ian’s time.
It might be surprising then, when I admit that I really enjoyed this story. I was surprised at the strength of the story. The first half was very clever and unusual for this era of Doctor Who. Very rarely does the show look at the effect that the travelers have on their environment in a realistic way. The spread of Dodo’s cold, however, was an interesting ramification of having people from millions of years ago suddenly interacting with people who have never faced that kind of illness before. This echoed what happened when the Native Americans first encountered the Europeans.
The second half, unfortunately, turns into a more traditional first Doctor story, with the travelers helping rebels overthrow an oppressive force that is in power. Even this had a unique twist in that the travelers saw how the same place had changed over the years. I loved the time jump of 7,000 years, and I thought that showing the completed statue with a Monoid head was an effective and striking way to show that time had passed. It was an interesting idea to show that the Monoids had now overthrown the humans, who, when we last saw them, had been using the Monoids like servants.
Still the story was not perfect. I think it would have been more effective if the humans had oppressed the monoids a bit more in the first half. I know they were treated as servants, but they didn’t seem to be mistreated in any way. In fact, it seemed nice of the humans to take them along on the journey in the first place. Maybe we were supposed to infer that things got worse in the later generations, but there really wasn’t any evidence to support that idea. It seemed like the imbalance of power could have been corrected when the Monoids gained the power of speech.
I found the aliens to be interesting in this story, both the invisable Refusians and the Monoids. I know the Monoids were not the best looking of the aliens created for Doctor Who, but I enjoyed them. Logically, there are many problems with them, of course, such as: how can they eat with no mouth or how can they ever develop speech? Still, I thought that they were a distinctive and memorable race. Admittedly, though, the actors were forced to over used their hands to try and show which Monoid was talking, and the feet and legs weren’t really well thought out.
Overall, I enjoyed this story. I thought it was clever and it held my interest. All the characters that the travelers met in this story were distinctive and it was a nice change of pace from some of the more formulaic stories. I would have like different companions, but I guess you can’t have everything.